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Work Activities Versus Semi-Work Activities

An efficient and relatively simple way to prepare job description is to break the job into major functions for which the employee bears direct responsibility. These functions should be defined in such a way as to cover essentially all of the tasks incorporated in the job.

Does your organization recognize the difference in describing unplanned and planned work?

To really understand what a job is like, it is useful to point out that workers do not spend all of their time working. This point is seldom made in the classical job description, but formatting shows the real design of the job much better to potential applicants. It shows that a worker engages in non-work, or semi-work, activity while employed as well as in regular work activity. On-the-job socializing; time spent waiting for information, materials, and tools or for problems to be resolved (delay time); time spent walking or riding to where work is to be done (travel time); plus time taken to rest, get a soda, or visit the restroom can make up a significant portion of one's workday. Not acknowledging this type of activity in the job description misrepresents the true design of the job and the demands on the worker. The classical job description lists only category I activities--work activities.
 
Planned versus Unplanned Activity
 
To further illustrate the true structure of a job, recognition should be given in the job description to unplanned work as well as to planned work. Employees never spend all their time pursuing planned activities. No organization, no matter how expert and competent its managers, can project ahead (plan) all that has to be done. In many organizations, numerous employees spend a high percentage of their time processing the unanticipated, the unexpected, and the unforeseen. They do things (indeed, they must do things) that no manager could have listed beforehand in the responsibilities/tasks section of the classical job description.
 
Most workers will be innovative and inquiring from time to time and will want to initiate new courses of action for the good of the organization. This is self-initiated. Workers will have to respond to unanticipated directives from management and spur-of-the-moment requests from peers from time to time. Moreover, responding to unexpected problems--major equipment breaks, a rash of unpredicted worker injuries, and the like--can occupy a great deal of one's workday too. The classical job description, however, does not acknowledge this more-often-than-not major time-consuming category of worker activity. Consequently, it falsely reflects the true nature of the work. Every job description should include an unplanned work section that is filled in and reviewed at the end of each review period.
 
Routine versus Temporary Activity
 
Frequently, temporary planned work is left out of the job description altogether. Temporary planned work predominantly refers to planned work of a year or less in duration. Management will want to give most workers some temporary assignments in addition to their full-time, repetitive, year-in and year-out assignments. Such activity should be prepared in writing and added to the rest of the job description (e.g., using an attachment) at the beginning of each review period. If it is not, valid evaluation of worker performance during the period is next to impossible. A true picture of the demands on the person holding the job is not given by the job description, which shows only the recurring, ongoing duties. Acknowledging the necessity of a temporary component in most workers' jobs helps make it clear that annual attention should be given to updating job descriptions. Much too often, job descriptions sit and become outmoded. Getting them out of the file once a year to adjust for temporary work can help spur that so-essential, regular process of total document review and renovation that every organization needs.
 
Individual versus Group Activity
 
Much of a worker’s work may be his or her responsibility and his or hers alone, but frequently management will want to give group-level assignments. One may be assigned to a committee, project team, or task force. Specific tasks will not be assigned the individual. Instead the group is given a job to do and specific assignments will likely come from the group leader or from an informal consensus among group members. These group assignments can make up a significant portion of one's job and should be made distinct from individual work assignments because management typically does not exercise the same degree of control over group assignments. End-of-year performance assessment of a group member's work may have to be undertaken in a manner quite different from assessment of individual performance.
 
Supervisory versus Operative Responsibilities
 
Job descriptions would do well to separate supervisory responsibilities from non-supervisory responsibilities, all managers have both. Both categories usually occupy a substantial percentage of the manager's time. Showing how a manager's time is distributed between these two categories tells what the manager's job is really like. Some so-called managers may spend as much as 80 percent of their time on operative (non-managerial) work. Only 20 percent is spent managing. Other managers will spend as little as 20 percent of their time on operative work--or doing, while spending 80 percent of their time on what a manager is paid for--planning, organizing, actuating, and controlling.
 
Operative and supervisory responsibilities may be further classified to aid in interpreting the structure of work. Tasks and responsibilities that use the same resources may be grouped together. Tasks done in the same work location may be grouped together. Frequently, different tasks must be done at different times of the month or perhaps different tasks are done during different seasons of the year. Categorizing these tasks by when they are performed is fairly common. Also categorizing tasks by relationship to products, services, or types of customers served is sometimes used.
 
Categorizing by Function
 
Perhaps the most useful way of subdividing operative and supervisory duties is by task similarity. Tasks that are functionally alike or tasks that relate to accomplishment of one large, distinct unit of output may be grouped together. The job description is so structured. Note that in the sample, major areas of functional responsibility are first defined and then each is broken down further into supervisory and operative duties. Without a subdividing approach, job descriptions often ramble on with literally dozens of seemingly unrelated tasks. It becomes difficult to make any sense out of the job. Categorizing by function sharpens the focus of a job description and makes vivid key structural characteristics of the job. Six to fifteen major function groups seem about right for most jobs. This number allows for ease of conceptualization of the job and is generally sufficiently comprehensive.

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