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The Job Evaluation Process: A BIG Hinderance, Not a Help. What should be done? Part 1

This article is Part 1 of 3. Watch for Part 2 to post this Thursday, February 16th.

Don Busi

An overlooked and frankly ignored tool that could improve the productivity of any large organization, especially for the Public Sector, is a robust job evaluation process. A job evaluation process or system attempts to measure the difficulty, complexity, and demands of a job and assigns points to the “work” based upon established criteria. (Most of the time the criteria are described as “Factors.”) Points are assigned to a job based upon someone analyzing the duties and responsibilities of a position. The more points a position has in relation to other positions in the organization, the higher the base salary. A position merits more points than another position, because the duties and responsibilities require more knowledge, keener judgment, or more difficult decisions than another position. While a job evaluation system may not make sense for every company or government entity, it lends itself to large, bureaucratic organizations—federal and state governments and mid-sized to large corporations, particularly where a number of employees perform the same duties and responsibilities.

Some supervisors, but also some employees, managers and union officials view a job evaluation system as an inflexible control process that retards progress and innovation. To many within an organization, it is a mysterious and convoluted process. Such misconceptions and fears are sometimes understandable, yet the true benefits of an effective job evaluation system to a company or to a public agency are real, but certain conditions must exist for the job evaluation process to be effective and valued.

Not without costs…Not to be trusted
Granted, a viable and creditable job evaluation system is costly to develop and to maintain and is a drain on Human Resources. A Job Analyst from Human Resources must receive extensive training on the particular job evaluation system used—the different factors and the application of the compensable factors to the actual work to be assigned and performed. A Job Analyst must be skilled in analyzing, asking questions and gathering, compiling and organizing information. Furthermore, a Job Analyst must be intimately familiar with the work of the company or organization. This also means that a Job Analyst must be knowledgeable of work processes and data systems with which employees interface in the performance of their duties. Finally an effective job evaluation program will require the time of “in-house” experts to assist the Job Analyst from Human Resources in analysis and evaluation. So a job evaluation program is often a drain on “operational-staff” experts. To be sure Human Resources is sometimes looked upon as overhead or staff, and while recruiting, training, and payroll services are seen by supervisors, employees and union officials as “the good side of HR,” those HR Specialists primarily involved in “job evaluation” are sometimes looked upon with a “jaundiced eye.”

In particular, first line supervisors have their own set of gripes over the job evaluation process. They see the process as inflexible. They often view the position description as a document that reflects “the past.” Supervisors are told to be proactive and take the initiative, and excellent supervisors will do whatever it takes to achieve the mission and be successful. They will not be constrained by a document “issued by Human Resources.” Furthermore, a supervisor is frustrated when he or she has an employee who can do more and excel beyond what is prescribed in the position description, but the supervisor has been cautioned by HR that employees cannot be assigned tasks and responsibilities “outside” their position description.

The entire job evaluation process seems counter-intuitive to the quick response needed in today’s business and government environment. Often supervisors must adapt to technological changes and workload shifts, so they must change how the work is done and who does what. Changes creates uncertainty. Questions arise. Is an increase in workload or the need to use a “new” query system impactive on the worth of a position? A supervisor might think so. For example, a change from “paper” reporting to on-line exception reporting might be a big change for a work unit, but such a change does not really impact “the difficulty factor” of positions enough to warrant a change in points and therefore, a change in salary. Furthermore, the job evaluation process is slow to react to such shifts. The Federal GS classification system, for years, has been criticized for being ponderous, bureaucratic, and static.

Employees also see little value in the job evaluation system. The eager, new employee will read his/her position description and consider that to excel, he/she needs to work beyond what is in the position description. Sometimes the reality is that these “go-getters” with initiative are given “higher level” assignments still at a lower salary level, while other, higher salaried “poor performers” continue to receive their pay and are spared the more complex assignments. Or, employees with initiative and capabilities are told they cannot be assigned such work because their position description prohibits such assignments. In either case, employees are skeptical that the job evaluation process is a good thing. Some “go-getters” might see the process as part of government’s inflexibility and a management process that fosters the status quo.

Middle and executive management see a value of the process, primarily as a lid against rising labor costs; however, they too will sometimes view the process as ponderous and narrow-minded in meeting the changing demands of the marketplace or public sector. Human resources and the job analyst will seem to be the roadblock or the long straw in the change or strategic process. The job evaluation process operates not with a sense of urgency but rather as a brake on innovation and expediency.

Watch for Part 2 of this article (It Isn’t Pay, But it Can Uncover Skeletons) to post this Thursday, February 16th.

The Job Evaluation Process: A BIG Hinderance, Not a Help. What should be done? Part 2

The Job Evaluation Process: A BIG Hinderance, Not a Help. What should be done? Part 3

Don Busi is currently a part-time instructor at a local two-year college near Cleveland, OH. A retired Department of Defense and Office of Personnel Management (US CSC) employee: 20 years in financial management and 10 years in personnel management. Served as chief, classification and pay for 5 years in Cleveland with the DoD. Email: [email protected]

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