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Drawing up a Job Description

Article written by Veechi Curtis

In New Zealand, you’re required by law to provide every employee with a job description, and a very good idea that rule is too. After all, how on earth can your employees ever hope to do what you want if they don’t know what they’re meant to be doing? That’s why it pays to supply every employee with a job description, even if you live in Australia and they’re not mandatory.

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If you’re not sure how to write a job description, don’t worry. The bare bones of a job description are simple:

Start with the title of the Position. (This clause is mandatory in New Zealand.) Include enough information in the title so that it indicates the nature of the work as well as the level. Be careful with the words you choose. For example, don’t give someone the title of ‘Manager’ unless you’re prepared to delegate and let that person actually be a manager

Specify who that person reports to. If this person is below someone else in the pecking order, make it clear from the start.

Write one sentence that describes the purpose of that person’s role.

State how many hours a week the job involves, as well as any non-standard conditions such as weekend work, working in very hot or very cold environments, or heavy lifting.

List the Duties that the job involves. (This clause is mandatory in New Zealand.) Itemise everything that person is responsible for doing, from opening the shop at the beginning of the day to putting the sign out, from preparing financial reports to managing stock levels. For more senior roles, document the key responsibilities such as supervising staff, managing budgets and so on, instead of trying to capture every specific task. Outline the areas where the manager is allowed to delegate: ‘May authorise expenditure up to $500’ or ‘May call in casual staff to meet service demands’.

List the objectives or standards that you expect this employee to meet, and how often the position is to be reviewed. You may find this clause overkill if you’re a small business just getting started, but on the other hand, setting objectives and standards does pave the way for clarity in any relationship (although handing your nearest and dearest a list of objectives and things may not go so well). For example, if you include Debt Collection as part of the duties of a bookkeeper, then you could include an objective such as ‘Ensure no more than 5 per cent of debtor accounts are more than 90 days overdue’.

List what qualities you’re looking for. Tall, dark and handsome? No, not quite. Instead, list both the essential and the desirable qualifications, skills and experience required. Also be sure to include key behaviours that you’re seeking, such as ‘strong customer service focus’ or ‘initiative and ability to work independently’.  (You can see a sample job description for a bookkeeper at our Bookkeeper Job Description page.)

Remember! Make sure your job description allows you room to move. Specifically, in New Zealand, the employment agreement must refer to the job description in one of two ways. The agreement can either say 

  ‘The Employee shall perform the duties set out in the Job Description attached to this agreement’ 

 or the agreement can say

  ‘The Employee shall perform the duties set out in the Job Description attached to this agreement. These duties may be modified and updated by the Employer from time to time following agreement with the Employee. The Employee also agrees to perform all other reasonable duties and comply with reasonable instructions issued by the Employer.’
 
Guess which clause I recommend? Yes, the second one, where you as the employer retain the power to modify the duties in the job description. I recommend you include this clause in every employment agreement (or in the job description itself if you don’t have an agreement), regardless of which side of the Tasman you live.
 
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