Career Clinic

Q: Half my team are off sick at the moment and consequently my workload appears to be growing by the day. Is there a limit to the amount I can be expected to take on before I can refuse?

A: Monitoring your workload should be a regular talking point between you and your line manager. Your ability to take on temporary additional work is important and everyone is expected to work flexibly in the interests of the wider team and the service users. The impact this has on you, however, depends largely on whether you are taking on a greater volume of work, or whether it is of a wider complexity.

If you are a seasoned practitioner, you are more likely to be able to absorb additional cases and, although it means that you are working even harder than usual, it is unlikely to have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing – and may even be beneficial if it gives you the opportunity to work in an area you enjoy but don’t normally have access to. Working time regulations stipulate that you should work no more than 48 hours per week, normally averaged over a 17-week period.

If the nature of the additional work is a factor, perhaps because you are operating outside your knowledge area, it can have a serious impact on your stress levels, in which case health and safety rather than the working time rules comes into play.

Think about the reasons your colleagues are off sick. If they have all gone down with the Christmas bug, fair enough. But if it’s because they can’t cope, some management action is urgently required to get them back to work in a supported way – and to prevent you suffering the same fate. That action might involve additional training, or perhaps it’s a matter of providing better admin support to free up some time for you and your colleagues to concentrate on your professional skills.

You can, and should, talk with your manager and look at your workload together. If the increase is anything other than very temporary, perhaps there are things that could be re-prioritised or even delegated elsewhere. For medium to longer term cover, it ought to be possible to bring in temporary help from outside the team. And although it might take some time to bring that person up to speed on the cases, it is a better solution longer term.

If, after that discussion, you still feel you can’t take on anything else, refuse it. It’s not a potential disciplinary issue for you to ensure you can do your job well and safely.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

A: In my experience, all bosses will keep giving you more until you physically collapse unless you actively put an end to it before that. Remember, you have a duty to the service users – as well as yourself and your loved ones – not to take on so much that you can’t cope and are no longer effective. You need to be good at your job, not superhuman!

Name and address withheld

24 January question

Q: My time off over Christmas has given me a chance to think about my future. I want to remain working with service users, but at the same time want to progress. Is there a way I can move up a rung without becoming a manager and losing touch with the people we’re here to serve?

We will answer this question in the 24 January 2008 issue of Community Care. Please e-mail your responses by 14 January to

Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions for consideration by our HR expert and your peers to


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