This article, originally written in September 2013, was reviewed and updated by practice manager Fionnuala O'Donnell in June 2022.
Job descriptions and contracts of employment are often confused. A job description does not set out the terms of employment (pay, hours, annual leave and so on) but does describe what the practice expects the person in the post actually to do and achieve.
Having this set out in writing will make a host of HR management tasks much simpler. These include:
- Introducing a new post: everyone knows what the post is for and how it will impact on their own role.
- Newly promoted co-workers: both the promoted staff member and their colleagues understand their new role and responsibilities, making the process fair, transparent and more likely to succeed.
What's more, the CQC expects all staff to have proper job descriptions. You may be expected to produce these and other relevant personnel information during a CQC inspection.
Every team member in a GP practice will benefit from having a job description. This can include partners, especially if individual partners have specific responsibilities.
Each practice should have a copy of the job description for any PCN ARRS roles. The PCN will need to agree and decide how the ARRS roles work across the practices in the PCN and this won’t be detailed in the job description (the job description focuses on tasks that the post holder carries out).
The timetable and a summary of expected outcomes should be agreed with the individual and the PCN so that there is clarity of expectation around the role across the practices.
Why job descriptions are useful
Key situations where a job description is useful include:
Your recruitment policy should include the need for up to date job descriptions for all posts. A job description will form the basis of a good person specification (the knowledge, skills, education, experience and capabilities needed to do the job) so that the selection process will compare candidates in a fair and consistent way. This helps protect the practice from claims of discrimination.
Practice development plans
Job descriptions can help the practice in shaping its team to deliver services, the practice will identify changes to existing posts as well as need for new posts. At this point, job descriptions become a tool for effecting change.
Personal development plans
Staff appraisals as a review of performance and development are most effective when based on the job description; the job description can be updated and skills gaps identified.
A job description will make tackling poor performance much more effective. staff without a job description may reasonably claim that they do not know what is expected of them. Practices using an occupational health service to help manage staff whose health issues affect their capability will find that a job description will help define the outcome of the process.
Pay and bonuses
Practices who use their appraisal scheme to review pay and bonuses will find that job descriptions help define more clearly whether performance targets are being reached.
Writing a job description
Writing a job description from scratch can seem daunting, and although practices do vary, there is a lot of commonality between posts across practices. GP Business has a series of core job descriptions which can be used as a template to help you develop your own, practice-specific job descriptions.
The job descriptions should be regarded as a guide and framework rather than definitive. You can edit each job description to make it work for the requirements of the post in your own practice.
You will find that task-based posts such as practice nurse descriptions are simple to edit because, broadly speaking, you can amend the list of tasks to suit. Broader, more complex posts may vary more, such as practice manager, and some suggested sections in these job descriptions may not be relevant for that role in your practice.
Additional elements can legitimately and usefully be included in a job description:
- Special requirements/location: the size of many practices and the development of PCNs may now mean that any team member may be expected to work across multiple locations in the local area. Staff may well be required to see patients in their homes and this should be described. Terms relating to the use of car, insurance, reimbursement of expenses etc belong in the written terms in the contract of employment.
- Person specification: this helps objectively determine whether a candidate will be suitable for a post. Especially if recruiting internally, this will help both applicants and co-workers to see what skills, knowledge, qualifications, experience and capabilities are needed for the post. The recruitment process is then transparent. Both induction into the new post and (for the successful internal applicant) re-aligned relationships with former co-workers will be smoother.
- Proportion of time: it can be useful to put indicative time proportions on a job description. One task may take up just a few lines in a job description but is actually so key to the role that it will probably take up 50% of the time.
Regularly review job descriptions
Avoid the temptation to breathe a sigh of relief once you press ‘save’ on the new job description. The document should be updated at least annually as part of the appraisal process.
You want to have staff who are willing to cross-cover, learn new skills take on new tasks and generally work towards their own and the practice’s goals. Maintain informal reviews and dialogue during the year with your staff. Talk about what’s going well, problems, barriers, solutions and changes as an informal opportunity for review.
This helps with performance review and keeps the job description dynamic. It also helps avoid ‘that’s not in my job description!’ Additionally, this kind of discussion helps staff understand the difference between the terms in a contract and a job description.
After the discussion, see if the job description requires to be updated.
When to update job descriptions
- If the team’s structure changes
- When a co-worker’s job description is changed
- When a new post is introduced
- When a new service is introduced
- When a team member takes on a new task
- When posts are substantially changed or merged
- Keep the job description as clear and simple as possible.
- Avoid abbreviations and jargon.
- Describe the post, not the person in the post.
- Refer to other posts rather than other individuals.
- Put in clear accountability which is consistent with other posts on that level.
- Give the post a meaningful title. Especially when recruiting, a misleading post title will waste time and resource by attracting inappropriate candidates.
- Make the job description so brief and vague that it is not clear what the post holder will actually do.
- Make the job description so specific that it limits flexibility and opportunities
- Include responsibilities or tasks that belong in another post.
Why does this matter?
The absence of up-to-date job descriptions can have significant impact on the time a practice spends on managing staff issues. Here are some common situations you could avoid:
- Staff who say ‘nobody ever told me I was meant to do that’.
- Staff who say ‘I am unclear what is expected of me’.
- New staff who say ‘this job is not what I thought it would be’ and leave.
- Newly-promoted staff who are not up to the task.
- Resentful and discontented co-workers who feel they should have been given an internal post instead of the successful candidate.
- Poor performance you cannot effectively manage.
Fiona Dalziel is a practice management consultant