Job descriptions – a tool that’s actually useful

They have functions that help you better manage your staff

Q. Do we really need job descriptions? No one looks at them anyway.

A. Job descriptions – they are either outdated, non-existent or on the “to do” list. You may be surprised to learn that job descriptions are an effective management tool on multiple levels.

Believe it or not, the lowly job description has various functions that will help you better manage your staff.

 • Hiring tool: A well-crafted job description spells out not only the essential job functions and skills required for the position, but I propose that it can also include the intangible skills needed to be successful in both the job and the company’s culture – skills such as flexibility, diplomacy and self-management.

So often we hire for skills but fire for “fit,” so why not screen for “fit” as well? Additionally, by providing the job description for applicants to review during the interview process, they will better understand all of the expectations that will be required.

 • Performance management tool: Because you have outlined your expectations for the employee in the job description when someone is hired, measuring performance against these expectations can be useful. Often we draft the job description and never look at it again. It is important to review it annually and update as needed.

Hopefully at a minimum, you are discussing staff performance annually. The performance review meeting can provide you with a great opportunity to review the written job description with your employees so it is kept up to date.

 • Disciplinary tool: No one likes surprises. The job description provides employees with what is expected of them. If employees are not meeting those expectations, it is useful to have a written job description as a reminder and point of reference should an employee require a disciplinary reminder.

Other uses of the job description can include training and employee development, compensation, recognition and rewards, essential job function analysis (for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance) and safety and job classification analysis (hourly vs. salary for compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act).

Even though I have outlined all of the benefits of job descriptions, I still hear some of you saying, “We are a small business and our employees are expected to perform work outside of their job description.” Or, “I don’t want the it’s-not-my-jobber to use the job description as an excuse for not being a team player.”

In most cases, the it’s-not-my-jobber’s behavior is actually an employee who has grown negative over time. They are either burned out, over/underused, or don’t like the individuals with whom they work. These performance issues need to be addressed promptly, and whether there’s a job description or not will not change this behavior unless it is addressed.

Also, the it’s-not-my-jobber is a good reason to make certain your job descriptions are not too detailed. Too much detail only encourages this type of employee to use this as an excuse.

That’s why it’s a good idea to move job descriptions to the top of that “to do” list and dust off and update those old job descriptions. The job description is a good tool to help us effectively manage our staff.

Delise West, president and founder of Human Resource Partners, with offices in Dover and Concord, can be reached at 603-749-8989 or through

Categories: Business Advice, Workplace Advice