How to talk to your boss about shifting responsibilities

How to talk to your boss about shifting responsibilities

Due to the dynamic nature of the modern business environment, over the course of your career, you will almost certainly work for a company in a different capacity then you are accustomed. Being given unfamiliar job responsibilities is not always a bad thing, as it can be an excellent opportunity to improve underdeveloped skills and make you a more well-rounded employee, and could even lead to a career path in a field you would have never considered. However, sometimes these new responsibilities can be frustrating, as taking on unfamiliar duties can be confusing, challenging, and even discouraging.

In this tutorial, I’ll provide steps designed to help employees deal with such a situation effectively. First, I’ll give reasons why bosses may assign employees to an unfamiliar position, and then outline a three step process that will help you identify if you’re being given unrelated duties intentionally, or if your superiors are temporarily putting you on another assignment due to necessity.Then, I’ll show you how to confront your superiors with feelings of distress and frustration associated with unfamiliar or unsatisfactory duties, helping you demonstrate your utility to your boss and secure a change in assignment.

Rationale for shifting responsibilities

Throughout my years as a financial analyst in the biotech industry, I’ve seen employees go from bubbly, energetic and passionate about a new job, to depressed, discouraged, and apathetic because the project they’re working on is only vaguely similar to expectations. My advice to these employees has always been to give it some time. The main reason that managers will assign their employees projects or duties that fall outside the normal range of work is out of necessity.

Temporary reassignments will likely cause only short-term discomfort, and the issue can usually be resolved with simple patience. Sometimes bosses are forced to reassign certain employees with unrelated duties due to constraints such as lack of manpower or budget. Given various deadlines and strategic decisions from management, bosses must sometimes change structure and distribution of responsibilities because they need certain people with specific skills on other projects. If this still feels unnatural and like a problem to you, don’t fret.

  1. Gather information

    Be sure to use your situational awareness before assuming your new job will be permanently limited to your current unfamiliar responsibilities and duties, as sometimes time-strapped managers will forget to mention that certain assignments are only temporary. First, ask other peers with similar job titles if they have been doing this type of work for a while, or if it is simply the result of a recent decision from higher-ups. Gather information about the company’s strategy and upcoming goals, as this can help you decide if your unfamiliar responsibilities are the result of a big push to meet a target, or something else entirely.

  2. Subtly mention concerns

    Before confronting your boss directly about your unhappiness with your current work duties, try to drop subtle hints about your concerns, being sure to avoid sounding accusatory or demanding. Be sure to communicate your confusion about your current responsibilities without directly asking for a reassignment, as doing so will softly indicate to your boss that you are confused about your current placement, and he will likely let you know his reasoning.

  3. Do your best to succeed in your unfamiliar role

    It’s important to prove to your superiors that you’re capable of being flexible and that you possess a variety of skills. However, it is crucial to determine if this reassignment is only temporary before diving head first into work you don’t enjoy.  If this assignment is more permanent and you happen to show to your superiors that you excel in this position, they will be more inclined to leave you in this role moving forward.

  4. Confront your boss about reassignment carefully

    If you determine that the reason for your unfamiliar job duties is not due to necessity and that it is likely you will stay in this role for the indefinite future, you should confront your boss and ask for a reassignment.  It is of the utmost importance to do this in a respectful and focused way, as coming on too strong or being rude will not only keep you from being reassigned, it could very likely lead to a further reduction of your responsibilities and perhaps even dismissal.

    When confronting your boss, do it in person, as doing it by phone or email could convey that you are not very serious or professional.  Doing it in person also allows you to leverage your communication skills such as strong eye contact, confident body language and a sincere tone of voice. Prove to your boss that you’re capable of taking on more responsibilities in the area you are passionate about by producing a sample of your work for a previous employer or by creating a proposal for your boss that outlines various projects you could complete.

    Giving your boss something tangible to review and look over will demonstrate your competence and will simultaneously allow them to do less work, as they will not have to dream up a new task for you to do or give you new duties to complete. Creating projects for your superiors that reduce their workload and makes their jobs easier is one of the fastest ways to succeed, and if you can successfully create a valuable project for your boss, not only will you be reassigned to something you enjoy more, your career will greatly benefit.


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