How did you survive an understaffed, unhappy team?
November 14, 2021 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm back again with yet another work-related question. My team is now 3 people strong after two people left at the same time. We are going through "teething issues" as the CEO likes to say, but morale is low and nobody is happy - even my interim manager has confided in me that he is losing motivation. I need to survive this.

The truth is that the team now comprises THREE WHOLE PEOPLE, including me, all of whom had only joined the company in the last year. We look after more than 20 accounts between the three of us. Management were not transparent about the fact that we are going through a turnover at the interviews, so now all of us feel blindsided and, yes, even disgruntled at the fact that they pulled us in to a team that was dying from the get-go.

Some of our clients are also not happy and are in the process of terminating contracts. Our quality of work is suffering. They have been promising us help in the form of new hires for months but we have not seen any progress in that aspect. Yet other departments, who are decidedly in better state than ours, keep getting new hires.

The CEO likes to send us motivational text messages weekly about how "we will get through this together" and it is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. We need more people on the team, stat, and we need him to stop assigning us new clients. The health of the accounts we do have are suffering and we can't sustain this any longer. I know this ship is sinking, but how fast is it sinking? Assume I have an imminent promotion that will be kicked off late next quarter. I need to survive until then because that will help me negotiate better with potential employers.

All I need to do is survive - but how?
posted by antihistameme to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you mean survive as in not get fired? Or survive psychologically and emotionally? Because they probably can't fire you right now, so you just do what you can and let the rest go.

Either try to do the minimum for more clients, or spend your energy trying to keep a few big clients happy and don't work harder than they're paying you to. When they give you new clients, point out that you don't have the manpower to service old clients so things won't get done. Then do what you can and not what you can't.

If your concern is that you won't get your promotion if you can't do the impossible--if they are going to screw you over like that, then they are and you can't do much about it except maybe leave sooner.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:40 PM on November 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you need to start taking actions now to get off the sinking ship. What are you going to if your colleagues leave leaving only you? Moreover, your company has also promised you more people, so how can you trust that the promotion will go through?
posted by oceano at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

You want the promised promotion, but, trust me, you do not want to be the only person left in your department. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It’s not fun. Start working your network and getting your resume out there now.
posted by Alterscape at 9:50 PM on November 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Find a new job. But in the meantime—

They can’t fire you, so do your best to emotionally disengage. See if you can change your perspective from this being a tragedy to this being a farce.

Maybe pick a few key clients that you can give A-level attention to, a few that can get C+ level attention, and let the rest of the accounts get the bare minimum, because there literally are not enough hours in a workday, and that’s just how it is. By picking a couple accounts to care about, when other things are going to hell in a hand basket, you can point to two or three accounts that are satisfied and remind yourself that you haven’t failed literally everyone. (On preview, same line of thought as gideonfrog)

Your company is failing you. No one person (or three people) could successfully handle what you’ve been given, so just do “your best” (or 70% of your best) and stop trying to pretend you can dig a tunnel through the mountain with a household hammer.

Lower your expectations, set private goals using the SMART rubric, and do not entertain the feelings of anyone who makes unrealistic requests of you.

Also, find some stuff to do in your off hours that will bring you joy. Put special attention on balancing out your work stress with personal fun.

Good luck!
posted by itesser at 9:59 PM on November 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Hahahaha, I consider myself lucky when we have three people. We're perpetually short staffed with no recourse and HR is effed up and prevents us from hiring.

What gideonfrog said. You get done what you can, and some people are just going to fall through the cracks and not get their service.

I don't know if I'd count on or want that promotion if I were you though, for the reasons stated above.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:28 PM on November 14, 2021

Stop caring, about either your patronizing, incompetent employer or their clients, look at your deathmarch job as nothing but a machine that puts money in your bank account, look for new job while performing adequately enough to not be fired.
posted by thelonius at 11:03 PM on November 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Assume I have an imminent promotion that will be kicked off late next quarter.

Given the description of your current situation, and your previous question about holidays, it doesn't seem like that is an assumption you should make.

Dangling a promotion in front of good staff to keep them in bad situations is a common tactic by bad bosses in bad workplaces. And when it "can't" happen for whatever reason, they dangle it again - "oh, the time's not right because of xyz, but hopefully we'll get it sorted at the end of next quarter" - and guess what? It doesn't happen then either. Rinse and repeat.

Unless there is an overwhelming reason to stay, it may be time to accept you've paid your dues (we've all worked somewhere for longer than we should have) and move on.
posted by underclocked at 11:06 PM on November 14, 2021 [15 favorites]

Would that promotion take you out of that team or would they just change your title?
If it would, how likely is it that they'd remove a third of a team that's barely handling its current workload?
If I wouldn't, what's stopping them from giving you a new title now?
posted by M. at 12:45 AM on November 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

It might seem like the responses above are not answering your question but imagine your asked:
"My company is sending me into a burning building without the proper training or equipment in order to meet clients on the other side. I have made multiple requests for training and equipment to no avail. Please help me survive the burning building so I can continue to meet with clients and get my assumed promotion."

And the responses that came back were:
"Not having the proper equipment or training is not your responsibility. You can survive the burning building by avoiding it altogether. Go around it instead to meet your clients. You won't meet as many clients as a result of taking a detour, but you will survive with your physical and mental health and well-being intact long enough to get your assumed promotion, if you care you to stick around that long."

In essence, the job you described is a dumpster fire. Your personal incentivize is to look after your own best interests. Your company's incentive, as has already been demonstrated, is to push its employees as far as it can in order to increase the profitability for its owners. Therefore, you should work at a healthy, sustainable pace for you and not the pace the company is unreasonably expecting from you. Otherwise you are likely to burnout.

The math is simple:
When you were a team of 5, you were able to reliably service N number of clients to satisfaction. Now that your are on a team of 3, your ability to reliably service N number clients to satisfaction has not changed, only the number of clients assigned to you has changed. The company can increase your team size or reduce its number of clients, or a combination of both, in order to satisfy all of its clients, but the current number of clients assigned to your are more than you are reasonably able to satisfy.

Rhetorical questions to help you better understand the underlying incentives at work here:
- Is your promotion guaranteed in a legally binding agreement?
- Do you have any other leverage to enforce your promotion?
- If your company can "say" you will be given a promotion, are there any negative consequences for the company to later "say" circumstances have changed and you are not getting a promotion?
- What's to stop you from looking for a promotion at another company right now?
- What are the benefits of looking for a new job right now?
- What are the downsides (besides job hunting is annoying) to looking for a new job right now?

Without ownership, you are simply work for hire. Without ownership, you should work as as much or little as it takes to do a satisfactory job under reasonable conditions. Working more than that is like making a direct charitable contribution to the owners of the company at your own personal expense.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 8:31 AM on November 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

" me negotiate better with potential employers. "

If your goals is to negotiate better, there are many books and internet article on how to better negotiate your job offers. I recommend the book Ladies Get Paid but there are many, many others. If money is tight, you can see if it's available at your local library.

Surviving your current job is a temporary distraction. Learning how to be a better negotiator is an investment that will serve you for the rest of your life.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 8:47 AM on November 15, 2021

You survive by jumping ship. This is an excellent market for job seekers and it will not be hard for you to find something new for substantially higher pay in a company that isn't doomed from clients cancelling their contracts.

Don't delude yourself into thinking that you will be in a better position to negotiate when you have a promotion. The negotiating power you get from a promotion is smaller than the negotiating power you get by timing your job search to occur at this particular moment in time, when:

(a) employees are quitting the workforce at record rates, leaving vacancies and desperate employers


(b) workers are not yet jumping back onto the job market, causing a glut of job seekers and employers in a position of power again.

Even if everything goes right and you do get a promotion, your window of opportunity to negotiate the highest rates in the plummest jobs may be gone by then.
posted by MiraK at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

You have nothing to lose by starting your job search right now and just seeing what's out there and what you can get. You can still stick around and wait for your promotion if you don't find anything that blows your mind. But I think you will find something that blows your mind.
posted by MiraK at 11:47 AM on November 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

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