19 Apr Job Descriptions: Why They Matter & How to Write One
When thinking about the importance of job descriptions, we at RealHR Solutions cannot resist a quote from a sports legend who understood the value of defining roles and responsibilities better than most:
Individual commitment to a group effort — that's what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. - Vince Lombardi
“Know where you fit in, know how you contribute to the greater whole, and know and appreciate the roles of those around you,” another former coach told his players and staff repeatedly throughout the season. These coaches understood that each individual on their team and clearly defined roles were critical to the success of their organizations.
Yet, one of the biggest barriers to success for small businesses is the lack of investment, whether of time or resources, in the development of a successful team. This often starts with resistance to creating too much structure—and skepticism about defining and formalizing roles.
But, for your business to grow, you must define and communicate not only your vision of success for your employees but also how they can achieve it. Effective job descriptions can help you accomplish both.
In this quick guide, we will review everything that leaders of growing organizations need to know about job descriptions, including:
- Why Job Descriptions Matter
- Essential Elements of Job Descriptions
- Job Description Template
- How to Write a Job Description
As you lay the foundation for your organization’s growth, job descriptions can and should be a cornerstone piece of your strategy. They are a critical tool for defining roles and building your team and your business—you just need a firm grasp on the essentials to get started.
Why Job Descriptions Matter
There are a number of important implications when it comes to defining job requirements and objectives with formal job descriptions. We break them down into three key categories:
1. Strategic Implications of Job Descriptions
On a strategic level, job descriptions align people with company goals, vision, and culture. They help you determine and define:
- Organizational structure
- How needs will be met
- Any gaps in the responsibility of roles
- The functional expertise needed for a given job
- How each job fits into the company as a whole
Job descriptions, when utilized and written properly, are a communication tool that sets transparent expectations and helps create value for both the organization and its employees.
2. Tactical Implications of Job Descriptions
On a tactical level, job descriptions serve as a tool in all areas of the employee lifecycle. More specifically, job descriptions have a direct impact on how you hire, manage, pay, and develop your employees. In the process of carefully drafting job descriptions you will:
- Determine the functional expertise needed for a given job and clarify specific job requirements and qualifications, which leads to better hiring decisions.
- Delineate work assignments, serving to detect overlaps or gaps in positions and drive realignment of organizational structure as necessary.
- Create agreement around expectations between managers and staff.
- Define performance standards, inform performance evaluations, and clarify expectations for performance management and corrective action.
- Clarify jobs internally to maintain equitable and competitive pay programs, and to benchmark positions in the external market.
- Influence job-related training and employee development.
3. Legal Compliance Implications of Job Descriptions
While job descriptions generally are not required by law, they will help you to stay in compliance with various laws and regulations. In particular, well-written job descriptions play an important role in compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
- Under the ADA, an 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. This can help prevent any controversy about what an employee must be able to do to perform their job successfully.
- 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 the job duties in order to determine whether the position is eligible for overtime pay or meets any of the exemptions under the law. Improper classification could lead to backpay of overtime and possibly penalties.
Essential Elements of Job Descriptions
Job descriptions should include the following elements:
- Job title
- Salary range
- FLSA status (exempt or non-exempt)
- Statement of purpose or objective of the position
- Purpose of the work as it relates to the company’s mission and goals
- Education, including degrees, professional certifications, and licenses required to perform the job
- Qualifications and specific skills required, including years of and type of experience; and management, decision-making, and problem-solving skills
- Work location and conditions, physical requirements, equipment and tools used, travel required, and work schedule
- A statement that the job description is not intended to represent a complete, comprehensive list of all duties and that there may be unplanned activities and other duties assigned
You may also want to consider more competency-based job descriptions that emphasize expectations and accountabilities rather than specific tasks. This approach focuses more on results rather than just job duties.
Job Description Template
This template combines the essential elements listed above into one easy example:
By including these essential elements, you will have covered all of the most important bases of an effective job description. Of course, your organization should take the time to fully consider exactly your exact needs and how your descriptions may need to differ from this example. HR consultants can be invaluable partners in this process.
How to Write a Job Description
Creating job descriptions requires a careful analysis of each position needed to support your business operations and the relationship of each position to one another. Here are our suggestions for completing the process successfully:
- Identify someone who will manage the process internally and work with outside experts as needed.
- In the absence of an internal human resources professional, it is advisable to get legal or human resources expertise in the job description process.
- Engage employees early in the process. Create a questionnaire to be completed by staff and approved by managers.
- Determine requirements for a position by interviewing and observing appropriate incumbent employees.
- Begin compiling job requirements and observations.
- Start by providing a broad description rather than listing every task—in listing every task you are bound to leave something out or box yourself into a corner, where employees may question activities not specified in their job descriptions.
- Additionally, base descriptions on current job requirements and responsibilities, not only on what an incumbent is actually doing or the incumbent’s qualifications.
- Identify and use sources for sample job descriptions, like the template above.
- Draft your job descriptions with managers and employees, following a consistent format by using a job description template.
- Create a review and approval process to ensure buy-in from employees and management.
- Develop a process to keep job descriptions current by reviewing them on a periodic basis.
- Many organizations choose to review job descriptions during their regular performance review process.
- If you update a job description, just be sure to share it with incumbents in that role and get their written acknowledgment of the updates.
Wrapping Up: The Importance of Defining Roles and Responsibilities
There is no more essential tool when it comes to human resources planning than well-written job descriptions. When your employees know where they fit in, understand how to contribute to the whole, and appreciate the roles of the people around them, they can successfully contribute to the growth and success of the team and the business.
If you know that your organization could use outside expertise in creating or updating job descriptions, reach out to an HR expert. Alternately, if you are unsure whether your current job descriptions, FLSA classifications, or hiring practices could be improved, an audit conducted by an HR consultant might be the best first choice. And to keep learning, continue your research with these additional resources:
- Response to the Great Resignation. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues impacting the labor landscape in unforeseen ways, all organizations can stand to brush up on what these changing trends mean and how they can adapt.
- HR Assessments: The What, Why, When, and Who. Looking for a holistic review of your organization’s entire HR structure and practices? A comprehensive HR assessment is an excellent long-term investment.
- Culture: Your Company’s #1 Asset. An organization’s culture has far-reaching impacts on employee engagement and retention, and even its bottom line. Learn more with our thoughts on why culture is so critical.