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Governance & Well-being:- Tackling the biggest contributor to Workplace Stress

23 Feb 2020 11:18 AM | Garth Borgelt

In my role with leadership,  organisational management, productivity improvement and cultural change in both the consulting and training areas, I am occasionally asked: “What is the single biggest factor that impacts overall performance”?

My answer surprises many people:  Position Descriptions.

It is not seen as exciting and most organisations already think they have it covered anyway.  Yes, most companies these days do have a position description for most job roles.  Our collective team has probably seen thousands of PD’s and the problem is that almost everyone is flawed. They do not provide adequate clarity and are not comprehensive in all the areas required to clearly and unambiguously set the expectations for the employee, or for the leader in charge to effectively and fairly manage the performance of that employee.

When I ask people: “What are your responsibilities?” the response is generally a list of duties.

When I say “No those are your duties. What are you responsible for?” the responses falter

And there is generally just a blank look when I ask “What is the purpose of your role? Why does your role exist”?

I find this staggering. It goes against the concept of exchange built into the employment contract. ‘In return for you doing certain things or achieving particular outcomes, I will pay you this wage’.  And yet there is a lack of clarity in what those things or outcomes expected are.

Let me put some context around position descriptions and role clarity

  • Lack of role clarity is reported as one of the biggest factors causing workplace stress
  • Workplace stress is costing businesses in Australia around $18 billion annually, and this figure is rising
  • 1 in 5 Australians report that current stress is having a strong to very strong impact on their physical health

The numbers here are also staggering. Role clarity is the starting point for all of the founding organisation management systems required for the effective operation of any business, Government department or not-for-profit organisation. Without role clarity, you cannot have effective leadership, you cannot have effective performance management, you cannot have rewards and discipline applied fairly and you will trigger a multitude of other problematic symptoms that must be managed when evident.  Without role clarity, you are reducing productivity and creating additional unnecessary work.

To me, it’s a no-brainer to get clarity of roles established. To be fair, perhaps the single biggest impediment is that most people don’t know what it is they do not yet know. Most managers are not even aware they have a problem in this area, and those that do, don’t know what to do about it anyway.

Some common problems or deficiencies we see are:-

  • Responsibilities are described at too high a level to be useful in an operating sense.
  • Responsibilities cover the technical side of the role while ignoring the organisational side or what is expected of the employee as a member of the team in that company.
  • Duties are included which creates more categories of PD than is necessary, creates pay parity issues and further complicates the management.

A well-designed PD is not something that can be achieved by a simple cut and paste process. A PD is part of the organisational architecture of the business and simply following sample templates does not guarantee success either. There is a lot of complexity built into a well-designed PD to make the PD look simple.

A well-structured, comprehensive and unambiguous position description requires effort and the knowledge in how to achieve this. But the return on investment is very worthwhile.

Garth Borgelt is the Director of Corporate Services for OurWorkplace (not .com)


  • 30 Mar 2020 2:30 PM | Julie-Ann Mayer
    Solid content Garth however I add 2 further columns one that openly lists the measures and the other an individual development plan for each employee reviewed on a quarterly basis. I find this results in a developmental culture and assists in shifts individual staff buying into quality improvement models.
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