Why Waste Time Writing Job Descriptions?


Ambrose’s manager asked him to complete an analysis for a customer by a certain date.

Ambrose responded, “I don’t think that is in my job description.”

I do not remember referring to job descriptions when making decisions.  Nor have I seen other managers dig out job descriptions to justify decisions.  Many companies, perhaps wisely so, do not even have written descriptions.

I am aware that job descriptions may become evidence when someone questions an employment practice.  However, I’m not sure descriptions sufficiently clarify issues.

Although he recommends written descriptions, attorney Jonathan Sigel, says that federal law does NOT require them.

Here are a few problems created by written job descriptions:

  • Too general and too out-of-date to be meaningful
  • Good applicants do not apply because they do not meet ALL requirements
  • They become tools for laggards who wish to avoid tasks
  • Too much time and cost for writing, revising, and updating
  • Brief, written summaries cannot describe ALL aspects of a job

I would guess there have been job descriptions on file for every position that I have held.  But I have never referred to the file to determine what I should do.  Have you?

2 thoughts on “Why Waste Time Writing Job Descriptions?

  1. Thanks for your comment. If written job descriptions do have little value, perhaps there is no need to replace them with an alternative. When hiring, a manager could simply list examples of tasks required in the job; and candidates would understand whether they had the necessary skills to apply. Effective managers, I think, can verbally describe any job in their department in a matter of minutes without referring to written job descriptions. And any employee who has worked a job for short period surely understands what is needed to perform the job well. If not, the employee is probably not a good fit for that job.

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  2. I agree that job descriptions can be less than useful. If this is the conclusion we are to draw from this, what would be some appropriate alternatives that would be useful?

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