my office is in chaos – and it’s all falling on me

A reader writes:

I work in the Executive Office of a very busy, national nonprofit. I used to be half of a “dream team” supporting the two top executives, along with ”Anna.” Over the three years that Anna and I were a team producing excellent results, both of us were consistently given more responsibilities, at higher and higher levels. Things were excellent and all four of us felt that our work and our organization were thriving.

Unfortunately, Anna unexpectedly moved because of a family crisis. She gave a few weeks’ notice, and left a manual of the work she was responsible for. We were sad to lose her, but optimistic about filling her spot with another high-capacity person. In the meantime, we’d use a temp agency to help manage the workload. I got a small promotion and a raise with the understanding that I’d supervise the temp and onboard the new hire.

That was 10 months ago. Since then, we’ve been through the hiring process three times with no luck. Bottom line, the CEO only wants an Anna-clone. In the meantime, we’ve had a series of mostly-disastrous temp workers. It’s unbelievable how awful they’ve been. One faked a workplace injury on her first day and sued us, Two refused to speak to me or do anything I asked because I was “young enough to be her daughter,” Three couldn’t use basic computer programs like Word, Four dropped all the outgoing mail into a bin under her desk and would no-show about once a week. Five was fine, but left one day and never came back. Six was excellent but quickly found a new job. Seven was okay but inconsistent, but she suffered an actual psychotic break in our office last week and is now hospitalized.

I loved my job. It energized and motivated me, and 10 months ago I never dreamed of leaving. But now I dread going in and find it hard to get up in the morning. As the months have dragged on and our expectations for the temps have lowered, I’ve been asked to take more and more of Anna’s responsibilities without giving up any of mine. Everything is moving through our office at a snail’s pace because I’m constantly onboarding someone new, cleaning up mistakes, or fielding a crisis. Even so, I can’t do the amount or quality of work on my own that Anna and I did together. I feel like my professional reputation is suffering — even though people are verbally sympathetic, they’re still frustrated when I’m holding them up, and I can’t believe that doesn’t hurt the way they see me. I feel taken advantage of by the organization, which I hate, because previously I felt respected and valued.

I’ve stopped saying “yes” when my bosses give me new things to handle. Now I talk through what I’d have to drop to take something on, and we prioritize together. After these conversations they don’t give the de-prioritized responsibility to someone else — they either ostensibly take it on themselves, or leave it owner-less. Either way, this functionally means they just wait until a crisis comes, then ask me to drop everything to resolve it. Then next time it’s my job because I fixed it before.

How do I handle this professionally? I’m struggling to find a way out that doesn’t burn a bridge, leave the office in an extremely difficult spot, or keep me trapped in this. Also, I think I’m just angry and very sad that my fantastic job is now such a nightmare. What do I do?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 196 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Amber T

    Oh OP, what a sucky position to be in. I have no additional advice to give – I think Alison was spot on, specifically – ” I know it’s tough to walk away from a job that you used to love, but at this point, this isn’t that job anymore, as much as you might want it to be.” The job you love doesn’t exist anymore, and there’s even a chance that if they hire someone competent, it still won’t be the same. And that’s all okay. It’s okay to walk away whenever you need to. The fact that this has been happening for *ten months* should absolve you of any guilt you feel for leaving them at a difficult time.

    Reply
    1. Another person

      I agree! It took me a full year when my great job turned bad after a reorg and management change to accept that my old job that I loved was gone and I had to move on.

      The anger and grief are real. But you can get through this! Don’t be afraid of what’s on the other side. This is on your management for failing to resolve the staffing problem, not you. You’ve done all you can for them and should feel good about that. It’s time to take care of yourself.

      Reply
      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        “The anger and grief are real.”
        This is so true. I feel that when you have a good job it is because you found a place where you can grow as person. Honestly. Like you think, “I never thought I’d be able to speak up at meetings.” or “Wow, people ask ME how to do this procedure.” And when the environment is gone, the place where you succeed is gone. And you can mourn that.

        Reply
        1. Kix

          I’m there right now. I’m actively looking for new jobs, but in the meantime, I need to stay engaged at my current job while trying to deal with raw anger and grief. I welcome any suggestions from those who have been through this in terms of coping mechanisms. Thanks!

          Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      I also agree with Alison that what might be prima donnaish at one week can be just laying out the obvious after 10 months.

      There’s a psych rule that you can tolerate anything for 3 months; longer than that, and it becomes your life and the countdown to when it’s done just doesn’t rescue you the same way. (I was given this rule in Peace Corps training, an example at the time being how long submarine crews would stay down–a quick google suggests that 3 months is still the normal limit there. I’ve been reminded of the rule in diverse scenarios over the years.) And OP doesn’t even have a countdown to when they hire someone competent, with the open-endedness of the current unneeded disfunction being an additional source of stress all on its own.

      Reply
      1. DaisyGrrl

        “There’s a psych rule that you can tolerate anything for 3 months…OP doesn’t even have a countdown to when they hire someone competent, with the open-endedness of the current unneeded disfunction being an additional source of stress all on its own.”

        Building on this, OP, think about how much longer you can realistically give them and make the timing clear. Also, think about the interim milestones they’ll need to meet in order to hire someone/effect appropriate change. If you don’t see your bosses taking concrete steps to fixing things, or they’re dragging their feet, it’s okay to cut your losses and leave before you originally planned.

        Reply
  2. Observer

    I know this was a temp. But how does someone who won’t talk to or listen to her supervisor because “she’s young enough to be my daughter” even get past basic screening? And how does that person even get past the on-borading stage?

    That’s beyond bizarre.

    My sympathies. 10 months is WAY too long.

    Reply
    1. Justme

      When I was a temp (which was years ago and through a reputable company) the agency interview was an absolute joke. It doesn’t surprise me that the OP has ended up with insubordinate candidates.

      Reply
      1. paul

        We’ve had a few horrible temps; I think the worst was one that intentionally peed in the lobby then denied it happened. I mean, she literally hiked up her dress and…yeah. That was maybe 3-4 years ago and people *still* talk about it.

        That said, that’s one or two over *years*, not a string of them over 10 months. I’d look for a different temp agency, you shouldn’t be getting this many duds. I’d normally say you need to look at your expectations, but at least 1-4 seemed to be pretty bad by any standard which makes me think the temp agency is a bad one

        Reply
        1. Alli525

          To be fair, if I had witnessed someone revenge-pee on company property, I would talk about it for the rest of my natural life.

          And OP’s company needs to reevaluate the temp agency AND their own company’s screening process. Good lord.

          Reply
          1. Murphy

            To be fair, if I had witnessed someone revenge-pee on company property, I would talk about it for the rest of my natural life.

            No kidding!

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          2. paul

            Oh, I probably will :=) It was at a different location but I came in to drop off paperwork and they had someone cleaning up a spot and were escorting the temp out and everyone was nattering and our CEO (who officed right by the front) looked…well, I can’t describe it very well, but totally poleaxed maybe?

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          3. Dani X

            yeah – I tell the revenge pee story all the time! I mean seriously – he peed on a manager’s door for months!!! you can’t not tell that story.

            Reply
          1. paul

            I didn’t witness the actual full event and they’ve been mum with the details of exactly what prompted it but I *suspect* she disagreed with some feedback and decided to protest? That’s my best guess. I don’t think she was terminated before that but I’m not 100% sure.

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        2. Chinook

          Yup. You need a new temp agency because they are sending you duds. As well, consider hiring them as “temp to hire” which give you the option to hire a temp that does work out as well as give the agency the incentive to send you people that meet your requirements (instead of them losing the account once you hire someone).

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          1. The Other Dawn

            My precious company always did temp to hire vs. someone just temping. It worked out really well for us. If we got a dud, we just asked for someone else. If they worked out after three to six months, we hired them.

            Reply
          2. PlainJane

            I came here to say exactly this. The one temp you had that was good found another job; suggest to your execs that they run this as temp to hire and be willing to fork over the agency fee to hire someone who’s good. That good temp could have been your good hire instead of someone else’s.

            Reply
          3. Can't think of cool name

            Completely agree withe the temp to hire plan. I can say from the prospective of a former temp that was/is well qualified, you will not get real quality generally from just a temp position. When I was temping I would not even consider a post that was not temp to hire. I was looking for a full time job and I was not interested in wasting time somewhere that wasn’t offering a long term prospect. I got 2 of my career jobs via temp to hire jobs

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      2. K.

        I’ve temped with different agencies and the agency interview has varied. In some cases it’s been, basically, “Are you breathing? Cool, we’ll keep your resume on file.” In others, I had to fill out an application and do a Microsoft Office suite test. If there’s been a temp who couldn’t do basic office functions, I’m guessing the OP’s employer is using an agency without much of a screening process.

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        1. ZenJen

          yup, a good agency will have you do software tests, will talk to your references, and cares who they’re sending to a company. I temped 20 yrs ago, and it was good work with good companies.

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          1. Karen D

            Oh, yeah. We used a local temp agency for a seasonal job that was absolutely key. I worked with three or four, and every single one was lightning in a bottle – EXCELLENT people.

            I think this agency focused on corporate admin types who had retired here and appreciated the occasional logistical challenge, but didn’t want to be back in the workforce full time. I know they networked hard to recruit good people.

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          2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo

            Exactly. The agencies I’ve been at required me to take the software tests – in the beginning it was done at the agency, but now they send links to log into the test site and take the tests from home. A good temp agency won’t let people who don’t know the basic computer programs anywhere near a job requiring experience with those programs.

            I agree, it sounds like it’s time to find a new temp agency.

            Reply
      3. Ama

        When I was hiring and supervising temps regularly, I had to regularly have serious conversations with our agency rep about sending us people with the particular skills we needed (or at least people who were briefed on what we needed and showed up prepared to do it) and not just anyone on their roster. In our case it worked (until we inevitably got a new agency rep and had to start over a few months later) because my very large employer had an exclusive contract with the agency and did a ton of business with them so complaints that they weren’t meeting our needs might result in losing the contract.

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        1. Jadelyn

          I always love when one of their junior “recruiters” obviously just did a quick keyword search and didn’t bother to look at the results before sending them to a company. We asked an administrative services temp agency for someone who could do microsoft office stuff, “including powerpoint decks with animations”. We got sent resumes for two actual animators – people who had done design work on video games and stuff. And, despite us telling the rep that this was a temp position for 3 months, we found out when we interviewed one of the guys that the agency had told them it was a temp to hire.

          Wrangling staffing agency recruiters to get what you actually need from them is a whole other challenge.

          Reply
        2. Tau

          OldJob wasn’t exactly a temp agency – I think “professional service supplier” was the term used, with them employing teapot specialists and hiring them out to clients who needed one – but there were similarities and let’s just say that their definition of “necessary skills” and “matches what the client requests” could be, uh. Special.

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      4. tiny temping teapot

        Not all agencies are like that, and there has to be a decent one in the city that does screen.

        Reply
      5. Observer

        Yes, but the first day at the new place, when introduced to the new supervisor should have exposed this.

        But, I do agree that a new temp agency is in order.

        Reply
    2. Sassy AE

      We had administration professional temps for our local office who were horrendous and caused us to actually eliminate the position. One sent out a really aggressive email complaining about her pay/how we were all mean to her (I was CCed on this as an intern. The entire office was), and the second person “took home” (read stole) office beer from our fridge.

      The managing partner just said screw it. Now she orders the coffee and pop when necessary, I work with the main HR to on-board stuff, and our intern is in charge of handling the phones. It helps that we have a main HQ who has an awesome admin professional who can help out. But temps, especially for people who see admins as “easy work” are notoriously hit or miss.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        That sounds like major intern abuse if phone answering is a big job. They are supposed to be learning not replacing employees for routine jobs.

        Reply
        1. Sassy AE

          It’s not a major part of her duties. Just one part. We’re an auxiliary office. Our intern is actually with the senior leadership group for a major global client at an all-team meeting at their North American HQ. We also pay our interns full-time. It’s a very nice internship program, and we often hire through it. I started as an intern, as did another woman at my level. We’re currently trying to find budget to hire our current intern permanently.

          That comment was more to show that we all pitched in together to absorb the admin role, rather than run the gauntlet of crappy temps.

          Reply
          1. Breda

            Also – learning comfort with business calls CAN be a hugely important thing for interns! One of my intern duties was notifying everyone we did business with when the office moved, and called ~75 companies, tracking down the right person, and telling them the pertinent info was a really great crash course in “not all phone calls are scary.”

            Reply
          1. Susan Calvin

            But then, TAKING HOME the beer, presumably to either spite its potential drinkers or to save them from their own bad taste, is truly a special kind of obnoxious.

            Reply
    3. MsChanandlerBong

      I saw red when I read the descriptions of the temps. When I moved to a new state, I signed up with the temp agencies to give me some income while my husband looked for a FT job. I have administrative experience, type 120 WPM, have intermediate Word/Excel skills, and usually end up as the go-to person for anybody who needs computer/copier/fax machine help, yet I never got one phone call the whole time I was registered with them.

      Reply
      1. The Strand

        Some places, you just have to make the rounds and call them every week, or every day to let them know you’re still available. If they like you, they’ll give you an one day assignment.

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        1. NoHose

          Yes, all my agencies in my past have said, you have to call in regularly or apply online to our posted offers regularly.

          One agency said that also…but their website and application process was terrible. I didn’t follow up with that one.

          Agencies, in my experience, also have high turnover. You may feel like you have a decent working relationship with someone at an agency, and you can discuss best fits for placements…and then they’re gone, just like that.

          Reply
    4. ReadItWithSpanishAccent

      This… happened to me. I was 20 years old or so, a receptionist, and we hired a third one. She would not listen to me because “I was only 20” “she had been a receptionist before” and so on and so forth. She was a pain to work with. She’d directly call the chief receptionist outside working hours because she had a question, but refused to ask me. She then told the chief receptionist that she did ask me, and I did’t know. She was finally caught once she called her with some questions and, again, claimed she had asked me and I did not know. It turned to be a certain area that was solely my responsibility and only I knew how to manage.
      She was let go in a month or so.
      She also talked endleslly about her pet rabbits having sex. Man, the people you meet at work…

      Reply
      1. many bells down

        I had a job once where the manager was the youngest person there. He was the first employee the place hired when it opened. And boy, did a lot of the other employees just loathe him for that. Once, someone said to me “ugh, Mike is always telling me what to do! Don’t you hate it when he tells you what to do?”

        I said “He’s the manager. He’s supposed to tell me what to do.”

        Reply
        1. Siberian

          Ha, I have the same conversation with my 9-year-old son, Manybellsdown. “It’s so unfair! You and Dad always tell me what to do but I can’t tell YOU what to do!!” I can’t believe that some people don’t advance past that concept at work!

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            A major cause of newbies to the workforce failing out is getting mad that someone is ‘bossing them around’ and then they go home and complain to family members and buddies who don’t work and get told ‘they can’t do you like that’ and ‘you can’t let them push you around.’ and bingo end of that job. They missed the concept ‘boss’ somewhere along the line.

            Reply
      2. Elizabeth West

        That’s ridiculous. I don’t get that whole “You’re younger than me; ergo you know nothing” crap. If Susan is working at the company where Martha is temping or was just hired, even if it’s Susan’s first job ever, OF COURSE Susan is going to know more–she will have more experience at that company than Martha.

        Reply
      3. krysb

        I had a temp trying to tell me what to do and thought she could run over me because she was 30-ish years my senior. I was off-shift from her – I came in late in her shift. When I’d do something, she’d tell me Jake (not a manager, but pretty much the highest ranking person who worked hours more similar to the temp’s) didn’t want it like that. I finally stopped and said “Lady, I’m Jake’s BOSS. He doesn’t tell me what to do.”

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    5. Bess

      I feel like there are some staffing agencies that work on a lowest-available wage earner idea, where they just lowball until they get a bite, which allows the agency to take like 40% off the top of what the company is paying. It ends up sticking companies with some real wild cards. So that could be what’s happening here. (I could also be wrong that that’s a thing but I’ve seen it play out that way in a couple of cases).

      Reply
    6. nicolefromqueens

      When I went to my current temp agency, I had a brief interview. It was basically: yay youre here on time and youre presentable! What kind of work are you looking for, when are you available, what are your skills, resume and references please, okay great you can speak and follow simple directions! We’ll email you a link to an online skills test. Basic Excel, Word, Outlook and a typing test.

      Hell, in two agencies I’m registered in I never even went in for an interview! And from one of them I got a seasonal timekeeping job at a company that brings you packages in a brown truck! And to think that was after I got loud at the poor recruiter on the phone because of a total mixup.

      But yeah at my current job we’ve had some real duds.

      Reply
    7. Clewgarnet

      I temped in between jobs, and considered myself barely competent. However, every placement raved about me and would specifically ask for me for future placements.

      When I was in a position where I was hiring temps, I rapidly realised why. Basically, anybody who’s good as a temp quickly gets hired into a permanent position.

      Reply
  3. Jessica

    If the job is literally putting people in the hospital or making them walk off the job, it is not a one-person job. Aside from the temporary workers who would not do the work, I’d say it is time to strongly consider that you need a team to do this job, not just one person. It’s one thing for a person to grow their responsibilties over time, but another entirely to expect someone to walk on and achieve things at the same level as an expert.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      Yes! You may need 2-3 people to shoulder Anna levels of work. And if you do, you are better off with a steady team than with another high performer. Because people move on, or get injured, have emergencies – if you have 2-3 people and one of them goes, and was doing one average-to-competent person worth of work…well, it’s a lot easier to fill that with a temp and rehire for it, than it is to find another person who can hit the ground running at the capacity of a star performer (who had time to learn the org and grow their responsibilities organically, besides having strong ability).

      Reply
    2. ZenJen

      I AGREE–they need to hire 2 people to replace Anna, at competitive salaries, and NOT be looking for a clone. that’s seriously unreasonable, and actually counts out a lot of possible candidates who might have been good. They should also post the job on their social media outlets, for maximum exposure–they might have better luck with reaching tech-savvy candidates.

      Reply
    3. Kate the Little Teapot

      Yes – good point. Also, if you hire two people with less experience and thus pay them less than Anna was being paid, you could hire young energetic folks who will respond well to your coaching and direction and management, and it changes the hiring conversation so this isn’t about “an Anna clone” but about a new direction.

      Reply
    4. Matilda Jefferies

      This, a thousand times. And even if they end up hiring only one person, they need to be clear that the role is an Executive Assistant, and that it requires at least X years experience supporting executives. Without knowing exactly what’s going on in their recruitment process, I would guess that they’re advertising for an Administrative Assistant*, and not spelling out that this is not an entry-level position.

      I’m sure you know this, OP, but your bosses need to be really clear what they want. If they want an Anna, then they need to recruit and hire an Anna, and pay her appropriately when she gets there. If they want someone slightly less experienced, less skilled, etc, that’s fine too – but there again they still need to clearly spell out those expectations and what they’re giving up by hiring a Beatrice instead.

      *This is intended with tons of respect for Admin Assistants! The good ones are absolutely invaluable to the running of their offices. But an EA is not exactly the same as an AA, and I think this is where OP’s bosses are getting tripped up. They want an EA, but are only willing to hire an AA, and they’re setting themselves up to fail right out of the gate.

      Reply
      1. Kate the Little Teapot

        This x10000000, it absolutely is significant.

        My comment about hiring younger people was only because they already have the OP, who can handle the work requiring EA judgement herself and triage the other stuff down to the young people.

        Reply
      2. Karen D

        They could go the opposite direction .. and may have already tried this … but have they looked through the ranks for someone who might be promotable? Or two people?

        I have a friend who is high in the ranks of a firm in a pretty finicky specialty. She endured 40 fits trying to find a good EA to provide executive-level support but her hires kept failing because they didn’t really understand the demands of the Teapot business. Finally, in desperation she gave a trial to someone in their Teapot production department who had been looking to move from manufacturing into a more office-like role, and while he was rough around the edges for awhile on some issues, he understood the mission and the direction of the company and, with a little support, quickly rose to Annaesque stature.

        Reply
    5. Sunshine on a cloudy day

      Yeahhh… I mean those temps do sound objectively bad, but it just seems really off to get that many duds in a row. I would take a close look at the temp agency itself (are there any other options available) and also what the process is for selecting a temp. Can you request a quick in-person interview before the temp role begins – I’ve temped quite a bit and I’ve only had one assignment (it was a same-day, one-off, someone called in sick emergency they just needed a butt in the seat) where I did not meet with both the temp agency and then with a person at the actual company I’d be at.

      Beyond those two things I would also take a VERY hard look at what you are expecting of the Temp. Expecting a temp to come in and operate at Anna-level at the time that she left (ie: after 3 years of doing the job) is completely unrealistic. Even expecting a temp to come in and operate at 75% of Anna-level at the time that she left might be unrealistic.

      Reply
      1. K.

        Yeah, for a temp role like this there should be an interview process. I had one “can you come in right now?” thing once (reception for someone who had called in sick) and even then, I was a known quantity at the agency so they were comfortable sending me.

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        1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

          Yes exactly! I had completed a couple of other assignments with (assumably) positive reviews, so they knew I was safe to send over for this one-off emergency.

          Every other temp assignment (even for gigs lasting only a week or so) I’d do a quick “interview” at the company. Usually only lasted 20min, but still I think it gave everyone pease of mind.

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      2. Eppie

        Agreed! I get tons of requests to interview for temp or temp-to-hire jobs. I’m a solid performer and have zero reason to take a temp position over a permanent one at this stage in my life. If they haven’t managed to find a replacement in 10 months, that indicates to me they are expecting a temp to become “the new Anna.” Seeking temps instead of a permanent placement may be what is keeping them from finding a solid replacement. (PS, I know there are exceptions – I also know many people wouldn’t temp because why should they?)

        Reply
      3. Malibu Stacey

        I was coming here to say this: I signed up with a temp agency and the client interviewed me before I got the job. And this was for 10 week gig where all I would be doing is scanning their old records onto the server.

        Reply
    6. AW

      Even if the hospitalization was co-incidence, just the description of how the OP and Anna worked sounds like they were doing the work of 3 or more people. It also still leaves two good employees who simply left.

      I think a combination of this advice of hiring more than one person plus Xarcady’s suggestion to promote from within (so at least one other person on the team is already familiar with the organization) would fix this problem.

      Reply
    7. Caro in the UK

      This was what jumped out at me too. If you’ve struggled to recruit for that long, and the temps you have covering the role are leaving for the reasons you’ve outlined, then I’d guess that the workload is far too heavy for one person to handle and/or the salary is severely below the level needed to attract another “Anna”.

      Reply
    8. JamieS

      Agreed with all this. I’m also wondering if the company is looking to fill the wrong role. Considering the added responsibilities Anna took on it’s possible her functional job no longer matched what her job title was. For example if her official job title was receptionist but her responsibilities had expanded to the point she was functionally the community outreach director. If the company is still looking for a receptionist while expecting a community outreach director than I don’t think there’s a high chance temps/new hires will succeed in the role.

      Reply
    9. cncx

      100000000000x this. Dealing with something similar now. We had a rockstar leave who was part time. Things got done on a part time schedule because this person was a rockstar. Someone who does not know the job as well- guess what, it is going to be a full time job or a two person part time. Waiting for the other shoe to drop on that one soon.

      It may have been a two person job because Anna and OP were rockstars at it, but if the hiring pool is what it is, then this is probably a three or four person job. I feel like this is something OP could bring up in the discussion with management/hr.

      Reply
  4. Lata

    If they can’t find someone who fits either the expectations are too high, they are trying to find one person to do two jobs, or they aren’t offering enough pay and perks.

    Reply
    1. Antilles

      Those are all possible, but there’s also the possibility that they’re simply awful at screening/hiring people. I mean, they basically had four straight hires who were unacceptable by any reasonable standard. Temps or not, that’s completely absurd.

      Reply
      1. paul

        I know we’ve had bad temps but I don’t know how the process goes; do the agencies just tell you here’s who you get, or do they screen then you screen them too? Or is this variable?

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        1. Antilles

          It does vary. In many cases the temp agency does all of the screening and just tell you who’s available – many companies actually like this since part of the benefit to the company is saving our time in sifting through resumes/conducting interviews/etc.
          But after “the first guy you sent faked an injury and is suing us”, I’d probably be pretty firm in telling the temp agency that I will also be doing some screening myself going forwards.

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        2. Xarcady

          I’m currently temping.

          The temp agencies differ a lot. The agency I’m currently working through has a contract with the company I’m temping at–I’ve been here for 2 years, in a variety of different positions. The agency really tries to fit their client’s needs.

          I had to take Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint tests, then a proofreading test and a “speed and accuracy” test that came from the company where I do the actual work. The agency started me off in small, short-term jobs at first. Pretty much anyone who could answer a phone and type could do them.

          And then as I developed a track record, I got longer-term and more difficult jobs. At this point, I get asked for an updated resume and usually have to interview for a job, but it’s clear that 2 or 3 vetted temps are being screened for the best fit. And the pay rate and length of job go up as a temp establishes herself as a capable worker.

          A good temp agency will try to fit temps with the right jobs. They will get customer feedback about the temps and try to play to their strengths. Agencies on the other end of things will send out a warm body and hope for the best.

          Reply
          1. Jen S. 2.0

            As we used to say in a former office of mine, “Hope is not, in itself, an acceptable business strategy.”

            Reply
        3. Jadelyn

          Depends on the situation, and mostly it goes off of what the employer wants. Some employers say “Just send me someone as long as they fit X criteria”. Some say “Send me two resumes that fit X criteria and let me choose between them”. Some want a stack of resumes to review and then do interviews with.

          Reply
    2. Decimus

      As with a lot of office clusterfudges it sounds like they’ve got two different problems.

      One, the expectations they have for the new person are probably too high (or they need to increase the salary to match expectations). Even if in the end one person will have the job they may need two temps to fill in because temps just aren’t going to be as familiar/efficient as one person who has been there a long time and is very familiar with the people/requirements.

      Two, they really, really need a different temp agency. Or at an absolute minimum need to have a serious talk with their temp agency contact about the pre-screening for this position. They definitely need to have a required-skills list and make sure the temp agency has tested/checked references to make sure these people HAVE those skills.

      Reply
    3. Serin

      Yes, when you tell me that a company both cannot fill a crucial position and has a succession of really epic awfulness from temps, my first thought is, “They’re refusing to pay what the work is worth.”

      I saw this when I was working for a church that was hiring a new pastor. The regional governing board set a standard salary range, but the church wanted to pay less than that. Take a wild guess what happened. Did we get a substandard pastor? One who couldn’t be bothered to show up for meetings? One who preached funeral sermons that mentioned one surviving child but left out the other? Yes. Yes, we did.

      Reply
    4. Sfigato

      I’ve worked at several places who had a hard time hiring people, and it seemed to me that they were looking for something that didn’t really exist, or didn’t exist at the salary level they were offering. It seems like if you’ve done three rounds and not gotten who you want, you should revisit the job description to see if you could use what you were getting.

      Reply
  5. AlwhoisthatAl

    They are taking total advantage of you and you need to do what Alison says. Why on earth did they think a temp would do ? It’s high level work, you don’t employ a temp to do it unless you are intending to develop them and then employ them with a decent salary as an employee.
    Also why can’t they employ TWO more people ? One to learn Anna’s job from you and the other to take the basic stuff off you while you train Anna’s replacement. You need to be made the manager and have two people working under you to resolve this issue.
    Basically they has used you as the stick to prop up the whole business, you can’t carry on doing the work of 2-3 people – Your work, Anna’s work and the training of a replacement. For your own health and well-being you need to either leave or have a couple of months off or have decent workers recruited now.

    Reply
  6. HisGirlFriday

    OP, one of the most powerful things my mentor ever told me was, ‘Silence is powerful. Say what you need to say and then shut up. Give people enough silence and they’ll talk themselves into a hole.’

    Alison’s script is perfect. When you use it, say, ‘When we’ve talked about how to prioritize projects, the items we take off my plate don’t end up with someone else, which means that eventually I end up needing to drop everything to deal with them anyway. Continuing on like this isn’t feasible for me. The last ten month have been exhausting, and I’m on the road to burnout if it continues. I loved my job before this vacancy opened up, but I want to be transparent with you that I don’t see myself staying here long-term if it continues much longer. At this point, I don’t think shuffling my workload around is the solution. I think we need to take swift action to hire someone — not a temp — into Anna’s position, even if that means raising the salary or otherwise changing whatever the obstacles have been in the past hiring rounds.’

    AND THEN STOP.

    Let them fill the silence, but don’t fill it yourself. Silence is powerful.

    Reply
  7. K.

    My jaw dropped at the succession of temps. Between the disastrous temps and the failed-three-times hiring process, it sounds like there may be an issue with the way the company hires. I’m curious about how a temp who can’t perform basic office functions gets through the hiring process. Some of those temps are bad luck (faking a workplace injury and suing?!) but running through that many and trying three times to fill a role … something is too tight or too loose, somewhere.

    At the VERY least, find a new temp agency to use!

    Reply
    1. K.

      But I suspect the issue is that it’s too much work and at too high a level for a temp, which is why you’re burning through them so quickly. And as you say, the CEO is being way too stringent in her hiring practices. If she only wants an Anna clone, who was operating at a high level after being with the organization for several years, it stands to reason that a temp who comes in cold – even a very good temp – isn’t going to be able to produce those kinds of results.

      Reply
      1. SarcasticFringehead

        Nobody who comes in cold is going to be Anna right off the bat, temp or otherwise. I’m dealing with this now where we need another person for my department, but they “can’t find anyone with the skills you have!” When I started, I didn’t have these skills either, and I certainly didn’t have eight years of institutional knowledge.

        If the LW had been able to pour all the time and energy she’s spent dealing with these nightmare temps into training someone who might not have had the skills, but was enthusiastic about the job and generally competent, the organization would be much better off.

        Reply
      2. London Calling

        Slightly OT, but as someone in the UK who temped for over 10 years, I take issue with this assumption that all temps are low-level drones. I work in finance and have worked with a lot of senior people – financial controller level and above – who are contractors (which is essentially what a temp is. You are hired to work on a specific project, whether that’s dealing with a filing backlog or dealing with major projects). I don’t think some of those people would appreciate being told that the work was at too high a level for them – mostly, unless the company has an emergency and needs someone RIGHT NOW, temps/contractors are interviewed and scrutinised for suitability just like perm people are. Or should be.

        Reply
        1. Dee

          That sounds to me like a cultural difference in the word “temp.” For the types of positions you’re describing, I’d use contractor or consultant.

          Reply
        2. Antilles

          This is a US/UK dialect thing. In the US, we absolutely have short or limited term workers with specific skills hired to deal with specific projects and/or for a designated time frame, just like you’re describing. However, in my experience, they’re usually referred to as “contract employees” or “outside consultant” – not “temps”.
          Instead, “temp” is generally reserved for exactly how people are describing it – a warm body to fill in, who (hopefully) has general working knowledge of offices, professional decorum, and Word/Excel/etc so they can jump in and keep things afloat, but isn’t expected to have any specific expertise.

          Reply
        3. Jaybeetee

          As someone who has also temped quite a bit, I don’t necessarily think that’s what people mean either – it’s not so much that a temp can’t be competent, but more what others have said, that it’s unreasonable to expect any temp to walk into this gig and perform at Anna-levels early in the game, just because Anna had been there for years and her responsibilities increased gradually.

          (And as others have said, that higher level fixed-term work you describe, here in Canada, would usually be a “Consultant” or a “Contractor.” There are exceptions, but “temp” here usually means relatively low-level admin/clerical/call centre positions.

          Reply
        4. K.

          I, too, disagree with the notion that all temporary workers are low-level drones. I’ve both temped (reception, filing, data entry, basic admin assistant work – not to be confused with executive assistant work, which I’d put in a different category) and done contract work. The contract work is work in my field for a finite amount of time (or contract to hire), and it’s much more specialized and pays much, much more than administrative temp work. You wouldn’t call that person a temp though – you’d say contractor.

          Reply
      3. Magenta Sky

        That’s one possibility. The other is they went to a very low end temp agency, maybe because they don’t know the difference, maybe because the high end ones – with high end temps – cost a *lot* more.

        Given how picky the bosses are being over who they hire permanently, what they really should be doing is finding a high end temp agency that specializes in that kind of office management work, and does temp-t0-hire, and making it clear they expect some screening from the agency before their own brief interview.

        There are certainly agencies out there that can handle this. But you don’t get their people for minimum wage.

        Reply
    2. kb

      I agree that there seems to be something very wrong with the temp situation. Is this a reputable agency? Is this agency equipped to provide temps of the caliber you need? Are the wages set for the prospect temps high enough to yield interest from qualified prospective workers? If the answer to all those is yes– wow, what rotten luck.

      Reply
      1. kb

        And as other people have said above, the temps who were qualified but left may be a sign you may need a team of temps rather than just one. But I would still encourage you to look into that temp agency situation because it seems like they’re struggling to provide workers with the basic skills you need.

        Reply
  8. Artemesia

    I think the OP needs to begin a job search right now (as in yesterday) The process of job searching will change the way she sees the current job and make life a little more bearable. I might do that a month before having the suggested conversation with the boss so she knows her options. The management of her organization are abusing her because they can. They haven’t hired someone because it isn’t hurting THEM not to and apparently they haven’t given her a huge raise either for dealing with this.

    Her ONLY concern should be her own well being. I hope she finds a great job that pays more and gives her two week notice tomorrow. And if she does, she should not agree to continue to be on call when things go sideways at the old place. They have had 10 months; they really don’t care and are happy for the OP to do it all indefinitely.

    Reply
    1. ZenJen

      I totally agree with starting the job search. When MY last job was going downhill, I job-searched, and even the act of it helped my mental state immensely! I saw that I was qualified for a lot of positions, and could get more money elsewhere. Don’t stay in a job that’s making you a mess :-(

      Reply
      1. Blue

        I agree, unless you’re in such a niche job field that job searching only hammers home how few options you have. That’s really demoralizing. (not that I’m currently experiencing this or anything. Ahem.)

        Reply
  9. fposte

    Oh, OP, I’m sorry. The jobs that used to be wonderful are the toughest ones to deal with, because they’re so filled with If Only.

    In addition to what Alison said, I’d say it wouldn’t hurt to window show for possible new jobs. That could get you more used to the idea of being somewhere else and help you avoid replicating your current job’s situation with Anna and resenting anything that isn’t an old-job clone.

    Reply
  10. Fluffer Nutter

    Oh, OP I feel you. It can be hard to accept when the sands shift underneath you. I agree with AAM’s excellent advice. I can only share that this is where I was 3 years ago. Job/career I thought I’d retire from went toxic. Unrelenting 50 hour weeks and stress, no help with workload. A group of us complained and all we got from Big Boss was “I did your job once and it wasn’t that hard.” When I sat down to update my resume I cried. I left 6 mos later and about 40-50% of the rest have left since. I felt a deep sense of loss and betrayal for a long time. But, in my current [transitional] position I’ve worked OT about 1x/year and I’m hoping to get an offer today or tomorrow for something better. Remember that when someone’s words and actions don’t match- go by their actions. So if they won’t hire as AAM suggested you may need to move on. You never get your health back. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Beezus

      Yep! I was here once, too! I stayed for almost 2 years in misery. There was always something on the horizon that meant things were getting better – I had 2 Annas who both left and were replaced with a succession of people who each seemed like they might work out but then didn’t, there was a series of management changes, etc. The larger team we were in, under the same management role, had almost 100% turnover for both of those years, and the year after I left. The work that Anna1, Anna2, and I covered is now handled by 6 people – including an admin to handle all the basic stuff and a process improvement person! They do a much better job because they’re able to effectively cover everything they’re supposed to cover and work sane hours doing it.

      I don’t think they could make the changes they needed to make, to really fix things, while I was there. Not that I was a roadblock or would have resisted change in any way, I think I just enabled them to limp along without fixing problems.

      Reply
      1. deets

        “I think I just enabled them to limp along without fixing problems.”

        Oof, this hits home. My team is currently very understaffed (got some new, big contracts that coincided with one of our best people leaving). When the crunch started about six weeks ago we were all asked to buckle down and power through until they could hire some new people. Okay, fine, I get that they can’t snap their fingers and fill the positions – but, every time I ask how hiring is going, I get some sort of brush off. Last week my boss made a comment about how smoothly everything was running, and how we might not actually need those new people. But… the only reason things appear smooth now is because everyone is working at unsustainable levels, and there is absolutely no margin for error if someone else leaves, or needs long-term leave. The total lack of foresight is astonishing.

        Reply
        1. Caro in the UK

          I left a job for exactly this reason.

          We were understaffed for the entire time I worked there, but constantly told that plans were being made to bring in more people. Then they decided that while we weren’t running at 100% (how could we, with approximately half the staff we actually needed to do the job) we were getting all of the important stuff done, which was good enough, and they’d rather save the money that would have been spent on extra salaries. I resigned the day after we found out. And of course, OF COURSE, they we so shocked and couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave.

          Gah! It still makes me mad!

          Reply
          1. Workaholic

            This reminds me to appreciate my employer. They are trying to keep a backup of temps trained and ready to put in place if needed. I’m not sure if it’s working as planned yet, but sounds nice.

            Reply
        2. Jaybeetee

          Ugh, I HATE when management thinks that way – like, just because my team and I were able to defy physics and be in two places at once during this one crappy emergency situation, doesn’t mean “Oh, so we CAN do XYZ with half the usual amount of staff…”

          Reply
  11. Susan the BA

    Oh my gosh, that sequence of temps would be hilarious if it were happening in a movie and not to someone in real life. Good luck, OP. Maybe when this is all over you can write a great script and sell your story to Hollywood!

    Reply
      1. Betty Cooper

        The Murphy Brown secretaries were my first thought, too! (Also, why can’t I buy this show on DVD? Who owns the rights and why don’t they want my money?)

        Reply
  12. not so super-visor

    As someone who also uses temps pretty frequently, I can sympathize with OP’s temp disasters. Last week, I was supposed to have 4 temps start. Two never showed, the third worked a day and then quit citing a family medical emergency, and I had to let the 4th go because after a week she still couldn’t grasp simple tasks that are usually mastered on the first day. Constant onboarding can be exhausting. Is there a reason that OP has to use temps? My big bosses insist that it’s the only way to go (due to turnover) and cite all the success that they had with using temps 10+ years ago. I keep telling that we spend more money and resources on the turnover caused by bad temps. It’s just a constant cycle.

    Reply
  13. Xarcady

    Is there anyone else in the organization who could take over Anna’s job? Even if it’s just a temporary measure, you’d at least have someone who knows the organization and how it runs. Then you find a temp *to replace that person* until you hire either an Anna replacement or a replacement for the person taking Anna’s spot.

    Because I think part of the problem is that no new hire can be an Anna. Anna had years of knowledge about the mission of the organization, about the people in the organization, and how the organization works. No temp, however good, is going to be able to fill those shoes. (Although I think you’ve had a really bad run of temps.)

    I also noticed that the one good temp found a job elsewhere. Why wasn’t that temp hired? Especially when both other temps and the hiring process weren’t working out? What exactly are your bosses looking for? They may need a lesson in lowering their expectations a little. The conversation you are about to have with them might be the catalyst for that.

    And maybe a new temp agency is in order. The basics of what you are asking for aren’t that difficult to find. A good agency should be trying harder to fit your needs. (Unless you are in a really rural area, or there is some other reason there just aren’t many good candidates around.)

    Reply
    1. AW

      Is there anyone else in the organization who could take over Anna’s job?…Anna had years of knowledge about the mission of the organization, about the people in the organization, and how the organization works. No temp, however good, is going to be able to fill those shoes.

      This is an excellent point. Promoting someone within to replace Anna (preferably two people) and having temps fill in the less critical/complicated role makes a lot of sense.

      Reply
  14. Annie

    Hving read this, I have to ask, is not-Anna, the OP being underpaid? Alison alluded to this in her answer. This level of inability to hire smacks of Anna and OP being trained into their jobs very gradually, being awesome and basically rising past their pay-grade. The next job description wants an Anna, or OP at their pay which is now too low for their considerable skill level. If OP leaves, and I’m sorry to say that she may have no option, she needs to tell the management that they probably won’t get another Anna/OP at the pay, and pay accordingly. Or (boldly) ask for aconsiderable raise than try hiring at that grade. I bet they don’t get any dummies then!

    That parade of temps sounds like ‘Office Space’!

    Reply
  15. steve

    If I wanted to get a office job and have no experience would going through a temp agency be the way to do that? I have worked construction for 30 years and would like to try an office job.

    Reply
    1. Kate the Little Teapot

      Hi Steve and welcome! You may get helpful answers here but you may also want to post this in the Friday Open Thread when it comes around on Friday, more people will answer you there :)

      Reply
    2. Chinook

      Steve, as someone who switched from teaching to office work, the answer is yes – a temp agency is the way to go. Apply to as many as you can and brush up on your Microsoft skills. The good ones will test you as part of the interview process and interview you like you were applying for a full-time job so that you are known quantity when they place you (and I suspect OP’s agency didn’t do that because of the results she saw). The poor ones just want bodies to fill their roster. They still pay but the odds of being called are slim.

      Be prepared to get called on short notice and check weekly with you placement office to see if they have anything you can fill. As you get more experience, you can get pickier about things like location and tasks, but in the beginning you need to prove yourself as being reliable and hard working (the opposite of what the OP experienced). Your reputation is everything and you need to make sure that the agency thinks positively of you when they have jobs that you would fit. Lastly, treat every placement as a working interview. Sometimes employers hire temps but they almost always will ask to see if their favourite is available. And remember, the agency doesn’t get paid unless they place you and they are never paid by you but by the employer.

      Reply
    1. London Calling

      If we can also have one for temps and former temps about managers and toxic companies…I have a few of those.

      Reply
    2. D.A.R.N.

      I’d also love to request a “what to expect as a temp” and “what’s normal as a temp” style posts! Like, how long you should have to wait to be hired in a temp-to-hire position without being taken advantage of.

      Reply
  16. Kate the Little Teapot

    Is Anna herself available? Would Anna be open to being hired back to work remotely if she could work flexible hours so she could deal with her family issues, and you handle the aspects of the roles that require being in the office plus information transfer to Anna?

    Reply
      1. LCL

        I think, given that Anna moved ‘unexpectedly due to a family crisis’ yet had time to leave a manual, that Anna had enough of the job and won’t come back for any reason. It’s worth asking, but don’t be surprised if she says no.

        Reply
        1. Kate, Teapots Project Manager

          That doesn’t seem like it necessarily follows to me. For example, if the crisis is something like “my dad had a stroke and he will be 4 weeks in skilled nursing care and then will be home and I’ll have to take care of him” – there’s enough notice for her to prepare a manual.

          Reply
        2. Mae North

          Not necessarily. If I quit unexpectedly I’d be leaving a manual, because I already have one that I created to help *me* perform my job.

          Reply
      2. LibKae

        I was just logging in to suggest this :)

        If Anna is interested and their respective duties could be shuffled around to accommodate it, this seems like the perfect solution

        Reply
    1. whatwhat

      I think that with this workplace, if Anna came back even part time, they’d expect her to do everything (EVERYTHING) she used to do. They’d just say “Whew! She’s back! Problem solved!” but really this would only prolong the agony for OP, because Anna would soon resign again.

      This employer is just not reasonable.

      Reply
  17. Piloted the same boat

    I have never commented before – but this is the first time in a long time of lurking that I can say I have been in this boat. At my last job I was part of a ” dream team” of three. Our strengths truly complimented each other and so we were able to get the work of 4 or 5 people. But family responsibilities cropped up and it ended up being just me. Eventually old job hired replacements, but it was never the same in terms of productivity. I had to be clear with my boss six months in, when it became clear that old job was going to ignore the fact that I was the sole person holding the department together for weeks and that after the eventual hiring of new people my roll changed drastically. It was strange to do, but I made it clear I was unhappy with the status quo given how much I gave the company over the past 6 months. And that if I wasn’t recognized in some way I was going to look elsewhere. Old job did nothing (actually old job did more than nothing, they insulted me and did nothing) and I had a job offer within a week.

    My bit of additional advise is: Before you have this talk – I think it is important to discuss with yourself what you would need to stay – and to be honest with yourself if you are just ready to go. I look back at my requests from then and I realize that by the time I started this conversation with my boss I was well past “over it”. More money or a promotion wasn’t going to fix the damage that had been done by old job. This is really my only regret – that it took me a long time to be honest with myself that I need to move on.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      Great post. I’d be tempted to move on without having the talk myself since it is clear that they do not have the OP’s interests in mind at all. They are happy to burn her up and underpay her and overwork her as long as they can. They have shown who they are. If she can make a move, it is time.

      Reply
    2. LBK

      I really like this comment, especially the part about having an honest discussion with yourself.

      As Alison said, you’re fundamentally not in the same job you used to love. I think right now you’re viewing it as clinging to that job you loved and waiting for the factors that changed to right themselves so you’ll love it again, but what makes a job isn’t just your individual duties, pay or benefits. It’s very, very much about the environment and people around you, and those factors have changed dramatically.

      If you disconnect yourself from the past for a moment and imagine that when Anna left you effectively quit your old job and moved to a completely new company (which you basically did with how much things changed), what would it take you to stay in this job exactly as it is, and are those things you genuinely believe your company can offer and follow through on? “Making things the way they were before” isn’t an achievable goal, and if the more concrete goals like money or a promotion or even just filling Anna’s spot don’t feel like they’ll help, then it’s time to go.

      Reply
  18. Anon attorney

    I used to train managers in change management, and one of the first things we would say is that successful change starts with “creating a sense of urgency”. One way to interpret that is that if you want senior management to change something, you have to stop protecting them from the consequences of their inactions. In other words, you have to let something fail, even though as a conscientious person you want to make sure everything gets done. These managers need to recognise that the potential consequence here is that they lose their other top performer. That’s not an ultimatum, it’s using your leverage.

    Your managers are not being realistic about what can be achieved through the hiring process, and/or suck at hiring (it’s harder than everyone thinks it is). I work somewhere the partners are apparently unwilling to pay the market rate for support staff and have hired inexperienced people who have a great attitude but need a lot of support, none of which is being provided by the said partners who accordingly think the process has been painless. It has not.

    In your shoes I might feel that your trust and confidence in the job and the organization has been fatally undermined. If not, however, and you want to stay, Alison’s approach is great.

    Reply
    1. Xarcady

      “You have to let something fail.” Yep, you do. I have seen so many people burn out, because they care deeply about their jobs and the work they do–and they end up working massive numbers of hours and wearing themselves out. Because they won’t let one single thing fail.

      But sometimes that is necessary in order to make the Powers That Be wake up and pay attention.

      Reply
      1. TCO

        Yep, I’ve seen that too. It’s really tough for a dedicated high performer to allow something to fail, but it’s necessary if your leaders don’t wake up to the problem any other way. OP, try fixing a few fewer emergencies. You can even warn them: “Thanks for taking that project off of my plate. I want to warn you that I absolutely won’t have time to be pulled back into that project in six weeks if the unfinished work becomes urgent. We’d have no choice but to [cancel the event, miss the funding deadline, whatever the consequence is].”

        Reply
    2. Lora

      YES. This.

      The last two people in my current position were in your shoes, OP. They worked 70-80 hours/week. They did all kinds of things that were way outside of their scope, just because management asked and the other option was a crisis. One guy in particular was a total yes-man and would have promised the moon and stars next week if it had been asked of him. Best thing I did right off the bat was start saying No. Hard no. No, I will not do this thing that requires twice the equipment and staff you’ve budgeted, no I will not work insane hours, no I am not taking responsibility for other people’s failures unless you want me to hire someone to do that job too.

      People yelled a bit. I said, you can shout at me, I’ve been shouted at before. It’s not going to change my answer. People wheedled and whined a bit. I said, X Y and Z are required to accomplish A B and C. Our capacity is D, as in Deal with it.

      When you’re this slammed, you do the #1 and perhaps some of the #2 priority and let other things fall by the wayside. If the managers have a crisis about it, OH WELL. They can enjoy their crisis which they have made for themselves.

      Actually had a regulator walk into a place I used to work and tell the managers, “you do not have enough staff to run this place, let alone make the improvements that would bring it up to the requirements. Start by doubling your staff.” They’d been told that for years by the actual staff, but didn’t trouble themselves to do anything about it until the FDA threatened to lock the doors.

      Reply
    3. Clewgarnet

      “you have to let something fail, even though as a conscientious person you want to make sure everything gets done.”

      YES

      It’s something I’ve really struggled with in the past, to the point of reaching burnout. Nowadays, with my manager’s help/approval, I’ll push something to success ONCE, and immediately send the issue higher up the food chain. After that, it’s not my responsibility and it’s allowed to go ahead and fail.

      As you say, it’s the only way that anything gets changed. Otherwise, management just sees, “Oh, it’s all getting done,” and don’t see the people being pushed beyond their limit in order to get it done.

      Reply
  19. Catabodua

    As others have already mentioned, my first thought was the temp agency you are using sucks. If they sent someone to your job without knowing they didn’t have basic computer skills they are not screening candidates.

    Reply
  20. Vaca

    OP, one thing you need to be prepared for when you have the inevitable conversation is the massive pushback you are going to get. You are being abused. The organization is abusing you. Abusers do not happily acquiesce to halting their abuse. The conversation will go like this:
    “You think this is bad? Before you and Anna started I did all this work myself and more. You have regular hours and a salary. This business has a mission and if you don’t believe in that mission, there’s the door.”
    That’s the point where you need to be able to get up and leave and not come back. In other words, giving them a heads up that you may leave is dangerous before you’ve gotten the wheels in motion. I think AAM’s advice is spot on if they had been making good faith efforts and reassuring you that they know your situation is abusive. In this case, I think from my reading that they are going to react the way abusers react and try to undermine your self confidence/ eliminate your leverage immediately even at cost to themselves. I’ve been there and seen it happen.

    Reply
    1. TCO

      This is one possibility, but I don’t think it’s the only way this conversation could go. I’ve seen it go positively before. Sometimes even when we think we’re communicating well with our supervisors about issues like workload and burnout, there’s still a communication gap. The supervisors may be very well-meaning and don’t intend to be abusive, but they don’t really understand the full depth of the issue and the risk that OP will leave. (Should they get it already? Probably, but that’s neither here nor there.) A very honest conversation, summarizing everything going on, might wake them up. It might not, but there’s no guarantee that they’d show her the door. (A smart employer wouldn’t push her out, because then they have an even bigger problem.)

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I mean, maybe, but given how much they know they’re relying on her, it’s not the most likely. It’s more likely that they’ll tell her they understand and are working on it, but then nothing will change anyway. But I’ve had versions of this conversation that got the desired result too.

      Reply
  21. TCO

    Alison, this advice is perfect.

    Also echoing “Piloted the same boat” above–OP, do you believe your employer can realistically fix your situation enough to make you want to stay? If there never is a New Anna, do you see some other realistic route (not some dream solution you know your company will never enact) to resolving the staffing issue? I recently experienced a tough workplace that had some really hard things going on. I was honest with my bosses and we made a lot of changes… and it turns out I was still just too burned-out to fall back in love with my workplace, no matter how much things had improved. It was time to move on.

    Reply
  22. KR

    I can sympathize. A coworker at Old Job left and my then boss wanted me to both take on her duties seamlessly and not spend as much time on them to focus on my work. We didn’t even get the green light from him to hire someone else until months after she left. Good luck.

    Reply
  23. Natalie

    One thing I would add to Alison’s advice is to get REALLY clear and specific about how much longer you’re willing to operate at this level, in your own mind if nothing else. When I’m under significant stress, it’s so easy to just push everything forward a week, over and over, and before you know it months have passed and nothing has changed. Once you’ve figured out your timeline, put it on your calendar and then check back in with yourself in however many weeks that is.

    Reply
  24. Menacia

    This is not on you to figure out how to fix because you’ve done everything right, but management has not held up their end. I can totally relate because I’ve been told often I’m the glue that holds the department together, as if it’s a compliment. To me it just means that I am willing to take ownership where others are not, and ultimately, it will blow up in their face (or more likely than not will be pushed off to someone else) when I leave. The only thing you can change in this scenario, unfortunately, is you. Sounds like self-preservation is in order.

    Reply
  25. Jesmlet

    Can you tolerate taking on a more active role in the hiring process temporarily to benefit long term? Since it’s affecting you so much, I would go to management and ask to be included in the vetting and try to get someone actually competent. Finding a clone is not realistic but finding one or two people who can take on what she did is. Like Alison said, you’ve got a lot of leverage here since it would all fall apart without you. Be honest and lead with the positives then discuss what you can do together to remedy the situation.

    Reply
  26. RB

    Have you considered a two- or three-week vacation? That can serve two purposes: allow you to fully decompress and re-evaluate, and allow *them* to see the enormity of everything you’ve been doing to keep the place together and to hopefully start to work out a plan for a redistribution of duties.

    Reply
    1. No Name Yet

      Yeah, this is a smart idea, though I’m sure it seems completely unfathomable. If you do, I’d make sure you are 100% unreachable – because otherwise they’ll just call/email constantly and they won’t actually ‘get it’ (and you won’t get an actual break).

      Reply
  27. Ramona Flowers

    Alison makes such a good point about having leverage.

    When I quit my last job to go freelance (and from workplace PTSD) my manager seemed genuinely shocked. He asked, quite seriously, if it was something he said. At which point the camel’s back broke and I said yes. I proceeded to tell him the many reasons I was leaving. He said I had been the best candidate by a mile and they’d never find anyone else with my experience for the crappy money they paid. I said it’s a shame he hadn’t thought of that before.

    I didn’t change my mind, as even if he had offered to actually do anything differently (which he didn’t) it was outrageous that I even had to point this stuff out. Which brings me to two things I want to say to the LW. Firstly, I do wonder if I could have got things changed if I had spoken up and tried to use that leverage.

    But secondly, are your bosses blind and deaf, or lacking in empathy, or just really oblivious, or what? Have they really not noticed that you are stressed and overworked and that you keep having to put out fires? They haven’t even offered you another raise. Do you really truly feel valued right now?

    What I think you should do, if you have the guts, is take a week off to rest and recharge before you have a breakdown. Ideally get a doctor’s note. They’ll have to figure out. It cannot always be you figuring it out!

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Though in the U.S. a doctor’s note on its own doesn’t legally require an employer to give you time off.

      Reply
        1. Isobel

          And, a reminder that in the UK you don’t need a doctor’s note if you’re off work for seven days or less. This would be covered by self-certification.

          Reply
  28. Kimberly R

    I wasn’t able to read all the comments so sorry if this has been said already:

    I think the expectations of the executives are too high, based on Anna’s and OP’s years of experience in that role and growing that role. Neither Anna nor OP were operating at this high capacity when they first started-they grew into the role and grew the role itself.

    “Over the three years that Anna and I were a team producing excellent results, both of us were consistently given more responsibilities, at higher and higher levels. Things were excellent and all four of us felt that our work and our organization were thriving.”

    I think we often notice this when a high performer leaves/retires-the replacement never seems as good or as efficient. But that is because they are replacing someone who has years of experience with the company and in that role itself. The new hire has to invest some serious time in learning the nuances and the quickness and efficiency that a previous experienced employee already had. OP can’t expect that from her new counterpart and the executives can’t expect it from either a temp or new permanent employee.

    I think its telling that the only really good temp left after a short time. This sounds like an incredibly difficult and demanding job that maybe has too many duties. (I know Executive Admins typically have a lot going on, but this might be too much.) OP and Anna could handle it but that doesn’t mean everyone can or even wants to. I hope the execs revisit some of the job duties and cull things that can be taken off the Admins’ plates.

    Reply
    1. Siberian

      I love your point about how when you replace a high-performer you’re replacing someone with years of experience. I was really hard on myself in my current job, which I started two years ago. I replaced someone who’d been here at least eight years, and my whole training was having lunch with her once. I really hated being slower, less efficient, etc., and I could see that things were stacking up even more than they would have already (due to lack of staffing). It does take a long time to get up to speed, even for someone like me who’s had a lot of experience stepping in and learning quick in previous work life as a consultant.

      Reply
  29. the_scientist

    OP, when was the last time you took time off? I don’t mean like an hour or two here and there, I’m talking like a real vacation- even an extra-long weekend? Was it before Anna left?

    I think you should take a REAL vacation- at least three days, but ideally a week. Your bosses are going to panic, but get a doctor’s note if you need to. Use this time off to get clear with yourself about how long you’re willing to continue like this, and what you’ll do if your bosses don’t hire a replacement Anna by your internal deadline. Also, seriously consider that the job that you loved might be gone for good. You may never be able to go back to the way things were, and your experience may have soured you on it forever even if you *could* recapture the vibe of How it Was. If you think this is the case, use your time off to grieve and to plan.

    The office is going to completely fall apart in your absence, but that’s part of the plan. You have a lot of leverage now, as Alison says, but I think your bosses need to see that you are literally the glue holding the whole operation together at this point. They need to feel that absolute panic when you’re not there to clean up the mess for them. Hopefully, this will be the final kick in the pants for them in terms of realizing just how unsustainable this situation is. When you come back, have a hard conversation with them, and then watch for their response. If things don’t start changing immediately, you’ll have a leg up on your exit strategy!

    Reply
  30. Funbud

    I have a slightly different perspective. At least twice, I have followed an “Anna” into a job and tried to fill their shoes. After college and a few years of retail/customer service jobs, I took a nine month “office automation” course at an old fashioned business school and became an Administrative Assistant. My certificate plus my college degree gave me excellent opportunities. My first job was for a large financial services firm. The previous person had left to become a nurse, and not just any nurse, an Operating Room nurse. He left behind meticulous files and lots of spreadsheets estimating costs, etc. It turns out they weren’t really part of the job description, just something he enjoyed working on in spare moments (!). I thought ” I am so not ever going to become an OR nurse!” The job worked out okay (I stayed four years) but I always felt my boss had a certain disappointment that I wasn’t exactly the same type of person as he had been (she actually once casually said something to this effect). After a couple of years the rather glum atmosphere (it was an auditing dept) stated to get to me and I moved to a job in Marketing. The second incident was some years later, when I took a job for a smaller company that handled clinical drug trials. The company was growing, and they’d decided to add another admin by essentially taking one admin’s job and literally splitting the responsibilities in half. Although the woman who’d held the job was now in another building, after she trained me she would still come around to “check up on me”. I thought she was friendly enough, but it turns out she was reporting all my shortcomings (in her eyes) to the boss and eventually he started to drop comments to the effect of “Judy used to do this differently…” and so on (they had a quasi mother/son relationship so that may have been a factor. She definitely had his ear.) Some of it was quite ridiculous because the tasks I was handling did not really interface with what she was now doing, so how I did things had no impact on her job. Fortunately, after an unhappy year or so, the made an acquisition of a small firm in Europe and laid off the equivalent number of employees in the USA, including me. Lesson learned: I steered away from jobs where my predecessor still worked for the company.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      That’s a really interesting perspective. It sounds like Anna’s replacements have been dreadful but I think you make such a good point about the whole thing of having big shoes to fill.

      Reply
  31. Malibu Stacey

    The other issues with temps is not just that they are often underpaid, it’s that the benes are expensive or non-existent to boot. Oh, the office closed for July 4th? Great, the temp has the day off but also loses a day’s pay.

    Reply
  32. nnn

    Others have mentioned seeing if you can get involved in the hiring process, but one thing to do in particular (if you haven’t done so already) is get involved in writing the prerequisites for hiring. What skills/abilities/personality does a person need to have today to become Anna in [3 months / 6 months / 1 year / whatever a reasonable amount of time is]?

    Reply
  33. whatwhat

    Note the first sentence of Alison’s answer.

    GET OUT. Sooner rather than later. It sounds like they don’t know how to hire – outside of you and Anna that is: SEVEN disastrous hires in a row?? – or run a workplace. It also sounds like you and Anna were doing the work of multiple people each. A workplace that falls apart because one person leaves, even if that person was CEO, is a house of cards. Give them an ultimatum with a due date, and LEAVE when that day comes and they don’t have a permanent, working solution, and that day WILL come. They will beg you to stay longer, DON’T DO IT.

    This is no different from an abusive boyfriend promising he will change but never changing. You need to leave.

    Reply
  34. CBH

    OP This might be a long shot and I don’t even know how you would go about finding such a person…. have you considered hiring a college intern or using an agency that helps people re-enter the workforce. I was thinking of a scenario like the person who is going back to school for a career switch, the stay at home parent looking to start an outside of the house job, the veteran who just retired from the military entering civilian life. People in these scenarios have the knowledge and work ethic, but are “new” enough that you could train them in a way that best suits your company needs.

    Secondly, are you involved in the hiring process? Maybe your HR department is not understanding the type of person needed to fill the dream team. Can you switch the placement agency being used?

    Thirdly I totally agree with Alison you have a lot of bargaining power here. While I think you should keep exploring other opportunities on the radar, I also think you should assert yourself more. You got a small promotion and small raise for doing 2 people’s jobs. Even if temporary, you are going to be in a more senior position when the new person is hired. Most likely you will have to train new person and be the one answering questions/ putting out fires. You definitely need to be compensated for keeping everything running smoothly.

    Lastly I totally agree with the comment above that you need to take a mental break… a long weekend, a vacation for a week.

    Reply
  35. nonegiven

    Take a week of FMLA with a doctor’s note, try to do it right before one of the things they’ve taken off your plate goes sideways and you would have had to drop everything to fix it. Have you had a physical lately? Surely you’re suffering from exhaustion, stress and overwork.

    Reply
  36. Christine

    Recommend that you hire a temp to perm contract position. Bring someone in for six months with the option of going permanent. You’ll get a higher quality of applicants. Most temps will bail once they find something permanent with benefits. It’s the beast. That way you and the employee know if you are a good fit. You can get rid of them if they do not work out. But they are more apt to stay on if they know that will either convert to permanent at six months or you let them go. That’s how I got into Clinical Research years ago. I went is a temp to perm and they kept me. There are some great agencies out there and you may find one that specializes in your field. I highly recommend that you bring in a temp to take over small jobs so the new hire doesn’t feel like they are being slammed. Cleaning up a back-log can be terrifying to a new hire, and they will also get the impression that each of you is overworked. If you can get someone to do basic data entry, filing and cover phones the first 2 – 4 weeks you are training someone it’ll make a huge difference.

    Reply
    1. Jaybeetee

      My own experience with temp-to-perm has been negative, but that is of course by no means universal (I was the temp in those situations). Both times I tried it, the agency recommended me, I was rushed through an interview with my future manager, said manager would chat with me a few minutes, sing my praises to the sky, and I’d usually get a job offer that same day, to start the next Monday…and then three days into the job, they’d announce I wasn’t working out and let me go (in one case it was two days – literally all I had done was shadow and done some basic clerical tasks, but they called the agency back and told them “it wasn’t clicking”). I learned, at least around here, that a lot of companies that do the temp-to-perm thing are mostly just trying to get out of the hassle of hiring, and basically do their “screening” once the person is in the job.

      (FYI that I’m usually a well-performing employee, and I certainly hope not at all like the bad temps listed in the OP!)

      Reply
      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

        I’m sorry you’ve had bad temp-to-perm experiences. I have come across this too! Had one company offer me a temp-to-perm role, but when I asked for 24 hours to think it over (I had another interview later that day for a diff. temp-to-perm role and didn’t want to commit until I learned about the second role) apparently they just moved right on to their next choice. Eventually the agency acknowledged that this place was doing exactly what you described, being careless in their screening and then deciding that a string of temp-to-perms were “not the right fit”.

        That said, I’ve had success with temp-to-perm roles overall. Out of three temp-to-perm offers, two turned into full times roles. As much as I was waiting for the company to decided they liked me enough to go perm, I also felt a relief that if I got into the role and *I* didn’t like it, there was an easy out and could be described on my resume as just a temp position (rather than a short tenure or gap).

        Reply
  37. Jen S. 2.0

    I’m sorry, OP. Two thoughts:

    1) “I’m struggling to find a way out that doesn’t … leave the office in an extremely difficult spot…”

    Not your problem. You’re the one in a difficult spot now and they’re not doing much about it, because having you be in a difficult spot means everyone else is doing fine. You will probably be shocked how quickly they find their way out of that difficult spot once forced. Also, everyone eventually leaves every job. You will not be here until the year 5000 AD no matter how hard you try to live forever. If you end up leaving in the year 2017, well…

    2) It sounds like this is more like a 3-person job. You and Anna sound like rock stars, but everyone is not a rock star; most of us are average. It may take two people to replace Anna.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      “Not your problem. You’re the one in a difficult spot now and they’re not doing much about it”

      Exactly. Somehow it has all become your problem, but it shouldn’t be and it doesn’t have to be.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        We would all be shocked at how very quickly things would be handled if we got hit by a bus. I founded several programs, ran them and others, single handedly managed crucial areas for my organization and was amazing in every way. When I retired they seem to be doing fine. Of course I brought some people along to take over various roles I had played, but still wonder woman and all, my leaving barely left a ripple.

        We had a very important person about to head a major project die unexpectedly. I still miss him as a human 2o years later, but the organization coped fine.

        When you leave, they will hustle and solve the problems.

        Reply
    2. Magenta Sky

      #1 is dead on. Do not try to convince yourself they’ll be OK without you. Accept that if things fall apart, it’s not your fault, it’s theirs.

      Reply
  38. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    If the “Executive Office of a very busy, national nonprofit” is in constant crisis mode and they are unable to delegate lower-tier priorities, or promote up from the ranks to fill the position, I doubt the organization itself is as strong and successful as OP thinks. The 10 month hiring gap and constant bad temps read to me like an organization that is using “find the Next Anna” as a red herring for bigger problems. OP should start looking for another job quickly before it all comes crashing down, because a national nonprofit top level failure would make the news, and could damage her ability to find work later.

    Reply
  39. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    I thought I’d put this in a separate comment: I was both an office and warehouse temp during and after college while I was still trying to build up a graphic design career. There seemed to be 3 distinct boxes for temp workers in my experience — those who, like me, saw temp work as a way to pay the bills while in school or getting a foot in the door of a different career; those who were career temp workers because they had problems that kept them from being able to maintain permanent employment — health issues, family issues, etc.; and those that were basically unemployable, but had some sort of requirement that they attempt to find work. Two examples stand out: a lady who had been a housewife her whole life and in middle age her husband just up and left and took the money with him (not divorced her, just gone) — she’d never held a job but was willing to work hard and picked things up quickly; and another man who, when tasked with writing down the serial numbers from the boxes in inventory, spent three hours out there before coming back with a piece of paper that he had written “They are all different.”

    Reply
    1. Gazebo Slayer

      A lot of us career temps have moved past the health issues, family issues, or what have you that kept us from permanent employment, but all prospective permanent employers see on our resumes is that we’ve temped for years and they write us off.

      Reply
  40. Narise

    My only advice is to make sure your still using your PTO. People in this situation usually stop using their PTO and higher ups don’t get a true sense of what it would be like if your not at work.

    Reply
  41. Jaybeetee

    As someone who temped for a few years up until recently, a few things jump out at me about what this company is probably doing:

    1) They are low-balling on the temp agencies. OP is getting duds because her employer is trying to go for the lowest bidding temp agencies that send duds. Moreover, the cheap agencies still have to cover their overhead, so the temps coming through there might be making very little indeed (in my city at the height of the recession this was almost monstrous: You’d see “temp” positions asking 5 years experience paying minimum wage, and you knew those contracts would just keep turning over instead of being permanently filled…)
    1 a) Speaking as someone who did make minimum wage as a temp for awhile, I can attest to the comments above that when you’re hiring cheap temps in particular, you’re really crap-shooting. And when you’re a temp earning minimum wage, and the next desk over is a colleague working directly for the company doing the same work for double that, it’s a real morale killer and quality starts to slide even if you *start off* as a good worker.

    2) They are almost certainly not doing their own screening or interviewing, rather relying on the agency to do so, which is a mistake (particularly if #1 is in play and they’re going with a cheap temp agency). I spent over a year at one place that ran into this. They were going with the cheap agencies, then they would just skim the resumes and hire without an interview. There were several good temps (I was considered one of them) but again, it was a crap-shoot the way they were doing it, and they were also landed with several frankly awful, unemployable temps that had to be let go.

    3) They are asking too much of the temps. Many people have already made the point that if Anna slowly developed this job over years, it’s not likely a job that someone else is going to just be able to walk into. Likely, the whole thing will have to be restructured. Perhaps OP taking on the more complex tasks that require more experience, while offloading more standard admin/clerical work onto temps or new hires.

    I sympathize with the OP in this situation, and I fully agree with the advice that she needs to have a frank talk with her employers about how unsustainable this situation is, and that she may have to make the painful decision to “vote with her feet” if nothing improves. She can’t keep this up forever, and her over-functioning is enabling her bosses to keep making bad decisions.

    Reply
    1. CBH

      Great points. I also want to add that when working as a temp the agency gets a fee as well. A lot of times you the temp are getting barely minimum wage, while the company is paying 4 times your hourly rate, hence thinking you are already a high salaried person. In OP’s situation it seems that the company doesn’t realize that A – Anna and OP’s jobs realistically need to be done by a team of 4, and B – it will cost them to get a higher quality employee

      Reply
  42. Chaordic One

    I’ve been in situations where I felt we had competent replacement new-hires, but their orientation, onboarding and training was handled so badly the people ended up leaving before they ever really figured out the job or the culture.

    There was also a time when we had an admin who had exaggerated her resume a bit. I was training her and thought she was picking things up very quickly and would have been fine in a month or so, but my boss fired her after a couple of weeks before she ever got really got a chance to do the job.

    Reply
  43. Company A

    I can relate very much to the letter writer. Although, it’s more a consequence of my boss saying yes to everything and the work continuing to pile on. She works 24/7 and loves it, but I’m totally drained.

    Reply
  44. JanMA

    As someone who’s been casually hunting for a high-level EA job for a while, this helps to explain the many, many positions I’ve seen that remain posted forever. You think “How can they not be finding someone for this job?” You also know the work is getting done somehow, and now we know how. The managers are either too busy or lazy to hire. Like so many have said, as long as most the job is getting done, there will be no rush to change things.

    Reply
  45. Wintermute

    When your job is going through temps like Spinal Tap goes through drummers it’s a sign of serious dysfunction that you might have become inured to over time.

    Sure some of these (okay MOST of these) are inexplicable, no one can predict a serious mental illness suddenly occurring, or someone injuring themselves (possibly faking it). The fact the one good one ran away and never looked back tells me there might be something to this though. That said maybe they were just flakey.

    That said, one of these is bad luck, ALL of these says this temp agency has serious quality control issues if you’re getting fraudsters, insubordinate employees, people without basic job skills you presumably stated up front are requirements, and flakes… have you considered seeing if a different temp agency (presumably one that screens for skills and has some people with a track record of reliable performance and attendance)?

    Reply
  46. The Claims Examiner

    I had a similar problem at an old job where they kept telling me they would hire someone or move me to another team to get me away from someone dysfunctional and a work load that wasn’t easy. I waited 2 years, and 1 week after I turned in my notice someone was hired. :/

    Reply

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