published November 27, 2017

Do You Know How to Use a Job Description?

How do you know if you’re using the job description to its full potential? Find out here.

Many companies have job descriptions but seem to disregard them. Jobs soon come to look nothing like what the job description says, as exceptions are always made to the assigned set of tasks specified in the job description. Managers often say they need flexibility in work assignments. But repeatedly catapulting over the boundaries of the job description may soon lead to employee abuse. One of the reasons for job descriptions is to provide some sort of parameter within which the employee is expected to function. This motivates the employee and allows for better control of employee functioning in the organization. Repeated, excessive violation of the job description renders it a far less important tool for managing performance.

Not used because of perception that they are too much of a constraint on hiring. A number of managers disregard job descriptions in hiring. They say that what they are looking for is a candidate with the right attitude, a willingness to learn, and an aptitude for the work. Experience and developed skill relative to particular duties are not important. Besides, the intent is to mold the job to fit the individual's unique talents anyway. These managers see job descriptions as providing too narrow a profile of who might be acceptable to hire. They also often feel that what is needed is an employee who can constantly contribute beyond any formal job description--an employee who not only fulfills his or her own role, but who also shares and helps others fulfill their roles.

Even in this case, the job description has a key role to play--not as a definitive portrayal of the work to be done, but as a guideline and approximation to the work to be done. This does not mean that you cannot consider other factors like motivation, attitude, or aptitude—traits that may not be spelled out in the job description, but that most people know are intrinsically related to o-the-job performance. Job descriptions must be viewed for what they are--aids to human resource decision making, not substitutes for decision making or inflexible constraints on decision making.

Not all displayed in one publication. Many managers--particularly divisional or upper level managers--have been frustrated to learn that all the organization's job descriptions cannot be found in one bound volume. In order to fully study work patterns in an organization and to determine things like possible re-departmentalization or repartitioning of work, it is extremely handy to have all job descriptions arranged systematically in one place. Usually, however, an analyst will have to spend a considerable amount of time gathering together job descriptions from different places before a study can begin. Even an organization without a personnel department and without a person or group coordinating the preparation of job descriptions could easily arrange to have all job descriptions assembled in one manual. One person in an organization should have the responsibility of seeing to it that this is done. This allows for quick reference to any job at any level in the organization and allows the analyst to review job descriptions as parts of an integrated system.

Neglected during employee orientations. No document or reference literature is more valuable to any new employee than is the job description. A copy of the job descriptions should be given to the new employee early on during orientation. Discussion and clarification of the components of the job, as highlighted in the job description, is at the heart of any orientation. But companies fail to do this--sometimes because of a fear of overwhelming the employee, or because those conducting the orientation are themselves unfamiliar with the content of the job description, and sometimes because managers do not want to lock in new persons until they have demonstrated what they can or cannot do. These are weak arguments compared with the great advantage of job description usage in orientation-clarifying job expectations.

No motivation for supervisors to use. Supervisors often ignore job descriptions not only because they are not trained to use them, but also because there is no inducement to use them. Their managers do not use them and do not encourage their use. Annual evaluations of performance never involve discussion of job description use. When bonuses come out, no supervisor gets rewarded for effective use of job description. Job descriptions can help managers be better managers but job descriptions are a means to an end.

They often are ignored in debates about performance. Managers get rewarded for results. Though job descriptions properly utilized can help achieve a favorable bottom line, they are usually overlooked as a key contributing factor. Managers are almost never directly rewarded for their effective use. Focusing rewards only on results is often a mistake.

Gathering Data for the Document

A job description is only as good as the quality of the data collected to write it. Many a job description is written well--right "by the book" as far as what information is included and how it is presented; but the validity of the information may be suspect because the job description is not based on properly acquired data. In the following, specific common problems with gathering data are highlighted:

Data distorted for self-interest.

One of the most significant problems in job analysis is getting unbiased data-data truly reflective of the normal work routine. Good data are hard to come by whether you are using observation techniques, self-reporting techniques, or interviews. The natural tendency is for incumbents to distort the pictures they give of their jobs for self-serving purposes. Some will want to impress the analyst, thinking that somehow such will benefit them in the long run. It is quite common for incumbents to inflate how much work they do, the variety of demands placed on them, and the importance of the decisions they make. Some employees may sense that the data being gathered are going to be used to set output standards or to expand the content of their jobs so they slow down and make sure they fill up their day with relatively few but time-consuming tasks. Others will have some special point they wish to make and they will see the job analysis as a way to influence management by assuring this special point gets recorded in the data. To guard against distorted data, it is important to gather data by multiple means from multiple sources so checks and balances exist on what is received for data.

See the following articles for more information:

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