Why Your Business Needs Job Descriptions for Every Position

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why your business needs job descriptions for every position

We run into many businesses that don’t think they need job descriptions. Their reasons are versions of, “We’re a small business so everyone around here does everything” and “Everyone knows their jobs and what they need to do.” Well, that’s often not the case nor does it address the many reasons job descriptions are essential operational and HR components of the business.

First, employees do not do all things; I highly doubt your bookkeeper is doing sales, for example. Second, I’ve found that business owners think their team knows what to do, but when you speak with employees, they often feel left out in the dark, confused about what their responsibilities are, and seeking clarification. More significantly, without clear and thorough job descriptions, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to accurately and fairly assess candidates for a role, conduct accurate performance reviews of current employees, determine how to pay someone correctly and make necessary accommodations under federal and state disability regulations. Before we look at each of these areas individually, let’s do a quick overview of the key components of an effective job description:

  • The Basics: Job title, department, the position the job reports to, the positions the job supervises if applicable if the job is full-time or part-time, and if the job is exempt or non-exempt—more on that in a bit.
  • Position Summary: This is the “elevator speech” of what the job does; short and sweet and no more than 3 sentences is a good rule of thumb.
  • Essential Job Functions:  A bulleted list of what the job is responsible for, always ending in the all-encompassing catch-all “Perform other duties as assigned” (no more “It’s not my job!”)
  • Qualifications: Education, experience, software proficiency, etc.
  • Physical Demands and Work Environment: The US Department of Labor has great tools and checklists to help you outline.
  • Acknowledgment: This part is optional, but some employers want employees to sign off on the job description, acknowledging they have received it.

Now let’s dig a bit deeper into the main reasons to have an accurate, thorough job description for every position.

To Assess Candidates

properly assess candidates

The first secret of getting what you want is knowing what you want,”* and how can you or the candidate know what you want if it’s not laid out? So, the first step in searching for candidates is writing down the duties and qualifications of the job. From there, you can post an ad geared toward attracting qualified candidates and draft screening and interviewing questions and perhaps even interview tasks designed to further refine your selection. This helps both you and the candidate (which is equally important; you don’t want someone quitting a few weeks into the job because they realize this just isn’t for them) determine if this is the right fit. And when it comes to physical requirements, while you can’t ask a candidate, for example, why they are limping or if they diet and exercise, you can hand them the job description and ask, “Are you able to perform these duties?”

To Conduct Performance Reviews

conduct performance reviews

Generally speaking, employees like to receive feedback about their performance; however, they do tend to get nervous when it comes to formal reviews, as do many managers. What helps ease the tension is mutual trust, both from employees that their managers know what they do and from managers, that they have communicated expectations, not just at the time of the review but throughout the year. Job descriptions help greatly here, providing both employees and managers the backdrop against which to address opportunities (for a raise/promotion) and concerns (failure to perform a certain task). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and numerous states’ anti-discrimination laws shift the burden of proof to employers when making a tangible employment action (such as promoting one employee over another or disciplining/terminating someone), so besides that, it is a fair and right management practice to let employees know what’s expected of them, it can also help protect your business.

To Determine Pay

determine pay salary

The first thing I do when a client asks me how much they should pay for a certain job is ask to see the job description. Why? Because their “VP of Operations” is someone else’s “Office Manager” (“A rose by any other name…”); it’s not the job title but how you define the role. So, before I can do a salary search, I need to know exactly what I am comparing the job to, and the best way to know that is by reading the job description. Also, how you define the role is a major component in determining if the position is exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This has many implications to a business, but the more common ones are needing to track a non-exempt employee’s full hours worked and pay them overtime in accordance with federal and state regulations. Clients often say, “All of our employees are salaried so no one gets overtime,” but an employee can be on salary and eligible for overtime, depending on a number of factors including their job duties. The fines for failing to track non-exempt employees’ hours and pay them for overtime are steep, and again, this isn’t taking into account the price you pay as an organization in low morale and turnover (not to mention karma) for not paying people properly.

To Make Necessary Accommodations

make necessary accommodations anti discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and various state regulations prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their disability. Core to these regulations is the requirement for businesses to engage in an “interactive process” when they become aware of a disability that could impact the employee’s job. The process is designed to determine what reasonable accommodation the business may need to make, such as modifying the job or the work environment. Since the job description has the job duties listed as well as the physical requirements, that’s the place to start. So if, for example, the employee can’t lift anything for 2 weeks, and their position requires only occasional lifting, it would be reasonable to assign someone else to cover this responsibility for the time being. But if lifting is a substantial part of the job, then that employee may need to be temporarily reassigned to another position or go on a leave of absence. It can sometimes be a complicated process, and having the job description as a reference makes it less so.

So Now What?

The good news is getting job descriptions in place doesn’t take too long (It’s not an SOP), and we can help. Also, once they are done, they only need to be updated occasionally, as roles change, so once you have them, you’re pretty much set. We think starting with a blank piece of paper can be daunting, so we often develop drafts and then customize them with our clients, which makes the process easier. If you want our help, feel free to contact us online or at 732-534-7844.

*Quote from the author, editor, and publisher, Arthur D. Hlavaty


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