The Consequences of Not Having a Job Description

We believe strongly in the importance of job descriptions, which made a recent situation all the more painful. One of us had never written a job description for the babysitter. And boy, has there been a price to pay!  Here’s the story:

Writing a job description for a simple sitter role seemed ridiculous. For crying out loud, the job is so simple:

  • feed the baby
  • get him to sleep
  • keep him clean
  • nurture his development.

That’s it. So why in the world would we need a job description?

Without a solid job description, my spouse and I failed to be explicit with our expectations. For example, our current sitter clearly didn’t understand how important nurturing the child’s development is compared to the basic needs caretaking. We’ve now rectified this by categorizing responsibilities and giving time allocations:

  • 50% basic needs
  • 40% growth and development

And the other 10%? That is the category of child/home support with specific responsibilities like picking up toys, putting dirty baby linens in the laundry room, etc. Apparently, we needed to state these because they often were not happening.

Of course, our expectations extend beyond the tasks that the sitter is expected to perform. There are additional behaviors that are critical for this role:

  • exercising sound judgment
  • accepting personal accountability
  • being loving with the baby
  • being focused on the needs of others
  • being dependable.

These behavioral competencies tell “the rest of the story” of what is expected.

The impact has been that my spouse and I had been disappointed, frustrated and even angry on a regular basis. I found myself saying, “She just doesn’t get it!” We had tried various ways to explain what we expect and give her guidance on that, but nothing worked. Then we went through the process of developing a job description and presented it to the sitter. She was stunned. We didn’t need to give her much performance feedback. When she read the job description she quickly saw the huge gap between her job performance and our expectations.

It was painful for all of us, not to mention terribly awkward. But now we’re on a better path. The baby is getting better care. My spouse and I are much more satisfied and our relationship has improved with the sitter. She has grown as a caretaker and is more confident and satisfied in the role.

As we’ve shared this journey, we’ve found ourselves thinking about clients who are frustrated with an employee. Sometimes the frustration stems from the employee not having the skills for the job or the will to perform it at a high level. More often than not, however, the employee doesn’t really understand the expectations of the employer. How fair is that to the employee? How much frustration from all parties could be avoided if the expectations were clearer?

We have heard clients say the same thing that we said about our sitter role: “The job is so simple! A job description is absolutely unnecessary!” And then they’re disappointed when the employee didn’t read their mind. The employer found themselves in an awkward situation because they weren’t clear about the expectations to begin with.

Now more than ever, we are committed to job descriptions. For every job. Even those that seem simple. A clear job description that outlines the responsibilities, the approximate time allocation, and the behavioral competencies is critical.

If you’re curious about how the job description for the sitter turned out, you can see it here. A more robust job description that may be a meaningful template for you is here. And if you’d like help creating or improving your job descriptions (including incorporating Performance Requirement Options™ or the PRO), give us a call.