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Friday, October 23, 2009

Writing Job Descriptions - Tips and Pitfalls

I've always been a fan of KISS. Not the 70's rock band with the face paint - but the bacronym for a very powerful principle: "Keep it simple, stupid." This principle has broad application, and most recently I've been thinking about it in the context of job descriptions and their respective job titles.

I have lots to say, so I'm going to muster up some real constraint here. First things first. Are job descriptions required? With one small exception, no! (The small exception refers to the Environmental Protection Agency Regulations, which requires them for jobs where employees handle hazardous waste.) But to be fair, there are some clear benefits of well-written job descriptions:

1. Legally, they can provide some defense in cases involving ADA or FLSA-related issues.

2. Need to do some recruiting? A job description can serve as the basis for articulating the overall purpose of the job and identifying the essential functions. It's one way of making sure that you've got consensus as to what's required. It allows you to more accurately benchmark the job against the market so that your pay package will be competitive. It provides potential candidates with a true sense of what the job is. (Trust me, it makes the recruitment process a heck of lot more effective.)

3.Do you really want to manage performance? A job description can be the foundation for clarifying core expectations. And it can be a great spring board for building out competencies and ultimately, career paths.

If you're convinced that developing job descriptions is a worthy investment of your time (or if your manager has told you that it is), then forge ahead, brothers and sisters. But arm yourselves with the KISS principle and stand firm in your mission to describe the job in all of its glory (or not, depending on the job).

Job descriptions should contain the following:

1. FLSA status (exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act)
2. Reporting relationships
3. Overall purpose
4. Essential functions
5. Minimum qualifications (be honest)
6. Working conditions
7. Physical demands
8. Disclaimer (indicating that the duties are subject to change and are not intended to be an all-inclusive list)
9. Dates and approvals

If you're going to do them, you'll need to keep them current. That's a strong motivator for keeping them simple. Don't make the mistake of confusing a job description with a mind-numbing list of tasks. Typically, three to five core functions should be sufficient. Indicate the approximate percentage of time that each comprises.

The Two Biggest Pitfalls to Avoid
If you apply this guidance will you have a good job description? Not necessarily. It's like building a house. Maybe your foundation is solid but you've got faulty wiring. I've seen hundreds of job descriptions and the predominant problems with most of them are two-fold: an inflated job title and exaggerated description of the essential duties.

1. Inflated or Meaningless Job Titles
If you've got a moment I'll divulge a true story. It illustrates the importance that people attach to their job title. (This is a nice way of pointing out that ego often trumps common sense.)

I once worked with someone who was promoted (translation: assigned) to a brand new role. Absent a title that seemed intuitive, someone came up with this one: Manager of Transformation. Do you know what the purpose of this job was? Neither do I. But I do recall that this person orchestrated a lovely ice cream social and was ultimately accountable for making sure that there was an air hockey table in the break room.

I thought it would be fun to share a few examples of audaciously silly job titles. Since one of my favorite quips is that "it's all been done before," it took me less than a nanosecond to discover a gem of website with a job title generator. Three clicks later I had three really superlative job titles:

Human Branding Specialist
Executive Enabler of Media Partnerships
Global Accountability Engineer

What do these have in common? More baloney than the lunchmeat factory!

Tip: Call it what it is. If you don't know quite what to call it, focus on the kinds of jobs that your target candidates may have right now. If you need to hire a bookkeeper, don't call it an Assistant Accounting Specialist.

2. Exaggerated Job Duties
Given a choice, I'd rather deal with a lousy job title than a lousy job description. When I benchmark jobs for clients against survey data, I typically ignore the title altogether and dive right into the description. The words don't lie. Or do they? I've found that it can take a strong cup of coffee, two reviews of the job description, the help of a colleague and a serious reading between the lines to get to the truth. I suspect it's our proclivity to sugar-coat more than just our breakfast cereal.

Tip: Choose your action words carefully. Using words such as "responsible for" is too non-specific. Using words that inflate the job duty are equally as dangerous. If you describe the job duties of the warehouse worker as "managing," how will you differentiate the job of a true manager? Here are some sample action verbs to get you thinking: administers, authorizes, carries, coordinates, counts, estimates, files, modifies, procures, records, services, transfers, writes, etc.

Whew! Ready to give it a go? Just remember to use honest language so that you can keep it real. And keep it simple.

Authored by Sandy Turba

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Preparing for the H1N1 (Swine Flu) Pandemic

The World Health Organization declared swine flu a pandemic in June. Here we are in October, spurred to action by months of news reports, the impending availability of a vaccine and the realization that if we haven't done so yet, we'd better prepare.

Government officials estimate that up to 40% of the U.S. workforce will be affected by the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu. While this isn't suggesting that 4 out of every 10 of your employees will get the virus, the reality is that those employees - even if they don't get sick - may be the caregivers for family members who do.

Are you ready? Check our list below. We've got some helpful tips and resources to help you increase your readiness.

1. Change your sick leave policies so that workers who are ill are encouraged to stay home until they are well - without fear of impact to their job. This is a good time to review your absence and leave policies. Do they reflect your actual practice? Are they compliant with state and federal workplace laws such as state leave of absence or sick leave laws and FMLA? Update them, communicate them to all employees, and re-educate your managers.

Consider adding the following to your absenteeism policy:

"In the judgment of [name of company/organization], if an employee poses a risk to their own health or the health of other employees or customers based on a medical determination of a communicable illness, they will be asked to stay home and placed on sick leave or medical leave of absence until the threat has passed. If an employee disputes this determination, they must submit a statement from their attending health care provider that such risk does not exist. The company/organization reserves the right to seek a second opinion in that case. In carrying out this policy, the company/organization will comply with all applicable statutes and regulations protecting the privacy of personal medical information."

2. Encourage employees to get vaccinated for both seasonal influenza and H1N1, if it is appropriate for them according to CDC recommendations. (See Vaccines for the seasonal influenza can help prevent illness from influenza strains that may circulate at the same time as the 2009 H1N1 flu. Consider granting employees time off from work to get vaccinated for the H1N1 flu when the vaccine is available. Hospitals and clinics in many communities will be offering vaccines - some free of charge. Post information on these offerings in common areas to remind employees of the availability.

3. Educate employees about preventing the flu. Make sure that written or posted materials are in a format that is easy for all employees to understand. Make an extra effort to promote hygiene in the work environment. Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and disposable towels for employees to clean common surfaces. Increase the schedule for sanitizing surfaces that are frequently touched. This could include door handles, telephones, hand railings, tables, eating areas, and restrooms. Provide workers with up-to-date information on influenza risk factors, protective behaviors such as cough etiquette, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, and hand hygiene.

4. Instruct employees who are well (but who have an ill family member at home with the flu) that they can go to work as usual. If these employees become ill, they should notify their supervisor and stay home. Employees who have a certain underlying medical conditions or who are pregnant should call their health care provider right away if they become ill.

5. Be flexible where possible to allow employees to work from home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools close.

6. When possible, minimize face-to-face contact between employees. Consider the use of such strategies as extended use of e-mail, websites and teleconferences instead of face to face meetings and air travel. Encourage flexible work arrangements as a way to reduce the number of employees who must be at the work site at the same time or in one specific location.

7. If an employee does become sick while at work, have a separate room or area (away from other employees) available to them until they can go home. If the employee needs to go into a common area prior to leaving, he or she should cover coughs/sneezes with a tissue or wear a face mask if available. Ask the employee to go home as soon as possible. Employees should stay home from work until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.

8. Identify coverage options for critical business operations. Determine how your remaining staff will assume additional responsibilities while coworkers are out ill. Assess internal skills and identify outside staffing firms that can supply temporary talent if needed. Cross train employees for potential coverage needs.

Want more information? Check out the Business Planning section at

Then take a deep breath (with or without your face mask). Once you've done what you can to prepare, you've taken control as best you can. After all, you know what they say about an ounce of prevention.

Authored by Dave Waldorf

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