We all know that the current economic climate has led to a squeeze on headcount and in response, many organisations, and their people, have had to do more with less. In fact, our recent research found that UK workers are now spending at least 10 hours a week – the equivalent of 65 days a year – on activities outside of their main remit. It’s understandable that extra demands are being placed on employees in this challenging time, but organisations need to be careful that they’re not eroding employees’ key skills in the process.

Our research found that this is already happening to many individuals and often, within just two years of starting their current role. In fact, 51% of employees said they consider themselves to be generalists, despite having entered the workplace with specialist skills. Widening people’s roles may be a short-term fix but without the adequate support and training it’s likely to result in decreased productivity and disengaged employees over time. That’s not to say that having a broader skillset is a bad thing by any means. It can lead to more variety and operational exposure which is undoubtedly important for progressing into more senior roles. However if people feel that their skills and potential are not being fully used, they will inevitably feel frustrated and will be more likely to consider job offers from elsewhere.

Here are some suggestions on how organisations can support their staff and nurture their employees’ specialist skills, even when people need to adopt a wider role.

Training and development

One in two workers that we surveyed felt their employers were quick to include additional tasks – such as line management or financial responsibilities –  in their review processes, but they were seldom consulted beforehand. Our research also found that many employers are also failing to provide any training on these new tasks which has led to some professionals feeling both overwhelmed and unsupported.

Offering training and development will help employees accept and deal better with their additional tasks and be more productive in their changing role. They are also more likely to feel comfortable with their new role if they have a clear idea of how these additional duties can enhance their career development. This is important as many employees in our survey worried that the switch to a more generalist role would have a negative impact on their own professional development – including future job prospects and earning potential.

Think laterally

Think about how your employees can move around within the business. In some cases, certain people will have skills that may be better applied elsewhere and they are therefore likely to be more productive elsewhere in the business. Not only does this mean that you will be in a better position to retain top talent, it also saves on costs of finding and training new employees. The current ‘war for talent’ means that organisations really need to think about how they can identify, reward and motivate top talent, through lateral movement.

Listen to employees

No matter what the size of your organisation, communication is central to building and maintaining good relationships with your employees. On a regular basis, invite them to discuss where they see opportunities for their skills to be best applied in the workplace and give them the chance to excel in their specialism.

Specialist skills are core to an organisations ability to innovate and grow in the recovery, so it’s important that they are protected, nurtured, and kept within the business. If organisations want to have a competitive edge, they need to consider ways in which they can harness specialist skills. This needs to start at the point of recruitment, continuing right through an individuals’ career.