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Is it time to ditch job descriptions?

Posted on 18/08/2016 by


It seems that within some sectors, this could be the case. Recent research published by UCL School of Management suggests that a different approach to recruitment may be needed, as working practices become more digitalised and the pace of change increases.

The research suggests that rather than hiring people who match a set job description, it could be better for organisations to recruit high performing people who will be able to create their own job specification.

Job descriptions have traditionally been seen as a strict guideline to go by when looking to hire an employee. With a concise list of tasks and objectives, the employee knew what they were being hired to do and what they had to achieve. It also means that for employers, job descriptions can form a foundation for interview questions and performance management. Clear descriptions can also highlight areas in which the employee may be in need of further training or skills development.

Although using job descriptions has its advantages, it seems that they may be falling out of favour. This seems to be the trend originating in countries such as Japan, where not using job descriptions is already a common practise. Job descriptions are rarely written and one of the most offensive things an employee could say is “that’s not my job”; you are hired as a member of the company as a whole rather than a specific team. Writing job descriptions seems an almost old-fashioned idea in small companies, or fast-paced organisations where everybody is presumed to be willing to “get stuck in” to help the company in its entirety, rather than being hired for a specific role.

Without a set job description, the employee also benefits from the freedom to create and adapt their own role. Teams are often more successful when individuals can choose which responsibilities they wanted to claim and which they deemed unnecessary or not useful. It is an employee-led approach to career development in which the employee decides what they want their job to be, which then makes them accountable and responsible for the tasks they wish to undertake. This in turn leads to greater job satisfaction and a lower staff turnover.

There are, of course significant drawbacks to not using set job descriptions within organisations. It could create problems for line managers or even result in legal issues as it becomes difficult to define the boundaries of a role and whether an employee is undertaking something they should or shouldn’t be doing. Without a hierarchy of job descriptions, it is also difficult to define and measure what additional work deserves a salary increase and/or promotion and it can be harder to match a job level to the tasks being undertaken.

At TPP, we do not recommend ditching job descriptions just yet as they are still the best way to clarify exactly what an organisation is looking for and evaluating candidates for that role, but there are compromises between getting rid of job descriptions all together and working towards a highly specific list of objectives.

When recruiting, rather than simply focusing on whether or not a potential employee matches a specific description, ask how they previously innovated in their last role, if they took on additional tasks, and try to get a gauge on how high performing they are and if they are a team player. Use a job description as a basis for recruitment, but be prepared to be open minded about where the role can develop, dependant on what the individual employee wants to achieve.

If you are looking for help and advice on how to write the perfect job description, please contact one of our specialist consultants at TPP on 020 7198 6000 or