In a Tough Economy, Delegate Instead of Laying Off Workers

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 30 Aug, 2022

"Every CEO I know is doing some level of recession-planning," said Camille Fetter, CEO of the executive recruiting firm Talentfoot. "Everyone got nervous when the tech layoffs happened when the market crashed. As a result, they are saying, 'Let's not make any sudden moves, but let's be prepared.'"

Hiring freezes and layoffs are often the first steps in planning for economic uncertainty. But the downside of this approach is that the work you were hiring staff to do still needs to get done.

During the Great Recession, 2.1 million Americans were laid off in 2009 alone. A study of how 4,700 companies navigated the crisis found that the most successful businesses relied less on layoffs to cut costs and instead focused on operational efficiency.

Layoffs Hurt Remaining Workers

"That's because layoffs aren't just harmful to workers; they're costly for companies, too.," said former Harvard Business Review editor Walter Frick. "Hiring and training are expensive, so companies prefer not to have to rehire when the economy picks back up, particularly if they think the downturn will be brief."

That is just what we saw play out in 2021 as the Great Resignation turned into The Great Burnout. As the economy recovered from the pandemic, workers were burned out from overwork and quit, and companies struggled to rebuild.

"The increase in hours and the surge in responsibility due to layoffs no doubt has contributed to the widespread burnout of American workers," career coach Ashley Stahl said in Forbes. "Workers were not only taking on more hours but more responsibility, with 36 percent noting increased responsibility as a contributing factor to their burnout."

Layoff Alternative: Delegate 

A three-year study of knowledge worker productivity by London Business School professor Julian Birkinshaw and author Jordan Cohen published in Harvard Business Review found that most employees spend a lot of time on unimportant work.

"We've spent the past three years studying how knowledge workers can become more productive and found that the answer is simple: Eliminate or delegate unimportant tasks and replace them with value-added ones," the authors said. "Our research indicates that knowledge workers spend a great deal of their time—an average of 41 percent—on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others."

The research jibes with another study that found executives spend about 16 hours a week, or 40 percent of the work week, on "day-to-day tasks."

For high-level executives, the problem is worse, according to Bill Trenchard, multi-startup founder and investor at First Round Capital.

"The average tech CEO works about 300 days a year, 14 hours a day. That's 4,200 hours a year," Trenchard said. "The stats for most other tech leaders and startup employees aren't too far off. Nearly 30 percent of that time gets sunk into email."

You have to delegate. "As your company becomes more prominent, you're only going to get more of everything," Trenchard said. "It's death by paper cuts."

How to Delegate

Delegating is hard 'Ridding oneself of work is easier said than done," Birkenshaw and Cohen said. "We instinctively cling to tasks that make us feel busy and thus important, while our bosses, constantly striving to do more with less, pile on as many responsibilities as we're willing to accept."

Their answer: 'Knowledge workers can make themselves more productive by thinking consciously about how they spend their time; deciding which tasks matter most to them and their organizations and dropping or creatively outsourcing the rest."

Executives can delegate to part-time executive assistants. "Technology is great at making us more productive, but it has limits. It's worth growing a relationship with an assistant, either in-office or remotely, to help you," Trenchard said. "There are many inexpensive virtual assistant services, like Prialto, and they can take a ton of stuff off your plate."

The Rise of Virtual Assistants

Delegating administrative tasks to remote executive assistants is nothing new. Solopreneur Tim Ferris of 4-Hour Work Week fame popularized the term and the methodology of hiring low-cost offshore freelancers to handle busy work. What is new is that large businesses are leveraging virtual assistants to enable executive teams to do more with less—particularly important when cutting costs without overwhelming employees and executives with more work.

The virtual assistant market grew by 41 percent in 2020 as businesses looked to boost organizational productivity without hiring more execs amid staffing shortages. Giving executives more time to focus on strategic work increased business capacity without adding full-time headcount.

Managed Subscription Staffing for Executive Assistants

Prialto's managed subscription staffing service is ideal for driving executive efficiency at scale. We hire, train, and supervise executive assistants—they are our full-time employees. We place them with executive teams looking to create more time for business-building work. For a flat monthly fee, executives get dedicated part-time assistants that handle routine, time-consuming tasks like scheduling meetings, travel and expenses, email organization, and file management.

Hiring executive assistants one at a time is immensely time-consuming for large teams. It takes 33 days to hire, according to LinkedIn, and 120 days to onboard assistants. We maintain a bench of trained assistants ready to get started with no HR, payroll, or training overhead for the client team.

Scalable Executive Support for Teams

A large Silicon Valley venture capital firm turned to Prialto as executives struggled with admin tasks, and employing internal assistants was not working. The high turnover rate and the time spent recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding new admins made it an unsustainable approach.

"Going through multiple rounds of interviews for each executive, hiring, and onboarding, then having to start over was exhausting and frustrating," the senior director of finance said. "With Prialto, the turnaround time is awesome when we need another assistant. The assistant shows up and immediately knows what to do."

A team of managers trains assistants and backup assistants in the background so that executives are always covered when their primary assistants are absent. Those trained backup assistants make scaling effortless.

The VC firm quickly grew to support 14 executives with our assistants. "Prialto has grown with us and has delivered everything we were looking for when we started," the senior director of finance said.

Delegate Instead of Laying Off Workers

Operational leaders are always tasked with doing more with less. Staffing shortages burden overworked employees as much as layoffs. But economic uncertainty places a sharper focus on efficiency.

Managed subscription executive assistant services provide a cost-effective way to increase productivity without the risk and cost of adding full-time staff. Instead of paying executives to be administrative assistants and burdening them with busy work, you can give your executive team more time for what matters most.

Want to learn more? Check out Why Outsourced Executive Assistants Are the New Go-To