COVID Got You Scrambling? Learn How to Adjust Employee Responsibilities to Keep Up

Some businesses have had to furlough or let go of employees due to COVID-19. Others are busier now than ever, trying to fill orders for in-demand products or services. Is either the case for you? If so, you’ve probably had to—or need to—adjust employee responsibilities.

Unless your employees have a contract that explicitly prevents you from updating their job responsibilities, you can generally make changes as needed.

So, how do you do it?

How to adjust employee responsibilities

Jobs change all the time. An employee doesn’t need a full-on promotion or to participate in a job rotation program to shake up their responsibilities.

Instead, follow a few steps to get everyone on the same page. It might not be easy on them at first, but if you communicate expectations and show you value your team members, I bet they’ll be more than willing to step up to the task.

1. Pay attention to employee protections

Again, employers are typically free to adjust employee responsibilities as needed. Why? Because nearly all states assume employees are hired “at will.”

But, things are a little different if there’s a contract involved. And if there is, your best course of action is to check with a small business lawyer to see what you’re able to do.

Even if there isn’t a contract, there are a few things you need to pay attention to before you radically alter an employee’s job duties. First, you can’t change an employee’s responsibilities to retaliate or discriminate against them.

It’s a good idea to run everything by an HR representative or lawyer if you have questions or concerns. But basically, your reasoning for adjusting responsibilities can’t be related to something that’s illegal (e.g., violating employee rights).

2. Be upfront and clear

What’s the key to anything in life? Communication. Have a conflict at work? Communicate. Need something done? Communicate. Want to adjust an employee’s responsibilities? Yep, you guessed it.

If you have to adjust an employee’s responsibilities, be upfront and clear about the change. Communicate the changes as soon as possible to the employee. You can have a sit-down meeting with them (e.g., 1:1) to ensure there’s no miscommunication about what you need.

When you’re communicating the new duties to the employee, also explain the value in taking them on. Let your team member know how the responsibilities contribute to your business’s ability to reach its overall goals. And, explain how the duties correlate to their job title and current responsibilities.

Your employee may have some questions, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the role and how things get done. Be willing to do a little training to get them up to speed—and to set them up for success. And, encourage them to voice any concerns they have associated with the new tasks.

3. Give them the tools they need

An employee with new responsibilities might need tools to help them accomplish tasks more efficiently. And depending on their background, they may not even know what tools are available.

You might consider offering to get the employee whatever tools they need to streamline the task. For example, you could sign up for payroll software to simplify an employee’s payroll-related responsibilities.

Encourage employees to do some research into different tools (if you don’t have an issue with them choosing them). Let them know that you support whatever they need to get the job done and also help ease the new burden.

4. Update job descriptions

If you’re adding small, additional responsibilities here and there, you might not think about making any changes to that position’s job description.

But, you need to be.

In business, no document is future-proof. You can’t leave things on a shelf to collect dust. You constantly have to update things to keep them current.

What if the employee leaves? Will you know everything they did in their job? Or, will you only know a portion of their responsibilities, causing a dangerous gap? Updating the job description keeps the role current, which is especially important for filling the role in the future.

Updating the job description can also solidify expectations by giving the employee something in writing to refer to. Not to mention, you can also track your own expectations.

5. Provide a raise or other benefit

If an employee’s responsibility adjustments are significant, you might consider giving them a raise. Team members who have to pull more weight may quickly run out of steam (think morale, engagement, etc.) if they think they’re being overworked.

But I get it: you might not be flush with cash. Especially if you’re adjusting employee responsibilities due to workforce reductions. If you absolutely can’t afford a raise, consider some other benefits you can offer. Maybe it’s a little extra paid time off (PTO), the ability to work from home, or flexible hours.

Now, for a little extra something—pair a raise or benefit with a handwritten note expressing your gratitude for the employee.

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Author: Mike Kappel

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