the sky floor

Job Descriptions Shouldn’t Be Meaningless

October 15, 2021

If you are a human, you or someone you know has been super disgruntled at work. While there are all sorts of reasons employees grow grumpy over time, no thorn sticks out so far as the irrelevant job description. 

Second only to the story of a cursed furry beast prince falling in love with a sweet townie girl, it is a tale as old as time; a bright-eyed employee agrees to a new position with a job description that sounds like their ideal position. But then the months move on, and bullet points that weren’t in the job description get tacked on, often completely obscuring the original job. 

“This wasn’t what I was hired for,” is a common refrain of waspish workers. Sadly, they are usually exactly right. 

The job description is the roadmap for the job, and while they cannot possibly be written on stone tablets from Mt. Sinai, it sets a firm expectation of what the job will require. Materially changing the description once employed is like re-routing a map to a new location you didn’t want to go to. 

In other words, expectations are set and broken. No one likes to have their expectations completely unmet. 

What’s the Solution

It is clear that a significant issue resulting in turnover is this gap between the job description and the on-the-job realities, but what is the solution? I have a few suggestions.

For Employees:

  • Stay honest with yourself and your boss about your job. When new things start getting tacked, be flexible but honest. 
  • Ask for more compensation if the new tasks materially change what your job is.
  • If you can’t imagine doing the new work for more than a short season, tell your company as soon as you can. They will refocus your job, or you can move on before you get angry and your report suffers.

For Employers:

  • Do not create job descriptions you don’t intend to keep. 
  • If there is a high chance the job description for a role will change over time, include the requirement and possibility!
  • Stay aware of how you are asking employees to bend outside of their original work agreements. 
  • Offer extra compensation when needed for additional work. 
  • Keep a low-pressure environment. Workers who feel coerced into taking on more or different responsibilities will not do good work. In the end, you will lose them to turnover, and it is way more expensive to onboard than keep current employees happy and engaged.

It can be super frustrating when job descriptions feel meaningless, but no matter which side of the desk you sit, there are ways to ensure the job bait and switch is a thing of the past. 

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