Job descriptions serve a higher purpose than just recruiting and posting a position. They play strategic and tactical roles in any organization. While job descriptions take time and effort to create, and you may be concerned about an employee’s claim that “that’s not in my job description,” there are very compelling and real business cases for creating them in your company. Job descriptions are the documents and communication tools that clarify which positions in the company will have specific responsibilities, and for each position, what is required in those roles to meet individual and business objectives.
Strategic, Tactical, and Compliance Implications
Job descriptions should:
- Describe the objectives, tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities of a position
- Outline the details of the specific type of work, and how the work is completed, including frequency
- Explain the purpose of the work as it relates to the company’s mission and goals
- Provide qualifications including education and experience, required skills, reporting relationships, and working conditions
On a strategic level, job descriptions align people with company goals and vision. They help determine organizational structure, evaluate how needs will be met, and clarify individual jobs and how each job fits into the company as a whole. For example, if one of your company’s goals is to increase sales, you will want to ensure that both your sales and service departments understand their functions; and that individual roles are clearly defined. Often the delineation of sales and service roles are unclear, and vary from company to company, making the strategic objective of increasing sales more difficult to achieve.
With well-written job descriptions, you and your management team will ensure that all roles and responsibilities are defined, that relationships and expectations among individuals and between departments are clarified, and that there is an understanding of who is responsible for each aspect of your company’s business plans and processes. This is done through careful analysis and thorough review of each position and the relationship of one position to another with employees and managers. It is helpful to create and review a class of job descriptions within the same timeframe. This ensures that, taken together, the jobs cover what the department is looking to accomplish and in turn, satisfy the goals and needs of the organization.
On a tactical level, well-written job descriptions play a role throughout the employee life cycle. They are a critical tool for a wide range of employee-related functions such as recruiting, determining salary levels, conducting performance reviews, establishing titles and pay grades, training and career planning, and ensuring regulatory compliance. While there is no specific company size that determines when it becomes a good practice to create job descriptions, they can be important in any size company for the purposes of hiring, setting standards, and evaluating performance. Job descriptions create agreement around consistent and fair expectations between managers and staff.
Specifically, job descriptions will:
- Clarify specific job requirements and qualifications, which leads to better hiring decisions
- Define company expectations of employees regarding their individual roles and responsibilities
- Delineate work assignments, serving to detect overlaps or gaps in positions, and drive realignment of jobs as necessary
- Define performance standards and performance measurement
- Clarify expectations for performance evaluation and corrective action
- Classify jobs internally to maintain equitable and competitive pay programs, and to benchmark positions in the external market
- Establish job-related training and development
Avoid Employee Disputes
Compliance: While job descriptions are not generally required by law, they may play a direct role and serve as evidence for employment disputes. Two laws in particular, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), call for well-written job descriptions.
- Under the ADA, a disabled individual must be able to perform the "essential functions" of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations. Employers who use job descriptions have the opportunity to set forth those essential job functions in writing to avoid areas of doubt and controversy. Job descriptions must accurately describe or list those essential job functions, as well as working conditions, tools and equipment used, and physical requirements.
- Under the FLSA and similar state laws that relate to overtime pay provisions, job descriptions are used to categorize positions as "exempt" or "non-exempt." Employers must accurately describe primary job duties to classify all positions properly. In New York State, the “exempt” or “non-exempt” status of each position must clearly be indicated on the Wage Theft Prevention Act form that is distributed to all new hires and current employees.
Because of the potential legal and regulatory implications of the job description, it is advisable to get legal or human resources expertise in the job description process.
Guidelines for Creating Job Descriptions
To get started:
Susan Kreeger and Jill Krumholz are the principals of RealHR Solutions LLC, experts in human resources programs and practices, and providers of HR consulting and outsourcing services to small to mid-size companies.