A Good Job Description Is An Important Management Tool

This is a guest blog post from our HR partner, CAI. CAI is a trusted resource for N.C. employers for HR, compliance and people development.

a good job description pictureWhat comes to mind when you hear “job description?” Waste of time, an onerous process, not relevant to a small office, or a valuable management tool?  When used properly, the job description can actually be one of your most valuable management tools.  Here’s how.

At the core, a job description explains what you expect an employee to do, how they should do it, why they should do it, and under what conditions.  Ask yourself how many times you’ve been in a discussion with an “off-track” employee where the “why,” “how,” or “what” of their job was unclear.  A good job description could have helped.

The job description should describe the job content, environment and work conditions of employment. It should also include job specifications such as the minimum acceptable qualifications that an employee must have in order to perform the job successfully.

There are many other reasons why your company should actively use the job description tool.  Let’s review several.

  • Recruiting.  A well-crafted job description helps an employer identify best-qualified prospective employees.  It can be used on websites, news ads, flyers, etc.  Job candidates will know up front what’s required and preferred, further reducing the risk of bad hiring decisions.
  • Performance Management.  Thorough job descriptions set expectations for current employees so no confusion exists as to their responsibilities.   It is much easier to review someone’s performance if everyone understands what is expected.  Job descriptions can help managers provide meaningful and constructive feedback each day, during evaluations and disciplinary sessions.
  • Compensation and Rewards.Job descriptions can be helpful in benchmarking pay rates against available survey data.  You can also use the descriptions as a baseline for performance, and as a tool to encourage employee performance "above and beyond" the job description in order to receive recognition and rewards.
  • Training and employee development.You can use employee job descriptions in positions they aspire to as incentives for them to pursue classes, seminars and other career development activities.
  • Disability Accommodation.  The significance of making sure that you have currentjob descriptions that list essential duties, physical, and mental requirements greatly increased with the recent amendments to the ADA.  Job descriptions are the first line of defense for employers trying to substantiate undue hardship decisions on an inability to make accommodation, or terminations for inability of employees to do the job.  Job descriptions can also guide return-to-work decisions.

It goes without saying that a job description is only useful if it is current and reflects reality. We advise reviewing them at least once per year, preferably as part of the performance review process.

At the same time, the debate about the usefulness of job descriptions continues. Some argue against the "old fashioned, bureaucratic" type of job descriptions. The arguments against include:

  • Limits job flexibility.In many fast-paced organizations, the traditional job no longer exists. Job duties change frequently and broader "roles" are replacing narrowly-defined jobs. Some companies are adapting by documenting "roles" and related competencies, instead of jobs.
  • Takes too much time.For a workplace with many different jobs that change frequently, keeping job descriptions up-to-date is a huge task. Managers and supervisors spend too much time drafting job descriptions in order to justify other actions such as raising a job grade or justifying an "out-of-cycle" salary increase.
  • Requires too much support.Human resources departments are not adding staff and are shedding as much "paper processing" as possible; therefore, there are no dedicated resources to maintaining job description systems.
  • Can come back to haunt you.In reality, most job descriptions are often not up-to-date; however, these documents can and will be used in legal actions against the employer.

Automation.  Job descriptions have become "paperless" in some organizations. Several software packages allow job description narrative to be entered and electronically linked to salary grade and other pertinent employee information in a database. This software can greatly simplify updating, organizational planning, market pricing and other types of decision-making.

Communication.  The extent of communication surrounding job descriptions varies among organizations. Human resources has traditionally shared job descriptions with incumbents performing the job and their respective line managers. In recent years, some companies are making all job descriptions and salary ranges public, so employees can use them as career planning tools.

Management Training.  Another critical form of communication is management training. Forward-thinking companies teach managers how to write job descriptions, why they are important and how they relate to organizational decisions, including job evaluation.

If you have questions regarding your organization’s talent acquisition strategy, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team at 919‑878‑9222.