When Your Colleague Quits and You’re the Replacement

It takes companies 42 days, on average, to fill an open position. That’s bad news for anyone who’s covering for a former coworker.

Published: Feb 18, 2020

From almost the first day at her job, Natasha worked closely with Emily, a project manager who sat across from her. They quickly became a power duo, using their complementary strengths to tackle projects as a team, having lunch together every day, and constantly trading jokes. Then, over coffee one morning, Emily told Natasha she’d been offered a new position and was planning to accept. It was a tough blow: not only was Natasha going to lose her “work wife,” but she was about to inherit an avalanche of work while the company searched for a replacement.

Indeed, as the rate of people voluntarily quitting their jobs clings to 2.3%, the highest in over a decade, more employees are finding themselves tasked with covering the work of their former colleagues. And with employers taking an average of 42 days to fill an open position, it’s not always a short-term situation.

As time goes on, your boss could start to take for granted that you’re doing two jobs.

Here’s what to do when you’re taking over for a colleague who’s leaving their job.

Ask for introductions as early as possible.

Have your departing coworker connect you to their stakeholders and other partners and start copying you on emails before they go. People will begin to view you as the natural replacement, as well as a team player who wants to help. If your colleague’s departure is sudden, set up meetings with their partners as soon as possible to introduce yourself and get an overview of how they would work with your former colleague. “Seize the opportunity to work with new people, and allow people you already know see you in a different light,” says Korn Ferry Advance career coach Julie Connolly. You never know where those connections may lead.

Don’t immediately ask for a raise.

Your workload just doubled; that warrants a raise, right? Experts say it’s possible, but not right away. Connolly warns that being too eager “could be perceived by your employer as taking advantage of an unfortunate situation.” Like any other time when you’d ask for more pay, you need to prove that you can do the job well first. “If the work is of a higher level, you execute well for a few months, and you want to keep doing it, then broach the subject,” says Connolly. Or, if it makes sense to do so, just apply for the job. You’ll likely be ahead in line to be considered for the position.

Let your boss help you prioritize.

In a near-full-employment economy, your boss may not fill the open position right away, if at all. As time goes on, your boss could start to take for granted that you’re doing two jobs. In this situation, Connolly recommends having a conversation about which tasks are high priority: “Asking them to delegate pieces of both jobs to other people could make it a more manageable load.” Don’t be afraid to ask for updates on how the job search is going; if you never mention it, and you’re doing the job well, your boss may drag their heels in finding a replacement.

Showcase your agility.

This is the perfect time to show that you can learn new skills and do work outside your job description. Use the new responsibilities as an opportunity to ask lots of questions and gain a new perspective that will help the team. And don’t forget to think about your next career move, too. “Learn new skills now that you can later market either internally or externally,” Connolly advises.

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