Are job descriptions a waste of time?

This is a question that is often asked – “Why do we need job descriptions?”  

“Are they a waste of time?” The answer from most small or medium sized business owners is often “Yes.”

But they shouldn’t be.  Many small businesses don’t have job descriptions and most of those that do, don’t use them.  The reason given is...

 ...often that they are viewed as hard to write and keeping them up to date in today’s fast paced environment is a hard goal to achieve.  We work in a time when constant change is the norm and roles are becoming more fluid.  An employee’s job and responsibilities can change over the course of a 12 month period as businesses strive to compete and/or sometimes simply to survive.

Job descriptions can have much value if used regularly and appropriately.  Up to date job descriptions can be used for an individual’s performance management and compensation purposes or to assist in the recruitment process if an employee leaves and is to be replaced as quickly and easily as possible.

The Employment Relations Act clearly stipulates that an individual employment agreement must include: – “a description of the work to be performed by the Employee”.  This is a statutory requirement, but let’s also consider the following other uses for a job description:

Employees want to know what is expected of them – it should outline clear duties and responsibilities.
Employees who don’t understand what is expected may not align their work to the business goals.
Employees may not prioritise their workload and easily spend time in non productive work or work outside of their own area of responsibility.
Job descriptions can link job clarity to business performance.

The job description is critical for effective management, requiring managers to review and evaluate the job, collating accurate information of the tasks, duties and responsibilities, person specification (skills, experience and qualification), reportage and remuneration of the role. This job analysis is to assess the role for internal purposes only.  Too often this part of the process is used for the job description in its entirety and the next step is missed.   The information gathered through the analysis is subsequently compiled into a job description.  The elements of the job description should include a title, a statement or purpose of the function, a list of key duties or responsibilities and key results expected.  The job description need not account for every task that might be done – hence the wording “key responsibilities”.

Up to date job descriptions are critical in performance management in establishing expectations and performance standards.  They not only define the extent of work, but also that all areas of responsibility are being covered and that key results are agreed and signed off.  Key results then become the main basis for judging the employee’s performance.

Unfortunately job descriptions often aren’t viewed as living documents and most often are used only when employing new staff and then relegated to the bottom drawer and never seen again.  Job descriptions should be reviewed when doing a 12 monthly performance review.  

A current job description and job analysis will provide managers with the correct information to assist in the recruitment process to hire the right person for the job if an employee leaves and is to be replaced as quickly and easily as possible.

If businesses take time to initiate and keep up to date job descriptions for all employees and realise their value in terms of employee engagement, performance and retention, then job descriptions can contribute to business success.

Paddy Battersby ; Battersby HR Consulting ; Phone 09 838 6338 ; paddy@battersbyhr.com 

13 October 2014
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