Marcy Fletchall, CEO/Senior HR Consultant/www.HRchitects.com
“Unfortunately, not all employers, hiring managers or companies value a welldeveloped job description So, it’s critical to understand the rewards – along with the mitigating risks that apply to federal, state and local laws – of an effective job description.” – Mary Anne Kennedy, BLR webinar.
“If your job is to tell me how to do my job you should at least know how to do my job first.” Anonymous
In today’s litigious marketplace, employees are often hired with a checklist of tasks, a glossed over generic job description or nothing at all. They then are expected to “mind read” the owner, CEO, manager, etc. to figure out what they were really hired to do. Then if they are terminated for “not doing the job”, the owner or CEO now has a large legal issue to face regarding fighting the ex-employee’s ability to collect Unemployment Insurance and, potentially, wrongful termination. Like the Employee Handbook, a job description (also known as position description) is a must for every single employee in the organization.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) notes that writing a job description, sharing it with the employee and having them sign that they understand the duties involved, can potentially help the employer avoid legal issues. Examples of potential issues that could arise without a job description, is knowing and describing the necessary safeguards to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) or determining how to make reasonable accommodations to follow the laws of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A good job description should enable anyone who reads the document to have a clear understanding of the purpose, duties and responsibilities of that job. There are a significant number of advantages to having job descriptions:
• Gap Analysis and Planning – The Gap or Job analysis and people planning is critical to the success of the organization. Whether you are adding just one employee or many, adding headcount, executing and measuring success while staying financially sound is critical to meeting the goals and objectives of the organization.
The important factors in gap analysis and planning involve the understanding of what current skills are available; what skills need to be sourced and what skills can be developed internally. A full job description list across the organization shows all the roles and skills required to get the job done. This all allows for current, future and emergency planning.
A primary role of job description is to match the performance evaluation to the skills required to get the job done with the skills of the incumbent. The idea that poor performance can be mitigated through training and development is a significant change from motivating an employee to better performance through discipline. By using the job description to identify areas where additional training is needed both motivates and is measurable.
Job descriptions can also look at the role of the position within an organization and assist in the career path so that recruitment is forwardlooking to future roles. Hiring managers can then consider internal candidates who are not just a good fit for a current vacancy, but also may provide consideration of the individual for future advancement.
• Recruitment – It makes it easier to recruit qualified employees. Well written job descriptions serve as a communication tool that allows the employer, employees and recruitment candidates to clearly understand the duties, expectations, required experience and educational credentials. This is the fundamental framework for their job. It removes the ability for the employee to interpret the job as they see fit, swimming in a sea of tasks that may not even be job-related or does not add value to the overall business strategy. Job descriptions provide the employee with a clear focus on what tasks are important and where they are expected to spend their time.
In addition, the candidates can assess their skills and experience against these requirements. At the same time, during the screening process, the employer can look back at the job description to analyze whether an applicant qualifies for the position and whether additional training might be necessary.
By doing this well, it can improve both internal and external recruitment, and can retain and motivate the best talent by ensuring that employee expectations are aligned with business expectations. Job descriptions help owners, CEOs, human resources professionals, recruiters and others write effective job ads and interview questions.
• Job Descriptions and Internet Searches – A job description acts as a powerful tool for speeding up the job search process. By incorporating a specific set of targeted keywords and phrases into a job description, potential candidates using the internet search engines can quickly be directed to a specific job advertisement that contains similar or identical keywords or phrases.
As job advertisement websites continue to expand, the ability to search for a specific position or positions based on keywords, phrases or terminology is incredibly invaluable. The job description attached to a specific position is the primary facilitator of this process.
• Developing New Employee Orientation – When the employer fully understands the job duties, it can assist him/her make sure that nothing is left out when putting together the orientation and onboarding plan for the new hire. With orientation and onboarding being one of the key critical factors for active employee engagement, retention and positive cultural environment, the job description gives the employer and new hire a complete picture of the role when welcoming him/her to the organization.
• Manage Staff – A good and well written job description is an essential reference tool of disputes with among employees as well as management and employees. It provides the employer with a structure to ensure that the necessary activities, duties and responsibilities of the business are covered by one job or another. A significant attribute of a well written job descriptions is that it provides continuity of understanding of a job role irrespective of who is doing the job or managing the staff.
• Performance Reviews – Job descriptions assist managers during performance reviews to accurately evaluate an employee’s ability to perform the job. Job descriptions lessen the appearance of conflict by providing objectivity in assessing employee performance against the defined responsibilities of the job. By comparing the employee’s actions (productivity) to job specifications and performance goals, an accurate assessment of performance may be determined.
• Compensation Data – Direct compensation for any job should never be identified on the job description. The job description gives the employer the opportunity to do research to determine the market value of that role before it is filled by anyone. It also offers the opportunity to assess the internal value to see how it fits within your financial plan and the compensation structure as compared to other jobs. Looking at the job description to assess where the job falls within any existing pay structure is imperative so that the employer doesn’t create inequity or comparison issues when filling the role.
• Training and Development – What skills are required to get the job done? Does the employee have the knowledge, skills, abilities and attitude (KSAAs) to provide added value? Is the new hire a good fit, but may need some additional training to be a great fit? The job description and competencies help identify development needs.
• Legal Compliance – Although job descriptions are not required by law, having Job descriptions help ensure legal compliance with regulations and laws. Employers often find themselves in situations where an employee asks for an accommodation based on a disability or argues the he/she is eligible for overtime pay. Job descriptions serve as the first line of defense when questions arise regarding these situations.
Regulatory compliance relies on knowing what an employee must be able to do and/or under what conditions they work. These regulatory requirements and compliance include:
• Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) – The job description allows the employer to conduct a fair interviewing and hiring process without excluding any groups of potential candidates.
• Americans with Disabilities Act – The job description can be an essential component in determining the essential functions of the job when working out reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals. It should directly specify the essential and non-essential job functions and should be periodically reviewed for accuracy on this point.
• Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – This prohibits unlawful discrimination against any individual with respect to hiring, compensation or other terms, conditions and privileges of employment based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
• Equal Pay Act of 1963, Worker’s Compensation – This law is aimed at abolishing disparity based on gender. Obviously, the job description should not indicate that there is gender pay differences or bias.
• Occupational Safety and Health Act – By describing the working conditions in in the job description, the employer sets out specifically how the job is performed. This is also an opportunity to note whether the employee will need to be able to perform hazardous activities.
• The Fair Labor Standards Act – The job description governs and ensures proper classification of roles as exempt versus non-exempt, which then affects the overtime eligibility of the person filling that role.
Some aspects of job descriptions can be negative. Their downside might include:
• Becoming outdated in a fast-paced, changing, customer-driven work environment - Review job descriptions quarterly to ensure there is accurate data. Be aware, that if the employee receives new goals and is expected or responsible for every task listed in the original employee job description, this is considered unfair. This is considered extremely unfair if the goals and job accomplishments are tied to salary or bonus. The employer must look at where the employee is investing his/her time and prioritize. If the employee job description provides an inaccurate picture, change the job description.
• Job description doesn’t have enough flexibility so individuals can “work outside of the box”- Job descriptions must have some flexibility so that employees are comfortable with cross-training; can help another team member accomplish a task and have the confidence that they can make appropriate decisions to serve the customers. It is important that the employer supports the employee’s ability to take reasonable changes to stretch their limits where appropriate.
• Doesn’t always provide for reviews of an employee’s day-to-day work – Employee job descriptions are an integral part of the performance management and evaluation system. They are used for salary increases, promotions and bonus eligibility. Therefore, they must not only identify 7 regular goals and objectives, they must also be a reference for determining how an employee spends his/her time at work daily.
• Worst case they sit in a file cabinet or drawer ad therefore are a waste of time – Job descriptions must be an integral part of the hiring and operations process of any business.
CREATING THE WELL WRITTEN JOB DESCRIPTION
Remember, the job description is the very first impression made with a potential future employee.
The job description should be presented in a proper format that will attract applicants, be easy to file and maintain.
1. Text should be 12 point; font Times Roman or Arial (no smaller0
2. Headers or Sections 14-16 point; font Times Roman or Aerial (no bigger)
3. Line spacing is easier to read at 1.15 or 1.5
4. Color should be in black
5. Use solid bullets in black for list of tasks
6. If tasks are in different categories, use italics without bullets to separate the categories (i.e., Marketing; Web Design; Social Media, etc.) Tasks would be bulleted under each
7. Begin each task with an action verb that explains the activities (i.e., controls, operates, designs, evaluates, develops, supervises, trains, etc.)
Job Title – The job title is naturally what will catch the eye of the ideal candidate. It should include what the candidate will do (i.e. sales) and their level within the company (i.e., associate, manager, vice president, etc.). Refrain from catchy titles such as “sales ninja” instead of “sales director” or “design unicorn” instead of “lead designer”. Remember job titles impact internet search engines.
Location - The location of the position should be displayed on the front page of the job description so that the job seeker can see if the location required makes sense for him/her to apply.
Role Objective – Before listing the exact tasks and responsibilities, it is important to provide a high-level summary of what the job entails. Outline why the company is hiring for the position, the goals to be accomplished and how the candidate is expected to achieve them. The role objective is a nice lead into the exact responsibilities.
Role Responsibilities – Using the role objectives to outline the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities in bullet points. Get down to business and list exactly what the new hire will be doing. Write job responsibilities using terminology that matches the profession. See Formatting
Desired Experience and Qualifications – Be specific about the years of experience required to do the job. Be careful to not overstate the number of years needed so candidates who are otherwise qualified may not apply.
Identify the degrees, certifications and other educational requirements; be sure to state if so many years of experience will qualify for education equivalents.
Be specific about skills required (i.e., ability to speak Spanish; able to type 75 words per minute; ability to operate a forklift, etc.). These must be specific and spelled out clearly.
Compliance Required Information – Physical requirements (i.e., must be able to stand long periods of time; must be able to lift 50 lbs., etc.). Accommodations for disabled must be added.
Still not convinced job descriptions are needed? Having job descriptions can be the difference between winning or losing (paying significant hefty fines and/or penalties) employment related legal battles. This means that job descriptions could save you thousands, even millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. Whether unemployment or unfair employment practices claims, job descriptions are often the first defense, giving the employer leverage against such claims.
Bottomline…. creating and maintaining job descriptions isn’t difficult but can be time consuming (only once if maintained). In fact, sometimes businesses use the development of job descriptions as a means of opening a new line of communication with employees. Or entrepreneurs and small business may create job descriptions as part their strategic plan in order to identify goals, objectives and tasks to get the job done. And ultimately it may be used as a useful tool that helps guide many critical employment decisions and serves as an important consideration in the defense of administrative actions and lawsuits.
The job description can be used to obtain employee ownership and to trace parameters of the skills and abilities the employer seeks for the position. Job descriptions help make sound hiring and operation decisions. Having the right people with the right KSAAs at the right time is critical to the future success of the business.