Job descriptions vary from company to company. Some companies don’t understand the need for job descriptions so they put very little time and effort into them often resulting in a description that isn’t a true reflection of the job. In addition to this some companies don’t update job descriptions as the role evolves with the business needs, thus leaving the descriptions to become outdated.

On the other hand, some companies create detailed job descriptions, which in some cases can be overwhelming. A detailed and well-structured job description gives clear guidance of what is required by the employee, but it can also leave the employee little flexibility to think and perform outside of the box.  For the majority of companies the ability to think and perform outside of the box allows for fresh ideas and pushes the company in exciting new directions. The inability to be flexible can also disengage employees which could cause issues with their performance.

Let’s strip it back:

What is a job description? Wikipedia tells us…

“A job description is a document that describes the general tasks, or functions, and responsibilities of a position. It may specify the functionary to whom the position reports, specifications such as the qualifications or skills needed by the person in the job, and a salary range”.

These details help to illustrate the type of job, how it is supposed to be performed and what is expected to be delivered. It also outlines the important reporting relationships creating a clear communication path between the employee and employer.

Job descriptions are not only used for hiring talent but are also effective for the management of an employee. If kept up to date job descriptions can act as a well devised job plan for the employee and become a significant tool to great business success.

The purpose of this powerful yet underrated document

There are various areas of a business that a job description can be useful for. The first use, perhaps the only use that probably springs to your mind is the use for recruitment and selection; used to accompany a job advert and outline the role the company is recruiting for. The world of recruitment is fast becoming a ‘buyer’s market’ which means companies need to appeal to not only new talent but the right talent.  Job descriptions can be used as a platform to reflect and promote the companies goals, values and company culture to attract the right person.  The job description then forms a basis for the interview questions and ultimately helps inform hiring decisions. Many employees become disengaged from their new roles as ‘it wasn’t what was expected’; a detailed job description should hopefully mitigate this, encourage behavioural accountability and instil commitment to the company mission. This should also discourage employees from refusing work because ‘it’s not my job’.

You’ve done the hard work, your new employee is hired, their employee file is created, their job description is (or should) be saved and then… it’s forgotten about. Now I won’t tarnish you all with that brush, I am sure there are some of you out there who realise the many uses’ of a job description long after the employee is hired. However for those of you who don’t, I’ll let you in on a few secrets:

  1. You can use the new starter’s job description as a basis for the induction. The job description could provide a great structure by working through each expectation in the order of importance or frequency of use. For example, a receptionist answering the phones would be one of the first tasks they would need to become familiar with, whereas building the knowledge of employee movements may be something they begin to develop towards the end of the week as they get to know everyone. This approach ensures that the new starter is comfortable with all tasks they are expected to carry out and sets them in good stead to passing their probation.
  2. The job description can then be used during the probation review and later on performance reviews. The job description will provide areas in which the employee can be assessed against and determine areas in need of additional training and development. This creates a great communication line between the employee and employer providing a supportive culture and promoting career progression. Performance reviews are also a great time to assess the roles purpose and update the job description as required to fit the business needs.
  3. Businesses can use an up to date job descriptions for reward and remuneration decisions such as salary increases or obtaining comparable industry salaries. This ensures the salaries within the business are competitive enough to encourage employee engagement and performance and stay in line with the industry.
  4. Periods of absence such as holiday, sickness and maternity leave requires a role to be covered. With an up to date job description this makes for easy planning and anyone stepping in to cover the role will be able to see easily what is expected. In the event of long term sickness or maternity leave, the job description can be used to map out a return to work programme to ensure the employee is fully supported back into their role.
  5. Finally and this is a rare use of a job description but they are useful in the event of a disciplinary. Job descriptions are a legal document and are helpful when outlining an employee’s key responsibilities which may be in dispute. If the role and the expectations of the role are clearly communicated in a document which can be referred to by each party, throughout employment, the excuse of not being aware of what was required is less likely to be a valid point.

As you can probably tell from the above you’d be silly not to invest some time and energy into your company’s job descriptions, it may just save you a headache down the line.

If you would like to discuss any talent or HR issues, please give HR Revolution a call we’d love to help.