Role Erosion in the Workplace
Do you feel like your job role is slowly disappearing?
Role erosion is an old phrase that we used to use in the 1990s to describe the process by which an employer gently eases out an employee. The employee is blissfully engaged in the role they have held for years, when the employer suddenly takes issue with them, and without due explanation, begins to gently remove the employee from the company. The employer often does this without the employee even knowing about it, until one day they realise that all their main responsibilities have been taken away from them.
Can my work be given to someone else?
Role erosion can be almost benign at first. An employer attempting to remove an employee in this way moves at an extremely slow pace, employing the “death by a thousand cuts” method and so ensuring that the employee cannot point to any one reason as an example of a breach of contract to support a constructive dismissal claim (see our article on constructive dismissal).
The trick that employers adopt is to take away almost all of the employee’s role and responsibilities without him realising it, and then declare him redundant. They would pay him off with the pittance which the state allows employers to pay in cases of redundancy (i.e. a statutory redundancy payment – it’s even less than you think, look it up!).
How to spot role erosion at work
The key for the employee in this scenario is to recognise what is going on at an early stage and make the employer’s life as difficult as possible. If the employee acts strategically in this way, the employer will want to get rid of the employee enough to pay him off rather than continue down the long and tedious route it had initially envisaged.
There are two main signs to look out for in regards to the behaviour and actions of your employer:
1. The company employing someone to manage you with a suspiciously similar job title and description.
2. Your roles and responsibilities are gradually prised away from you and given to either the new manager with the very similar sounding job title to your own, or to your colleagues.
Warning sign 1: The employment of someone new above you
The most obvious sign of role erosion is the company employing someone to manage you with a suspiciously similar job title and description. If you are the Commercial Manager and report to the Managing Director, and the company has just decided to appoint a “Commercial Director” who doesn’t actually sit on the board and also reports to the Managing Director, then you can pretty much guess what’s down the road for you.
The appointment of someone above you, especially if you are in a management position, is usually a good sign that your employer is trying to gently remove you without a fuss (or you realising). There is nothing unlawful or even apparently objectionable about employing someone to manage you, but it’s often a significant warning sign as to the safety of your role.
Warning sign 2: Your responsibilities are gradually taken away
The second most obvious sign usually accompanies the first, and that is that your roles and responsibilities are gradually prised away from you and given to either the new manager with the similar sounding job title to your own, or to your colleagues.
This often happens over a period of weeks and months so that you can’t object too quickly, and the employer has a litany of convenient excuses to fall back on, most of them encompassing the word “synergies”.
If you suddenly find yourself twiddling your thumbs for four hours a day, retrace your steps and look at how that happened. If your lack of work is not due to a downturn in business, it’s likely that others are doing what used to be your role are redundancy could be around the corner (along with the dreadfully low statutory redundancy payment).
What to do if your job role is slowly disappearing…
You need to wise up and act quickly. Don’t let them get away with the “death by a thousand cuts” approach. Let them know that you know what’s going on and that you won’t take it lying down.
Object to each decision in the strongest, but politest, terms. Always do this in writing and keep records of the emails (read our article on how to keep records). This way you are building up a record of your objections and increasing pressure on your employer not to take another step.
If you suspect foul play (i.e. Andy from accounts has just told you that he’s now responsible for something that you used to do), then demand answers and explanations in writing. If you’re really getting nowhere you could make a Subject Access Request (see our article on subject access requests).
If you keep up pressure on your employer then pretty soon they will get sick of you and, knowing that you’re wise to the game, may approach you with a settlement agreement. Either that, or the time will come (after the third or fourth incident) for you to raise a formal grievance, or instruct a solicitor to set out the incidences (referring to all your emails).
Do you need a solicitor to represent you?
A solicitor will negotiate with your employer to achieve a settlement agreement in order to stop you from making a claim of constructive dismissal.
Read our articles on other common scenarios leading to constructive dismissal:
- A Settlement Agreement is Offered
- Performance Management Procedures
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Mental Health Absence