Generic or Non-Generic Job Descriptions?

By Sunoo, Brenda Paik | Personnel Journal, February 1996 | Go to article overview

Generic or Non-Generic Job Descriptions?


Sunoo, Brenda Paik, Personnel Journal


Today's HR professionals are required to have a vast amount of knowledge on a wide array of topics. Let PERSONNEL JOURNAL find the experts to answer questions on the personnel issues important to you. Your colleagues asked: What are the pros and cons of using generic job descriptions?

Charlie Jones, an adjunct professor of compensation management and labor relations at Boston University, says:

Have you ever heard the comment, "It's not my job"? I have, and when I heard it, I wondered how the person knew it wasn't his or her job. Did someone tell the individual, or did the person learn of the responsibilities through a job description? If so, what kind of description was it?

I believe the generic approach provides a better management tool than the specific approach because it's more flexible and easy to maintain.

Fortunately, several software and hardware products currently on the market provide generic descriptions to assist companies in creating job descriptions. One of the oldest, "The Dictionary of Occupational Titles," is a book that was originally published by the Department of Labor in 1949; it has since been published in newer editions. The descriptions usually require some tailoring to fit the individual organization, but such commercial products are a starting point and a viable, cost-effective alternative.

With a generic job description, one gains flexibility because the description addresses expectations and accountabilities and doesn't get into the details of how a task should be performed. As more and more companies try to improve their products and services, generic descriptions keep employees focused on results rather than tasks.

Generic job descriptions also are much easier to maintain because they don't have to be modified for minor changes in tasks. They can be used to cover employees performing the same function in different departments.

Although each organization is different and has its own approach to job descriptions, the purpose of a job description essentially is to serve as a communications vehicle. It should be the vehicle used to help describe a job to an applicant; facilitate communication between supervisors and employees concerning an employee's role in the organization; outline the principal expectations and specific accountabilities associated with the position and form the basis for performance reviews; and identify work flow.

Glenn Nosworthy, an industrial psychologist with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, says:

The amount of work required to write useful job descriptions has led some HR professionals to turn to generic cut-andpaste descriptions as an alternative. …

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