Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 20 years in the public sector.
Job descriptions are effective tools for employers to have in the workplace. As a summary of the tasks and duties assigned to a position, job descriptions can come in handy to an employer for a variety of reasons: for recruiting new employees, in the completion of performance evaluations, for investigating workplace complaints, and for understanding the essential functions of the job as they relate to the ADA.
Regularly updated and accurate job descriptions can be especially important for the assignment of duties as they relate to meeting the goals and objectives of the organization. They are very useful tools that assist supervisors and the employees who perform the jobs.
What Is a Job Description?
It is helpful to know the definition of a job description in order to understand their role in the workplace. Job descriptions are created after a job analysis has been conducted. That analysis takes a look at the essential functions of the job and what minimum requirements are necessary to successfully perform the assigned functions. The listing of specifications or "description" is what becomes the job description. The SHRM Learning System (Module 2, Workforce Planning and Employment 2006) defines a job description as summarizing the important features of a job, including:
"a description of the work that details the required tasks, knowledge, skills, abilities, responsibilities, and reporting structure."
The folks of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recognize the importance of an accurate depiction of jobs through effective job descriptions in the workplace. For more information about job descriptions and other human resources matters, one can check out the SHRM website, www.shrm.org.
Why Should Managers Regularly Update Job Descriptions?
Managers are often tasked with reviewing and modifying job descriptions to ensure they properly describe the job. There are several reasons to update job descriptions. Consider the following:
1. Recruitment and Hiring
When a vacancy occurs in the workplace, the supervisor must take steps to find a replacement to fill the void. One of the first steps in the recruitment process is to pull out the most recent job description to review the minimum requirements and the essential functions of the job to be filled.
As goals and objectives are affected by changes in an organization's overall strategic plans, supervisors will discover that job descriptions sometimes no longer truly depict the job to be filled. The shifting of priorities due to limited staff and/or workplace changes in the organizational structure will often cause a change to what really needs to be accomplished by the job. Once the job description is updated to reflect the work to be done, the employer will be ready to post the vacancy for applicants to apply.
In addition, some employers post the job description on their website for the applicants to review prior to filling out the online job application. When job seekers have access to the job description, they can better understand whether their skills match those of the posted position. A lot of wasted time can be avoided by both the employer and the employee when the job description is posted or made available to job seekers interested in the posted job.
2. New Employee Orientation
New employees should receive a copy of their job description on their first day on the job. During new employee orientation, for example, new employees receive a lot of paperwork about the employer's policies, paycheck information, health benefits, and/or other benefits given to full-time employees. At the same time they receive such information, they can also get a copy of their job description.
Again, this job description should be updated to give the new employee an accurate description of the job they have been hired to do. A new employee will become easily disenchanted with the new job when the job he/she thought he was applying for is vastly different from what was posted on the website. Employers may lose good employees who choose not to stay with their new employer for this reason.
It is also advisable to have the employee sign the job description so that a signed copy can be placed in the personnel file. The signed copy will simply indicate that the person has received a copy of the job description that depicts the job he/she has been hired to perform.
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3. ADA Accommodations
In order to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made for an employee or a job applicant with a disability, the organization must review the job description of the job. The courts will likely look unfavorably on an employer who makes up a job description after an employee makes a request for an accommodation. Making accommodations can only be done when an updated job description exists for the job.
4. Employee Complaints
Employees who come to Human Resources or to their direct supervisors to complain about an aspect of their job, will often benefit from looking at their job descriptions. The job description lists the essential function of the job which often come into dispute for the employee who feels they are being asked to perform duties that are well outside of their job description.
While many employers have a line listed in the job description for "all other duties as assigned," supervisors must not task employees with work that is well outside of their job description. Such language is included to provide some flexibility to the employer when there may be some work that is temporary or outside of the normal responsibilities. When employees are regularly given these tasks, there will eventually be a dissatisfied or disgruntled employee who feels they are not being treated fairly.
5. Compensation Issues
Compensation professionals evaluate job descriptions to determine wages that should be paid for the performance of a job. Determining wages for a job is another crucial reason that job descriptions are accurate and current. Since it is not unusual to have significant changes in the workplace, management should review and/or update job descriptions annually or as needed.
In addition, employees may challenge employers if they feel they are being underpaid for work which is outside of their job description that they are regularly performing. This issue can be especially troublesome if there are policies are union contract language that dictates how an employee should be paid for additional work performed.
6. EEOC Charges
When an employer receives a Charge of Discrimination from an employee or former employee through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint system, management is tasked with investigating the claim, and providing a written response to the particulars of the Charge. Often, documentation that is provided will include job descriptions. That job description that is retrieved from the employee's personnel file or from the posting will provide a good description of the duties and requirements of the job to the EEOC's investigator.
7. Performance Evaluations
When supervisors are preparing to complete a performance evaluation for an employee, it is helpful to review the job description of the position to complete the various rating factors on the evaluation form. It will provide a structure from which to review the performance as it relates to the various tasks and responsibilities of the job.
Accurate Job Descriptions Are Important
Job descriptions must be accurate to meet the needs of those workplace responsibilities listed above. While they are not meant to be so detailed in the exact number of tasks performed or every possible scenario that an employee may face in their job, they should include the general scope and level of the work to be performed.
Supervisors should regularly review job descriptions to ensure that they give a good picture of what the job responsibilities are. Employment activity such as turnover, employee complaints, and other employee issues often bring this point to the forefront for management.
Make Job Descriptions a Workplace Priority
Job descriptions are important documents to keep on file in the workplace. As mentioned above, job descriptions can be used in many of the human resources work that occurs either regularly or in less frequent activities (EEOC Charges, annual performance evaluations, etc.). The information included on file is used as a means of record keeping.
Like any other document, a job description should be kept on file for the moments that they must be used for some purpose in the workplace. When their importance is not recognized and they are not used effectively to reflect the jobs they depict, employers are tasked with a variety of unnecessary issues.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Christine McDade (author) from Southwest Florida on April 14, 2013:
Thank you for your input. Job descriptions can play an important role in the creation and development of the workplace efforts. Knowing the skills required at the different levels would be beneficial to an employee wanting to advance in the organization. Great comment.
Jay Manriquez from Santa Rosa, California on April 14, 2013:
Your hub provides excellent information for all businesses. Job descriptions are also important for the developing of training programs an organization. Job descriptions outline the skills and/or experience needed to move from one level to another. Thanks for addressing this topic.