It happens. Employee’s roles change with little to no warning. Sudden, unexpected, radical changes to your job role…what should you do?

Clearly the first question that is going to cross your mind if suddenly in this position is; can they really do this? In short, maybe. You will probably want to start by checking your job description and the contents thereof. Reasonable alterations to your working role may be deemed acceptable to implement, but a radical change will not. Perhaps you work under a contract or a collective bargaining agreement that very specifically stipulates your role and responsibilities. Consequently if you’re a carpenter you cannot be expected to paint walls, yet if you work part-time Monday to Wednesday and your employer would like you to work Tuesday to Thursday, this may be okay.

When faced with a major adjustment to your working role, you will want to assess which way you would be sliding; up, down or sideways. Obviously if you are taking on additional responsibilities you can expect longer working hours and more stress. Without a formal promotion and a more lucrative remuneration package, resentment toward your employer may emerge. But what if you are being pushed sideways or worse, being stripped of some of your responsibilities? Have you underperformed? Is your rise up the career ladder now in jeopardy? Are you being unofficially demoted in the hope that you will become miserable and move on? A lot of questions, and gossip, will centre on these thoughts and you may lose the confidence of your work colleagues. Contrary, you employer may lose the confidence of its workforce if the workforce does not agree with the change and feel it is ill motivated. Regardless of the direction you are being asked, or perhaps forced to move, it may simply be a test for bigger things to come.

From time to time employers take the opportunity to drastically change an employee’s role as an act of retaliation. Maybe you stirred the pot and now the powers that be are trying to force you out the door by making you unhappy. Placing you in a role they are certain you will fail could, in their minds, provide opportunity for a dismissal. Not a justifiable recourse on behalf of the employer, but perhaps grounds for constructive dismissal. Perhaps your employer has engaged the tactic of changing your job location or working hours. Again, check your job description or employment contract as these forced changes may be in direct breach of your employment agreement and therefore, not permissible.

In the wake of a major upheaval to your job role, you would also be remiss if you did not consider the path the company is heading down. Is there a new mission, a vision of growth and extreme shift in strategic direction for the company? Is this sudden job change actually an opportunity for you? Ask the question of why – strategy or performance? If indeed the company needs you to assume a new job role in order to realise its new found goals, then you will need to clearly understand this new direction so that you can assess if you have the knowledge and skills to survive in the new role. If not, work with your employer to develop a career plan that will see you to continue to be a valuable contributor to the organisation.

Should you find yourself having to make an adjustment to your role against your will, you may just come to the realisation that the one element that you can control is your attitude. Or at least the attitude that others perceive you to have. The change may be temporary, in which case you can grin and bear it. If the change is permanent, work on developing the role into one that you can enjoy. Innovative thinking brings success and success brings joy. Take control by setting your own job goals until such time you can morph the role into something that inspires you to leap out of bed every day and race into work. Clearly though, if the change is going to be detrimental to your career, get out and get a new job elsewhere.

Obviously there are circumstances when an employer can change your job role. And what constitutes this? When there is a sound reason for changing your role. And in the absence of sound reason? When you consent to the change. The change may manifest itself in the form a new contract or a vary to the existing. You can provide permission for the change to your role or job verbally, in writing or by signing a letter or new employment contract. Additionally, having been consulted of the transition, you may simply arrive at work and begin by undertaking the duties of the new role without objection. Thus, mutual acceptance.

Before altering your job or role in any major way, ensure you have some input into your new responsibilities and assess how they fit with your career objectives. Your employer should allow for a consultation period to avoid a law suit for constructive dismissal. Significant changes to your job role are better accepted if you are involved in the transition process.  Ultimately though you need to make a decision about what your desired outcome is. If you’re facing redundancy, a career blow or more responsibility than you are willing to take on, seek legal advice on your options before discussing or negotiating further with your employer.

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