Role erosion in the workplace

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Is your job role slowly disappearing?

Role erosion can happen to anyone and without warning. You may be engaged in the role you have held for years, blissfully unaware that your  employer has decided to get rid of you for whatever reason.

Rather than tell you what the problem is, or simply explain that things are no longer working out, the employer instead begins gently to remove you without you even knowing about it until, one day, you realise what’s occurring.  

By this time, it’s too late and you’re being made redundant because you no longer have any duties to perform.

Role erosion is not in any way obvious or dramatic.  In fact, it can seem almost benign at first. An employer attempting to remove you in this way moves at a glacial pace, biding their time, employing the “death by a thousand cuts” method and ensuring that you cannot point to any one reason as an example of a breach of contract supporting a constructive dismissal claim.

The cunning employer will aim to take away almost all of your role and responsibilities without you knowing about it and then declare you redundant and pay you off with the pittance which the state allows employers to pay in cases of redundancy (i.e. a statutory redundancy payment).

How to identify signs of role erosion?

The most obvious sign of role erosion is the company employing someone to manage you with a suspiciously similar job title and description.

For example, 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 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 remove you without a fuss (or without you realising). There is nothing unlawful or even apparently objectionable about employing someone to manage you, but it’s a potential  warning sign that things are not looking good.

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 suspiciously similar sounding job title, or to your colleagues.

This often happens over a period of 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 waffly corporate speak, like 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, because if it’s not a downturn in business, it’s likely that others are doing your role.

The heavy footsteps approaching your office are not the board with a bottle of champagne and a fat bonus cheque, but the hobnailed boots of the HR manager carrying a thin letter containing an even thinner figure – the dreaded statutory redundancy payment.


How should you react to role erosion?

The key  in this scenario for you is to recognise what is going on at an early stage and to make the employer’s life as difficult as possible, to the extent that the employer recognises that if they want to get rid of you, they will have to pay you off, rather than continue down the route they had initially envisaged.

You need to wise up and act quickly. Don’t let them get away with it! Let them know that you know what’s going on. And when they know that you know, then they will know you won’t take this lying down.

Object to each decision in the strongest, but politest, terms. Always do this in writing and keep records of the emails. 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 (for example if 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 getting nowhere you could make a Subject Access Request. (See also our subject access request templates which you can freely download and adapt to your own situation.)

If you keep up pressure on your employer then the chances are they will get sick of you and  approach you with a settlement agreement. If not, then after the third or fourth incident, you can set out your case in a without prejudice letter (referring to all those emails you have kept) and seek a settlement agreement as a compromise to your potential claim of constructive dismissal.

If this doesn’t bear the fruit you want then move to the next tools in your arsenal including a grievance letter, a subject access request and an employment tribunal claim.


Read our articles listed below on other common scenarios leading to constructive dismissal

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