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Position descriptions provide important information about the knowledge, training, education, and skills needed for each job. They prevent misunderstanding by communicating what employees need to know and do to successfully perform their jobs. This makes them essential documents for employees, supervisors, and the Human Resources Department.
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Every position in the City should have a position description describing that specific job. Supervisors are responsible for creating and maintaining up-to-date position descriptions.
- Updates: Supervisors should review and update position descriptions for their employees at least once a year. We encourage you to involve your staff in position description updates.
- Communication: Supervisors should share and discuss position descriptions with employees during onboarding and the Employee Check-in Process. Any time a position description is changed, supervisors should meet with employees to share and discuss the update and associated performance expectations.
- Record-keeping: Supervisors should keep copies of all position descriptions, including older versions. The older versions allow the supervisor and Human Resources to see how a position has changed over time.
- Position studies: Supervisors need to keep track of changes that occur to a position by comparing old and updated position descriptions. If a position undergoes change in more than 25% of the duties and responsibilities, or if the focus of the position changes, then the supervisor should request a position study from Human Resources.
- Recruitment: Supervisors need to review and update position descriptions before the recruitment process begins. The job announcement is based on the duties and responsibilities outlined in the position description. If you know an employee is leaving, meeting with them to discuss and update their position description can give you a head start on this.
Purpose of Position Descriptions
Hiring and recruitment
An accurate position description helps Human Resources recruit qualified candidates. It serves as the basis for determining minimum qualifications and the appropriate classification for a job. The list of duties and responsibilities in a job announcement comes from the position description. While classification specifications provide a general listing of duties and responsibilities, they should not be used for recruitment purposes as it can lead to an inaccurate description of the open position. Having an accurate position description is key to creating accurate job announcements and attracting applicants.
It can also be a reference as you develop interview questions based on the knowledge, skills, and abilities a candidate would need to be successful.
For example, if an agency is filling a payroll clerk position but the class specification is used for the job announcement, then the job announcement will include potentially unrelated responsibility for purchasing, licensing, Legistar, and other duties. Potential applicants who have experience with payroll but are not as confident or interested in the other areas may not apply for the position.
Position descriptions help supervisors communicate about the duties and responsibilities of a job with employees. Employees also appreciate knowing what is expected of them in their jobs. The position description is the key document in many performance management conversations. Supervisors can take the duties and responsibilities detailed in the position description and clarify expectations based on those specific tasks.
For example, the position description for a Police Report Typist may indicate responsibility for typing police reports, editing reports, and ensuring accuracy. The supervisor can then establish expectations with employees on the quantity and quality of this work. They might determine that a Police Report Typist should generally type a minimum of 10 reports in an 8-hour shift with no more than two errors.
Classification and compensation
The position description is essential to Human Resources in determining whether a position is classified in an appropriate compensation group. Positions are assigned to classifications based on the responsibilities and associated requirements, including minimum training, education and experience needed.
An accurate position description allows Human Resources to compare the duties and responsibilities assigned to a position with the duties and responsibilities described in job classifications. This comparison happens during the hiring process and position studies. If a position description is inaccurate or out of date, it can cause the errors in classification. This can also cause a chain reaction of inaccurate classifications as positions are compared with each other, and inaccurate position studies are used in those comparisons.
Equity is also an important purpose for creating and maintaining position descriptions. Documenting the requirements and responsibilities of specific jobs supports equitable hiring, employee development, and distribution of work. Questions to help supervisors analyze position descriptions through an equity lens include:
- Are responsibilities equitably distributed in the work unit?
- Have I considered the input of relevant staff?
- Does the distribution of responsibilities allow for equitable opportunity for employee advancement in the future?
Writing Position Descriptions
The difference between job classifications and position descriptions
All city positions are organized into citywide classification specifications. They describe the general knowledge, training, education, and skills needed for each class title across multiple agencies. Classification specifications are very general, but the position description is specific to each agency and job within it.
For example, the class specification for an Administrative Clerk 1 describes broad responsibility for payroll, purchasing, Legistar activities, licensing, and other areas. However, an Administrative Clerk 1 in the City’s Finance Department will have some similarities and some differences from an Administrative Clerk 1 in the Engineering Division. Even within an agency, Administrative Clerk 1 staff in different units may have different responsibilities. The position description is custom to each Administrative Clerk 1.
Writing for the job, not the individual
Position descriptions are based on the requirements of a job, not the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a specific person. It can be hard to separate the two.
A supervisor may be tempted to add responsibilities to a high‑performing employee. However, this could cause problems with classification in the future. They could create overlap with other people in the agency who have similar responsibilities. The added duties may also require the job to reclassified at higher pay and level than is actually needed for the agency to do its work.
Supervisors should also not rewrite a position description for a low-performing employee. Removing tasks and areas of responsibility could result in a position reclassification at a lower compensation range. You may have to add or reclassify another position to pick up the slack. Refer to our Performance Management Resources if you have an employee who is not meeting expectations.
Are you having difficulty focusing on the job requirements instead of a specific person? Pretend that the employee has just given you their two-week notice. Write the position description with a focus on the responsibilities, knowledge and skills that you would expect from a new employee. Base your lists on your agency’s needs, and not “nice to have” skills.
Supervisory Analysis Forms
If a position has supervisory responsibility, a Supervisory Analysis Form needs to be filled out and attached to the position description. This form is considered part of the position description.
Who is a supervisor?
A supervisor is generally defined as an employee who has authority and uses independent judgment to hire, transfer, suspend, layoff, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or to “effectively recommend” such actions to a higher-level authority. A supervisor is also usually the first level of resolution of employee disputes or grievances.
An employee does not need to have authority in every area and does not need to exercise authority on a regular basis to be considered a supervisor. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) takes a broad look at whether an employee is a supervisor. They look at the area(s) of authority, whether the employee has full responsibility in exercising the authority or "effectively recommends" actions, the number of employees supervised, the level of pay of the supervisor compared to the employees supervised, whether the employee primarily supervises an activity (not a supervisor) versus supervising employees, the amount of time spent supervising, and the amount of "independent judgment" exercised in the supervision. Taylor County, Dec. No. 24261-F (WERC, May, 1998). Human Resources also takes those factors into consideration when deciding if an employee is a supervisor.
"Independent judgment" and "effectively recommend" are a couple of key phrases to be considered when determining whether a position is supervisory.
Supervisors are usually assigned multiple projects and deadlines, with limited instructions. They have to develop work plans, manage projects, assign specific individuals to carry out the tasks, develop and adjust priorities, and balance various issues. If a project is not finished on time or up to standards, the supervisor is directly responsible and accountable for that outcome.
Leadworkers are given assignments and have the authority to assign work to employees. However, the scope of their assignment is usually narrower. Their assignment may be limited to a single shift, or week, or project. The leadworker is generally expected to follow specific instructions given and if problems arise, to call the supervisor for assistance.
Supervisors may not have direct authority to carry out all of the listed areas of responsibility. For example, they may not be able to make a hiring decision without reviewing the process with their Department or Division Head, or “appointing authority.” However, if the appointing authority generally agrees with their recommendations, then the employee “effectively recommends” hiring decisions and should be considered a supervisor.Similarly, an employee may not be able to issue disciplinary actions against other employees without discussing the issue with a higher-level manager. However, if that manager generally agrees with the recommendations, then the employee “effectively recommends” disciplinary action and should be considered a supervisor.
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