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It’s Everyone’s Job to Care About Job Descriptions

by Kate Bischoff

From time to time, we invite guest contributors to provide their personal perspectives about trending HCM topics. The views, opinions, and comments expressed below are solely those of the author and do not represent Ultimate Software. This post was commissioned by Ultimate Software and the author has or will receive compensation for their work.

“That’s not in my job description.”

It’s the response that irks almost every every manager on the planet. The manager then goes to her HR business partner, engages in a whole-body eye roll, and then complains about the employee’s lack of team spirit. While we’ll empathize with the manager about the employee, we may mumble to ourselves about how long it has been since the manager has actually updated the employee’s job description. Then, we get pulled in 100 other directions—all fires demanding more of our attention than job descriptions.

The job description (JD) may be the most out-of-date and inaccurate document in all of human resources. The problem is, we know it. We know that JDs are on the bottom of our priority list and only come up when we need to recruit for the position. We know that JDs help us determine market salary comparisons. We know that employees look at their JDs. We know that candidates look at JDs. We know that JDs can protect us in a disability-discrimination case.  We know that JDs provide the basis for classification analysis under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

So, why don’t we update JDs regularly? Here are four reasons we should.

JDs outline responsibilities and expectations. It’s not rocket science, but employees want to know their responsibilities and what’s expected of them. From its engagement survey from 2016, Gallup discovered that the failure to set clear responsibilities and expectations is a foundational element to employee engagement. A job description, paired with expectations, can give employees the clear direction they want and help increase their engagement.

JDs repeat what you say. Psychologists (and advertisers) tell us that something needs to be repeated seven times before the human brain acknowledges it was said. This means that telling the employee once at the beginning of her employment isn’t going to cut it. A JD offers another way to repeat what you’ve said during onboarding. As a bonus, the employee can refer to the JD without fear of asking a seemingly embarrassing question. While an employee might already be trained in XYZ job, she may not know how your company operates specifically and might have questions. A job description offers guidance, and maybe even the answer. If it’s outdated or inaccurate, she won’t get help there.

JDs fascinate candidates. While I agree with many employment-branding experts that a vacancy announcement should not be your JD, candidates want to see the JD eventually. Having a JD that is both accurate and exciting can help seal the deal with candidates. So, have updated job descriptions for candidates to review once they progress beyond the initial screen.

JDs provide protection. Courts and jurors know to look at a JD for a list of essential functions of a job. If a JD doesn’t have accurate essential functions because the job has changed over time, there may be no proof backing a manager’s claims. This puts the employer in danger of losing a disability-discrimination case. Moreover, when the U.S. Department of Labor questions whether an employee is really exempt under the FLSA, it asks for the JD. When the JD isn’t accurate, the exemption could be at risk. When a race-discrimination plaintiff alleges his co-worker is similarly situated, the court will use a comparison of the two JDs to determine whether that’s the case. If the JD isn’t accurate, the employer could be liable.

Reviewing (and adjusting) job descriptions should be an annual practice. Though, when asked by HR for updates, many managers grumble, not at all concerned about JDs and even less concerned about why potential compliance issues stemming from the document itself.

If you’re reading this now, maybe you can be the one to suggest a companywide JD review. Even if that’s not in your job description.