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Job Descriptions Aid Analysis of Informal Employee Groups

By studying aggregations of job descriptions in an organization, flow patterns-types, densities, fluctuations--can be isolated. These patterns can then be analyzed for the purpose of designing more efficient communication networks throughout the organization.

How can you create informal employee groups? Try starting with the job description.

For aiding analysis of informal employee groups and coalitions. By studying job descriptions that specify formal relationships among employees an analyst can gain insight into why certain informal relationships--cliques, power groups, friendship groups--form. Job descriptions can provide information on the strength and cohesion of these groups, how far they permeate the organization, and the possible size of the membership of these groups. This is because job descriptions show such factors as physical locations of work, communication ties among positions, positions requiring similar employee skills and interests, and so on. These planned factors influence the character of unplanned work and social systems that emerge spontaneously within the organization. Knowing about informal groups helps management in such areas as deciding how to use the grapevine for communications, gaining support for plans, and building real interpersonal trust among employees. The job description is a formal work plan, but the design it represents shapes much informal organizational behavior.
 
For aiding in identifying informal leaders. Employees who are centrally located in a physical sense, who have contacts with large numbers of others, who perform highly important work for the organization, who are single links in vital channels of communication, are strategically positioned individuals. They are in natural positions for exerting influence on others. These people, in time, tend to emerge as informal leaders--fully as influential and often more so than those in the organization designated as formal leaders or managers. It is important to work closely with informal leaders and to have their support for activities and plans developed by the company. Other employees will follow the informal leaders. The job description helps identify who plays in roles that will foster their emergence as informal leaders.
 
For guiding the preparation of employee handbooks. Employee handbooks usually provide a body of information about jobs, reward systems, performance evaluation procedures, training systems, and staffing issues. Job descriptions should often be included in them. What is more, job descriptions will suggest issues related to various aspects of employment that should be discussed and explained in detail in a handbook. Certain work-related policies and rules, work methods and procedures, and safety regulations that are relevant for quality employee performance will be suggested by the job description as areas to cover in the handbook.
 
For guiding labor and management in collective bargaining. The job description is a written document that can help focus work-related discussions on specific tasks and work arrangements. Both management and union can better judge likely performance, productivity, or cost changes coming from proposals for alteration in jobs made by the other side, if they have job descriptions readily available during presentation of the proposals. Job descriptions laid out at the beginning allow both sides to quickly locate the probable ramifications of proposed changes.
 
Once agreements on jobs have been reached, final job descriptions can be prepared and both sides can indicate official mutual understanding and acceptance by signing them. As mentioned earlier, however, job descriptions must not be viewed in and of themselves as contracts that will remain inflexible for an extended period of time. They are beneficial for helping reach a clear agreement in the short run, but should not be regarded as long-term contracts unless they are written generally enough to provide for flexibility in delegating worker assignments.
 
For helping avoid and resolve employment complaints and grievances. There is no limit to the kinds of grievances employees submit over time. Well-prepared job descriptions are found useful to prevent and resolve grievances that arise out of lack of clarity of expectations, grievances related to the failure of others to do their jobs, grievances related to perceived unfair treatment in work assignments or rewards, grievances on evaluation of performance, grievances related to improper staffing, or grievances related to lack of training opportunities. The job description helps management and worker have a meeting of the minds on work-related issues. It helps them view the job in the same way. It is an information source that can provide guidance on how to deal with factors about which the employee finds opportunity to complain.
 
For bounding behavior and helping management avoid violating union-management agreements. Management may want to alter assignments-add to work loads, change tasks, and delete tasks. Management may want to boost the pay of some workers and not others, or provide training to one work group and not others. Management may want to contract with an outside firm to do some specific tasks. Consulting job descriptions can remind management of previous agreements and of what is fair and not so fair-of what makes sound sense and of what does not. Job descriptions are helpful in constraining management action to a sound and equitable path.
 
Job descriptions prevent employee abuse by aggressive management by defining the limits within which the organization has decided the employee should operate. Management is discouraged from making arbitrary and excessive demands on the worker. Job descriptions constrain and bound employee behavior to protect the employee and the organization.
 
For aiding behavioral research related to employee performance, and to job and occupational characteristics. Job descriptions provide a wealth of data of interest to researchers. Researchers can study job descriptions to develop hypotheses about how particular job structures affect satisfaction and performance. They can study job descriptions across different organizations to detect patterns of differences and similarities. They can organize like job descriptions from different organizations together to gain broader insight into general demands in an occupation. Well-developed job descriptions can provide anyone doing research in organizational behavior with a volume of quality data, unmatched by other sources.
 
For social security administration. The U.S. Social Security Administration uses job data from job descriptions for a variety of purposes such as compiling statistics on death and injury rates per job type, paycheck deductions per job type per geographical area, pay rate differentials within given organizations, and so on. Usually the organization supplies data desired by the Social Security Administration on forms sent out by the Administration. But the data come from job descriptions. For guiding design of organizational communications systems, job descriptions show contacts and linkages among workers-materials flow linkages, authority linkages, information exchange linkages. A key point here is that an aggregation of job descriptions, when studied as a whole, can yield entirely unique insights into total work system design and the communication network that must exist to integrate that design.

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