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Edit: I considered this question (How to protest a deadline that is too short?) as a suggested duplicate, but in my situation there is no realistic way to 'protest' a deadline, since there's no real way for it to be moved. Logical arguments to project managers etc don't change contracts or regulatory requirements.

Another edit - It's different from "bus number = 1" (in the suggested duplicate question "getting hit by a bus" in that there are people available to delegate to ( who don't currently have their own workload, they are just waiting around to receive something to do as they are meant to be 'working for me') but I haven't been able to hand over to them. (Although maybe this reduces to the same thing.. what do you think?) This question is focused on "is there any way to break out of the cycle" rather than "how to deal with the situation where I'm the only person in the company who does this" (which essentially treats those people I could delegate to as "non existent"... well, that is an option! Which on reflection is what I've been doing so far.)

TL;DR - I'm currently the only person that can do what I do, and I have to meet hard deadlines (compliance/contracts) that can't be negotiated. I have people I could possibly delegate to, if they were trained and capable, but there just isn't the "bandwidth" to do that training due to intensity of workload. And I'm not sure it's even possible to train up the people I have.


There's a much longer story leading up to this, but I tried to reduce it to the essence of the question (which I hope can also help other people):

In a nutshell -

Deadlines

  • Our company has repeating (mostly quarterly but some are monthly or other cycles) deadlines, which are 'hard deadlines' in that they are externally driven by compliance and contractual requirements. Essentially we couldn't blow that deadline without a huge amount of fallout (massive financial penalties, compliance implications, etc).
  • There are multiple overlapping cycles of these deadlines, e.g. one has quarterly deliverables at the end of Jan/Apr/Jul/Nov and another on the 15th of Mar/15th of Jun/15th of Sep/15th of Dec (These are examples to illustrate)
  • There are a total of about 6 'cycles' (of varying frequency) of these deliverables
  • Each "deliverable" requires a substantial amount of work (similar to filling in a tax return with an associated set of accounts, for example) it isn't just a case of "pull the report and email it out" It could take, perhaps, 2 weeks (or more) full time equivalent work. Due to the overlapping deadlines, I'm working on multiple "work streams" at once.

People

  • I am a "key person" in meeting these deadlines. I used to be one of 3 "key" people but through attrition I'm now the only one remaining. (The others left voluntarily for better opportunities, presumably much better pay -- not laid off or fired)
  • 2 other people have been recruited to be my "subordinates". I don't have full Line Manager responsibility for them but in theory I'm able (and expected) to delegate some of the workload to them. I am more like their 'team lead'
  • The 2 new people are well-meaning but not very capable and would require extensive training (and still may not have the aptitude actually) to be able to carry out the role. The company didn't recruit the "calibre" of people needed due to:

    -- the salary they were offering which was far below what someone "ready to hit the ground running" would need

    -- location (lack of availability of people). We are near a big city, but far enough away that 'big city' sucks up all the good people due to the much better opportunities.

  • I have tried to delegate stuff, particularly the easier tasks, but ultimately had to re-do most of it myself due to lack of knowledge and also careless mistakes (no attention to detail, presumably due to not caring!)

The situation

I'm becoming increasingly overworked and am a "load-bearing employee" (if you haven't come across this term it means the same as a load-bearing wall in a house: the one that everything rests on!) Due to constantly having one deadline or another I can't get any time off as I can't delegate/offload to the new people.

There just isn't enough time or opportunity to train those people, as the deadlines are such that everything is "urgent" and has to be completed as fast as possible, as the deadlines are actually unrealistic and I'm pulling efforts above and beyond what many people would do in order to meet them (working stupid house etc), but that's another story.

I do realise the value in cross-training, delegating etc and I'm not in any way (even subconsciously as far as I can make out..) 'hoarding knowledge'. I really wish I could offload and rely on these people but the fact is... I can't. My boss doesn't trust my 'direct reports' to be able to handle anything that comes up so is reluctant to approve any time off (and as stated there isn't really a "quiet time").

If only I could break out of this cycle and find the 'slack time' to train these 2 people on "most of the work" (on the 80/20 principle) it may help but there just isn't the time available as I am constantly "getting it done" myself and working at an overcommitted speed all the time.

I have tried having them "shadow" me, getting them to "drive" while I give direction, etc. Ultimately this just slowed down the process (so I had to work at an even more unsustainable pace later to make up the time) and they didn't seem to retain that information for the next cycle anyway, so (shame on me) I didn't bother next time and just did it myself.

I see that this isn't sustainable (for me or the company). At this point I know I could leave (like my original 2 "key" colleagues) for something much better organised and better paid, but unfortunately I feel a sort of commitment to getting it done!

Questions

  • How (or indeed 'is it possible') can I carve out the time from an impossibly demanding schedule to train and babysit others to carry out these processes?

  • Should I expect more support from my boss? (boss doesn't know ins and outs of what I do and mostly just acts as a 'coordinator', most she has expressed is sympathy to me being in this position!)

  • If I'm asking the wrong questions, how would you (question-answerers) suggest I address it instead? I'm not sure what question I should be asking. How do you break a cycle when you can't get 'outside' it!

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    Have you tried creating (more) documentation? That could help everything you already listed work better. Other than you're likely asking for the impossible. You already listed the most promising options. If you don't have enough time, you'll need to find something to drop to make time, find better ways to implement the things you already tried (both of which you're probably in the best position to figure out how to do) or just continue having the problem. – Dukeling May 29 at 19:33
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    Sounds like you need a vacation during one of these deadlines. If you are not the manager for these employees you shouldn't feel the need to train them. Have you told your management what you need, to prevent you from being the only person, who can meet these deadlines? – Donald May 29 at 19:36
  • @Dukeling Thanks for the comment! Yeah, I had created docs already and I have created even more explicit docs where I could (partly due to having to create them as part of an external standard we are audited against). They do cover 60% (at least, more like 75%) of the process. But people feel that they're abandoned with "have you read the documentation?" like it's a hostile comment, or still can't follow it! e.g, it does make sense, even like get the list of Game of Thrones characters and Ratings and then put the Rating with the GoT character in this sheet.. but they transpose even that. ... – BogInMyLeftAndRightShoe May 29 at 19:37
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    Possible duplicate of How can I prepare for getting hit by a bus? – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 29 at 19:42
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Ultimately, this is a CYA scenario. You haven't had training others specified as part of your role, and haven't been given the time to do so in any case. So you need to make your manager aware of your concerns in writing, then if it hits the fan, you have evidence that you raised the problem and nothing was done.

If your manager responds positively, then fantastic - work with him and see what you can do to lighten your workload and ease the bus factor (and don't be afraid to say you need a bigger budget to hire better people.) But if not, then it's not your problem. Work your hours, don't when you're sick or on holiday, leave if you want to leave. If they complain, point them to the correspondence above.

3

I'm afraid there is no magic answer to your problem. Your employers simply have to change the flow of work so that you have sufficient slack to train your co-workers. If they can't find competent relief for you, that may mean they have to give up some customers or business opportunities.

It sounds like you've made reasonable efforts to alert them to this, but they haven't listened so far. That may indicate that your employers are exploitive jerks prepared to work you into an early grave if it provides a marginal benefit to the company, or they may simply be penny-wise and pound foolish. It isn't within your power to fix either of those, and it isn't your duty to save the company from management's stubbornness or lassitude. It's a job, not a holy crusade.

You might give it one more shot: tell your manager in writing that the current arrangement is not sustainable, and the company is headed for a brick wall. Unfortunately, if it comes to that, you should simultaneously start you search for your next position. If they are being exploitive then they will find some way to pin the inevitable failure on you.

The one potential flaw I see in your behavior is that you may be selling your subordinates short. In my experience you really can't learn a job until you actually have responsibility for it. Every pilot has to make his first solo flight, and every surgeon has to make his first incision in a living patient. Your subordinates will make mistakes, and some of them may be serious, but you may be exaggerating how many would be catastrophic for the company.

2

Ask your boss to hire someone able to “hit the ground running” on a short-term basis so that you can get the time to train your reports.

If he won’t, start looking for a new job, then quit and wash your hands of the matter once you find one. If they take significant legal or financial penalties as a result of it, not your problem.

  • Agreed. You’ve done your duty to the company by pointing out their over dependence on you, personally. If they’re shortsighted enough not to act, your execs will eventually disappoint your shareholders. Why is that your problem? – O. Jones May 30 at 0:40

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