Why Managers Absolutely Hate to Write Job Descriptions

Every employee out there, no matter what their job, has certain tasks or responsibilities as part of their role that they enjoy doing.

Likewise, there are certain other aspects to the job that they .. enjoy quite a bit less.

Often their negative emotional reaction is strongly felt, and may be accompanied by an unprofessional facial expression.

A hard-and-fast certainty

I’ve worked in Human Resources my entire career, and personally have never liked being responsible for job evaluations. It’s a thankless task if ever there was one, and certain to impact the number of Christmas cards I received each year. But that’s another story.

Line managers have their own likes and dislikes as well, but it’s a hard-and-fast certainty that they don’t like to write job descriptions.

Why? Because they hate them, and will scowl at HR whenever they see us coming. We’re the folks who insist on bothering them with this administrative hassle.

Yep, that’s what most of them think. But why? What are the friction points that cause so many managers to grind their teeth when the subject comes up?

Many don’t see the point

Most view the writing of a job description as a make-work effort, when “everyone knows” the job already. So why do we need to fill out these forms, they grumble. Why do we have to write it down?

Or, why don’t you do it?

Many consider this onerous task as filling a need of Human Resources, not one of their own. So it’s not perceived as a necessity, not a priority and certainly the effort doesn’t help them. To be fair though, not everyone feels as strongly, but you’ll see this reaction often enough to sense a common behavior.

The formatting isn’t manager friendly

So-called HR “specialists” are always tinkering with the template form, seeking a better way to describe a job. But that “better” way usually results in a description preparation process that has grown overly long, tedious and a drudgery to follow.

After all, how many ways are there to describe the tasks and responsibilities of a job? Here is where HR consistently shoots itself in the foot, by making the simple more complex, the straightforward more convoluted and an easy recording job becomes a trying ordeal. At least that’s the way it looks from the manager’s perspective.

Some managers will take a different tactic and will hurry through the process, or will have the employees themselves do the work (a separate challenge), perhaps will ignore select sections of the form, will fail to properly complete others, etc. A real mess can be sent to HR. But it’s done!

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Rumor: Better writers get better deals

Managers don’t look at themselves as writers, and they can’t seem to shake the bias that better written job descriptions result in higher job evaluation or market pricing scores. “If only I could word this right,” is a common self-criticism, as if the reader takes every turn of phrase as gospel.

So another reason for delay is because they know they’re not very good at writing descriptions, so they put off starting — just like a homework assignment.

They have better things to do

This is the bottom-line criticism, the core reason from many a complaining manager; “I’m a manager; I have a department/business/empire to run. I don’t have the time to waste writing job descriptions.”

In other words, you do it  — and they don’t much care who the “you” is.

Not a pretty picture, is it? But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

In my next post, I’ll focus on how you can salvage this mess. You might not be able to turn a frown upside down, but you can create a more accepting environment for preparing appropriate descriptions with a process that everyone can live with.

Or, you could go another round with your line managers.

This was originally published at the Compensation Café blog, where you can find a daily dose of caffeinated conversation on everything compensation.

Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations.  He is also associated with several HR consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.


4 Comments on “Why Managers Absolutely Hate to Write Job Descriptions

  1. Now we get to the important suff — that stuff that makes everyone love HR.

    Chuck is silent on a central question — Do we really need job descriptions?

    In my experience once the JD/PD is written and approved, its filed and never opened until the manager or incumbent claims the job’s been changed. I know in managing compensation, they are not used. And when someone in training or staffing needs job info, they may read the PD but they end up meeting with incumbents to gain an adeqaute understanding of the job.

    Chuck is correct — the words and phrases are criical. A study done years ago showed the longer the job description the higher a job is graded.

    One key issue is that or more people draft a PD for the same job, there will be important differences. That’s obviously a problem.

    I realized along the way that someone at a cocktail party can describe their job in a minute or two. Investing hours is simply not adding value.

  2. In my last role we found that many managers, if you could even get them to write a job description, ended writing a laundry list of requirements that ended up looking a lot like them. For a couple of new roles we tried something different…we started with a design-thinking style Persona. Let’s describe the ideal from where “Sara” went to school to her career goals to how she likes her coffee. Then we moved to a survey that allowed us to identify the ideal behaviors we were looking for in this new role. Doing this after the Persona exercise freed us and the managers from thinking about what we have today and supported where we were going. The job description we ended up posting looked more like something marketing would write, not an endless bulleted lists of requirements that weeds out good potential candidates but a description that painted a picture of the environment and the role. We ended up with too many great candidates, which is a problem but I’ll take that one any day.

  3. Thanks Chuck,

    As someone who has worked on the “line-manager” side of the equation I can understand the push back against job descriptions.

    Most of the times these documents end up on someones shelf gathering dust. Line managers will balk at writing them if their is no use for them.

    As an entrepreneur and leader of people I now ask folks to write their own job description, in 1 page or less and focused on results.


    I am a steel saw operator and my job comprises 3 things. 1./ Safe operation 2./ Maximum uptime and 3./ Quality that meets the organizations strategic goals.

    Thats it. If they know those things I am happy.

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