The Perils of Being a Workhorse in the Workplace

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Jan 18, 2011

I often talk about the hazards of being workhorse. Are you a workhorse?

If you are known for always getting a lot of work done and for being able to do an extraordinary amount of work personally, it is likely you are a workhorse.

Many people think this is a good way of standing out and being valued — showing you are always really busy and getting stuff done. The harsh reality is that while you may be valued, you are being valued as a workhorse.

Your reward is, well, more work. You’ll get stuck

Why would anyone promote you and lose their workhorse? If you are stuck in this mode of working in general, read my book. You’ll save years of frustration.

A specific workhorse hazard — preventing hires

But today I want to talk about one specific hazard of owning all the work personally – preventing your ability to fill open roles.

Every manager has faced the challenge where you get a job opening approved, and then it gets put on hold.

You put a TBH (to be hired) on your org chart, and start recruiting, only to find that there has been a hiring freeze and you are not actually able to fill the role.

When this happens it’s not that roles can’t still get filled, it’s just that they require special addition approvals, silver bullets, and management capital to make happen.

Don’t cover the work so well!

When a manager who has a workhorse tendency is faced with this, the temptation is to accept the freeze and cover the work.

You are responsible, so until this person shows up you need to make sure the work gets done. So you work evenings and weekends to do this person’s work so that the results don’t slip.

The problem is that by coming to the rescue, you are proving to your management that you don’t really need this hire after all.

Prove THEY need the hire

To get the position re-approved.

  1. Articulate the critical business impact this position will have.
  2. Don’t get it all done flawlessly without them.

Granted, there is a bit of finesse required here. You don’t want to create a business failure. But instead of just doing the work, think about telling your manager something like:

  • Until we get this person hired, I can’t deliver on your other favorite project because I am covering this work.
  • Forgive the lower quality of this deliverable, but we have not yet hired the expert we agreed we need to do this.
  • I need to talk with you about re-assigning the work among my team until this hire gets approved.
  • Here is my suggestion to put a bandage on this part of the process until we can get the person in here to take it over.

Share the pain

You need to strategically move things around so that you don’t fail to deliver the critical things. You need to be seen as being proactive and getting important things done.

But, you need to make sure that the pain of this missing person is felt , and the business value of them being there is personally understood by more than just you.

Motivate the people who can say YES to spend their capital on your hire. You need to get the people who can say yes as motivated as you are to fill the job.

If you cover the work personally, they have no reason to spend their capital helping you fill a job that is already getting done.

This article was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog.

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