Titles and Tribulations

Jun 27th, 2010 | By | Category: abundance, aptitude, Career advice, career challenges, career choices, challenges, fear, interview, job description, mentor, office problems, yearly review

PracticaL Mentor

This week I responded to a question posted on answer.yahoo.com. The question read; “My new boss has told me and my other 2 colleagues that she is going to change our job titles as its not working for the private hospital we work in. Our titles are Team Leaders and she wants to change it to senior support workers. The job description is the same apart from some added responsibilities. My colleagues and myself are not happy with this, as we have taken a lot of hard work and years to get to Team leaders. She has said to us that, ‘the job wont be for everyone and that she hopes we see our future with the company’. What can we do?”

Job description changes are common in the workplace, and the topic requires more than a short answer, as there are several facets involved in job descriptions. Changing an employee’s job description can be a career boost or a demotion. In addition, it may be a way for management to increase an employees work assignments and responsibilities without a change in title or compensation. On the other hand adding duties to a job description is also a method of promoting people without formally opening a new job position. Sometimes changes in job descriptions are necessary to reflect changes in the nature of work or to better reflect the company’s mission statement. Often, new job descriptions are issued during reorganizations, and when new departments are added to the organization.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The good thing about job description changes is that management can use them as a tool for pay increases without a competitive posting. By differentiating employees doing similar tasks with added duties and responsibilities, managers can build the foundation for a non-competitive accretion of duties promotion. This saves manager and the personal department the hassle of creating a new competitive position, and ensures that office politics will not place someone else in the position. In most cases this method is justified by the additional work and responsibilities taken on by an employee. However, the manager must be prepared for the other staff members to ask for similar treatment. A good manager will not blindside the rest of the staff, but will make everyone aware of the situation in advance.

The Bad thing about job description changes is management can use them as a tool to; demote employees without notice or recourse; add additional work and responsibilities without increased compensation; and play favorites among the staff. In companies with unions, the union should be notified of any proposed changes in job descriptions, and represent all of the employees’ interest. If there is no union, each employee is usually on their own. If there are several employees whose job descriptions are being altered in a negative fashion, they should band together and approach management with a unified front. Be careful if someone wants to elect a spokesperson. Electing an affected person to represent the group often leads to the spokesperson selling out their co-workers for their own personal gain. Before taking any action, all affected employees should review their new job description with a keen eye for both positive and negative impact. Sometimes the new job description increases the employee’s position for negotiating a promotion or pay increase. On the other hand, and more common, the new job description may mean a demotion, loss of title, and decreased pay. For example, at a place where I worked there were first line supervisors who were considered managers and received management perks and participated in the management bonus plan. (The managers split a bigger pot among fewer participants; they all got bigger bonuses than the staff) The first round of job description changes demoted most of the first line supervisors to team leaders, they had the same responsibility and base pay, but lost their management status, management bonuses, and management authority. This was a real demotion for first line supervisors. The next wave of job description changes was to convert team leaders to senior staff. This removed the title and the remaining perks. Although there was no decrease in salary there was a decreased potential to become a manager, they were assigned the same work as the other staff, but were held accountable for supporting other staff members to ensure projects were done correctly and on time. Although there was a union, there was little resistance to the changes, based on management’s threats to riff workers if the changes were not approved.

The ugly thing about job description changes is that there is little an employee can do about it. There are a lot of laws, rules and policies on workplace practices, but few if any apply to job descriptions. In some instances employees are performing identical tasks at the same level but with different job descriptions and being paid different rates. There is no grievance procedure for position descriptions, and they are usually not negotiable. Management has the right to define the required performance, skill, and production levels in job descriptions and there is little employees can do about it. There are some tactics that may be helpful when management arbitrarily throws you a curve by changing your job description.

Many employees do not even know what duties and responsibilities are contained in their job descriptions. It is a good practice to review your job description prior to your yearly review, and make note of any changes in your actual job and your job description. Don’t be hasty to remove duties and responsibilities that you no longer perform for they may be justifying your salary, and you may be called on to fulfill those duties and responsibilities in the future. It is more important to make note of job creep where you are performing at higher level than reflected in your job description. If possible, write down in job description language that would mesh with your current job description all the duties and responsibilities that you are performing that are not in your job description. During your yearly review, diplomatically discuss the accretion of duties with your supervisor, and ask him to amend your job description to include them in your job description. This is also good ammunition to negotiate your cost of living adjustment for the coming year. If you do not negotiate your cost of living increase, reflecting all increases in duties and responsibilities is laying the groundwork for an accretion of duties, non-competitive, promotion.

When a job description changes results in a demotion or cut in pay you should talk to your union rep if you have one. If more than you are affected it is good to act in a group. If the effects of the changes are substantial, it may be wise to consult with a labor relation’s attorney. Usually there is no fee for the first consultation. In my experience most employees who hire a labor relations attorney have the adverse actions reversed and are reinstated with full pay and benefits at their previous, equivalent, or even higher level. Do not be fearful of retribution, as your attorney will negotiate safeguards to protect you. However, I recommend taking the attorney’s advice, if he advises that you do not have a case then you are facing a long up hill battle. It may be better to analyze the pros and cons of accepting the changes or looking for another job. Whether it is one employee or a group of employees involved you may benefit from discussing your situation with the national or state Labor Relations Board. The National Labor Relations Board Internet address is http://www.nlrb.gov/ . You can find your state contact information on the Internet.

Many employees feel that their job descriptions do not reflect the work they are actually performing. Others observe that their job descriptions are so general that they are meaningless. As a previous government employee, I have observed that much of the language in job descriptions comes from the classifiers handbook. This is legally accepted job description language that supports an employees pay grade. The language is often phrased in terms of art used by the profession. Changing this archaic language may be detrimental to maintaining your pay grade, so be careful and seek advice before suggesting any changes. Once human resources get control, in most cases, they can overrule your manager.

If you find your job description change has resulted in a demotion, loss of title, more work, or loss of authority, talk with your supervisor to try to determine the reason. It may be coming from higher up than your immediate supervisor, in which case he is probably powerless to help you. If the impact is such that you do not want to remain at your present job start looking for another job. Don’t be too hasty to quit your job before you find another to go to. If you quit you do not get unemployment benefits, and it may impact your ability to find another job. Try to stay calm and rational and have patience, and things will work out to your advantage.

The PracticaL Mentor

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