Your Employees' Work is Changing: From a Job to Several Roles

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Your Employees' Work is Changing: From a Job to Several Roles
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
We live and work in a very dynamic and competitive world. In order to survive, our organizations are forced to be flexible and high-performing too. This is increasingly influencing the way work and jobs in organizations are set up: instead of 1 job, workers are expected to perform several roles in projects.

Traditionally, the purpose and requirements for a job are described in a 'job description': a structured and factual statement of a job's functions and objectives. It defines the boundaries of the job-holder's authority and includes the job title, department, associated responsibilities, reporting lines, tasks, required experience, knowledge, skills, level and perhaps a clear career path.
A job description is static, and is reflected in an organization chart (organogram). Both get out of date quickly (although they can be revised).

Over the last decade, work is being organized in a more flexible way:
  • Besides their main job/post, employees now perform several roles in projects.
  • Due to internet, laptops, smart phones, etc., knowledge workers no longer have to work in 'the office'; they can work anywhere, anytime.
  • We no longer judge employees on how good they were in their job, or against their formal job description (if any), but on the demand for their know-how and skills.
  • Changed career paths, which are no longer linear and depend on permanent education and personal development
  • Job descriptions remain valuable
    • Give an overall view of the job for job holder and immediate line manager
    • Basis for HR department to match candidates versus the job requirements
    • Basis for performance appraisals
    • Basis for job grading
    • Basis for organization improvements
  • Permanent education and personal development have become crucial for knowledge workers.
  • Employees are increasingly rewarded for results; not for "doing their job'.
  • Breakdown of functional silos and increased working in roles, spanning various business functions.
  • More horizontal mobility between organizations.
For managers and for management as a profession, what are the implications of this transition of workers from having a single job to performing multiple roles?

Adapted and translated from Wilco van Gelderen, 2013, "Ons werk verandert en daarmee ons denken over 'functies',

Borderless Demand Makes Job Descriptions a Formality
Bernard N Owusu - Sekyere, Consultant, South Africa, Member
De Jonge is right when he argues there is a whole shift in work performance and obligation.
Many employees are not observing this change. They are finding it difficult and are complaining about extra work demand. The FACT is there a shift to borderless demand: these are demands on employees beyond or outside what is in their job description. Sometimes a staff takes on the work of 3 employees. This is made possible by availability of technology.

What is challenging is how staff adjusts to the changed work environment and borderless demands. Clients are now able to contact them 24/7 and drop messages and emails anytime beyond working hours. Likewise bosses can also send instructions anytime outside working hours and unplanned travels.
When we see in some job advertisements these day's the phrase "... be willing to travel frequently...etc.", this is meaning the person is probably going to receive demands on short notice.

Employees find the present job change trends stressful but that is logical because they they've been unaware of it as it is not stated in their job description. I've met many who feel like resigning but they have no alternatives. Even senior staff have all come under pressure and are psychologically unprepared by not being aware of the new shift in the work place that requires being seamless.

What is a solution is consistent training to enable the staff to adjust to the new situation that is not yet described in text books, but definitely the reality.
The change has taken place and now staff needs upgrading in their perceptions and thinking about their work, especially in public services and institutions in African countries.

Are Job Descriptions Now Just Guidelines?
Onyangore Peter Ogendi, Teacher, Kenya, Member
Indeed a job description is now just 'a guideline'. With the arrival of new technology and adults going in for evening/part-time classes things have changed.
Today individuals can change their knowledge in days; meaning if one had to be a classroom teacher tomorrow by then he/she can have different knowledge which actually makes him/her have different skills. This is an indicator that an individual who multi-task is rendering the 'job description business irrelevant. But how many accept multi-tasking? The answer is: only a few. Why? Because in return for adding anything extra to our duties we expect monetary advantage!

This also takes as back to 'job descriptions' still being relevant in order for the duties to be done. Also because of responsibility - who's responsible for what. And note that people who multi-task are envied by their work mates, who make it difficult for these talented guys to work.
Result? We still go back to our ' job descriptions' to counter this business of envy.

Put it in the Job Description
justice john a, Student (Other), Ghana, Member
Job enrichment comes as a result of technical know-how in ICT. Recently smart people are enshrined with more than one job at the same time because of their skills on the job. On the job training and seminars has enhanced such activity. Employees with broad knowledge take up such opportunities and help in the development of the organization.
But what is important is motivation. Why? Other employees are fearing these people because they believe they are making people jobless. When management makes cross border activities an additional responsibility at the time of appointment, then it will help a long way.

The Focus is Shifting from Job Description to 'Expectations'
Alan Kennedy
What we see changing is the move from a one dimensional perspective of work; namely a job description, to a project manager's multi-dimensional perspective: Imposed expectations and their priority of importance, Scope of role; and Relevant metrics.

All assignments are becoming managed as though they are "projects" and project management methodology is replacing the outdated notions of functional management. Hand in hand with this shift is the required skills to be able to operate as a member of multiple project teams as opposed to a single functional team.

One thing that has not changed is that expectations still (and will always) flow down. It is imposed expectations that set the assignment. High performing organizations understand this have have learned how to talk the language of "expectations".

The wonderful thing about expectations is that they do not have to be prescriptive - a practice that characterizes the old model of functional management. They just need to provide enough guidance so that it is well understood what is and is not acceptable. Expectations have always been the driver of strategy implementation. Finally, this driver is spreading to management of the whole organization and not just projects.

Avoid that Side Jobs Become the Main Job
I Gede Darmawijaya, Teacher, Indonesia, Member
Most employees are working based on their job descriptions. It's their main job. They have to make every effort to succeed in their main job.
What is important is employers should focus on this first. Other projects assigned to the employees are important as long as they are relevant to the main job. Otherwise they will not focus.
If the execution of the main job is not managed properly, then employees tend to perform their side jobs as if they were their main job.
Multiple roles are important and most of us admire them. But we need a strategic plan to implement this change. Develop the existing job description into a dynamic individual development plan for mastering his job so that the result of the job is unique and competitive.

It Can Be a Win - Win Situation with the Right Mindset and Limits
Ivan Kohlinsky, Management Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
I agree. Many years ago I set about persuading a chief executive that paying staff more for multiple skills and flexibility is actually cheaper. Staff (usually) liked the job enrichment/variety etc and the company could manage with less staff.
Manpower planning within narrow job functions nearly always leads to overstating combined with periods of excess demand over supply. Obviously there can't be anarchy, but giving employees the mindset that they have a narrow based purpose in life is not healthy for employees or for employers... And YES the chief executive did agree in my case and he and the staff both benefited.

Bringing Out More Talents
Onyangore Peter Ogendi, Teacher, Kenya, Member
We tend to force ourselves in some careers because we have no other options at that moment. With multi-tasking, people will be more innovative than before. This will make our institutions advance and therefore create employment opportunities to our unemployed lot.
Performing multiple roles will make people know where they are best in other than what's only in the job descriptions. Job descriptions make employees think in a linear way which actually should not be the case. So I repeat my @earlier reaction that they are just a guideline but always room should be given for innovative employees.

Job / Roles Discussion
Olli Kansanen, HR Consultant, Finland, Member
Exactly the same question was discussed in 1990 in management development forums in Europe. This is an important issue, but I am a bit disappointed that the same questions emerge year after year. I am quite sure that Peter Drucker invented this already for 40 years ago. But indeed we really should focus on roles and competencies instead of static job descriptions.

The Traditional Job Description is Now Obsolete
rajat baisya, Professor, India, Member
I believe that the old system of job description has lost its relevance as both process and technology have redefined a job as more holistic in dimension and in its scope. The traditional job description is now obsolete.
Many jobs also have become irrelevant and redundant but people still exist.
We need domain and sub-domain specific expertise with multi skill and management abilities who are focused on results and objectives and carry out a function. Businesses will have to work in an environment where a lesser number of people will work in a matrix environment, cutting across the boundaries created earlier by job descriptions and work like an entrepreneurs.
Businesses are also viewed now as projects and managed like a project.

Management is More Broad Based and Hence Multi-functional
Bantwal Prabhu, Teacher, India, Member
Management today is more broad based too and hence success depends on the multiple roles and functions a manager acquires in his profession over a period of time.
The performance naturally improves when he acquires these additional attributes and skills needed to solve the day to day problems he faces in his professional career.

Employment Still Based on Experience / Curriculum Vitae
Musonda Ernest Kabwe, Zambia, Member
Employment is still based on curriculum vitae, showing a person's experience.
Many companies still demand that someone to be employed needs to have working experience in a certain field.
This is the bottleneck to our current development, because people are acquiring new ideas and learning through new media/technology.

Job Descriptions and Expectations
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
@Alan Kennedy: Yes expectations are more critical to the function one is assigned with, rather than a typical job description which limits the growth of the persons to laid down boundaries.
As one moves up the ladder of hierarchy it is critical that one adopts and acquires skills and competencies not only relevant to the functions at hand, but also in peripheral functions.
This calls for a multi-skilled approach in the assignments and development of people in the right direction to support the growth and success of the organization.
For example, in the engineering industry engineers have to be comfortable with other branches of engineering because every product of engineering excellence is a combination of mechanical, electrical, electro mechanical, electronics and civil engineering. Especially in QA.

Purpose of the Job
Olli Kansanen, HR Consultant, Finland, Member
In my opinion the most important question is the purpose of the job (=Why does the job exist?). This question leads to value added =output requirements. Simplified example: What is the purpose of a secretary´s job? Possible answer: To save time of her boss and others she is serving. This statement is really simple and it includes the measurement criterion = time. I tested this idea with my secretary (in the good old days when I had a secretary). I explained to her that I´ll mainly evaluate her work success based on this criterion. What happened? She invented tens of different, even creative means to save my time and I became happy. There was a high level order in the office. She also served some other members of my team. - I encourage everyone to think the job purpose very deeply. Think also what would happen if your job would disappear totally. Try to find the real value added. This thinking process normally takes some time and it is a good workshop topic run by a facilitator.

Implications for Managers, Opportunities for Employees
lenworth grandison, Jamaica, Member
Jaap de Jonge is spot on in his observations. This trend surfaced before the internet age, has steadily grown since, but I still encounter lots of employees who complain about the numerous responsibilities which have been heaped upon them continually which wasn't mentioned at the outset when they were in the interview for the vacant position.
Managers have a role to play in getting the employees to be more adaptive to their changing roles in the workplace. They should let it be known at the outset that the position might require the employee to carry out other functions within the organization in order for the company to operate more efficiently in meeting the demands of it's customers. This should be communicated to the employee as an opportunity to garner new skills which can support their personal development and put them in line for a promotion either within the said organization or if they leave to seek employment elsewhere.
But bottom line the workplace is changing, and we have to adapt or opt out.

Borderless Demand and Job Description
LEAH LYNDA I. STA ANA, Student (MBA), Philippines, Member
Borderless demand makes job description a formality, due to the fact that job descriptions are just a stepping stone on how to begin your work. Once you are acquainted with your job, here come the performance targets that may state and require one to do other work that will be assigned by one's immediate supervisor or manager.
This other work varies depending on your ability to work unsupervised and how fast you can understand their instructions and carry it out.

Skills and Competencies more Important than Job Specifications
Paul Strodike, Management Consultant, South Africa, Member
For strategic workforce planning, it is more important to know what are the skills and competencies of the person, rather than what his current job description is.
The performance levels achieved over a period for specific roles and responsibilities will determine the potential growth of the individual within the organisation.

From Specialization to Generalization
Ayele Abdata, Manager, Ethiopia, Member
Mr .de Jonge's forum topic reminisces us about the first of Fayol's 14 Principles of Management: Division of Labor (Work). According to this principle, an employee specializes in / is assigned to a specific job (not all jobs) to perform. This approach boasts the skill, experience and expertise of the employee in that particular area of specialization.
Today this principle seems to have been somewhat outdated. Nowadays, most business organizations and governmental as well as NGOs apply generalization of tasks. Through work generalization, an employee is made to work on various tasks of the organization by methods such as job rotation, delegation, training and mentoring,
But what are the cons and pros of both specialization and generalization of work? I need more explanation on this.

Implications for Managers' Roles
Jasper Mugambi, Manager, Kenya, Member
The implication of this is for managers is that they have to be more keen in their monitoring role. Because the employees are performing multiple roles, it is likely that some employees will perform more than others, but all may be rewarded equally.
To avoid this the manager needs to monitor his subordinates closely and ensure that the actual jobs remain sufficient and as close as possible to the job descriptions.
As a rule of thumb any job that is performed on a daily basis is to be explicitly put under the job description, and any additional skills acquired are also awarded in terms of better pay. In this way, employees remain satisfied and motivated, because their extra effort is recognized and appreciated.

Remaining Multi-functional Employees Have to Carry a Heavier Workload
Marc Tremblay, Manager, Canada, Member
The topic of discussion resonates with me. In Canada like elsewhere in the world, companies are systematically and drastically reducing the number of permanent employees, investing in smart technology and contracting out work. A leaner organizational structure is created with the remaining permanent staff having to carry a heavier workload.
This is my reality at age 57. The adjustment was not too bad. The difficult part is sustaining the pace demanded by management.

Job-Roles Discussion and Unions
Richard Mariwa, Manager, Member
The ongoing discussion assumes the employees are aligned with the objectives of multi-tasking or broader roles. Once employees are onboarded, they are guided by a signed job description.
The challenge that management then faces within a unionised environment is that employees, backed by the Labour Unions, will start to demand appropriate compensation for any extra role performed.
So it is all well and good to talk about multi-skilling, but how broad can we make the jobs before getting the wrath of the Unions?

About the Pressure by Unionised Staff and Trade Unions
rajat baisya, Professor, India, Member
@Richard Mariwa: has raised an issue with respect to the pressure that unionised staff and labour unions can exert on business.
In a government run economy the labour unions have some strength but in a market driven economy labour unions have already lost their teeth.
Labour Unions are more docile now as they have seen the writing on the wall. If business does not exist in the face of competition, labour unions fall in line.
In under-developed countries the situation may be little different still but the fact remains they are not globally competitive also. If the jobs are protected then labour unions have some role to play but if jobs are not protected labour unions cannot dictate.
Most of the countries now have an exit clause. If a business does not do well, investors can exit from the business just paying legitimate and legal dues of severed / sacked employees.

Technology Helps Increase New Roles and Duties
Leticia Olaverria, Accountant, Dominican Republic, Member
I agree with some of the point of views expressed; the fast development of digital tools forces the employess and bossess to discover that we are able to perform more than one role. I guess it becomes negative when an individual is overloaded and can not perform the duties that are part of the position he was hired for.

Information Technology and its Implications
Sachin Yemul, Student (MBA), India, Member
Day by day IT is evolving and making jobs more critical and complex in terms of roles and at the same time the requirement of manpower is decreasing, eliminating many jobs or reducing their workload, due to automation and technology across the globe.

Mental Boundaries
Helen Strong, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
The above discussion makes some excellent points about how people can grow and have more job satisfaction. However in our country one has to take into account the attitudes of workers who will not step outside of their "scope of work" for fear that they will be over-worked.
Less sophisticated employees see this approach as a threat and not an opportunity for personal growth.

Working on Mental Boundaries
rajat baisya, Professor, India, Member
@Strong has raised a point which we indeed have experienced in the past. Workers suffer from two basic problems - one being, as mentioned by Strong, that the work load will keep on increasing without any incremental reward which they want to negotiate every time with the management.
And secondly, they don't have any trust in the management and see everything management wants to do as possibly (probably) anti-workmen.
One should work on the trust-element and build that over a period of time to overcome these mental boundaries. This is easier said than done but not unsurmountable. But once achieved it is not difficult to trim the workforce, make the structure lean and mean and functional as well as to enlarge the scope of jobs from routine to objective- or goal-oriented.
In this process workers should clearly see both organizational and personal growth, and realize that job security comes from securing the organization's growth and competitiveness, and not by simple legislation of government.
The whole process should be seen as supportive.

Mental Boundaries and Performance
Bantwal Prabhu, Teacher, India, Member
The trend with management is towards a "more with less"-philosophy in terms of resources, materials, and technology. Hence the limits are extended in every aspect of work and performance to meet the challenges in competition. First to survive and thereafter to grow with time.
This is similar to adaptation, a feature of evolution present in every piece of human growth and activity.
This will continue whether one likes it or not. Expectations have to change with time since realities are changing.

Recruiting Multi-skilled Employees
seechurn, HR Consultant, Mauritius, Member
I am agreeable to the views expressed by Jaap de Jonge. We are living in a modern world where there has been a change in our system of doing things. It is important we change our mindsets and adapt to the new technologies and possibilities.
Recruiting multi-skilled employees has become crucial for organisations for its survival. So the trend is towards employees performing polyvalent jobs.

Change is the Watchword of the Future
Bantwal Prabhu, Teacher, India, Member
The only thing that is constant in the world is change, and for survival in the future everyone should accept that, whether he or she likes it or not. Living positive is based on positive change in every piece of activity, resulting in improved quality of life, adopting the best practices and ethics in general. Change is going to be the watchword of the future from birth to death.

Job Descriptions and Organizations Chart
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
A typical organization chart is the pictorial representation of the relationships in an organization, indicating the line of control and authorities in brief.
It is indicative of ones' role and accountability to whom and for whom are all accountable for performance. But if such chart is not supported by job descriptions, responsibilities and authorities the performance capability of the organization remains questionable. Put in other words, the org charts have to be drawn clearly and also the descriptions, responsibilities and authorities.

Employees with Multiple Roles May Be Beneficial
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
In my experience, if an employee has only one role, the longevity of the employee's job (and career) may be limited. Whereas an employee able to perform multiple roles will probably have more opportunities to work, while enjoying a long career.
Employees should be encouraged to learn new roles, while being taught to address organizational and career change. Organizations who are willing to collaboratively work with unions will find employees (and their representatives) are more willing to accept change and support innovation. Fear of the unknown and a lack of trust occurs when the employer mistreats their employees, which may ultimately impact the organization's bottom line. In public sector organizations, employees need to be treated as a valued resource, not just as a mindless worker.
Ensuring worker satisfaction, will increase productivity and profits.

People Need to Future Proof Their Jobs
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
I am reading a report from the Brookfield Institute on future jobs. The report notes "Everyone expects automation and other technological advances to eliminate some jobs and create others. But Canadian futurists say there's a much wider range of trends that could influence the types of skills that are likely to be in demand in the future."
The report identifies 31 trends which could impact hiring by 2030. If organizations (and their employees) are not prepared for the jobs of the future, they will not be competitive and they will not survive. Employee skills need to change if they are to remain relevant in the future labour market.
Creativity, lifelong learning and work-life integration are three trends of the future for organizations and their employees.

We May Have Damaged the Success of This by our Education System
Ivan Kohlinsky, Management Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
For years business and government has tried to regulate things by infinite specification of procedures, performance measurement techniques (think about hospital waiting list stats, discouraging judgment on urgency/danger in favour of FIFO to give best stats).
Now we want the 'thinking and flexible/proactive (terrible word) employee. All to avoid 'mistakes', keep things clear, stop anarchy.
Unfortunately both school and university for many decades have 'trained' their students into 'right thinking', even on creative thinking courses. Perhaps the belief that if all this can be written down and specified in great detail, then a robot can do it all, and we can all sit at home and watch 'box sets' has led us down this path.
I agree it is now difficult to get out of this 'straight jacket' AND to know which employees/managers/directors one can 'let loose' without an unanticipated disaster - 'well I never anticipated that anyone would ever do such a thing'!

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