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Disregard Job Descriptions (At Your Peril)

If your practice/staff functions flawlessly, you can stop reading now. Experience tells me many doctors and staff are under the impression that a static list of duties establishes a job description. It does not. The following is a breakdown of what a job description is and the importance of having one.

Purpose. The purpose of a job description is to optimize staff value and allow employees to self-manage tasks in the office. Job descriptions are a valuable resource in recruiting, job interviews, compensation, training, employee evaluation and job outcomes. It also offers documentation to support discipline/termination and advancements/promotions. Well-defined job descriptions are just as much a benefit for employers as they are for employees. Almost every employment action revolves around a clear, documented job description.

Definition. Specifically, a job description is a written document/statement that does just what its name infers. It describes a job. It outlines all relevant information about a job, the associated expectations and specific duties. Distinct job descriptions should be created for each position in the office.

How To Create A Job Description

If you have never personally created a job description before and do not know where to start, here is a helpful guide. Well-composed job descriptions should include all of the following …

1. A targeted position title 

• Name of employee and date he or she started

• Include who the employee is to report to and who will supervise his or her job activities

2. Broad definition of the position and requirements

• A general description, purpose and objective of the position. You may choose to describe the specific delineation of duties in an attachment or later page.

• The degree of expertise or skill, knowledge, abilities and experience required to perform the job functions.

• Personal characteristics important to the job such as attention to detail, cheerful personality, integrity, etc.

• Job limitations (makes no independent office policy)

• Continuing educational requirements such as certification, CPR training, X-ray technology safety, etc. Please note who will assume financial responsibility for this training. 

• Training and performance review expectations

• Anticipated hours, wages and benefits

3. Key functions, duties and responsibilities of the job

• Provide a current list of duties. Outline principal requirements and additional responsibilities.

• Describe and explain any job sharing tasks.

• It is helpful to have existing staff create this initial list based on the jobs they currently do and then edit accordingly.

• Does this position legally justify “exempt” or “non-exempt” status?

• If travel to multiple satellite offices is necessary, include that fact. Leave nothing for a future surprise.

4. Physical requirements

• For example, one must be able to bend to take X-rays and participate in moderate office maintenance, assist patients on and off chairs, etc.

5. Disclaimer statement

• This is a statement that preemptively addresses the irritable “It’s not my job” lament, requiring additional employee initials:

“I understand that in addition to my designated responsibilities, this position includes participating in all shared tasks, stepping in to help coworkers with their assigned tasks when needed and carrying out any other task currently not listed in this job description as requested by the physician(s).”

6. Acceptance signature

• Signing signifies the employee’s understanding and consent to comply.

What Job Description Fears Might Employers Have?

Fear #1: This is the aforementioned “not my job” mentality. Typically, exceptional employees tend to work outside the boundaries of job descriptions, making this a non-issue. However, when introducing the identified responsibilities to staff, this “not my job” phrasing should be part of the conversation. In truth, it all starts with hiring the right people. Accordingly, one of the goals in hiring is to identify applicants with a strong work ethic, people who will not only do their jobs well but aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves to help others as well.

Fear #2: Some employers feel having a list of defined job duties puts limitations on what employees can accomplish on their own. In other words, they would do a lot more if they were they not restricted to a specific duties list. This is a great problem to have. Employers can and should update job descriptions as the employee grows in the practice or if the position responsibilities alter. If it is clear an employee can take on more responsibility, that is a discussion worth having.

Potential Consequences Of Not Having A Job Description

1. Anticipated job duties become overlooked, outcomes may be jeopardized and employees end up doing what they want to do rather than what they are supposed to do. 

2. It is unclear who does what. If it is a tossup, then typically, the stronger personality offloads tasks on the more timid. As a result, the chaos and disproportionate work effort creates confusion, inefficiency, resentment, or a disgruntled and ever-changing staff.  

3. Without having job descriptions to guide performance reviews, employee evaluations become unfair and based on how much the employer likes and/or dislikes an employee rather than on proven outcomes and accomplishments.

Final Notes

Do yourself, your practice and your staff a favor. Create, update and discuss job descriptions. Want to go one step further? Let staff show their true teamwork capabilities by allowing them to be part of creating updated job descriptions. They will likely provide first-hand information. If now is not the perfect time to do this, then when?

Ms. Homisak is the President of SOS Healthcare Management Solutions in Federal Way, WA.  She completed a Health Coach Training Program from the Institute of Integration Nutrition, and received Certification as a Holistic Health Practitioner from the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

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