Clear job descriptions can streamline nonprofit operations.

Job Descriptions: Their Impact and Value

Job descriptions are formal, written statements that identify the duties, responsibilities, and competencies required to perform a particular role. While this definition is accurate, it fails to capture the far-reaching impact job descriptions have on attracting and retaining talent and building a successful organization.

Well-crafted job descriptions play a central role in almost all aspects of the employee life cycle. In this article, we review their importance in the following areas:

To maintain their relevance and value, job descriptions should be kept up to date. Periodic reviews are necessary to confirm they match your staff’s actual functions and your organization’s needs.

A Foundation for Successful Recruitment

When thoughtfully integrated into the recruitment process, job descriptions can lead to better hiring decisions that benefit the company today and in the future. However, it is important not to confuse job descriptions with job postings.

When searching for new talent, employers should not substitute a job description for a purposefully crafted job posting. Job descriptions are an internal tool that detail responsibilities rather than promote an organization to attract talent. However, with effective job descriptions in place, HR and hiring managers can use them as a basis for a posting and do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Well-written job descriptions contain vital information needed to prepare accurate and appealing job postings and can be leveraged to create powerful recruitment tools. Job descriptions are also valuable for preparing interview questions and as a basis for assessing the qualifications of individual candidates.

An Efficient Tool for Communicating Roles and Expectations

When employees know what is expected of them in their roles, there will be greater alignment between employee and employers. Job descriptions are an excellent tool for sharing this critical information. Present each staff member with their current job description and review with them for understanding. When creating job descriptions for current employees, elicit their and their manager’s input and buy-in.

Comprehensive job descriptions also put individual functions into context within the greater business structure. They allow employees to not only understand their responsibilities, but how their role intersects with coworkers, relates to other departments, and impacts the organization in achieving its goals. Sharing organization charts will also help employees visualize these relationships.

While in some instances overly detailed job descriptions can be limiting, for the most part, clearly defined roles lead to a better understanding of expectations and promote better working relationships among employees and managers. Clarifying how individual roles relate to the bigger picture enables greater appreciation for the efforts of others, promotes collaboration, and provides opportunities for greater organizational effectiveness. An effective staff increases capacity and allows your organization to take on new initiatives.

A Supporting Factor in Total Rewards Programs

Accurate job descriptions are vital for establishing pay scales and benefit programs. The identified duties, skills, and competencies justify the compensation and benefits available to particular roles.

Job descriptions also allow for comparisons that distinguish and identify similarities across positions informing fair and equitable pay outcomes. Looking externally, they provide the ability to compare positions for benchmarking and salary analysis to determine the competitiveness of the compensation you provide. Highlight benefits outside of compensation, like vacation policies or a corporate giving program.

A Cornerstone for Employee Performance and Advancement

Comprehensive job descriptions also establish a framework for performance management.

It is against this backdrop that managers build detailed evaluation metrics and conduct performance reviews. When performance concerns are identified, discussions clarifying expectations and performance improvement plans action items should relate back to the objectives originally communicated in an employee’s job description.

Job descriptions are also an excellent vehicle for considering career advancement opportunities. They can help to identify additional skills and related training needs to move to the next level. Charting progression paths allows employees to envision their future with your organization and begin taking steps toward achieving their goals.

Reinforcement of Company Culture and Promotion of a Harmonious Work Environment

Part of finding the right person to join your organization is whether they are a good “fit.” Emphasizing company culture in your job descriptions allows you to easily incorporate organizational values into your job postings and connect with like-minded candidates. Share the values you highlight in donor communications and relate them to your workplace culture.

The tone and language used in job descriptions send a message about your culture and work environment. Focus on the attributes of people who are successful at your organization. Such characteristics may include positivity, integrity, team player, and many others.

Including these and similar key phrases paints a picture for applicants and attracts candidates who connect with your organization’s viewpoint. With a refined applicant pool, you will make better hiring decisions and improve retention rates.

Complying with Legal Requirements

The essential functions of a job are the focal point of various legal analyses. It is a best practice to spell them out in job descriptions so they can be referenced for compliance purposes and to respond to investigations or lawsuits.

Essential functions are a key consideration when an employee or applicant requests a reasonable accommodation under the federal Americans with Disability Act and many state corollaries. In determining if a request for accommodation is reasonable, courts often refer to the position’s job description to understand the primary duties.

Job descriptions can also factor into determining if a position qualifies for overtime pay and other compensation practices under federal and state wage and hour laws. Insufficient explanations of a role could compromise appropriate classification and result in a position being reassigned from exempt to non-exempt.

Just as clear documentation of a job’s duties and responsibilities is important in hiring, it can be equally significant in termination decisions. When an employee is let go for performance issues, the standards memorialized in their job description can corroborate the decision. If the employee files a wrongful termination or discrimination lawsuit, job descriptions may be cited as evidence that the decision was not based on a pretext.

Lastly, delineating specific functions and duties in a job description may reveal areas requiring safety measures. The failure to provide a safe work environment may violate federal and state workplace safety laws.

Job descriptions have a direct impact on the employer-employee relationship on many levels and can be used as tools to better connect and communicate with employees. As your organization grows, you will need to create job descriptions for new positions as well as review existing ones for accuracy. While this ongoing process takes time, given the deep connection job descriptions have with employee satisfaction and organizational success, it is a process that is well-worth undertaking.