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Some have a particular dislike of job descriptions, while, for others, they are a critical part of the business operation.

The drawbacks

  • They are time-consuming to prepare.
  • By directing the jobholder to specific tasks you risk them losing the wider picture.
  • Jobs change continually and job descriptions soon become out of date.
  • They discourage flexibility: “it’s not in my job description”.
  • They tend to foster a bureaucratic culture in the workplace.

The positives

  • Preparing them forces you to think through what it is you want each employee to do.
  • Employees function better when they have a clear idea of what is expected of them.
  • Job descriptions can reduce conflict (upwards, downwards and peer to peer) because of clearer expectations.
  • Where employees are not fulfilling expectations, job descriptions can form a valuable starting point for a disciplinary process or capability procedure.
  • They can include a Person Specification, that is a short list of the qualities, qualifications and experience you are seeking in the person whom you will appoint.
  • Person Specifications can assist in preparing job advertisements, shortlisting candidates and, in the extreme, defending discrimination claims.

Other tips

  • Don’t enshrine job descriptions in the contract of employment document. Job descriptions are a record of how employer and employees will work together and are part of the “psychological” contract. If you make them part of the contract of employment there is a risk that disagreements might not be resolved without recourse to a legal process.
  • As a general rule, the less detailed the job description the more senior the role.
  • If you want an employee to use judgement, initiative and a sense of responsibility, then focus on what you wish the employee to achieve rather than a detailed list of tasks you want them to carry out.
  • In a small organisation one employee might have two or more job descriptions.
  • Every employee should know who their boss is; put it in the job description. If there is more than one boss the employee is likely to love one and hate the other, play them off against each other, or suffer the stress of “role ambiguity”.
  • Consider adding some performance criteria to the responsibilities, although be wary as the job environment can change beyond the control of the job holder.

If you are still not sure whether you need job descriptions, or would like help preparing them, please get in touch.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

Blogs are for general guidance and are not an authoritative statement of the law.