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I sometimes hear from my managers that I should start training my responsibilities to others so I don't have too much on my plate or can be more flexible when making my holiday decisions.

For some reason, I somehow fear (gut feeling) that this could lead to me losing my status of "irreplaceable", and thus become more easily redundant if the company should need to (due to cutting costs, higher salary, etc.).

Would it be wise for me to delay this as much as possible, so I can avoid loosing my status and job for now?

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    Related question - workplace.stackexchange.com/q/9128/2322 – enderland Jan 18 '14 at 15:06
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    Semi-wise-crack, but somewhat true: If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted. – Brandon Jan 19 '14 at 18:11
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    Quick history: I was the only one who knew how a software used in a product works in my old job, not that I somehow refused to give the knowledge to others (In fact, I asked my boss to do so, so the responsibilities are not just on me), but he always said it was no necessary. Well, the company went into some financial trouble, that project were discontinued and suddenly I was not that "exclusive". Some time later, 1/4 of the company was fired (myself included). As someone said in an answer, nobody is irreplaceable. – ricardomenzer Feb 17 '16 at 13:21
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    No one is irreplaceable. Some people are just more painful to replace than others. – Joel Etherton Feb 17 '16 at 13:21

10 Answers 10

56

Would it be wise for me to delay this as much as possible, so I can avoid loosing my status and job for now?

No. Nobody is irreplaceable. Not you, not anyone.

Unless you are self-employed, your company will find a way to go on when you aren't around. It might be easier to sit back and avoid the work of cross-training now, but eventually someone else will be doing your job. Trying to intentionally delay that capability doesn't really benefit you. If you get on top of that now, you put yourself in a position to move on to better, and more important work, rather than being burdened by always having to do exactly what you are doing now.

Your feelings are understandable. It's nice to be heavily relied upon. It's nice to be "The Guy" or "The Gal" that others depend on. But in the long run, it's even better to be "The Gal/Guy That Makes Everyone Better".

Be the one who knows the most but is happy and willing to share. Be the one who is happy to help others get better, and thus helps the team be better overall.

As a manager, I worry when critical tasks depend on one person. In business, a single point of failure is bad practice. I work hard to avoid those situations, and to reduce the risk when they do. It sounds as if your managers feel the same. Ignoring their requests to start cross-training isn't wise. If you don't do it, eventually they'll have to find someone who will - perhaps at your expense.

Once you have others trained up, you will likely find that it can free up some of your time to take on other, even more important tasks. In the long run, you will benefit from this, as will your team. You can put yourself in a position for a promotion, or for taking on more important tasks within your team.

At a minimum, you'll be in a position to take vacations and holidays on terms that meet your and your family's personal needs, rather than worrying that you can never be away from the office for a few hours. That's a good thing for your long-term health.

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    watched 4 irreplaceables get walked out after a night of drinking while deploying code. We survived. We also survived our loathed CTO firing 4 respected and knowledgable managers because they wouldn't toe his line. We survived him too BTW. – Bill Leeper May 22 '18 at 20:56
  • There really aren't any companies fragile enough to have a bus-factor of 1? They don't exist? No companies where a single person is the key to maintaining a star client or make-or-break client? Bad practice doesn't equal non-existent. While I dislike answers that ignore reality, +1 for the vacation part! Being irreplaceable doesn't just mean they can't get rid of you, it also means you can't get away... – Mars Sep 30 at 1:23
52

You're more likely to get replaced based on how much money you make vs whether or not you cross-trained someone to do your job when you're away.

But here is the bottom line...

  1. The energy you put out is the energy you'll get back. If you're holding back cross-training others because of fear you'll lose your job, you're going to subconsciously create scenarios that support that fear-energy. Watch The Secret for more about this.
  2. Part of learning how to cross-train others in the fundamentals of your role is, within itself, a skill that will advance you to the next level in your career. You're not training someone on how to REPLACE you. You're training someone to be able to handle your job for a week if you were to go on vacation or find yourself sick for several days in a row. You teach them what they NEED to know to keep the ship afloat until you return. You teach them what tasks MUST be done in your absence and what tasks can be put on hold until you get back.
  3. When others learn more about what all you do, your reputation will soar! You'll also get a reputation as being a great communicator and good steward of the company's success because you were proactive in creating a back-up plan for when you are away.
  4. Mutual Cross-training builds trust and loyalty. Why not have the person you're cross-training on your job to cross-train you on their job? Think of it as the buddy-system. You're ensuring their job gets done if they have to take off and they are doing the same for you. You'll build trust and loyalty this way.
25

Share your knowledge, Game playing is not good, certainly not in the IT industry.

I used to work with someone who hoarded knowledge to make themselves not only irreplaceable but to get in a position of power. They never documented circuit diagrams or changes and tried to restrict new staff members exposure to specialized knowledge. What this resulted in was an uncomfortable working environment, caused by them which was noticed by other members of staff and of course, management. As this person didn't want documentation, they tried to limit and even stop me from documenting which led to me having to explain why my work was not up to standard.

In the end, this staff member couldn't keep up with all changes in the company and people were loath to share with him. Management also realized that the longer they left it to fire him, the more knowledge he hoarded so they got rid of him. The last 6 month or so, this member of staff (due to increasing business) had to take on more and more work as no one else could do it. So in the end he was over-worked, burned out, had a breakdown, lost his job and made 0 friends doing it.

Share your knowledge, have people share theirs, make friends, make contacts and strive to further your field.

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    +1 Those who try to be irreplaceable in the worst way will find themselves replaced in the worst way. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 27 '15 at 15:59
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"If you can't be replaced you can't be promoted".

Restricting your skills to just yourself might give a superficial feeling of safety but it is just that, superficial. If they really needed to replace you the company could bring someone in and while there may be costs and delays as they get up to speed it would happen.

In the meantime though your holidays may be refused, your promotion prospects may be limited etc.

In the long run a good employer will value someone more if they are engaging with the team, transferring their skills to other people and gaining more skills for themselves than they will value someone who sits on an island doing their own thing.

5

Trying to be irreplaceable by intentionally doing a sub par job is a strategy that will eventually get you fired. And refusing to share what you know with others is doing a sub par job. It's not wise to assume that your managers don't know that. Your manager tells you to share this information so you have less on your plate and are more flexible taking holidays - do you really think that's the only reason? He knows that you are resisting this and tries to sugar coat his demand in something that is positive for you. If this doesn't work, he'll use different methods.

The easiest method is to task a bright colleague of yours to find out what you are doing. And to report back whether you helped, and how much more time that colleague had to spend because of your refusal. So then you're not irreplaceable, and the cost to the company will be duly noted. Hoarding information doesn't make you irreplaceable. It makes you a liability that must be replaced.

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    Hello and welcome to The Workplace SE. Our Q&A site put in place some back it up guidelines to help get the best answers. Can you edit your post to include references or relate this to a personal experience. Also, be sure to answer the full question. Good luck! :) – Michael Grubey May 29 '14 at 8:36
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  1. No management worth their salt is going to promote you to a position, if they don't have someone who can competently replace you in your current position

  2. If you are indispensable in your current position, you stay indispensable in your current position i.e. you don't move and you don't get to participate in projects that you are interested in and that are good for your career because they tell you that you are indispensable. Being indispensable also means being typecast, locked in and royally stuck. And how do I know that being indispensable can suck? Because I have been declared indispensable a couple of times. Being indispensable may or may not be a safety net, but it sure can be a straitjacket.

  3. You may be paid good money for being indispensable, but nobody gets stupendous raises year after year for performing the same type of work year after year, indispensable as the work may be.

  4. I prefer to be indispensable by sharing what I know with the management, training the staff to perform the work in the way I do it, and constantly acquiring new skills that are of vital importance to the business. this puts the pressure on me every single day. On the other hand, I don't have to worry about not being up to date in terms of experience and skills set, which means it's easier for me to switch jobs. And I sure don't like worrying :)

  • +1 - it's the people that do quality work and can leverage their skills to make those around them better are what really benefits a company. – user8365 May 27 '15 at 15:27
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I partially agree with the answers in that refusal to train is bad practice and that you will benefit your reputation and your organization by being open about what you do and teaching others to do the same.

But sadly, it is quite common that individuals and teams overtly or subtly refuse to crosstrain others in an attempt to retain their own status. In my own organization engineering routinely fails to share information with manufacturing and this leads to a lot of duplicated effort and dead-ends. Moreover, there are few immediate consequences for such behavior other than being "forced" to provide training (which ends up being fake and ineffectual, but which satisfies the management's demands superficially).

The "everyone is replaceable" concept has been cited a lot in workplace.stackexchange but in reality it is a lot more complex than the phrase implies. Sure, consistently uncooperative people will get on someone's cut-list sooner or later, but uncooperative people who are "rainmakers" will at least in the short term not suffer from it.

What will certainly happen, however, is that co-workers will resent a refusal to share information. This will mark the information-hoarder as an asshole and as everyone knows, all organizations have assholes (some more than others). They're not typically fired for being an asshole and they make the organization a worse place to work for everyone. Over a long period of time coworkers will either quit in frustration or find ways to learn/workaround the knowledge of the information-hoarder. In the best case scenario, the information-hoarder will end-up superfluous and will not have a good relationship with everyone else.

It is not worth worrying about making yourself redundant by sharing knowledge. There's a lot reasons why people get canned and this isn't the top of the list. And even if it is in your organization, it is better to go out as a reasonable person that people like rather than somebody who is uncooperative. In other words, if your org will fire someone who shares knowledge with the team, they'll fire anyone for anything and it is only a matter of time before everyone gets cut.

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If you can't train others to do what you do, how do you ever expect to be a supervisor?

On the job training is incredibly common for new hires - anybody who you are afraid of being replaced by can learn the thing you do. Being able to teach a skill is, in itself, a skill.

A lot of people have quoted the 'If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted' quote, but that's the real truth behind that line - If you can do one thing, and you can't teach anyone else to do it, you will never be able to train people to do what you're going to eventually be supervising.

If you consistently refuse to teach others your 'secret' skills, you will never be promoted, and they will find someone else who can learn what you know, and who will teach others the skill you covet.

  • +1 for saying "and they will find someone else who can learn what you know, and who will teach others the skill you covet." The surest way to get management to do something about someone is to get them seriously pissed off at that someone. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 27 '15 at 15:51
  • Re: "how do you ever expect to be a supervisor" - why do you bring this up? The question doesn't say anything about wanting to be a supervisor, and it's plenty possible to be highly successful without being a supervisor. – Andrew Medico May 28 '15 at 0:07
  • @AndrewMedico Because it's a serious concern to take into account when planning the future of your career. – Zibbobz May 28 '15 at 2:19
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Making yourself believe you are irreplacable by intentionally hiding your work will back fire. They can easily replace anyone and while there may be a delay in getting things up to speed or undoing what you did, it'll eventually save the company time and money because they then have someone who is part of the team with a process that can be easily transferred.

As an example, I knew a guy who would hold on his job security as a DBA by writing scripts that execute another script in a different languages. A bash script, executing a python script, executing a php script, etc. It would make it difficult for others to follow and allow him to say, "Oh no, I can only do the change." Eventually he was pushed out and all his work deleted and written from the ground up such that it can be easily read and modified by anyone. That new DBA that undone all that is still employed after 10 years. The old DBA who made himself "irreplacable" only lasted 3 years.

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This is a rather awkward situation...
The "approved" advise would always be that you should train someone and you need to contribute to the company you are working...blah,blah...blah........ I can't agree at least to the full extend to this advise...
It depends...if you see that the company has the will and potential to promote to a higher position then yes you should train someone to handle the load...
But we don't live in a world where hard work is always recognized and the good people get the good spots...we live in a world where money rules and if they find someone who can do the job at a fraction of your salary they will kick you out in a flash....... My advise is to measure your skills ...measure them really good...check if your company really needs you, really appreciates you and the salary you get is well deserved and acceptable from the higher executives(aka managers) ...if this is the case then yes start slowly ...very slowly to train someone while you set yourself full speed ahead to bring new technologies to the company so when the training of the replacement is over you would have set new standards so ...guess back to square one for your managers....
Also is not a bad idea to have eyes wide open for someone that is willing to pay your skills at a price you set (at least 30% more than your present salary)

  • i often ask my self how many down votes we would see if the name of the down voters was displayed...i think it's the coward's paradise – someone May 27 '15 at 14:44
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    -1 Aside from being poorly written and difficult to read, this is bad advice. You are telling people to only train someone if they think there's potential for advancement, and even then, only train them while you are working to make their training obsolete. If your only motivation is advancement, then do your job, and do it well. If that includes training others to do your job, then so be it. If you think that you are a poor enough employee that training someone means you'll be replaced, then you should start looking for a new job. – David K May 28 '15 at 12:36
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    @DavidK sorry for the bad writing...as for my opinions..better safe than sorry.... – someone May 28 '15 at 12:40

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