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HR 101 – What to do When . . . You Need to Compile a Job Description – Part 1

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Relations and Best Practices.

In my experience, one of the greatest challenges in any small business is getting the paperwork right, particularly in the HR arena.

Issues of paperwork seem to pale into insignificance, when the focus is on getting the sale of the product or service, in order to ensure that there are sufficient funds at the end of the month to pay the bills.

Ironically, it is the lack of proper “paperwork” that usually becomes the downfall of the Company and this is especially true when it comes to the HR side of the business.

Landing up at the CCMA, with a difficult staff member, who has all the weight of the law behind them, because you – as the business owner – have not put all the requirements in place, could mean the demise of your business as the fines paid will eat into your hard-earned cash flow. Some businesses and business owners never recover.

Ensuring that your staff have been notified, in writing, of their job descriptions and their duties is a legal requirement. The law is there to actually protect the employer as well as the employee. That perhaps is the first thing that we all need to understand.

The next thing that we all need to understand, is the difference between a “Job Description” and the “Duties” of the employee. Most people that I come into contact with seem to think that it is one and the same – beware – it isn’t.

A job description is exactly that – it describes the job.

Employee duties are exactly that, it describes the duties that the employee is expected to perform.

Let me simplify this a little more for you. In some companies, particularly small businesses, an employee may be expected to perform several duties, for example, Jane Doe, may be employed as the PA and the Bookkeeper and she may also be responsible for shipping and sales as well. So her duties (which is what goes onto the letter or contract of employment) are that of PA, Bookkeeper, Shipping clerk and sales assistant. Therefore Jane Doe actually should have four different Job Descriptions – one for each of the duties that she performs and despite the fact that there may be “overlaps” on each one of them – in this instance for, example, she may be required to liaise with clients for issues pertaining to each individual duty, the fact remains that they are four extremely different jobs and each one must have their own Job Description.

In a big Corporate, often there is one Job Description for several employees. Take for example a company that has several hundred sales assistants. Each assistant would have the duties of a “Sales Assistant” on their letter of appointment, but there would only be one Job Description involved and that would be the Job Description of a Sales Assistant.

Writing Job Descriptions for me is not a difficult thing, but then that is because of the way that my brain is wired, however, it has become increasingly evident that for others it is one of the most difficult and challenging things to write – especially if the person writing it has no knowledge of what the actual job entails. For example, George is an extremely talented designer and if asked could probably tell you to the nearest cm, how much fabric is required to make a particular garment. That said, George in all probability would have no clue how to run a set of books properly. Oh don’t get me wrong George would understand the basics of how to cost the garment and what have you, but the “nuts and bolts” of bookkeeping would not only bore him to tears, it is something that he would not understand. Could you, therefore, imagine George writing a Job Description for the bookkeeper that he would need to employ?

In the big Corporate Companies, the person writing the job description is usually the Line Manager, and it would be written in conjunction with the HR Manager. The Line Manager would understand and have experience in every aspect of the job or position that he would like fulfilled and the HR Manager would have the experience of how to put those requirements into a Job description. In a small business, the business owner is usually the one who does everything that needs to be done, often without fully understanding all the requirements of the job as is evidenced by George the talented designer.

Next time, I will list some of the basic requirements.