Job role change: what to do when your responsibilities change

Updated 4 May 2023

Every job title comes with a description that defines its roles, responsibilities and essential functions. It also includes certain tasks, expectations and reporting structures that show its hierarchical position. Due to changing organisational needs or trends, these expectations and responsibilities may shift, leaving employees to adapt quickly to their new work situation. In this article, we discuss reasons for a job role change and show how you can best adapt to your new position.

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Reasons for a job role change

There are many reasons an employer may enact a job role change. Understanding why it happens can help you make sense of the change, prepare appropriately and make the right decisions. Here are some reasons companies may reorganise the workforce:

New company objectives

A company's strategic positioning and objectives may change to meet emerging customer needs. New market trends, technological changes and initiatives may make a company review their current strategic goals. This can cause a change in job roles for employees. Most of the time, this is a welcome development because as the company grows, it's likely to positively impact your career.

Related: How to set business objectives (with tips and benefits)

External economic factors

Some reasons for job role changes are external. For example, a recession may force the company to lay off a part of its workforce. This usually means that management redistributes their typical responsibilities to the remaining employees. In some cases, those who stay may take pay cuts to help the company adapt to the situation.

Related: What are economic factors? (Importance and examples)

Promotion and demotion

Sometimes your employer may be preparing you for a promotion and wants to see how you cope with new responsibilities, so you may get additional tasks without a corresponding change in job title and pay scale. In this situation, the extra work is a testing phase. If you meet expectations, a change in title and remuneration may follow. Conversely, companies may use this as a demotion or retaliatory strategy. The idea is to encourage you to resign by putting you in an undesirable position.

Employee job performance changes

A job role change can happen because of your performance or recent output. A company may also change an employee's role to help cope with physical disabilities. This may involve a change in work hours, schedules, place of assignment and level of responsibility. Other times, employees may have difficulties coping with the organisation's pace or understanding trends and technology.

Related: Job profile vs job description: definitions and differences

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How to make the most of a job role change

Depending on the level of change, type of contractual agreement, binding employment laws and best practice, companies may or may not inform their employees before enacting them. Come up with an action plan ahead of the situation, if possible. Consider the following guidelines and strategies for handling role changes to positively impact your career:

1. Be open to change

Corporate organisations benefit from expansion. Growth is usually a change factor, and companies always move to seize the right opportunity. They pursue new initiatives, target a broader customer base and work out how to satisfy customer needs. These are constant within the corporate world and always bring about radical changes in the work environment. Understanding this can help you accept change when it finally comes, which puts you ahead and helps you make the best decisions.

2. Assess the new role

Take the time to think through your decisions and embrace the extra responsibilities. First, think about what the new role entails and the reasons for the change. Find out if the company is going through a rough patch or seeking to enter new markets. You can also figure out if the change represents longer working hours without a corresponding pay raise or if it's an avenue to learn new skills and grow in your career. Knowing this information gives you a clearer picture of the situation and helps you plan your next move accordingly.

Related: How to write a job description template

3. Talk with your manager or HR department

Although your employer has the right to update your job description, best employment practice warrants that you both reach an agreement before implementation. If you're unclear about the role change or the reason, you can get more clarity by discussing it with your manager or the HR department. When doing this, prepare yourself and keep it professional. If you already understand the situation, you can propose better ways of handling it. Whatever you do, always aim for a situation that benefits everyone.

4. Focus on rewards and not a new title

A job change may not include a new title or better pay. This usually happens if the company is trying to cope with an economic crisis. As a proactive team player, you might take this as an opportunity to help the company with these challenges. As you negotiate with your supervisor, remember that a pay raise or promotion may not be up for discussion until after the company overcomes any challenges it's facing. Instead, focus on other rewards, such as extra vacation days, sponsored courses or longer lunch hours.

5. Set aside enough time to adjust to your new role

Changing job roles can come with some challenges and setbacks. Try to persevere and embrace the opportunity. As you adapt to your new role, set realistic expectations and give yourself time to adjust. Doing this can help you relieve stress and improve your performance levels. Start with simple and attainable goals to build momentum for any challenges ahead. You can then adjust your time frame to meet more challenging expectations as you proceed.

Related: Duties and responsibilities: definitions and differences

6. Keep the communication line open

As your new role progresses, maintain regular communication with your supervisor. Talk about your progress and challenges through regular check-ins or monthly meetings. The aim is to keep your manager aware of the situation so they can make the right decisions as they interact with management. You can also try other means of communication, such as emails, if that's what works for your supervisor.

7. Keep a positive attitude

Keeping a positive attitude can help you cope with changes. Try to think about the long-term benefits and put things in proper perspective. It all may seem like a big deal initially, but it could positively affect your career in the long run, so keep a positive mindset and let your attitude shine through to other team members.

8. Learn, improve and broaden your skill set

As your job role shifts, learning new skills can help you cope with new responsibilities. Take it as an opportunity to learn and prepare for a senior role in the future. It's even better if the change is happening because of your performance or is in preparation for a promotion. You can enrol in relevant online courses or employ a coach to help you learn the right skills. You can also take advantage of any company-organised training to learn new skills.

9. Seek support from your colleagues

Chances are that any job changes are a company-wide policy. Talking to colleagues who may also be going through a similar career shift can help reduce tension and create a positive atmosphere. You can rely on each other for support and brainstorm ideas on how best to adapt to the situation. As you go through this phase together, you can also improve your interpersonal and team-building skills.

Related: Benefits of being a supportive colleague (with examples)

10. Be upfront with your family

One reason some people have a difficult time with significant job changes is the adjustment to their personal schedules. A new role may entail more travel, extended work hours or shorter vacations. This can create a shift in your work-life balance and affect the time you spend with your family. A helpful tactic is to discuss the changes with your family and how it affects your time with them. This helps them prepare for any possible impact and allows them to support you.

11. Consult the staff association or trade union

Sometimes union contracts can protect your role and its specific duties. In this case, you can always refer to such a contract to determine the best course of action. If you're unsure what to do or have further questions regarding a role change, you can ask your union representative or an employment attorney for further clarification.

12. Move on

After assessing the situation and putting in your best effort to make it work, it's still possible that the role change doesn't represent your best career move. It might even encourage you to find a new path. If you decide to move on, discuss this with your supervisor and clarify your reasons. This makes the process seamless for all parties.

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