5 Positives and 5 Negatives about Job Descriptions

You Can Develop and Use Employee Job Descriptions for Your Benefit

Business people talking about the job description showing on the laptop screen.
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Employee job descriptions are written statements that describe the duties, responsibilities, required qualifications and reporting relationships of a particular job. They are based on objective information obtained through job analysis, an understanding of the competencies and skills required to accomplish needed tasks, and the needs of the organization to produce work.

Employee job descriptions clearly identify and spell out the responsibilities of a specific job.

They also include information about working conditions, tools, equipment used, knowledge and skills needed, and relationships with other positions including the manager who is the boss.

Effectively developed, employee job descriptions are communication tools that are significant to your organization's success. Poorly written employee job descriptions, on the other hand, add to workplace confusion, hurt communication, and make people feel as if they don't know what is expected from them.

Still uncertain about the value of employee job descriptions? If you use them as living, breathing documents that are regularly updated to reflect the changing jobs of each employee, they can become more of a job plan than a dusty document that is frequently irrelevant.

Consider these five tips about job descriptions.

Positives about Job Descriptions

Employee job descriptions provide an opportunity to clearly communicate your company direction and they tell the employee where he or she fits inside of the big picture.
Whether you're a small business or a large, multi-site organization, well-written employee job descriptions will help you align employee direction with the direction of your senior leadership.

Alignment of the people you employ with your goals, vision, and mission spells success for your organization. As a leader, you assure the inter-functioning of all of the different positions and roles needed to get the job done for the customer.

Employee job descriptions set clear expectations about what you expect from people.
According to Ferdinand Fournies in Why Don't Employees Do What They're Supposed to Do and What To Do About It? this is the first place to look if people aren't doing what you want them to do.

He says you need to make certain that they clearly understand your expectations. This understanding starts with the employee job description.

Employee job descriptions help you cover all your legal bases.
As an example, for compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), you'll want to make certain that the description of the physical requirements of the job is accurate.

Whether you're recruiting new employees or posting jobs for internal applicants, employee job descriptions tell the candidate exactly what you want in your selected person.
They provide a clear description of what you expect the selected employee to do. Clear employee job descriptions can help you select your preferred candidates and address the issues and questions of those people who were not selected. A job analysis is similarly useful.

Well-written employee job descriptions help organization employees, who must work with the person hired, understand the boundaries of the person's responsibilities.
People who have been involved in the hiring process are more likely to support the success of the new employee or promoted coworker. Developing employee job descriptions is an easy way to involve people in your organization's success.

That said, for an effective organization, employee job descriptions can slow you down if you're not careful. Employee job descriptions can strangle your success and put people back into the organizational chart boxes you've been asking them to break out of for years.

The goal? Employee job descriptions that provide the positive impact discussed in the first part of this article, without these potential negatives. You can create the balance that allows employee job descriptions to inform, communicate, and align performance without damaging your speed, flexibility, and forward motion.

As you develop employee job descriptions, recognize that they are one component in an effective performance management system. Consider these warnings about employee job descriptions.

Negative Potential of Employee Job Descriptions

Employee job descriptions have their downside, too.

use these ideas to identify the negative aspects of employee job descriptions—and turn them into positives.

Employee job descriptions become dated as soon as you write them in a fast-paced, changing, customer-driven work environment.
You must supplement employee job descriptions with regularly negotiated goals and developmental opportunities, at a minimum, quarterly, preferably monthly. This requires the employee to meet with the boss or the team to establish the next set of specific, measurable objectives.

This meeting must also be realistic. If the employee receives new goals and is still responsible for every task listed on the original employee job description, this is unfair.

Especially, if the goals and job accomplishments are tied to salary or bonus, you must take a look at where the employee is investing his time. If the employee job descriptions provide a wrong picture, change the employee job description.

Make certain employee job descriptions have enough flexibility so individuals can "work outside of the box."
And, no, don't equate "other duties as assigned by the manager," with creative thinking. Employee job descriptions must be flexible so that employees are comfortable cross-training, helping another team member accomplish a task, and confident that they can make appropriate decisions to serve their customers.

You want people who are comfortable taking reasonable chances and stretching their limits. You don't want to encourage people to think, "That's not my job."

Poorly-written employee job descriptions can serve as evidence of wrong-doing or wrong-telling in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
According to Dr. John Sullivan, a nationally-known HR expert, there are many reasons to stop doing employee job descriptions. These include the fact that most are vague, unmeasurable, untimely, and unused.

For effectiveness, you must regularly look at and use employee job descriptions as part of your day-to-day work.
In addition to the updating of regular goals and objectives suggested above, employee job descriptions are an integral part of the performance management and evaluation system. They are used to determine salary increases and bonus eligibility.

They are a job reference for determining how an employee spends her time at work. They provide a measurable focus for energy and attention. If not, Dr. Sullivan is correct. Eliminate employee job descriptions.

Employee job descriptions that sit unused in a drawer, or worse, filed in the HR office, are a waste of time; they must be integral in your hiring process.
Take the actions discussed in the first part of this article, and make employee job descriptions an integral part of your hiring and selection process.

Use employee job descriptions to obtain employee ownership and support for the position and to trace the parameters of the skills and abilities you seek for the position. In hiring, well-written employee job descriptions can help you make good hiring decisions. And hiring the right team is critical for your future success.

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