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Defining roles in an organization for every single employee is mandatory. Those that don’t operate at their peril. The risk of not operating with clearly defined roles — is employees’ rolling right out of the organization! This was far less common just five years ago. Still, with all the evaluations and workplace changes employees and employers are working through, employee role definition has never been more critical.

So many organizations operate with undefined roles for various reasons, none of which is to the employee’s or the organization’s benefit because confused roles lead to a confused everything. Let’s first look at some of the ways roles become confused and then discuss what can be done about it.

The COVID-19 Pandemic ushered in a new set of realities for management to deal with, starting with the fact that there had been dissatisfaction throughout the traditional employee ranks for a long time. At the heart of this was the disturbing lack of clarity about what a person’s actual role and value were – and wasn’t – and how much trust they could place in their organization’s top management.

As we have researched this topic, we have found that the majority of the problems causing the Great Resignation were due to the organization’s short-term financial performance focus and using their employees to balance their books.

The fact that organizations have to remain profitable is hardly surprising, but the harsh, direct communications commonly used is. During 2021, layoffs swept the US, including the following well-known and well-financed companies that reported their employee intentions in the business press:

  • Apple immediately laid off 100 employees because it feared soaring inflation could tip the economy (and its financials) into a recession.
  • HBO cut 70 jobs (14% of its workforce) in a cost-cutting effort four months after Discovery’s $43 billion acquisition of HBO Max parent company WarnerMedia.
  • Peloton cut 2,800 jobs, the largest layoff in its history.
  • Microsoft laid off 200 employees less than a month after it announced it would cut 1% of its 180,000 workers.

I could keep going with the list of companies who reported dramatic life-changing news using social media and the business press that left thousands and tens of thousands unemployed. According to Trading Economics’ Source: Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc., in 2021, there were 159,021 jobs cut from US payrolls, a 31.3% drop from the previous year. And in 2022, employers announced plans to cut an additional 100,694 jobs, making the employees of this country question the effectiveness of their defined role and purpose for working.

And I could remind you that these announcements came from publicly-traded corporations and do not include the millions of privately-held companies that likewise laid off many of their employees.

On the one hand, I understand there are circumstances where a company cannot afford its labor force due to extenuating circumstances. Still, on the other hand, I’m afraid I have to disagree that these massive companies can’t find ways to streamline their operations and finances without sacrificing their employees to improve their balance sheets. And I’m not alone. Millions of people are questioning the value of working for a corporation that can drop them like a bad habit when times get tough. This is why non-traditional employment has decreased astronomically and why so many have already left the employment ranks.

People have weighed the value of traditional employment with their work-life balance, and many have decided it isn’t worth it.

You might be asking how does this all relate to roles? And the answer is when an employer loses the trust of its employees, it becomes challenging for them to lead when employees feel their part is constantly up for review or termination. Over time, this erodes how employees view their role, making it far more difficult for an employer to manage its workforce.