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What to Do If Your Job Description is Changing

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

A blank list of goals.

Change is inevitable. But no matter how many cliches or well-known quotes you’ve heard about change, facing change at your job can still be a stressful experience—especially when the change involves your job responsibilities or your role at the organization.

If this happens to you, your first instinct may be to freak out and start questioning everything. “Is this because I'm not good at my job? What did I do wrong? Does this mean I’ll be fired soon?”

Instead of going down a rabbit hole with these questions, take a deep breath and keep reading for tips on how to cope with a changing job description.

Change doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a poor job

Job responsibilities change all the time and for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s because a new grant or other external factors are causing a shift in your organization’s priorities, which may result in a shift in your responsibilities. Other times it could be because the departure of a staff member has caused your boss to reevaluate the division of job duties on your team.

As long as you haven’t had a negative performance review recently or ignored critical feedback from your boss, there’s no reason to think your job is changing because you did something wrong.

In fact, many employers put “other duties as assigned” in the job description to indicate that things may change. And, say it with me again: It’s okay that things are changing.

Get clarity on your new role

Because change creates uncertainty and uncertainty can be scary, getting clarity from your boss about what your new role looks like could help put you at ease.

Moreover, research has shown that teams function better when everyone has a clearly defined, well-understood role, so you’ll be setting yourself (and your colleagues) up for success by having this conversation with your boss early on.

If you’re still unsure as to why your job is changing, this conversation is a good place to directly ask your boss that question.

Other questions to ask include:

  • What goals do you have for me in this new role or with these new responsibilities?
  • How will we know if I have been successful with these new responsibilities three months, six months, or one year from now?
  • In what ways do you envision my day-to-day work changing?

Pro Tip: If it seems like you will need new skills to excel in your new job, you can ask your organization to pay for your professional development.

Communicate with your boss about what’s working (and not working) in your new role

Even with a clear understanding of your new role, change can sometimes be bumpy. You or your coworkers may have trouble adjusting to your new responsibilities, or the work may turn out to be different than what your boss pictured.

Or... things may be going great! You may be surpassing your new goals with ease and hitting it out of the park. Just remember that what may initially seem like a scary change in your job responsibilities could turn out to be a great fit for your strengths.

These are all things your boss will want to know—the good and the not-so-good, what’s working and what’s not working.

If you have regular check-ins with your boss, you can share your perspective then. If you don’t have regular check-ins, ask your boss for a meeting at the one month and three month marks so you can check in on how it’s going.

You can also bring up things as they happen. Just as you do with other instances of managing up, you’ll want to communicate this information in a way that meshes with your boss’ communication preferences. If your boss prefers to process new information before having a face-to-face conversation, send her an email with a few sentences about what’s on your mind and ask when she’d like to have a conversation. If your boss has a (literal) open-door policy and welcomes employees to pop by with topics to discuss, check her calendar to see when she’s free and pop by then.

If you want to tell your boss about something that isn’t working, it can be helpful to frame your comments constructively by offering a solution or seeking your boss’ advice. For example, you could say: “I have always been very motivated by the direct work with our clients. However, my new behind-the-scenes responsibilities of maintaining databases and handling event logistics leave me with less time to interact with our clients. Do you have any suggestions for how to achieve a better balance between my external-facing and behind-the-scenes responsibilities?”

Know this: It’s okay to move on if it’s not working

Despite your best intentions, and those of your boss, it’s possible that this new job just isn't a fit—and that’s okay. Job hopping isn’t a career sin, and if you’ve put in the time to try to make your new job work for you, then explaining to a prospective employer why you’re looking for a new job will be easier.

Before you decide to leave, though, make sure your unhappiness is really about the job and not about something else, like a difficult coworker or a stressful period at work. The only thing worse than being stuck in a job you hate is jumping ship too early or for the wrong reasons.

If you give it your best and still feel it’s time to move on, take some time to document what you don't like about your new responsibilities so you can avoid landing in a similar position later on. And stay engaged at your current job, even in those final weeks before leaving, so you can leave on good terms.

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Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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