Job Descriptions – An Important Management Tool

August 28, 2014

Maintaining up-to-date job descriptions for every position is one of the simplest, yet most effective investments an organization can make. This article considers the benefits of job descriptions, and encourages employers to reconsider the too often neglected tasks of drafting, maintaining and utilizing these very valuable tools to help achieve the organization’s goals.

Key Components of a Job Description

We recommend job descriptions that reflect all elements of a position. As jobs have become more encompassing, so too have job descriptions. We encourage our clients to include physical components of a job, such as bending or lifting, as well as mental and environmental specifications.

We include reporting relationships, so the level of responsibility is clear. If the employee has management responsibilities, it is critical to include this in the description. Being a manager brings its own set of requirements. For example, being able to delegate responsibilities properly is an important skill we would include in a description.

It is important to include licenses or other required certifications. From a legal point of view, we sometimes need to evaluate if the educational requirements are necessary for the job. We also list frequently neglected skills in a job description, such as ability to multi-task, set priorities, take ownership of assignments,  communicate well with stakeholders, etc.

If there are metrics in a job that set specific performance standards, we would include these in a job description. The key is to emphasize expectations and accountabilities.

We encourage our clients to date their job descriptions and to revise them approximately once every two years.

The Hiring Process

Job descriptions serve as a critical hiring tool. This is where employers are likely to first notice the benefits of an accurate, specific job description. Detailing the duties of a particular position forces the employer to freshly consider the function of that position. Has the position changed recently? Do we need to change the education or experience necessary for the job? Does it make sense to keep all of these functions in one job?

Classifying employees as “exempt” or “non-exempt” is very important, especially for those positions that fall into the marginal areas where the status is not so clear. Various state Departments of Labor are scrutinizing employers and enforcing compliance with overtime rules. Therefore, having a well written and comprehensive job description that emphasizes those factors the government looks for will go a long way during an agency audit.

Also, the employer can review the job requirements to narrow the applicant search before the interviewing process even begins.  Managers as well as HR recruiters can use a solid job description to outline the requirements of the position with candidates, and cover expectations of the position that the employer has for prospective employees.  When a job is posted a summary of the job description can be excerpted for easy use. Additionally, a thorough job description can deter unqualified candidates from applying and quickly eliminate others during early consideration.

Orientation

A sound job description is a great resource when training a new employee. It gives a practical listing of what the job entails and helps during the crucial orientation period when many employees feel they are not getting enough support.

Managing the Day-to Day

Outlining a position’s necessary qualifications and duties, specific job descriptions can aid managers in holding each employee to the specific tasks of his/her individual position. Frustration can easily arise when an employee suddenly faces responsibilities of which he/she was previously unaware.

On the flip side, if an employee takes on a task outside his/her listed responsibilities and performs it very well, this may serve as a basis for an incentive payment or other recognition. Similarly, if performance expectations are not being met, you can use the job description to illustrate to the individual the job functions that are not being performed properly, or not at all.

Disability

A job description can prove invaluable for employers faced with a disability situation. Disability cannot be anticipated, and can greatly impact the workplace. If an employee suffers a disabling accident or illness and is unable to perform the “essential functions” of his/her job with an accommodation, as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the job description will assist in making personnel decisions going forward.  A medical provider may impose temporary work restrictions, and these limitations may or may not be workable for the employer. In addition to aiding in this determination, a current job description can help in the process of hiring a temporary employee to cover the disabled employee’s job, if necessary.

The Reward

It takes time and energy to prepare and update job descriptions, but the resulting benefits are many. A comprehensive and well written job description will be worth the effort, because it will facilitate the employer’s management by providing a practical tool that can be used in the critical stages of employment.

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