Job Descriptions: A Job Better Left to the Pros?

Writing job descriptions has become so time-consuming and legally complex some managers just ignore using them and deny themselves a valuable HR tool. A solid prewritten or sample program might be the answer.

They’re often the unwanted stepchildren of the HR office. Stashed on a high shelf. Stored in a dusty binder. Written, filed, and forgotten.

What are we talking about? Job descriptions. Everybody has them. Hardly anyone ever looks at them.

It’s puzzling that job descriptions get so little respect. After all, they’re the architectural blueprints of our businesses, telling what each part does and who’s responsible for doing it. Whenever we write an employment ad, we reflect a job description. When we conduct a worker’s appraisal, it’s a job description we measure against. And whenever new technology or other change enters the workplace, we change job descriptions. The only question is whether we revise the paperwork to show it.

The problems are time and complexity. Creating job descriptions is hard work! Managers and supervisors have to be consulted. Lawyers need to do reviews. And it all has to be done over until it’s right, with degree of difficulty multiplied by the number of titles in your organization. Some companies have hundreds.

What’s more, descriptions now have to meet strict legal standards. They can’t discriminate in any way, such as listing tasks for a “warehouseman” or talking about a receptionist position and describing what “she” has to do. And job descriptions need to meet the tough standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, separating essential functions from additional responsibilities so that “reasonable accommodation” may be made to allow completion of the essentials. All of which has led many HR managers to conclude that conceptualizing and writing the descriptions is best left to professionals. All of which makes the case for using prewritten, or sample, job descriptions.

Prewrittens are the convenience food of the HR world … the meal without the mess. The publisher has done all the preliminary writing. All you need do is fill in those specifics directly related to your company–the worker’s name, reporting relationship and any unique information–and you’re done. At BLR, we offer a program called the Job Descriptions Encyclopedia. It’s been carefully honed and shaped over two decades. In doing it, our editors have gotten quite good at knowing what makes a prewritten job descriptions program successful. These are the key factors:

Wide-ranging: The program should encompass most, if not all, positions in your company. BLR’s program has more than 500 descriptions which, the editors say, “range from mail clerk to president and everything between.” The tasks should cross all major functional areas, such as finance, engineering, sales/marketing, administration, MIS, production, distribution, and HR itself. But a really solid program will also cover several major industries. BLR’s includes banking and insurance, healthcare, public services and safety, legal, and several more.

Complete: A strong description includes all the key categories. These are job identification, a job summary, education and qualifications, required skills, knowledge, and abilities, accountabilities, job specifications, and of course, the all-important groupings of essential functions separated from additional responsibilities. Which leads us to…

Legal: The key determinant here is compliance with ADA. All BLR descriptions meet ADA, EEOC, and other standards. And the language has been carefully written to be exacting. Workers know precisely what to do and what standards to meet.

Convenient. Your program must be fully indexed and easy to use to be the time- and work-saver it can be. And the best ones include additional features. BLR has, for example, assigned a pay grade for each job title, based on annual surveys of the compensation paid at thousands of businesses. An office administrator, for example, is a Grade 28, while a Tech Support Manager is a Grade 35. The pay grades are printed right on the description, and matched to a table of hourly and salaried minimum, maximum, and midpoint salaries.

Additional elements enter into a successful program: Job descriptions need to be part of a compete program, which includes communication to the organization and – because jobs change constantly and new kinds of positions are added all the time – periodic maintenance. The BLR program includes full guidelines for such a program and handles maintenance by issuing quarterly updates at no additional cost so long as an employer remains in the program.

Does your company use its job description program … or leave it on a shelf? Would prewritten forms cut your workload? Use the Share Your Comments button and let us know!