Tales From the Overworked

Executives and managers, too, haven't escaped doing extra work as their companies grapple with staffing shortages. Sometimes it's simply a matter of executives learning to make their own photocopies. Other times, it's more extreme, as in the case of Larry Herder.

Herder, 60, is the president and owner of Rolar Products, which makes refrigeration equipment and other products in Muskegon Heights, Mich.

During the years, tough times have forced Herder to shrink his payroll from 20 employees to seven. Herder said that he's also cut employee hours so he could afford to keep more workers. But the firm's janitor got not such reprieve; he was laid off about four years ago.

Now Herder and his remaining employees take turns cleaning the company's bathrooms. Herder shares other odd jobs with his employees too.

"I run machinery, I sweep the floors, I drive forklift, I load and unload trucks," he said.

Opportunities Amid the Gloom?

Herder said that by taking on multiple responsibilities himself, he's making it more palatable for his employees to do the same.

"You lead by example," he said. "I've always have done that."

Herder's example, of course, isn't an enviable one. The Michigan man said he's stretched thin and stressed by the impact of the recession on his business.

Some, however, are actually finding the recession to be a boon to their careers. When Cinzia Designs, a design firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., sought to cut costs by asking employees -- instead of outside designers -- to create a new collection of sunglasses, Lindsey Reisack and Megan Brown jumped at the chance.

Lindsey Reisack helped create a sunglass collection while juggling her public relations duties at Cinzia Designs, an Arizona design firm./Photo courtesy of Cinzia Designs.

Brown, 33, who works as the firm's liaison to manufacturers, and Reisack, 26, a public relations coordinator, both attended design schools. The opportunity to design a sunglass collection, they said, gave them more experience in the field for which they trained.

"It's a very cool thing to have on your resume," Brown said.

That helps explain why the women, who said they could have opted out of the sunglasses assignment, spent several extra hours a week working on the new collection while continuing to do their own full-time jobs without extra pay.

"It's just something we're very passionate about," Reisack said.

Schade said that others, too, could find the upside to working at a short-staffed company.

"I'm telling employees to stretch out of their comfort zone; this can be an opportunity to gain some new expertise," she said. "It's a time to stand out."

Asking for Help

When employees feel truly underqualified to handle assignments, as Kristina, the childcare director tasked with advising at a fitness center, does, they can do their own research or may consider asking management for additional training, Schade said.

At the very least, Schade said, "it's certainly appropriate to ask for a briefing."

When you're feeling overworked generally, Schade recommends asking your supervisor -- without complaining -- to help you set priorities for your tasks. Having that discussion, she said, can help you organize your workload, and it's "also going to point out to your boss all the work that you're doing and how valuable you are."

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