How to Write Job Descriptions to build Happy & productive team, & retain Them

Job descriptions are essential. Job descriptions are required for recruitment so that you and the applicants can understand the role. Job descriptions are necessary for all people in work. A job description defines a person’s role and accountability. Without a job description it is not possible for a person to properly commit to, or be held accountable for, a role.

As an employee you may have or be given the opportunity to take responsibility for your job description. This is good. It allows you to clarify expectations with your employer and your boss.
The process of writing job descriptions is actually quite easy and straight-forward. Many people tend to start off with a list of 20-30 tasks, which is okay as a start, but this needs refining to far fewer points, around 8-12 is the ideal.

Smaller organisations commonly require staff and managers to cover a wider or more mixed range of responsibilities than in larger organisations (for example, the ‘office manager’ role can comprise financial, HR, stock-control, scheduling and other duties). Therefore in smaller organisations, job descriptions might necessarily contain a greater number of listed responsibilities, perhaps 15-16. However, whatever the circumstances, the number of responsibilities should not exceed this, or the job description becomes unwieldy and ineffective.
Any job description containing 20-30 tasks is actually more like a part of an operational manual, which serves a different purpose. Job descriptions should refer to the operational manual, or to ‘agreed procedures’, rather than include the detail of the tasks in the job description. If you include task detail in a job description you will need to change it when the task detail changes, as it will often do. What would you rather change, 100 job descriptions or one operational manual?

Similarly, lengthy details of health and safety procedures should not be included in a a job description. Instead put them into a health and safety manual, and then simply refer to this in the job description. Again, when your health and safety procedure changes, would you rather change 100 job descriptions or just one health and safety manual?

A useful process for refining and writing job descriptions responsibilities into fewer points and (‘responsibilities’ rather than ‘individual tasks’), is to group the many individual tasks into main responsibility areas, such as the list below (not all will be applicable to any single role). Bold type indicates that these responsibility areas would normally feature in most job descriptions:
Bold type indicates that these responsibility areas would normally feature in most job descriptions:

  • communicating (in relation to whom, what, how – and this is applicable to all below)
  • planning and organizing (of what..)
  • managing information or general administration support (of what..)
  • monitoring and reporting (of what..)
  • evaluating and decision-making (of what..)
  • financial budgeting and control (of what..)
  • producing things (what..)
  • maintaining/repairing things (what..)
  • quality control (for production roles normally a separate responsibility; otherwise this is generally incorporated within other relevant responsibilities) (of what..)
    health and safety (normally the same point for all job descriptions of a given staff grade)
  • using equipment and systems (what..)
  • creating and developing things (what..)
  • self-development (normally the same point for all job descriptions of a given staff grade)
  • plus any responsibilities for other staff if applicable, typically:
  • recruiting (of direct-reporting staff)
  • assessing (direct-reporting staff)
  • training (direct-reporting staff)
  • managing (direct-reporting staff)
  • Senior roles will include more executive aspects:
  • developing policy
  • duty of care and corporate responsibility
  • formulation of direction and strategy
  • You will find that you can cluster most of the tasks on your (initially very long) list into a list of far fewer broad (but still specific) responsibilities according to the above examples of typical job description activity areas.

Obviously the level of authority affects the extent of responsibility in the job description for determining strategy, decision-making, managing other people, and for executive roles, deciding direction, policy, and delivering corporate performance.
Wherever possible refer the detail of standards and process to your ‘operational manual’ or ‘agreed procedures’ or ‘agreed standards’ rather than allowing the job description to become a sort of operating manual. If your boss or employer is asking for you to detail your tasks at length in a job description, encourage him/her/the organisation to put this level of detail into an operational manual – it will save a lot of time.
Writing or re-writing a job description is a good opportunity to frame the role as you’d like it as well as reflect how it is at the moment, so try to think outside of the normal way of thinking, and if this is difficult seek the input of somebody who is less close to things.

Job descriptions are important

Job descriptions improve an organisation’s ability to manage people and roles in the following ways:

  • clarifies employer expectations for employee
  • provides basis of measuring job performance
  • provides clear description of role for job candidates
  • provides a structure and discipline for company to understand and structure all jobs and ensure necessary activities, duties and responsibilities are covered by one job or another
  • provides continuity of role parameters irrespective of manager interpretation
    enables pay and grading systems to be structured fairly and logically
  • prevents arbitrary interpretation of role content and limit by employee and employer and manager
  • essential reference tool in issues of employee/employer dispute
  • essential reference tool for discipline issues
  • provides important reference points for training and development areas
  • provides neutral and objective (as opposed to subjective or arbitrary) reference points for appraisals, performance reviews and counselling
  • enables formulation of skill set and behaviour set requirements per role
  • enables organisation to structure and manage roles in a uniform way, thus increasing
  • efficiency and effectiveness of recruitment, training and development, organisational structure, work flow and activities, customer service, etc
  • enables factual view (as opposed to instinctual) to be taken by employees and managers in career progression and succession planning


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