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Writing’s on the wall for managers

CLOSER involvement by management in the roles their staff perform could have benefits beyond that of just cordial relations in the workplace. A more hands-on approach means managers are likely to write better job descriptions, thereby recruiting and retaining quality employees and even lifting productivity, according to recruitment experts.

Writing clear, succinct job descriptions can also help an employer tread more safely across the unfair dismissal legal minefield.

Curtin University’s School of Management Human Resource Management associate professor Alan Nankervis said employers who did not have good job descriptions were “blind recruiters”.

“If you do not know what you are looking for, who do you recruit and how do you manage it,” Mr Nankervis said.

“It is essential to recruitment. If you can’t define the role and tasks, how do you measure them?”

Robert Walters general manager Bruce Henderson said employers could recruit the right people by being clear about what they expected from someone performing a specific role.

“If it is a vague job description you might recruit people who don’t have the competency for certain tasks or who didn’t understand what the role was about, and then leave,” he said.

“A well thought out and communicated job description logically has a part to play in decreasing the risk of poor performance. There is a level of clarity about what the role is about and what is expected.”

Gerard Daniels Australia director Lloyd Smith said smart employers wrote clear job descriptions that directly related to performance criteria.

“It should be about key result areas; is it a marketing, management or financial control? What kind of behaviour is exhibited to perform those types of things,” he said.

“What is the key performance indicator? All job descriptions should have three columns – the result or function, behaviour or action and KPI.

“You won’t get yourself into trouble [legally] if you have KPIs.”

Mr Smith said that while bigger corporations were good at writing job descriptions, a lot of companies failed to write job descriptions at all, or wrote sub-standard ones.

“Not many are doing it but more and more are,” he said. “They are recognising the benefits.

“It can help retain employees, improve job performance, assist in an employee’s personal development and [it] links to the strategic direction.

“If you want to double your organisation in the next three years there need to be certain behaviours exhibited to do that.

“The KPIs are usually missing or they are vague. They need to be quantifiable. If a criterion fosters a good corporate culture and builds team spirit then the KPI could be measuring the labour turnover. Or it could be an anonymous staff survey.

“The major corporations are very good at this … it helps job performance. They know the tasks and areas for personal development.”

Good job descriptions can also help managers and employers avoid legal battles resulting from employment disputes.

According to Blake Dawson Waldron special counsel Marie-Claire Foley, not having a job description makes it harder for an employer to dismiss someone for not doing his or her job.

“It becomes hard to terminate someone for poor job performance. If the worker challenges it they can say: ‘The expectations were never communicated to me’,” Ms Foley said.

She said employers also should consider writing work environment requirements into the job descriptions to help with determining whether an individual is medically fit to continue working.

“People focus on skills and behaviours when writing these but I would also suggest people pay attention to the work environment requirements,” Ms Foley said.

“Is there an industrial aspect or a physical aspect to the job? You could write things in, such as being able to cope in a remote location.”

She said an ability to handle stressful situations and cope with stress could be included as a job requirement.

Ms Foley said having work environment requirements was particularly helpful for pre-medical examinations.

“The doctor needs to know more than the tasks the person will perform. They should tell the doctor the specific environment, hazards, and functional requirements,” she said.

Mr Henderson said managers should review job descriptions to make sure they were consistent with current demands for the position.

“People don’t put much time into it because it’s all so rushed,” he said.

“A person resigns and there is not much notice. You’ll find most people scan over the job description and update a few words.

“People don’t step back and have a look at what the job was and what they want out of that person.”

Mr Nankervis said employees who failed to have job descriptions were usually unsatisfied in their role because they were not sure about what was expected of them.

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