Is Too Much Cross-Functional Work Killing Your Employees?

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Jul 15, 2014

We have heard of the many jobs and/or industries that have been either lost or tremendously condensed since 2008.

Let’s deal with the tremendously condensed jobs for a second.

Due to the financial crisis of 2008, many businesses had to trim the head count in their organizations. Essentially, the head count was trimmed, but as expected, the work didn’t go away. The result was lots of reorganization within companies and a redistribution of work in support of keeping business going as usual.

As an employee, you don’t want to be seen as not being a team player when asked if you can take on another job or function. It is usually proposed as something temporary and a great help to the organization.

The problem is the redistribution continues in many companies and they keep batting their eyes and asking for more and as such employees are now doing the job of not one but three people.

Boo-hoo-hoo, you say…

Yes, it is great to get experience in different areas.

It makes you more marketable. It allows you to contribute in many different ways. It may even lead to management seeing you in a new light and possibly considering you for a promotion.

But, the reality is that many employees are just stuck in a rut. There are no promotions coming their way that they know of.

Are they marketable? Maybe to some company, but at the moment, they are barely surviving each day trying to handle the multitude of work and demands that have come along with this hybrid role they are in. Contributing is an understatement, they are serving as staff member up to an including executive depending on the project and/or role they are focused on at the moment.

Consequently, sales may look good and dollar signs may make the CEO’s heart flutter, but there is major damage being done to the staff and business.

Despite a society in love with doing the most, the truth is that we can do only one thing well at a time. If one of your staff members is in charge of branding, recruiting, handling diversity and employee relations, how effective are they being? If they ARE effective, are they being compensated and rewarded appropriately for their efforts?

If they have been sold the typical “we can’t raise your salary “bit, they are likely miserable, burnt out, and searching for a new gig.

Consider this…

I did a job profile for someone to understand what they do and how they may be marketable within their industry.

They happen to have a background in accounting. However, due to downsizing this person not only handles accounts payable but also handles receivables, does journal entries, and can add and delete invoices  — all without any checks and balances.

Her job is too cross-functional and she could be robbing the company blind if she was not a stand-up citizen.

This kind of job overlap with no checks and balances goes against every good accounting principle there is. However, the owner of this business is gleaming, because the work gets done and he is saving three salaries and maybe four when we consider her total compensation hasn’t been raised or adjusted since taking on all this extra work.

I’m not suggesting that there be absolutely no cross-functional roles. A healthy dose of cross-function or job sharing can be helpful in mitigating the impact of temporary or small permanent gaps. That said, anytime the extra work to be taken on amounts to more than 40 percent time equivalent it is time to hire another person.

How to get a fix on the potential for cross-function

Here are some tips to use in evaluating the potential for cross-function:

  1. If you must downsize or terminate staff, evaluate the work they did and the time it took them to get it done before you start redistributing. Sometimes you will find unnecessary gaps in turnaround time for tasks and other times work is turned around within reasonable time limits.
  2. If the people lost are tied to a significant amount of work, consider utilizing temporary staff to pick up the slack even if it for just a few hours a week.
  3. If your employees must become cross-functional, be sure there are no conflicts of interest from a legal or ethical standpoint between their current and new roles.
  4. Keep communications open and honest. There are times when businesses have to cut back releasing burdens onto employees. If more work is coming and it is temporary, keep your employees informed about your timeline to resume normal operations.

Does this sound like your business?

This was originally published on Janine Truitt’s The Aristocracy of HR blog.