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Don’t underestimate the importance of updating job descriptions

BY: Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN on June 26, 2019

Everyone knows what job descriptions are, and most, if not all, places of employment have them in one form or another.

Employers use them to provide employees with information they need about the job they’re taking on, what they will be responsible for, their hours of work and compensation, etc.

But the importance of updating job descriptions is not prioritized by everyone since it’s not a mandatory tool of the trade.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, no state or federal law requires job descriptions, however, they can be helpful tools for both practical and legal reasons.

  • Can you recall the last time you looked at your position descriptions to evaluate whether they are current and meeting your needs and the needs of your managers and employees?
  • Does your facility have guidelines on how frequently you need to review and update them and what you specifically need to include in such reviews?
  • Do you have a set schedule designed to keep you on target with the duties, responsibilities and functions being carried out by employees in different roles?

The importance of updating job descriptions

When it comes to updating job descriptions, there are two things to consider: why they should be done and when they should be done.

The “why” of updating them is because employees should know the expectations of their roles and the rules and regulations they need to follow, some of which are legal. Position descriptions must be current, accurate, complete, clear, concise and easily understood by employees.

As recruitment and talent acquisition specialists, this isn’t news to you.

“Job descriptions can have so much value if used regularly and appropriately,” said Janet Flewelling, director of HR operations at Insperity, in HR Magazine. “If you have an up-to-date job description, you can use it for recruiting, performance management and compensation.”

When to update position descriptions

The “when” of updating is just as important. According to Business Management Daily, they should be updated as often as needed, reviewed periodically to ensure they reflect current responsibilities, amended as duties change and their amendments reviewed with the employee.

“As often as needed” are four important words to remember. This is because each job description must be a current overview of the employee’s responsibilities.

Changes to the document may be needed at various times such as when:

  • Work groups change
  • New assignments are made
  • Additional skills training takes place
  • Managers change
  • Models of care change
  • Staffing assignments change

These frequent small changes can help ensure position descriptions not only are current, but also personalized.

You never want employees to say they didn’t know something was their responsibility. The importance of updating job descriptions cannot be understated because that document includes everything the employee is supposed to do to complete his or her job. And those duties can change at any time.

Use this checklist to update your job descriptions

Some additional points to consider in preparing for your next update of position descriptions include:

  • Assess content for how it should and should not be written, what should be included or left out and make any needed changes.
  • Verify all current qualifications needed for the role are listed.
  • Ensure essential roles, responsibilities, duties and some day-to-day activities are included, but not every small task.
  • Look for information on shifts, reporting mechanisms and autonomy, varying schedules, flexible shifts, etc.
  • Make sure there is enough information in the document and not a lot of unnecessary detail.
  • Check the information listed on education and qualifications for the role to see if it is current.
  • Ensure there’s a description of autonomous parts of the role and functions carried out in groups or with ancillary help.
  • Set up reminders for position description reviews and updates.

Each of these tips can help you avoid future legal issues with employees who might say, “I didn’t know that was in my job description.”

Make sure each employee’s position description is reviewed at hire and during each performance review during employment.

You don’t want employees leaving your organization because they’re being asked to do things not included in their job description.

Also, remember that job description reviews are an important part of:

  • Completing all employee performance reviews
  • Investigating employee complaints
  • Assisting managers with problems with staff
  • Improving employee retention and staff morale

The importance of updating job descriptions is valuable not only for recruitment, but also for retention.

“Job descriptions are effective tools for employers to have in the workplace,” according to human resources professional Christine McDade in her blog, “Why It Is Important to Update Job Descriptions.” “Regularly updated and accurate job descriptions can be especially important for the assignment of duties.”

Just remember, job descriptions are not effective tools unless they are well-written, complete and up to date.

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Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is a former senior vice president and chief nurse executive who led nursing programs and initiatives. She continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Williamson was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of the system’s member hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in administration, and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. She also is a board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing.