Federal Manager's Daily Report

MSPB: excessive standardization of job descriptions increases organizational risk.

Thirty percent of federal employees said in a recent survey that they believe that their position descriptions do not accurately reflect their job duties, the MSPB has said, saying that one reason could be “excessive standardization” of those documents.

In a recent publication, it said that because of cutbacks in recent years in the number of position classification specialists, agencies “began to rely more heavily on standard PDs that managers could certify with little or no input from HR staff.” It said that in that survey, its 2016 merit principles survey, 81 percent of supervisors, managers and executives said they used standard PDs to a moderate or great extent.


“Standardization makes sense for jobs that are populous, stable, and homogeneous. But for jobs that are diverse or dynamic, standardization can introduce a risk that the organization misses something important about a particular position–and “pre-classification” eliminates the step that could surface discrepancies between paper and reality,” MSPB said.

Another reason for that view, it said, is that “the assistance managers receive with position classification may be inadequate.” In the survey, only 58 percent of agency leaders said they received assistance in classifying positions from their HR office to a moderate or great extent, while 17 percent said they did not receive any such help.

Only 3 percent of HR specialists responding to a 2011 survey reported spending more than half of their time on position classification duties, and 73 percent reported spending no time on classification, it noted. “Not surprisingly, one result appears to be reduced management access to expert advice on issues of job design and position classification.”

“There could, of course, be other reasons why an organization’s PDs are inaccurate–from management neglect or ignorance to attempts to save time in the short term. Given the number of processes that rely on accurate PDs, spending time ensuring accuracy will certainly pay off in the long run,” it said.