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What happens when good, hard-working employees are placed in the wrong roles at work?

This week, I was made aware of an ongoing phenomenon in my work with not-for-profit and corporate groups. Many organisations need more staff, leading to challenges in filling role gaps. Organisations are moving their employees into roles that may not reflect their knowledge and skills to mitigate these gaps. You may have heard of phrases like “Great Attrition” (Smet et al., 2021) or “Quiet Quitting” (Harter, 2023), which highlight the ongoing challenges of staff shortages and engagement in the workplace. In addition, individuals are making choices about their quality of life and working less, further exacerbating the situation. As a result, organisations are trying to find ways to fill these gaps as quickly as possible.

So, what happens when good, hard-working employees are placed in the wrong roles at work?

For starters, let us consider the motivation factor. Challenges arise if an employee engages in a role for which they are not suited. For example, there may be a strong probability that the employee does not engage with the position; they may develop anxiety because they do not feel that they have the confidence and competence for the role, resulting in not turning up for work. Other factors include incorrect decisions being made and low productivity, to name a few. Another point of consideration is when we move people into leadership positions. For example, if someone has exceptional skill in undertaking transactional processes, this does not mean they will make a transformational leader.
While it is never a good thing to move good, hard-working employees into the wrong role, if it needs to occur as a short-term measure, consider the following strategies:

Be truthful. Acknowledge that someone is required for the role. Would the employee be up to the challenge
Offer ongoing training.
Appoint a mentor and a coach
Enhance the employee experience – let them know they are valued
Make the work sustainable – provide access to mental health resources.
Develop employer and employee relationships
Work together on celebrating strengths and working on areas for improvement.

For more insights on leadership, management, and communication, read some of the other blogs on this site.

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