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Common Problems Faced During the Job Description Process

In practice, considerable problems exist with respect to job description use and preparation. They are neither used properly nor nearly as fully as they could be.

How to spot the issues most commonly faced in preparing job descriptions—and successfully overcome them.

Job descriptions are often neither written properly nor based on quality data. By addressing the kinds of problems highlighted here, organizations can considerably improve their workforce management. Most of these problems are rather easily surmounted. Primarily what is required is simple awareness of their existence.

So many problems associated with job descriptions exist but are not recognized by anyone and, therefore, go unattended.

It is likely to be difficult for an organization, however, to resolve these common problems without a coordinated effort. One office in the organization--whether it is a large or small organization--should be charged with the responsibility and given the authority necessary to take action on these problems across all organizational levels and departments. Job description preparation and use is no more or less important in one part of the company than in another, so an organization-wide thrust should be made.

THE WRITTEN DOCUMENT

Job descriptions typically are not prepared very well. Because of this, their great potential usefulness is seldom fully realized. The following items should make clear to the reader just what the most common deficiencies are and should, therefore, help writers of job descriptions improve their work:

Not up-to-date. Companies are notorious for letting job descriptions sit on file without periodic reviews to update them as needed. Jobs must change to accommodate new technologies, growth of the employee, new customer requirements--and so should the job descriptions that describe those jobs. Indeed, a job description revision should facilitate job redesign and should, therefore, lead in job design change, not lag behind it. An out-of-date job description is not just useless; it is dangerous if managers attempt to use it. An out-of-date job description is an inaccurate job description and can only lead to error in human resource management and when hiring candidates.

As such, job descriptions should be updated annually or semi-annually in accordance with employee performance reviews. Similarly, a system should be devised that assures job change information is channeled to those responsible for updating job descriptions as changes in jobs are naturally made.

Not standardized in format across departments. Nothing is more frustrating to a new manager looking at job descriptions in the company for the first time--perhaps to help determine needed adjustments in pay--than discovering that each job description for each position in his or her department is structured differently, or that job descriptions in departments in his or her area of authority are structured totally differently from job descriptions in other departments. This makes it next to impossible to compare jobs within and across departments. Equitable pay cannot be established. Proper work load balance cannot be achieved. Proper employee selection techniques cannot be devised if job descriptions for different positions do not have the same basic structure. The formulation of job descriptions in a company should be coordinated by one analyst, by the personnel department, or by a management committee to assure standardization. Managers must not be allowed to invent their own personal preference job descriptions.

Incomplete and too general. A number of managers say they prefer job descriptions that are not too long and lacking in detail and specifics. The reason: Such job descriptions do not tie them down to a rigid contractual arrangement. But the job description that is not comprehensive, sufficiently detailed, and written with precise, specific statements is a relatively useless instrument. What the job design really is like is left largely to guesswork by the incumbent or potential job candidates.

The perceived rigid contractual arrangement problem can be easily avoided by indicating in the job description an "Other" work category. Such a category points out that all duties cannot be planned in advance--some tasks for the job (perhaps many) will be determined spontaneously and it is, therefore, a must that organizations adapt to change jobs as dictated by future demands.

By preparing a detailed and complete job description, important aspects of the job are not neglected. This is a vital consideration when using the job description to orient and train new workers, for example, or to guide the redesign of a given job’s workload.

There is never any excuse for vague, unclear, general statements in the job description. Such statements only confuse the reader, allow for personalized interpretation of the job, and consequently lead to improper performance. A number of people should check the wording of proposed job descriptions to assure clarity and precision in language.

Lacking duty categories. Job descriptions that incorporate, say, forty duty statements without any arrangement or grouping patterns are confusing and fail to provide the reader any real direction or insight into the basic rationale for the job. Interpretation of the nature of the job--its key components and priorities--is aided by categorizing responsibilities in some way: by function, by work location, or by time of execution. This allows the reader to parse out information and prevents the worker from losing sight of overall job dimensions that are most important to their success.

No task time and priority data. Job descriptions are frequently assembled without proper attention given to the relative importance of different duties and the relative time consumption of different duties. Leaving out such information misleads the reader on what the job description is actually attempting to convey to a candidate.

All duties appear equal. On every job some tasks are important and some not so important. These differences are vital to recognize when evaluating employee performance, for example, or when hiring workers. Also, on every job some duties take longer to complete than others. This is essential to recognize in designing jobs for proper work load or task variety. It is a rather simple matter to add priority and time consumption data to job descriptions. Workers usually have this clearly in mind so job analysis techniques can easily elicit such data.

Key general responsibilities left out often job descriptions neglect to incorporate reference to key duties or responsibilities, which apply across the entire work force or, at least, across a large segment of it. These are the things all workers are expected to do, such as fill out time cards, prepare for the annual performance review, visit with touring guests, and annually update their own job descriptions. Job descriptions are often excessively focused on the unique aspects of a job--on how the job differs from others. This is fine for many purposes but really does not show the true job design. True work loads, for example, are not indicated. Also the job description is not particularly useful for such matters as new employee orientation if the responsibilities common to all workers are left out.

See the following articles for more information: