The Long Term Employee
Written by Sophie McGowan SIAG
Keeping Position Descriptions updated and accurate
Key functions should be listed, and consideration given to the level
importance and proportion of time to be spent on particular tasks.
The value of accurate position descriptions, or PDs, cannot be underestimated – for both employers and employees. And just as reviews of policies, contracts and employee performance must be timely and regular, it is also vital to ensure that PDs are up to date.
An employer should ensure that PDs are developed for employees at every level of
an organisation. While they generally do not form part of an employee’s contractual terms, PDs are frequently referenced within, and attached to, an employment contract or letter of offer.
The content of a PD will include the day-to-day tasks, responsibilities and expectations of a role. It should be clear enough to describe the job to somebody who has no prior knowledge of it, and specific enough for the employee to understand what has to be done.
For example, a dot point stating ‘Payroll’ is not sufficiently clear, but if a description is included, such as ‘Entering employee data into payroll system’, an employee can understand what is expected of them.
SOME FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN WRITING A PD INCLUDE:
- What are the minimum qualifications for the role?
Consider required levels of education and experience, and also any ‘preferred’ qualifications.
- What other skills are required?
Include ‘soft skills’ such as effective verbal communication, teamwork and problem solving.
- Where does the position fit within the organisation? Which role does it report to, and does it have any direct reports? Which department is it in?
- What are the duties and responsibilities of the role?
Key functions should be listed, and consideration given to the level importance and proportion of time to be spent on particular tasks. Include whether or not the role has any decision-making functions or whether it makes recommendations to a decision-maker. Are there any physical requirements for performing inherent tasks?
- What are the expected results to be accomplished and how often?
It is important to keep in mind that a PD should not be written with a particular individual in mind, but should describe the role that is operationally required.
A PD should be used at every stage of employment – starting with recruitment. An accurately worded and detailed document will not only attract the most appropriate candidates to a role, but will also be valuable to the people in an organisation who are involved in the hiring process, who will be able to match applicants against clear requirements. In addition to policies and contractual documents, a PD sets the clear expectations of a role from the outset.
Over the course of an employment relationship, a PD can play a role in assessing performance and results, monitoring and improving productivity and importantly, contributing to employee morale as a measure of achievements. Annual performance reviews are the ideal time to revisit an employee’s PD in consultation with them. As the person performing the tasks and responsibilities that are set out, they will know the role better than anyone else, and should be involved in the review process.
However, a cautionary approach must be taken to making any significant changes to a PD, whether at the employer or employee’s initiative. A change that alters the essential nature, or inherent requirements, of a role, might have significant and unintended consequences.
There is often a degree of flexibility for employers within employment contracts, modern awards and industrial instruments, so that an employer would potentially have the right to direct employees to perform duties within their skill set or to work at an alternative location should operational requirements change. However, the risks of changing the duties of a role to the extent that there is a change to its essential nature include claims of redundancy, unfair dismissal or breach of contract.
At law, if a change is made that changes the duties of a person’s role, a court may consider that the contract of employment has been terminated and that a new contract has commenced – even if an employee consents to the change.
For employees covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement, a change in duties would potentially affect the classification of their role within the applicable instrument. Even if unilateral changes by an employer to a PD do not essentially change the role, a lack of consultation and employee involvement runs the risk of employee dissatisfaction and low morale.
If a PD does not reflect the true requirements of a role, it will not align with operational and strategic priorities. From an employment perspective, there can be legal and other workplace consequences of not including PDs in regular and as-needs reviews of all HR related documents such as contracts, policies and industrial instruments. SIAG is available to assist in creating and updating PDs and to provide advice on how best to manage any workforce change processes.