Case Study - Job Descriptions

Case Studies - Job Descriptions

The case studies below look at the benefits of having comprehensive job descriptions in place. Good job descriptions not only provide clarity to the employee of what is expected of them and what standards are required, but they also give the employer a robust document to appraise employees when working well and to address poor performance. 

Good job descriptions can help employees self-manage. If someone is clear about what they need to achieve, they are more likely to strive for this and to the required standards. Most people want to do a good job, and a job description can help them achieve this.

Finally, good job descriptions can add to an employee's wellbeing (or a bad job description or no job description can detract from it). A source of stress for anyone can be a lack of clarity and/or understanding about what is expected from them.

You can use the Job Description template to prepare job descriptions. There is also an example Receptionists Job Description 

Case Study 1:

Susan joined the company 6 months ago as a sales administrator. Her job description states that the overall purpose of her role is to provide effective and efficient administration support to the sales team and to relieve them of administrative duties where possible (to allow them to focus on sales). The job description lists several specific duties and responsibilities and refers to several procedures that need to be followed. The job description explains why certain procedures are in place and the ‘consequences’ if the procedure is not followed.

During her first few months, Susan has focused on the duties and responsibilities and has learnt the procedures, using the job description as a reference point to make sure she is fulfilling the job role.

Susan is now preparing for her 6-month review. During her initial months and while learning her job role, she has identified areas where she believes improvements can be made to allow her to provide  more effective administration support and streamline some of the administration. As this is the key purpose of her role (as outlined in her job description), she wants to discuss this with her manager.

During her review, Susan and her manager discuss the job description and run through each area. Her manager confirms that she is fulfilling all areas and to the required standard. When Susan recommends some changes, her manager is delighted and sees this as a positive and proactive approach from Susan. Unfortunately, some of the changes are not appropriate, as Susan was not aware of how these would impact on other departments. However, her manager agrees that some of her suggestions should be explored further with a view to implementing them.

The changes are discussed with the sales team who are pleased that the administration processes would be streamlined further, and appropriate procedures are updated accordingly.

Because Susan was clear about the overall purpose of her job role, she was able to take a proactive approach and recommend improvements. Susan feels that she has made a real contribution and will continue to look for ways to make further improvements.

Her job description and purpose have not changed, she has just found more effective ways of delivering which adds value to the company. Her manager's willingness to listen to her ideas, explain why all her suggestions may not work, but to agree to explore and implement some of her suggestions, has given Susan a sense of achievement and confidence.

It goes without saying that she passed her probationary period with flying colours!

Case study 2:

Sam joined the Company 4 months ago as a receptionist, she is on a 6-month probationary period. When joining the Company, Sam completed the induction process which included confirmation that she had a copy of her job description and understood the duties she is required to undertake, and her manager discussed these with her.

Since joining, her manager has noticed that Sam tends to finish what she is doing before answering the phone and ignores visitors in reception when she is otherwise occupied. 

There have also been occasions when messages have not been passed on in a timely manner and incorrect details have been taken (e.g., telephone numbers or email addresses).

Sam has been spoken to about these sorts of issues several times. She is referred to her job description, and it is emphasised why the standards are important. Sam improves for a while, but soon slips back into these unacceptable habits.

Sam’s manager receives a call from a new customer asking why he has returned his call from 3 days ago. The customer also explained that when calling today, it took ages to get through and when he commented on this,  the receptionist,  she said she was busy because someone was off sick.

Sam also receives a complaint from a colleague who says that a potential new client had called, but the wrong telephone number had been taken down, and he was now having trouble contacting the prospect.

The manager decides to have a further conversation with Sam, as this is clearly unacceptable. To prepare for the discussion, the manager reviews the job description again. It clearly states that all calls should be answered professionally and within 10 seconds. The job description also outlines the consequences of not doing so including poor impression to callers and possible lost opportunities. The job description also set out that all messages must be passed on as soon as possible and within 15 minutes of the call and that they must be accurate. Messages should be passed on by email and include contact details of the person who called.  

The manager met with Sam and handed her a copy of her job description  and ask her to confirm that she was aware of the content and what was expected of her.  He then informed her about the complaint he had from the new client and from a colleague regarding the wrong contact details. He also discussed his observation that she does not answer the phone within 10 seconds, can ignore visitors until she has finished what she is doing.

Sam argued that she does answer the phone and does pass on messages and that the caller must have given her the wrong number, or they did not actually call! Her manager correctly points out that she is not meeting the standards out lined in her job description and that she has been spoken about similar problems in the past, and while there is an improvement for a short while, the standards then slip. He also points out the consequences, i.e., a new client had a very poor impression of the Company and potential loss of business.

After the meeting, the manager considered everything that has been said. He considered her responses during the meeting, i.e., that she made excuses and did not accept the feedback and blamed others, that she had a clear job description and was clear about what was expected, that had been spoken to on several occasions before (with an immediate improvement and then a decline).  He also considered the potential impact on business in terms of reputation and possible loss opportunity/business. He concluded that he did not feel it was in the best interest of the business to continue to employ Sam.

In this case study, the comprehensive job description provided documented evidence that Sam was not performing to the standards required of her role and allowed the manager to quickly and thoroughly address the situation.  

It is important to have comprehensive job descriptions in place that are not simply a list of duties but should include the frequency of the task, the standards required when carrying out those duties and the possible consequences if they are not carried out to these standards.  The job description can also refer to other procedures that may set out processes to be followed.

One of the excuses employees can make is that they were not told or did not know. A good job description will remove this excuse and allow you to focus on the actual performance or conduct.