The ‘Superjob’ Fad: Just Another Name for Trying to Do More With Less

© ioannis kounadeas -
© ioannis kounadeas -

The “Superjob” is the latest fad phrase to hit the employment industry. It is a way to describe a job that has responsibilities that vary greatly (for example, an IT person that also answers customer service calls or a marketing person who also does janitorial work).

I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had downsizing pressures and the question was always “Do they have skills that we can use in other areas so that we can keep them on board?” While these considerations are almost always made in good faith, the resulting outcome can have some significant (and hidden) consequences.

Doing more with less doesn’t always work

The Wall Street Journal took a look at “Superjobs” and highlighted some of the positives and negatives:

In a recent survey by Spherion Staffing, 53 percent of workers surveyed said they’ve taken on new roles, most of them without extra pay (just 7 percent got a raise or a bonus). Now that sales are picking up, there’s even more work to do, but companies are reluctant to hire, say human-resources experts. Some are anxious about what the economic future holds, while others are seeing their profits increase now that their work forces are leaner.

As hard as it can be to keep up, employees can benefit from the trend. Research shows that many successful leaders grew the most through “stretch experiences,” says Seymour Adler, a senior vice president at Aon Hewitt’s talent-and-rewards practice. Still, even the most hard-nosed bosses know workers can be stretched only so far. Indeed, a recent survey from the Conference Board found that just 43 percent of Americans are satisfied with their job — a record low.

While executives may be tempted to keep using employees in widely varying roles for as long as possible, it can’t be a good idea as concerns about retention bubble up to the surface at workplaces.

Working the Superjob

As someone who has taken on the role of “Superjob” before, I can understand how it works. For example, I headed up a major CRM project while also trying to cover HR. Logically, it made better sense than it sounds now. I was a tech-savvy HR pro that could understand business processes and translate that into a solution that could work.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that smoothly. For one, I wasn’t as close to the customer process as I needed to be so I spent an unneeded amount of time understanding how we made sales, answered calls and serviced issues. Then I needed to understand the interface limitations as well so I spent a lot of time with our development team. In between that, I was juggling my normal HR duties.

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In short, both jobs weren’t done as well as they could have been. Important things in HR that could be delayed were done so because there wasn’t enough time and the extra time I had to spend on the CRM project wasn’t a good investment either.

Managing Superjobs without creating a monster

Of course, there is a lot of pressure just to buck up and push through on these things. And from an employee’s position, you always have a hard time saying no when the company is going through a tough period of time. No amount of explanation may do any good.

That’s why it is up to employers to anticipate these issues and address them instead of putting the onus on the employee to make the difficult argument. For example:

  • Anyone in a Superjob should know the duration of the increased responsibilities.
  • Trying to align people with their talents rather than just forcing people into inappropriate roles.
  • If there is little alignment, giving the person the option of trying it for a period of time.
  • If an employee doesn’t want to do the Superjob, consider part time roles.
  • Consider the retention impact that a long time Superjob person can have (and how will you replace them?).

In any of these cases, Superjobs should only be looked at as short term solutions for short term issues. If you anticipate the staffing issues lasting longer than that, you should be seeking longer term solutions that would actually be sustainable over a long period of time (like switching a role to part-time or eliminating the role and function in the organization).


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