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<i>Dear Workforce</i> How Do I Defuse Contention When Assuming A Co-Worker’s Duties

September 26, 2001
Q

Dear Workforce:

I've received a promotion that will transfer some of a co-worker's duties tome. How do I (and my boss) tell this to the co-worker without making her feelslighted?

-- Supervisor, manufacturing, Fort Pierce, Fla.

A Dear Promoted:

It's always a challenge to communicate organizational changes to employeeswhen some of their responsibilities have been taken away from them. There is noway to guarantee that your co-worker will not feel slighted, but the approachyou and your supervisor take will definitely be the key to your co-worker'sfuture job satisfaction. Ultimately, there are some key messages that should berelayed by your manager. After all, his role is to manage.

Here are some tips:

Prepare for the meeting. You and your manager should first clarify thebusiness reasons for this change and show how it supports company goals andfuture needs. This will provide an appropriate context for the conversation.

Be ready to respond to the feelings and concerns the employee will bring tothe table. You may even want to put together a list of pros and cons.

Pros may include more time to concentrate on other parts of the job, lowerjob stress, opportunity to work towards improving different skills, and thesatisfaction of getting backlogged projects completed.

Cons may include the employee feeling concerned about a possible reduction inresponsibility, a decrease in the value of his or her contributions to thecompany and team, and concerns about the effect on performance reviews andsalary increases. Preparing gives you an opportunity to think through the issuesthat may arise during the meeting. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound ofcure.

Present the situation in a positive light when you meet with the employee todiscuss the changes. Explain the changes in roles and responsibilities that aregoing to occur, and why they are taking place. Honest explanation should helpthe employee understand and cooperate with the business decision.

Ask the employee some open-ended questions. This will help you gain a senseof her response to the changes. You may want to use questions similar to thefollowing:

  • Now that you will have some extra time, are there other projects that youare interested in working on?

  • How do you feel about taking on (such and such a project)? We have reallydragged our feet on this project; do you have any suggestions how you couldassist us in this area?

The meeting should conclude with a summary of the expectations of thetransition, any new goals or projects discussed, and reiteration of theadvantages of the change. The manager then could give the employee an openinvitation for additional meetings and/or immediately set a date for a follow-upsession to clarify any outstanding concerns.

Since you are assuming some of the employee's former responsibilities, it isimportant that you be respectful in your interactions with her. Ask questionsthat show you value her experience.

Ultimately it is your co-worker's choice as to how she'll react to the newsituation. Of course, your proactive approach to these changes will go a longway in determining how well the situation works out. Congratulations on yourpromotion and good luck!

SOURCE: Liz Petersen and Lisa Kaminski, HR managers, Personnel ManagementSystems, Inc., Kirkland, Wash., May 4, 2001.

LEARN MORE: See "On the Contrary: Thinking theWorst," to learn the importance of communicating with employees beforeimplementing changes.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide usefulinformation on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice ora legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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