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  • Writer's pictureJeff Tudhope

Keeping Busy When Business Slows Down - Idea #1: Job Descriptions

If you, like so many others, are experiencing a slow down in business as we deal with restrictions to fight the spread of the virus, you can still make positive progress by working on some of the things that may be deprioritized when you’re busy. While some may call this housekeeping, it is important work that shows your employees you’re paying attention and could even save you some trouble down the road! If you have employees working from home, they can participate, too.

Idea #1: Create/touch up your job descriptions

I used to be surprised when employers would tell me their employees don’t have job descriptions, or that they prepared them once but have never updated them and aren’t sure if what their employees do reflects what’s in the job descriptions. This is more common than I would ever have thought. At the most serious level, this can contribute to a Pay Equity problem. In most cases, however, job descriptions impact productivity, efficiency, and in some cases, morale. All very serious considerations.

Updating job descriptions should be quite simple, and you’ll probably realize pretty quickly just how much jobs have changed as soon as you look at one of them and think about what the employees in that job are currently doing. This is where you can involve your employees – send the document to them and have them add in the missing work and identify anything they don’t do. You may find that work previously performed by one role is now being done for another, and maybe that actually makes more sense workflow-wise. It should be no surprise that research shows the employees closer to the actual performance of the job, or the “shop floor”, know better than their bosses what’s being done and how it is done, but they’re also more likely than management to find ways to collaborate with other employees to become more productive.

Involving your employees in this process also shows them that you’re thinking about what they’re doing and value their input – both huge morale boosters.

On the other hand, there may be an inefficiency in the division of work that you have noticed but have not had the time to address – well now is the time to do it. Make the necessary changes to the job descriptions, get employee feedback, and send them the final versions so everyone is clear on what’s expected of them when things start getting back to normal. You can use the downtime for employees taking on new work to get up to speed.

Now, if you’re on the “no job description” side of things, you’ve got a bit more heaving lifting to do. It will be a bit more time consuming but will no doubt be a valuable process, and may even be an enjoyable one.

There are a few ways you can start from scratch. You can have the person to whom each employee reports (don’t know who? I’ll be talking about org charts in a coming post – so look out for that) create a summary statement for each job which basically describes the purpose of the job, then a list of bullet points outlining the work the job performs. You’ll also want to include a level of education and work experience that will serve as the minimum requirement to be considered for the job. The completed document could then be sent to the employee(s) for their input or could just be used as the job description and communicated to each employee in that job.

If you choose the collaborative approach, there are many ways to do it and I’ll outline a couple of them here. Perhaps the simplest way to involve employees is to prepare a first draft and have them review it and give you feedback. Of course, management will make the final decision about what goes in the job description. The more complicated, but perhaps more fun, way to create job descriptions is to get all of the relevant employees and managers/supervisors on a call and think from a departmental/product/project level, with the intent to outline all of the work that needs to be completed by all of the employees. Then, each job is assigned the tasks, primarily by employees choosing the tasks that make the most sense for their job to complete. An alternate option would be for all the employees to provide the individual tasks by email, then after the master list is completed, a call is set up and everyone works from the list to create the different job descriptions. You’re done when every task on the list has been allocated to a job or combined with another task on the list.

Collaboration is always a more positive experience for employees than being directed. It creates a feeling of ownership amongst employees, in that they’ll feel more personal accountability to perform tasks to the best of their ability because they chose to make those tasks their job.

Another great benefit of having accurate, up to date job descriptions is the positive impact it can have when onboarding. When your employees clearly understand what they do and what others do, they can be your trainers. You won’t need management to spend as much time showing a new employee the ropes, and they’ll be up to speed and working independently much more quickly then if they were hired with a job title and a wage, but only given an outdated job description or no job description at all.

So, if you’re looking for ways to keep busy, keep your staff busy, and do work that will benefit the business, why not take a look at your job descriptions while you’ve got the time? You may be surprised how much of a difference it can make!

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