my boss refuses to give me a job description and told me to stop asking for one

A reader writes:

I’ve been without a job description for more than two years now. I sent the following email to my boss at the beginning of the week:

“I was hoping to check in on the job description – I know you’ve been slammed and I don’t want to be a nudge. But I’m mindful that my job has been changing subtly over the last year and without a description, I’ve been worried that I haven’t been doing what’s expected of me. Hoping, too, that with a job description I’ll be able to work toward a review so that I’m able to get some clear feedback. Very sorry to be such a nudge and I hope I’m not chasing too much, I know there are probably others without a description and don’t want to jump the line.”

There was no answer, so today I said causally I just wanted to put a bug in her ear about the description. I was expecting a quick, “I’ll get to it eventually” type response; she was obviously just passing through the department. Instead she pulled me into the other room, closed the door and told me that I’ve been harassing her about the “damn job description,” to “back off” and “stop asking her,” and that if she doesn’t answer an email, I should know that it’s because she’s busy.

I tried to stay totally neutral and said I understood and didn’t think I had been harassing her, and left the room as quickly as possible.

This is pretty weird behavior – I’m very civil in the office and have maybe mentioned the job description to her twice over the past several months. The problem is that I really DO need something to work off – everybody else has one because things are very floaty here and tasks are taken away and given out pretty freely. And there’s nobody else to go to – she runs the company. Is there another way to deal with this, or it just time to start looking elsewhere?

Well, I wouldn’t leave over the lack of a job description if everything else is pretty good. Lots of people work without formal job descriptions; it’s not a must-have as long as you have clear expectations and understand what outcomes you’re working toward. But you can get those things through simple conversation; it doesn’t need to be a formal document.

I mean, a formal document is generally ideal — because it can help make sure that everyone is aligned about what success looks like in your role and prevent miscommunications. But not having one isn’t a horrific working condition or anything like that.

Your boss sounds like she was far too sharp with you about this. But if you haven’t had one for two years and she hasn’t responded to your nudges about it (and it sounds like the email wasn’t the first nudge), she’s signaling to you pretty clearly that she doesn’t consider it a high priority.

I’d look for other ways to get what you need: check in with her about your priorities, go over what you expect to achieve over the next three months / six months / year (maybe all of those periods, or maybe just the one or two that make sense for your particular role), and periodically ask for feedback on specific projects and how things are going in general. If she won’t connect you with on those things, then that’s a more serious problem.

But I think the bigger issue might be this: “things are very floaty here and tasks are taken away and given out pretty freely.” (And if I’m reading your letter correctly, that’s happening to people who do have job descriptions too.) That sounds like something fundamental to the way she runs the company, and not something that’s going to change just because you have a written job description. Some people are totally fine with that environment and can roll with the changes, and other people are driven crazy by it. I’d give some thought to whether you can be happy in that kind of workplace — that’s probably the bigger question for you.

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    It may be too late for this, too, but often it’s easier just to write your own damn job description and then go over it with the boss. You can present this as a “summary of priorities” or something, rather than a formal job description.

    1. Yet Another Allison*


      If you are asking to facilitate a conversation about priorities and expectations, then write what you think they are and ask for feedback. Much more likely that you will get what you want because you make it easier for your manager.

      If you want a job description for something else, then see what LBK wrote below.

      1. MaryMary*

        I was thinking along the same lines as PEBCAK. Alison, do you think it would be safe for OP to bring a self-created job description with her for her next review? Or just back off on the topic altogther?

  2. LBK*

    Can anyone shed some light on the obsession with having written job descriptions? Alison touched on it a little here, but I’ve just never understood why it matters. As far as I’m concerned, my job description is doing what my manager asks and expects of me as long as it’s a) not wildly outside the things they’ve previously asked me to do, like asking someone in an operational role to start making cold sales calls, and b) not wildly outside the things a normal human should be expected to do, like asking someone in an operational role to start cooking dinner for the boss’s family and delivering it to their house every night. Am I being told that I’m meeting those expectations? Great! I’m perfectly capable of writing down a list of all the things I do at that point and assuming that’s my job, since I’m being told I’m meeting expectations. If I’m not meeting those expectations, let’s talk about how to fix that, and then once we’re on the same page, I’m again capable of making a list on my own. I don’t need my manager to do it for me.

    Whenever someone insists on having a written job description, it sends up flags for me because my expectation is that I’ll inevitably here the phrase “That’s not in my job description” when asked to do a stretch assignment or take on a new responsibility. Maybe this is an unfair reaction that I’ve built up after working in retail, where many people are hellbent on never doing a single thing outside of a dedicated list of tasks/responsibilities.

    Anyone have thoughts either way?

    1. Kelly L.*

      It tells you what your expectations are, for one. Some bosses communicate badly, and they’ll tell you everything’s fine, everything’s fine, and then a year later at your performance review, they’ll ding you for not doing XYZ. Well, you never knew XYZ was something you were supposed to do and the manager never even mentioned it. It’s something you can look at to check yourself for whether you’re meeting expectations. How do you know to put something on your personal list if it’s never even been mentioned or asked?

      Also, if the job starts to diverge wildly from what’s written, sometimes it can help make your case for a raise (i.e. the job has “floated” so much that it’s really three different jobs now).

      1. LBK*

        That makes sense (and Monodon echoed the same thing below). I guess it’s just baffling to me that someone would wait a year to tell you you’re not doing something you’re supposed to be doing – and, moreover, if the business can go a year without this being done, how necessary could it really be!?

        1. Elsajeni*

          The nature of the review process, and how formalized it is, might be a factor here too — my manager isn’t the kind of jerk who would ding me for not doing something he didn’t tell me to do, but our review process requires him to make some comment on everything that’s in my job description, so he’d have to note that I hadn’t done it. I’m not sure if the process allows for him to add mitigating information like “… because I forgot it was in this job description and didn’t tell her to,” but having my own copy of my job description means I hopefully won’t ever have to find out.

        2. Monodon monoceros*

          It is baffling to me as well, but alas, it happened. In my case it was a report that is only due once per year, so maybe my manager just forgot. But it was really irritating to be told a week after the report was due (to our granting agency) that it was not done, and I was supposed to have done it. And it was a total be-otch to write. It was way easier to write the next year because I compiled the information as the year went along (and set up different data entry methods that made it a breeze to have it all in once place), rather than having to comb through files for various information for the report within a few days.

          So yes, in a perfect world no one would need job descriptions because employees would all be awesome and managers would all not suck. But it is not a perfect world.

      2. Allison*

        Well that’s silly, you can’t expect someone to do every single thing in their job description without ever mentioning it. That sounds like a manager watching someone break a rule, say nothing about it, and then after 6 months firing them because they kept breaking that rule. If you want someone to do something, you need to tell them.

        1. Tinker*


          The catch is, as it is with everything involving people, that just because a thing is silly does not mean that people can be trusted to refrain from doing it.

      3. Janet*

        “Also, if the job starts to diverge wildly from what’s written, sometimes it can help make your case for a raise (i.e. the job has “floated” so much that it’s really three different jobs now).”

        This is why I’ve always wanted one. I am right now negotiating a promotion at my office because I’ve taken on more and more advanced work throughout the past two years and my job descripton barely matches what I’ve been doing. I was able to take my current job description, add in all of the extra stuff I’ve been doing and propose a new title and it was clear on the written document just how much extra I’ve been doing.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      Think of it the other way- I worked at a place once where I got dinged on my performance eval because I wasn’t doing X task. Well, no one ever told me I was supposed to do X. I didn’t have a job description, but maybe if I had one, I could have looked it over and seen, oh yeah, I should be doing X! Better get on that!

      Granted, this problem could have also been handled by having a decent manager who could have pointed out to me long before my performance eval that I should be doing X, but yeah, that manager was terrible.

      1. Jamie*

        Whether you had a jd or not it doesn’t matter – when you have no idea you’re supposed to be doing something the ball was dropped by your manager. And – as ’tis the season to anticipate performance reviews for many – I’ll say what I always say – nothing in a performance review should be a surprise. Good managers give enough feedback that people know how they are doing.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          I agree with you, but it is kinda hard to tell your manager they are the one that dropped the ball while you are getting dinged on your performance eval.

      1. Csarndt*

        Exactly what I was thinking. I’ve never had a formal job description that *didn’t* include “other duties as assigned” and all kinds of other vague concepts that would have protected you in a review anyways. When our housekeepers went on strike, we got to haul garbage every morning for three weeks.

      2. Anonasaurus Rex*

        This. My boss uses this line on our job descriptions to basically mean he can assign us any task he likes.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just to make sure people are clear, your boss can assign you any work she wants, regardless of whether your job description includes that line. It’s included more to be comprehensive than anything else.

          1. Big Tom*

            I wish that a lot of retail places had that hanging on a giant sign in the break room. When I worked at Walmart specifically, people would get furious if asked to help in another department or do something outside their normal tasks. There was no union, no contracts, etc. One guy carried his position description around in his pocket every day and angrily got it out when someone told him to do something not listed, and he had been there for almost ten years! I have no idea how he got away with it except that the management probably didn’t know any better and thought he was right.

    3. tt*

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want a written job description, or that it should automatically send up red flags. Many people, including myself, find it reassuring for many reasons, many of which have already been mentioned by OP and Alison. It can help identify priorities and common expectations, especially in cases where you may not be in touch with the boss on a direct, day-to-day basis, or it’s a job that doesn’t have clear cut deliverables/deadlines. I don’t use it as a crutch to avoid taking on other things, but in some cases of a stretch assignment or tasks unrelated to the job description, it can also be useful to establish the need for training or resources, especially if no one was hired specifically for that task, and possibly doesn’t have the skill set to accomplish it.

    4. Frances*

      For me it’s useful just to have a record of how things are changing. When I was leaving my last position and my boss asked me to help her with the posting for my job, it was astonishing to us both to find how different what I was originally brought on to do was from what I was actually doing (both in terms of actual tasks and percentages of time). I actually really wish we had done a better job updating it on a yearly basis, even unofficially — we got a lot of resistance and disbelief from HR at just how much the job had changed in four years that we probably wouldn’t have received if we’d documented incremental changes annually.

      1. LBK*

        But that’s where I think writing the list down yourself serves the purpose just as well. You can still write it down and use it for comparison – I guess a list written by the manager potentially has more weight, but as long as the manager isn’t actively disagreeing with what you put on there, it’s no more official or binding than if you write it.

        I’m in a position now that has become an amoeba of roles I’ve stapled on to my original role. My manager actually asked ME to make a list of my current responsibilities, which made perfect sense to me. I’m the one doing it so I know exactly what I do, and that way I can be sure he’s fully aware of anything I’m doing that might go on in the background and not impact things in his visibility.

    5. JMegan*

      If I were the manager, I’d be worried that the OP would be using the formal job description to go searching for another job. If you’ve been two years without one, what’s the urgency now?

      Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be a Thing That Is Done in this company, and the boss has made it pretty clear that it’s not a priority for her. OP, if it’s a priority for you, then do what others have suggested – write your own, and ask her to approve it. But truly, in the bigger picture, this is not a hill worth dying on.

      1. Melissa*

        Honestly, that was my first thought – that the job description was for job hunting. So the manager might have that idea, too, especially without further explanation.

        1. Hooptie*

          But the OP also said this in her email to the boss: I know there are probably others without a description and don’t want to jump the line.

          I have to say that if I were the manager I would feel hounded and that the employee jumped on me when I was ‘obviously just passing through the department’ when she had sent an email already AND clearly stated that she knew I had been slammed lately. I would be questioning the employee’s sense of boundaries and priorities.

          However, I certainly would have responded to the employee’s email inquiry within 24 hours and let them know of a timeline, if any. I also don’t think the boss should have responded quite so harshly…unless there is more to the story and the employee has crossed boundaries in the past.

      2. Joey*

        Well that’s a good exercise for the employer, no? Id want my employees to see that I’m paying them competitively (or that I need to) for the work they’re doing as opposed to trying to make it fuzzy.

    6. Allison*

      I agree, I’ve been doing what I’m doing for a little over two years now, and of all the jobs I’ve had in this field I’ve never been given a written job description. I’ve signed contracts, and I’ve been given a sense of what I’d be doing in each job, with either a spoken or unspoken agreement that there may be additional duties as the role or business needs evolve. That said, in my current role as well as in my previous one, I’ve been comfortable enough with the manager to say I’m not comfortable doing this or that task, if the idea comes up, and they’ve always been kind enough to say “I’m thinking it might be a good idea for you to start doing X, what are your thoughts on that?” It’s never been a “you’re doing this now, deal with it” situation.

      Job descriptions are garbage anyway. Each one is a laundry list of tasks, but you only end up doing 3-4 of them on a regular basis, the rest of them only come up occasionally, and it’s never exhaustive.

      Unless you sign a contract saying you’ll only do a set number of tasks and never anything else, you need to be a little flexible, even if you do have a formal job description.

    7. Ann O'Nemity*

      It does seem that the employees who insist on a 100% accurate and up-to-date job description are the same folks who push back on new assignments – especially stretch assignments. And I’ve also noticed that those folks generally prefer a lot of planning, defined processes, clear instruction, and comprehensive training. It doesn’t necessary seem specific to role, industry, etc – perhaps just individual personality and preference? It also seems like this is one of those areas where you hope that your preferences match up with your company’s policies and culture.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those things in general. It can become a problem when insisting on those things gets in the way of moving forward. Or when there’s a real mismatch between the employee’s preferences and the company’s way of doing things.

          I’ve worked for a few smallish tech companies where employees were asked to wear a lot of hats, pitch hit, be fleet footed and able to shift projects/priorities very quickly, and regularly take on stretch assignments. In those environments, the employees who insisted on clear job descriptions, lots of planning, defined processes, and extensive training often washed out. I’m not saying that those folks were bad employees, just that they weren’t a good fit for the company’s policies and practices.

    8. BRR*

      I kind of feel the same way unless you have 0 idea what your duties are. I would say I have workplace privilege where it’s always made clear what I should be doing and I get feedback if I need to work on something but I’ve never been at a loss at what to do or if I’m missing something. I’ve always felt if I missed something someone will let me know.

      I also worry about the “that’s not in my job description.”

    9. Steve G*

      My company is being taken over by another one, and we all want them to understand what our jobs would be in the new company.

      We are all jacks-of-all-trades here, the “new” company is departmentalized, and has very lofty job titles (unlike ours, which tend to understate one’s level of authority), so getting slotted into a particular department and a particular job title still told our current employees very little about what their actual job content was.

      1. LBK*

        I would think a conversation with your manager would solidify that, though, right? And even if you were just handed a list of tasks you’re now supposed to be doing, I would want to have a conversation with my manager anyway to make sure it makes sense for me and that our expectations of how these things will be handled is aligned.

        The point I’m trying to drive home here is that not having written list of responsibilities doesn’t preclude you from discussing what they are with your manager. Write them down afterwards, sure, but what is preventing you from having a conversation about expectations without that list?

    10. Mike C.*

      By having a job description, you define what the roles, responsibilities and exceptions of an employee. Given that information, you allow an employee autonomy in their work and the ability to excel in ways you may not have expected.

      In my experience, when the above isn’t made clear, managers revert to a “your job is to do what I say right now, regardless of anything else going on”, often as a mask for not having a long term direction or an inability to delegate work to others. Not only are you robbing the employee of any autonomy in their work, you’re ridding them of any drive to improve processes and sapping morale. Also, the fear that such descriptions lead to strict boundaries that cannot be crossed is unfounded – it’s easy to write descriptions that can encompass emergent needs.

      If you’re running into employees that complain, “that’s not my job”, either you have bad employees or the task at hand isn’t actually appropriate for that employee to perform. That’s a completely separate issue from the need for a clearly defined role within the work environment.

      1. LBK*

        Can you explain your reasoning behind having clearly outlined job descriptions leading to improved employee autonomy? I can’t see the link between the two. None of this reasoning really makes sense to me, actually – all of this can be accomplished by just having consistent, clear conversations with employees about expectations. I’m not sure what difference it makes to put these things in writing first.

        1. Mike C.*

          The idea is that by knowing what your role is beyond “what my manager told me to do 5 minutes ago”, you can start doing things like anticipating needs, evening out work schedules, better planning for maintenance duties and so on.

          If you’re stuck in the “just do what you’re told” model, there’s no way an employee can perform long term improvements – all that effort will be erased the next time their boss says something.

          The difference between conversations and writing things down is that in my experience, the folks who write things down aren’t going to change their minds every five minutes while the folks who only speak verbally do. I mean sure, if we’re assuming that everyone is a rational, professional, decent person this won’t be an issue, but I find that those folks don’t really mind if an employee has the means to cover themselves from folks who are being irrational in their expectations.

          1. LBK*

            I think we’re discussing fundamentally different things. When I say your job is to “do what your manager tells you to do” that doesn’t mean playing Simon Says all day with one-off responsibilities and never having any idea what to do until your manager says to do it (do jobs like that actually exist!?). It means you have conversations about what you’re expected to do in general and you accommodate your manager potentially adding responsibilities as you go.

            If a manager is truly just throwing random responsibilities at you that shift constantly, I agree that that’s horrible for the employee, but I do not understand how a written job description will help that. What stops them from just constantly rewriting the job description to match? I mean, that’s basically what they would be doing anywhere, whether it’s in writing or not.

            I think you’re looking at this backwards. Having a written job description is a symptom of someone with a really clearly idea of what they want their employees to do, it’s not what causes them to think that way. Forcing someone who treats you like a court jester to write down their expectations isn’t going to make them any more focused, nor will it prevent them from treating you horribly.

            1. Scott M*

              This may not be the same thing, but having a clear job description allows the employee to spend more time going above and beyond, rather than just trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
              It’s one thing to catch what falls through the cracks, it’s another thing where there is no floor.
              The job description is the floor. It provides the structure that makes work somewhat easier and predictable. Then the employee has more energy and mental capacity to ‘catch what falls through the cracks’, or what isn’t specifically defined in the job description.

              1. Jamie*

                I’m fascinated that so many people seem to find them useful for anything other than new hires.

                Maybe other companies go into greater detail so it’s more like a work instruction? Because mine just a bullet list of things I’m responsible for, and most of those weren’t in there until I redid it for something else – it’s typically a list of main duties and requirements of candidates for the position. If you don’t know your core duties that’s such a failure of management that they wouldn’t write a decent jd anyway.

                Mine is basically a bullet list of “maintains this, responsible for that, manages that other thing, keeps that glowy thing over there from dying” that kind of thing. I’d be concerned if anyone needed to reference it past week one for any job. And if there isn’t one then the first week a new hire is there they should be taking notes on what is expected of them and checking in with the boss to verify that it’s complete.

                I’m not being snarky – I’m just really surprised people find them useful outside of hiring and audits.

                1. Joey*

                  They’re most useful for comp analysis. Whether pay is appropriate both from employer and employee perspectives.

                2. LBK*

                  I’m right there with you, Jamie. I’ve never felt like I needed a clear description of what I was expected to do in order to go above and beyond. I gauge that by how much something was done by my own initiative (did I have to be asked/expected to do it by someone else?) or how far it goes outside what I’ve been asked to do before (in the case of a stretch assignment/new responsibility).

                  I think the other reason it’s not helpful to me is that a job description is usually task/responsibility-based and doesn’t include things like “proactively solves problems” or “communicates extremely well” or “sees big picture when making decisions”. Most things I would consider going above and beyond are more about your personality and how you brain works than how big your to-do list is compared to how big it used to be.

                3. Windchime*

                  We’re too deep to nest, but my experience is the same as Joey’s; our company mostly uses job descriptions as a basis for compensation. I don’t know that I have ever seen my actual job description. I’ve had 3 promotions/changes of role since I’ve been at this company (almost 4 years) and I haven’t seen a job description for any of them.

                4. doreen*

                  “Because mine just a bullet list of things I’m responsible for”. Mine isn’t even that. The job description is a bullet list of everything anyone in my title might be responsible for – which makes it useless for someone newly promoted.

          2. Goldfish*

            But people don’t have the memory of a goldfish. They will remember the conversations they’ve had with their managers. Even if the manager is telling an employee to just do what they are told to do, its unlikely what they are asking is actually changing every 5 minutes to the point that its the complete opposite of what they asked 5 minutes before. I think it would be incredibly rare for that the be the case.

            Barring that kind of crazy scenario, most people are capable of remembering what job duties have been described to them and then working towards improvement and anticipating needs as time goes on and they gain experience. I really don’t see how all previous effort is erased just because your manager throws a new task at you.

            1. marie*

              I realize I’m commenting on an old thread, but some manager seem to have the memory of a goldfish, b/c of their communication style. For example, manager decides task A is a good solution to problem XY and assigns it to employee1. Manager gets additional info (e.g. from peer managers) that makes him reconsider and decide task B is a better solution. He tells employees2,3,4 that employee1 is going to implement task B as an fyi. Product A is rolled out. Employees2,3,4 are confused, Manager chastises employee1 for failing to roll out product B. Employee1’s time is wasted, employees2,3,4 do not trust employee1’s work. This can turn really ugly if someone in the employee pool is using the perceived failure as a political springboard.

    11. Jamie*

      They can be helpful in hiring as an accurate job description can outline things so everyone is on the same page. Also for some QC certifications it’s necessary to prove which position does what and this is a really easy way to hit that requirement.

      But tbh I’ve been given one at every job I’ve been at and never looked at it after hire. Well, I wrote the one I have now for the QC thing, but other than that I’ve never looked at them.

      I know what my boss expects from me and if I ever felt we weren’t on the same page I’d bring it up with him.

      I have seen job descriptions used as ammo by some people to prove in writing they aren’t expected to do something…that never ends well. Not saying the OP is doing this – some people just like having it in writing.

      That said I think the reaction is pretty inexcusable unless there were serious mitigating factors we don’t know about. Asking about something twice in several months (if you didn’t get an answer the first time) isn’t excessive and even if it was it’s was a pretty extreme reaction.

      1. Mike C.*

        I kind of see the existence of one as proof that you’ll never really need it, and the opposite as well. The folks who will let you have one are already reasonable enough that it doesn’t bother them, and the folks who won’t are the kind who may not all that reasonable.

        1. LBK*

          So if that’s the case, why does it need to be written down? It won’t help you in the situations where you want it and it’s not necessarily in the situations where you’ll get it.

    12. MaryMary*

      Both as a manager and as an employee, I think formal job descriptions are helpful when there are multiple people in the same role. Particularly if the role spans different locations, managers, etc. It sets a common set of expectations for everyone working in that position. Then it’s easier to identify high performers and low performers, transfer people around when needed, and perform reviews.

      For example, at OldJob I transferred from our main office to a regional office. There was an associate at the regional office working as a Team Lead, but she had gotten to the role through seniority, not because she was leading the team or performing most of the other responsibilities associated with the role. Part of my job was to expand the department in the regional office, and I needed a Team Lead who truly acted as a Team Lead. We ended up offering her a choice: she could keep her current title and take on more responsibility so that her work activities matched the Team Lead job description, or she could keep doing her current work (at her current pay) and move to a role one level down. She chose not to take on the additional responsibilities and take the lesser title. Without being able to point to a job description and say “this is what we expect of everyone working in this role,” it would have been an even more difficult conversation.

    13. Stemmie*

      I’ve now been at a job with a clearly laid-out contract listing job duties. I’ve been asked to work outside these duties, occasionally, which for me, is great – it’s a part time contract and I am seeking additional work.

      However, my boss keeps thinking out loud that he wants me to do some new task, and when I go to follow up, he says he wound up asking someone else to do it because he thinks they’ll do it faster…except so far, he’s always asked someone who’s already working full time, so I don’t understand how it’s possible for them to even work on it. So having work “float away from me” without periodic contract amendments has absolutely been very frustrating.

    14. Jess*

      Also managers have short memories… they may ask you to complete random tasks for them frequently and then when it comes time for review, not take those tasks into account when assessing you… “Well Jane… you only were able to assemble 3 teapots per week when our objective for employees at your level is 10.”

    15. Relosa*

      IMO it boils down to the “story of everybody” thing:

      A story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
      There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
      Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.
      Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
      It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

      My boss is exactly like OP’s boss. Things change hands and everyone is responsible for everything so bosses get mad when nobody makes sure it’s done. My bosses’ response would also be similar. We try to communicate and split up the work ourselves but it doesn’t matter – bosses just cycle it back in to everyone else’s pile. Then wonder why nothing gets done at all.

      Job descriptions aren’t a binding contract – but they are necessary just to figure out who is primarily responsible for what. At some point something has to boil down to fall on someone’s shoulders and it saves so much time, hassle, and stress to just have that laid out in advance.

    16. Fitzroy*

      I was part of a smaller company that merged with a bigger one. We did not have up to date job descriptions. And we were completely screwed because of that.
      Bigger company decided to write job descriptions for everyone, to have a common ground between both companies. Asked everyone to sign off on them, and then it turned out that some small words (has *complete* responsibility, or similar qualifiers in the wording) were immensly important. They were not in our descriptions, because we had not known about this. And so suddenly we were all lower level than the colleagues in big company, with lower titles, less chances for promotion or recognition for our capabilities. Within a year almost all management had become bigger company, because our managers turned into team leaders under the new description. I can’t get a promotion, because my description apparently makes it clear that I have no management potential.
      If you ever are in company where job descriptions are a thing, be very careful about what is written in your own. They are used in promotions to argue your responsibilities and authority. I am job searching at the moment, and I will insist on a description in my new company, or write my own with suitable wording for the company.
      (I get the impression that we are talking differnt thing though – in my job description would be written things like: is solely responsible for the implementation of tea pot programme with Asia (incl monitoring and evaluation), supports the Programme with Russia and Ukraine (with department XY), and supports the fund-raising for cookie project (especially writing tenders), or similar. It could not be used to argue “that’s not in my job description!” It could be used at promotion time to argue: ” I#ve been completelly responsible for tea pot programme in Asia and we had 10% more profits there in the last year!” or similar)

    17. KH*

      Me too.
      In nearly 20 years, I can’t remember EVER having a job description. The only exceptions are when I’ve had to write ones for job boards to fill positions that I formerly did.

    18. Lee*

      Stop being a yes man and stand up for yourself! Its kiss ass attitudes like your that make it hard for an honest employee to do their job right! Companies are intentionally trying to get MORE work out of the underpaid employee all the time! Its Corporates way of getting more for less and its wrong. They want everything LEAN and dont want to hire people at all. “Less workers = less money in their pocket anyway you cut it.

  3. Joey*

    Whoa. Two years in the job and you’re unclear what the job has evolved to? Sorry but a job description probably won’t clear things up. Why not make it easier on your boss and schedule a short meeting to discuss your goals and roles? Then, if you’re concerned there’s nothing in writing you can send a follow up email saying something like “I appreciate your feed back. Just to recap, I understood my role, expectations, and priorities to be x,y, and z. Please let me know if my understanding is incorrect or I need to make any adjustments.”

    Boom, done!

    1. OhNo*

      I’m kind of curious why the OP didn’t start with this, rather than going straight to asking for a proper job description. It seems like the logical first step to me. I did that exact progression in my current job. I had a meeting with my boss, asked for any feedback, areas to improve, and to see if there were any goals or duties I should be working on that I didn’t know about yet. Two days later she came back and said, “Hey, I put what we talked about earlier into a formal job description. What do you think?”, and had me read it through.

      To be fair, though, I have a wonderful and very reasonable boss. It sounds like OP’s boss may not be 100% reasonable, given that they snapped at an employee over what seems (based on the letter) like a perfectly reasonable request without an inappropriate amount of pressure attached.

      1. Natalie*

        Given how obsequious the email was, I wonder if the OP has tried that and been rebuffed… One way or another, it seems like there’s something larger going on here than just a lack of job description or short-tempered manager.

      2. Jamie*

        She mentions down thread in the comments that the company had instituted jds for everyone and she was looking forward to hers, but it was never written.

        I agree with writing ones own if it was a one off, but if someone is on a project to write everyone’s jds and you come up with your own it would seem weird. I totally get why she wouldn’t think to do this since it was being handled. And it’s super strange that every other position got one but hers – I’ve never gotten to almost the end of a project with one item left to go and wrapped it up. If I were the one doing them it would bother me it was left hanging because I can’t cross things off my list until they are done. Maybe it’s just me.

        1. Joey*

          Eh, depends. One offs can happen and it can easily seem like it’s not worth it to go through the work of doing it right for one jd.

        2. OhNo*

          In that case, this situation is extra weird, although I understand why the OP wouldn’t want to start with a meeting like this. If the boss wasn’t so… odd about the whole thing, I feel like the OP could frame the meeting as a stopgap measure until the description is written. Like, “While I wait for a full position description, can we check in about what my goals should be? I want to make sure I’m not missing anything important in the interim.”

  4. Jessica*

    Well if you’re hired on to do a certain job for a certain amount of money but then you end taking on a ton of additional responsibilities, without a job description to prove you are going above and beyond what you were hired to do, it can be tough to get a raise.

  5. Monodon monoceros*

    I think I’d be most worried about her cursing at me (“asking about the damn job description.”) I mean, even if she is annoyed, I’d like to think a good manager could have talked to the OP and said something more professional such as “I know you would like an official job description, but it’s just not my highest priority right now. If there are specific questions you have about about your priorities, we can go over those on X date.”

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Agreed. I think the issue here is less anything to do with the job description and more the interaction between the OP and the manager – either the manager wildly overreacted to a simple and polite request, or the OP is fundamentally misunderstanding how to communicate with her manager. Either one would be a problem, and in this case I think one of those two issues is the real problem, rather than the lack of a written job description. Even the fact that the OP thinks she needs a job description and her manager thinks she doesn’t, at least urgently, could be indicative of a communication issue.

  6. Texas HR nerd*

    Yes, your manager was harsh in the moment, but there may also be a communication style difference at play. I tend to be very direct, and if I received an email like the one you wrote, after you had already mentioned it to me twice, and then you mentioned it *again*, I would have been irritated as well.

    Ask for what you need, and don’t apologize for being a nudge twice in one email. I know you were trying to soften your message, but to me it read as very passive (almost passive-aggressive). You seem pretty wound up about not having a formal document, and it’s probably not the hill you want to die on.

    If you have other regular check-ins with your manager, you can avoid mentioning the official job description by saying instead, “I’m working on X this week. I’ve finished about 90% of X with the result of (result). Is there anything else I should be doing before I close it out? I also know we have the big Y and Z project coming up. What part of that would you like me to work on, and is there anything else on your radar that I should be working on or be aware of?”

    1. Michele*

      +1 That e-mail would be extremely irrtating to me as well! I would have probably reacted the same way minus saying damn. But it is not because I have a problem with swearing it is because I just don’t use that word that often.

    2. Magda*

      OP said they’d asked twice “in the last several months,” though, so to me that’s not really badgering. I could envision many bosses (including quite reasonable ones) saying “Oh yeah, I forgot you wanted that. Why didn’t you follow up?”

      And as sympathetic as I am to momentary irritation, I have to say I don’t understand the mindset of a manager who has an employee literally state they want to be sure they are doing their job correctly, and reacts to that with hostility and swearing. If a job description isn’t going to happen, fair enough, but someone with a “direct” communication style should be able to let the employee know that in a straightforward and professional manner.

    3. vox de causa*

      Exactly. This email definitely rubbed me the wrong way. If you’ve already asked once, just forward the original email with a short note at the top. And that note should be either a short question devoid of obsequiousness, or maybe a short statement that you’re just checking on where she is with this, and ask if you can do anything to help. If you’ve already asked more than once, with no reply, you can assume this is definitely not your your manager’s priority list. You’re trying to put something you want front-and-center and your manager doesn’t want it there.

      I think that for the OP, the communication style was probably part of the problem from the get-go. OP, I don’t know if it would feel this way to everyone, but I’ve seen managers (and coworkers, for that matter) who do not react well to the One More Thing that has been dumped on them, along with someone riding them about when they will get this (not vital) task completed. I’ve always had good results approaching a manager with a solution to any problem I am presenting (and if you’re asking for something, it does fall under “problem”).

      It would probably have been better to approach the manager with a solution from Day 1 – writing up their own job description based on what they observed, and ask for feedback on that document. This manager probably has a lot more things on her plate and they are probably higher-visibility items than making sure one of her direct reports has a (in the manager’s mind, probably unnecessary) document.

      OP, get a copy of coworker’s job description, tweak it to fit your duties, and hold onto it for later use. I don’t find job descriptions that helpful anyway – the ones I have seen are so vague that they can mean LOTS of different things, so they would not provide the types of answers you seem to need. Do the best you can do with the work assigned to you, pay close attention to what everyone else is doing, and emulate the high performers.

    4. Ted Mosby*

      Seriously? I can’t believe this many people ignore emails as a way to signal they don’t want a topic broached. If you don’t want to talk about something, say “that’s not a priority right now.” If you keep saying you’ll get to it eventually or ignoring the emails, obviously the person is going to think you forgot and keep following up.

      It’s totally unfair to start swearing and being snappy when this is the first time you’ve said you don’t want to address it. No one is a mind reader. If you say you’ll get to it eventually, I assume that’s what you mean, not “leave me alone.”

      1. Vera*

        I’m also in the camp of not liking the way the email was communicated. But I go both ways on this. On one hand, if you’ve sent me an email and I’ve replied that I’ll take care of it, I get annoyed when people follow up incessantly as if I never read or replied to the original email. I always feel like I should ask them what makes them think I was NOT going to get it done, when I said I would.

        On the other hand, I may have every intention of getting a task done, even if it is very low priority. It might just keep getting pushed.

        I like it when people put deadlines in their request. That allows me to evaluate quickly if I can or can’t meet their request and if I can’t, I can propose a new deadline that I can commit to meeting. Since the OPs situation is non critical, it could be phrased like “would it be possible to have something by the end of the month?”

  7. Beyonce Pad Thai*

    What’s the history with the boss here, OP? The initial email seems so overly apologetic I have to wonder if that’s the company culture, or if your boss has snapped at you before.

    For what it’s worth I don’t have a written job description and it works fine, but my boss and I communicate well on goals & expectations.

  8. LV*

    I think the big concern here is his/her bosses attitude about a seemingly innocent question from someone just looking for direction. I have to say that the way she spoke to you, if it’s true, was unacceptable and unnecessary and she should apologize if she values you. Personally it would make me feel that I wasn’t needed or valued as an employee if my boss spoke to me like that, it would also make me question her judgement and stability. You’re her employee and not there for her to take her stress out on. You may not be a good cultural fit for your company, so think about your future seriously if she continues to behave this way.

    1. Nina*

      This. The inappropriate and overly defensive language (back off, stop harassing me) to a basic work issue brings up more red flags than the actual refusal of the job description, IMO.

      I’m wondering if the boss is embarrassed because it didn’t occur to her to actually create a job description, hence the blowup at the OP. A simple “No, I don’t believe those are necessary” or something along those lines would have sufficed. She never responded to the OP’s email, so it wasn’t like the OP knew where the boss stood on the situation. A lack of an answer can mean she didn’t get the email, she ignored it, she forgot about it, etc.

      1. Jamie*

        The overly defensive language, thank you, was trying to find the words for what bothered me in particular. This is what reads to me that the boss was either on her last nerve about who knows what, or may have decided she isn’t doing a jd for that job if she’s nervous the OP will use it as ammo, or job hunting, or whatever.

        It was just a big emotional reaction for what should have been a minor annoyance. I can see being annoyed – but not to where I lose control of how I am delivering the message.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Maybe the boss is more annoyed at herself than at the OP. We won’t ever know. But I know, I have sounded cross when I was ticked at myself. I have tried to quickly back track and say “I am angry at myself, not you.” But sometimes, I don’t catch my own tone of voice.

  9. Barbara in Swampeast*

    I can’t remember one time in almost 30 years of working referring to my job description. Even when doing the self-assessment part of my reviews, I just wrote down what I was doing. Besides, the last sentence of most job descriptions reads: “And other duties as assigned” which pretty much makes a written description almost worthless.

    1. PizzaSquared*

      Agreed. The only place I’ve ever seen a written job description used is when listing an opening for applicants. And I’ve worked at more than one Fortune 500 company. “Job description” isn’t even part of my professional vocabulary except when I’m trying to hire someone. Do I really need to write out that a software engineer designs, implements and tests software? (Ok, maybe the testing part!). Or that they will work on the projects their manager assigns them? I guess I’m used to working in environments where the employees are trusted to have the judgement to do the right stuff based on guidance from their manager over the course of their career, without having it written out point by point. And expecting the exact details to stay the same over the long haul seems pretty unrealistic to me anyway.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      At my last 2 jobs (including my current one), when I write up my self-eval for my performance appraisal, I am supposed to go through my job description and comment on my progress/tasks that I’ve worked on related to that, then assign percentages of my time dedicated to those things. And then of course I list the “other duties” in a separate section. So that’s where I’ve used my job description.

  10. LizB*

    OP, this part of your original email to your boss stood out to me: “Hoping, too, that with a job description I’ll be able to work toward a review so that I’m able to get some clear feedback.” Have you not had a review in two years? Or have you just had informal feedback? It sounds like this workplace tends to do things in a pretty floaty/informal way, and you’re looking for a little bit more structure. I don’t know that having a formal job description would ensure you got a formal review, or clear feedback — do the people who have formal job descriptions get reviews? In any case, I think Alison’s right that the bigger issue is whether or not you’re comfortable with the structure (or lack thereof) of the workplace, and that’s what you really need to think about.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      This was the part that stood out to me, as well – you addressed it better than I was going to.

    2. Snork Maiden*

      I do not have a formal job description either and have gone for seven years without a review. It’s a culture thing here and I agree, the OP’s workplace sounds similar.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I was in a role once for eight years without a review. My boss was too busy, she hated them anyway, and in higher education there is very little correlation between your review and your salary. (higher ed review/salary/culture rant deleted)

        I actually loved that because it took away a lot of anxiety and frankly busywork for me and the boss because I already knew her expectations and had regular check-ins with her. Where this came to bite me on the ass was in taking my cue from the boss and not formally reviewing the people I supervised (I had regular conversations with them about the job and made sure to know what was going on and how the work was happening).

        One employee in particular did not care that there was no bearing on her merit or other salary increase–she wanted a review because she wanted her performance on the record. And she was incredibly upset that she didn’t have that opportunity for 18 months. As a result, evaluations for everyone below me, but not me.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          Yes, there are some benefits (no pressure) but I do miss sometimes the lack of structure when it comes to reporting issues. I find sometimes (when done properly) having a formal avenue to bring up complaints or concerns negates dismissal or defensiveness, if you are not fortunate to have a good rapport with your supervisor.

  11. JMegan*

    Wouldn’t your job description be what was written in the ad when they posted your position? Maybe it’s because I work in government, where everything is pretty highly regulated, but all the job ads I’ve seen have had the full job description in them.

    I keep the ads for every position I apply to, whether I get the job or not. Not only does it help delineate the work when there is no separate document called a Job Description, but it helps me see what the industry as a whole is like, what people are paying for the type of work I do, what skills I might need to develop in the future, etc. It’s just useful information to have in my “Career Planning” file for the future.

    1. L Veen*

      I work in government too and on top of the description of tasks in the job postings, we have yearly performance agreements that outline our duties for the year more in detail, with a mid-year and end-of-year review to make sure we’re on track. The idea of not being provided with any official list of expected duties/projects for an office job is pretty strange to me because the only places that’s happened to me was retail/food service jobs.

  12. some1*

    I see both sides of the problem with having an official job description. I have seen underperformers refuse to do anything that wasn’t in their official job description unless and until HR officially updated it, and I have seen Associate Teapot Designers doing Senior Teapot Designer work for months at the associate-level pay.

    1. LBK*

      To my point above, though, what’s the need for the manager to write down a list of your responsibilities?

      In a situation like that, I kind of think of it like writing a resume. I’m going to put whatever I do on my resume whether the HR department at my company thinks I officially do that or not or if it’s logged in any official system or not – it’s still something I do. So I would make a list of everything I’m currently doing, officially my responsibility or not, then bring it to a manager and say “This seems more in line with what the senior designers are expected to do – especially X, Y and Z – so I’d like to be compensated and titled appropriately.”

      1. some1*

        The problem I have seen in your scenario is that there’s no official job description for a Sr. Teapot Designer so management can always argue that you aren’t doing Sr work.

        1. LBK*

          There doesn’t need to be an official job description for either in order to make this case, though. There is clearly some sort of judgment process for when someone can be promoted, it doesn’t have to be in writing to exist. I was promoted to a senior position that didn’t have an official job description based on a combination of my longevity in my role, my peer leadership and my technical knowledge. It wasn’t by going down a list of official requirements for be a senior and making sure I was checking them all off.

          1. some1*

            I was referring to there being an existing but vacant Sr role but management has Jr people doing the extra, higher level work until they hire a replacement.

          2. Mike C.*

            It helps to prevent lots of situations where minority employees weren’t being paid at the same levels as their majority peers for the same work. Writing things down serves as a lasting reference point.

        2. LBK*

          Also – in that scenario, evaluate what’s allowing them to argue that your work doesn’t match up to what the other seniors do. Often it’s a question of visibility. From your view you’re clearly doing all these things, but somewhere between your desk and your manager’s, your name is falling off your results. It doesn’t have to be intentional – for example, often I’ll have an idea in a meeting that through the course of the discussion becomes something “the group” decided. In that case I always make sure I’m circling back to my manager afterwards and noting my involvement and steering of those decisions so it’s 100% obvious what I’m doing that’s making an impact to us.

          1. Mike C.*

            Intention doesn’t matter here – writing things down serves to solve a lot of these problems. These problems are a lot worse than the case of someone saying “that’s not my job”.

            1. LBK*

              Huh? Again, what does this have to do with asking your manager to give you a job description? You can make a list of your achievements yourself and present it to your manager if you feel your work isn’t visible enough.

              I’m envisioning this like some kind of Newlyweds Game scenario where you both write down what you think the answer is and if it doesn’t match you lose points. Why can’t you just discuss it and then write down the results of that conversation (should you decide a written record is required)?

              1. Mike C.*

                Because the folks who are generally ok with having the adult discussions you describe are ok with job descriptions, and the folks are aren’t, aren’t.

          2. some1*

            But management can still agree with all that and arbitrarily decide, for instance, that compiling TPS reports is not Sr level work. If you have a job description for Sr that has that specifically includes that task but your position doesn’t, it’s harder.

            1. LBK*

              I guess I’m coming at this from the perspective of a reasonable human and not a weird robot manager that can only accept that something is typically handled by a certain position if it’s on a document they wrote. I mean really, it’s impossible to say “When Joe was the senior he was always the one that did the TPS report and now I’m handling it”?

              I’m not prone to CYA moves at all, so maybe that’s also why this feels so unnatural to me. I’m never worried about scenarios where an unreasonable manager denies reality and I need documentation to prove my point.

              1. Natalie*

                I don’t think anyone is arguing that it *should* be ineffective to have a reasonable conversation with their manager, just that frequently it *is* ineffective. Ideals are one thing, but many of us have worked in offices that were dysfunctional in one way or another. Sometimes a written job description can help counter that dysfunction.

              2. Mike C.*

                Yes, that’s the issue right there. Maybe you just haven’t experienced the insane small family business owner that can’t make up their mind, won’t allow you to plan ahead and expects you to do whatever he wants at the drop of a hat.

                Once bitten, twice shy and all that.

                1. Jamie*

                  I know that situation, but I don’t see how a jd protects you from that. I’ve never seen one yet without the “other duties as required” clause and in the type of environment you’re talking about those people aren’t likely to look at the job description and become reasonable.

                  It’s hard enough to get unreasonable people to conform to labor laws much less their own documentation they can change at any time.

                2. LBK*

                  +1 to Jamie again – not clear how putting things in writing prevents a lunatic from being a lunatic, unless you have experience that shows otherwise?

                3. Mike C.*

                  I don’t expect someone who goes drastically against something they put in writing to be all that honest and useful in a person to person discussion either.

                4. Elsajeni*

                  @LBK: As far as preventing a lunatic from being a lunatic — no, a written job description probably can’t do that. But it might help you convince someone above the lunatic to listen to your version of the situation over the lunatic’s version, or otherwise be a useful piece of evidence that the lunatic is being a lunatic.

                5. Natalie*

                  And jumping off Elsajeni’s comment, there are many stops between “totally reasonable” and “lunatic”. Something written might be helpful with a boss that falls somewhere on that line.

              3. some1*

                Of course one can advocate for one’s self in this situation, but not everyone is good at it or has always had supportive bosses. Having a written job description from the org helps those people out.

  13. illini02*

    You know, I get wanting one, but I think they can be kind of useless, except for posting the job for new hires. I know that in my last position, my job title was the same, but my actual duties had changed significantly from the actual job description when I started to when I left. I couldn’t see asking my manager to rewrite a new one. I suppose if I was pushing for a new title to be created or something. But I feel like jobs evolve over time, and its very possible that the job you may have had when you started is different now. I don’t really think the manager needs to write a new description for these changes.

  14. Melissa*

    “and that if she doesn’t answer an email, I should know that it’s because she’s busy.”

    Ugh, people like this irritate me. It takes less than a minute to send an email back saying “I just wanted to let you know I got this, but I can’t answer it right now – I’ll get back to you” and then flag the original. Because if you don’t answer an email, it could mean a variety of things – that it went to your spam folder, that you were busy, that you didn’t see it at all, or that you were passive-aggressively ignoring it hoping that I might forget about what I emailed you about in the first place (which actually sounds more like the deal here).

  15. Dan*

    LBK is right — many jobs are what the boss asks you to do. If I felt someone was pushing me for a job description, I’d be expecting them to try and trap me in some sort of “gotcha” moment.

    If the boss really, really wants it done, I don’t think one can use the “not in my job description” excuse.

    If there really is confusion about who should be doing what, the right thing to do is have a conversation with the boss.

    1. Mike C.*

      Why all this distrust of hypothetical employees? Why can’t they be allowed to understand what their role is within a company?

      1. illini02*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t immediately distrust them. However, it is a very different style. Some people need that kind of structure and direction to function. If its a manager who doesn’t do that, and employee kept bugging me about it, it would look as though its not a great fit for my management style. Thats what it sounds like is going on here. At the same time though, most job descriptions I have had contain the “other duties as assigned” line, which basically means its whatever the boss decides your job is anyway.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Some people need that kind of structure and direction to function.

          Yes. That’s the point I was trying to make above, but you articulate it more clearly. When the employee’s style doesn’t fit with management style or company culture, it becomes a problem.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This maybe where OP is at. The first 10+ years I worked I never had a job description. Finally one job had a jd. The last sentence was “and what ever the CEO says”. Come to find out anyone above me on the ladder was considered to be speaking for the CEO.

            The job description was a waste of time in my mind because I always worked in a manner to help each person that asked me for help, every day. So nothing new here.

            I have to say, OP, what is your real/baseline concern here? Are you concerned you will not get a fair review? If so, then just start tracking the work you do. Make notes and keep them in a file. Do you feel you have too much work? Do you fear that some of your work is not being covered?

            I am at a loss for figuring out what is to be gained by having a job description.

      2. Jamie*

        Not having a written job description =/= not being allowed to understand their role. Most jds are basic and pretty generic (and fun fact – the vast majority of managers suck at writing them, ime) and with or without one a good manager will make sure people know their role.

      3. CPE*

        I didn’t read entire conversation..but just glanced through them. I think people are just harsh on OP. I don’t think there is anything wrong in asking for a job description. In fact, I think it is manager’s duty to clearly mention what is expected from OP, her roles and responsibilities. I don’t want to be in a place where I don’t know my what my job is.
        Many managers here have written that asking for job description is some kind of a trap the employee is setting up to avoid work other than what is stated in the description. I found that very disturbing. I can spin the argument and say without a clear job description, the manager is setting the employee up for failure during the coming review. Say OP has done A, B and C which was asked from her, in the review you can say you expected X, Y and Z and not A, B and C. As there is no clarity about her job, you can expect basically anything from her and OP is left defenseless. How long does it take to give her a job description. 10 – 15 mins?If they are so worried that OP may refuse to do anything outside of job description, they can list primary and secondary duties for her.
        Also, the manager’s behavior is unreasonable. She failed to perform her duty and she is accusing OP of harassing her.Who knows what she perceives as harassment? I would not want to work for her.

      4. Joey*

        Well to be Devils advocate many many many employers don’t like job descriptions because the lines between roles become more blurred. That is, it’s harder to figure out what the market value for the job is when you don’t have a clear picture of your role and priorities. Its a much clearer picture when you can compare your job description and pay to others.

  16. Janice*

    Yes, the cringiness of that email bothered me when I was writing it too, but my boss really doesn’t react well to being asked for things directly and I was bracing myself. The background is this: two years ago, the boss added a set of duties that were very different from the ones I was already doing. (It was very informal, and there was no feedback or check-in on how the new role was going, so I assumed it was all fine.) Then she gave someone else the exact same set of duties, without telling either of us that we were overlapping. After a few weeks of tripping over the other employee, I asked my boss about it, she she got irritated and said it was up to me to “make my own job.” About ten months ago, the company started giving out updated job descriptions to all employees. I was looking forward to mine, but it never came and now I’m the only employee at the company without one, which is worrying.

    1. LBK*

      So this puts things in a totally different context. Yeah, your manager sucks and should really be helping you and your coworker define who does what. It sounds like she gave you authority to discuss it amongst yourselves, though – is your coworker reasonable? Can you guys hold your own meeting to divvy up responsibilities and proceed from there?

      It makes sense then that your manager hasn’t written it down and given it to corporate to hand to you – it doesn’t exist yet! She flat-out told you that she’s not going to define your role. So I would do what the first comment suggested in combination with your coworker: you guys split it up, then go back to her and say “Here’s what we determined each of us is going to handle, let us know if you want to make changes”.

      To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company-mandated written description magically appeared after that (aka after you did the work of defining your role for her). It really sucks you have to do this, but maybe you can think of it as a unique chance to grab all the tasks you want to do/that will give you good experience and visibility.

    2. Jamie*

      Reading the email I had the sense that your manager is a delicate flower who needs very special handling. In the past I’ve worked with people who considered anything less than an email filled with acknowledgements about how important and busy they are, sycophantic gratitude if they could just do this one thing (that’s their freaking job) and apologies for expecting them to do what they are supposed to do to be mean and abrupt.

      Some people require fawning and they are absolutely exhausting.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing is, having a written job description isn’t going to prevent your boss from doing something similar in the future (overlapping your duties with someone else). I think you’re looking to a written document to have more power than it really will.

    4. Corporate America*

      Janice, did the employee who was given the same set of duties as you receive a job description 10 months ago along with the other employees? If she did and you did not, I would worry that your position is at risk and consider looking for a new job.

      Otherwise, is your concern that the other employee is trying to dump the less desirable aspects of the job on you while keeping the good parts him/herself? If this is the case, first try talking with the other employee about splitting up the responsibilities fairly. If that doesn’t work, set up a meeting with the other employee, your manager, and yourself to figure it out. If that doesn’t work it means your manager likes the other employee more than you, and it may mean your job is at risk.

      Don’t worry. This happens to everyone at some point, so don’t take it personally.

      1. Janice*

        She did. Not ten months ago, more like four. Which is when I started to get worried because most of the duties that I had originally been given were in her job description.

        1. Corporate America*

          Yeah. The fact that you are the only one without a written job description is a red flag to me.

          It’s hard to know the whole story from a quick email and a few comments, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions. But, I wonder how you would describe your relationship with your boss, apart from that conversation? If you two don’t have a good relationship, AND your boss is the head of the company (I believe you said that in an earlier post), AND you are the only one without a job description, my advice is to start looking for other jobs.

          Like I said, don’t take it personally. Similar thing happened to me at an old job, and I am now at one that is a much better fit.

  17. Bend & Snap*

    This made me realize that I’ve never seen my job description. I’m sure it exists but nobody gave it to me when I got promoted.

    More concerning than the lack of a description is the boss’s response to a very reasonable request that came from a place of wanting to do a good job.

  18. Tiff*

    I’d be looking for another job right now – the fact that the manager would pull an employee who is making a reasonable request and whisper-yell at them to “back off” is totally unacceptable. Whether job descriptions are the norm or not really doesn’t matter, I bet if the boss had communicated to OP previously that it wasn’t a priority she would have backed off long ago. The whole exchange sounds like a manager who doesn’t communicate well and punishes those who ask for any kind of clarity. In other words, Horrible Boss.

  19. Iro*

    WOW! Are all of your emails so passively written?

    I’m sorry to bother you, but could I please take your valuable time to ask this request. You see I’m asking this request because ….

    That’s setting yourself up to be torn down in some cultures.

    Try instead:

    Hi Boss,

    I was wondering if you had a job description for my role and where I might find it?


    {follow-up email}

    Re: Job Description;

    Hi Boss,

    Have you had an oppurtunity to grab my job description? Does my role have one?

    Let me know either way but I was hoping to accomplish X,Y, Z and though the job description would be a great starting point.

  20. JO*

    I can sympathize with the OP. I work in higher ed, and while I did see a job description when I applied for a promotion in my office about six months ago, I never actually had a planning session with my new boss where we discussed his expectations of me (at my university, we’re required by HR to have planning, coaching, and evaluations every year). The lack of a planning session has been hard for me, having worked in this office and by these rules for about 11 years now. I asked my boss a couple of months ago if we were going to do a planning session, and he laughed at me and said, “You’re doing everything I want you to do, so don’t worry about it!” At which I wondered, quietly, how would I know I’d been doing what he wanted, since he never told me what that was?? Nor has he given me any feedback in our (infrequent) one-on-ones about my progress in my new role. Anyway, because he’s required to do a planning session, I have a feeling that when the time comes for my review, he’s going to make me sign and backdate my planning session at the same time. Let’s hope he doesn’t ding me for anything at that point, since it will be too late to do anything about it by then!

    All of this is to say that needing a job description or formalized planning session doesn’t mean someone is trying to get out of working hard or taking on stretch assignments–I like to think of myself as a hard worker, and I love to take on things outside my job description. It just means that you’re looking for guidance from a boss who may not be good at providing it without those types of formalized arrangements (or even with them, in my case!) I do take the point made here that not having a planning session doesn’t mean I can’t talk to my boss in our next one-on-one and ask him point blank if I’m operating up to par. I just don’t expect to get a lot of useful feedback from him, based on the total lack of it so far. And that’s frustrating for someone like me, who’s always trying to learn and improve in my job.

  21. HR Manager*

    Here are some reasons why I think job descriptions are useful:
    – hiring decisions – should be a pretty accurate description of the role and its requirements for the interviewer and candidate
    – FLSA test – how can you test for exempt vs non-exempt without a job description or understanding all the duties? Not all jobs are clear B&W on this issue
    – internal job leveling – many companies have an internal job grade system. Hard to compare and level jobs without a description.
    – compensation/market data review – how do you determine fair market wages without a full understanding of what one does or the skills one must have?
    – employee development — if your employee comes and tells you that she aspires to be a marketing specialist one day, how do you as a manager point her in the right direction for what she needs to be a successful marketing specialist. Pointing her to someone in marketing is one way, but also looking at a job description might help with having meaning development activities for her
    – ugh – immigration cases….you need them for this
    – certain industries (like pharma/biotech) also requires job descriptions

  22. Not So NewReader*

    OP, you have a floaty environment. As others have mentioned, some people like this and some people hate this. I like floaty environments, myself. If I have to be somewhere-not home- for 8 hours a day at least keep me interested. But that’s me.

    Picture it this way, OP, for whatever reason the boss says to you, “I want you to make a list of everything you buy at the grocery store during the course of a year.” Now, you are crazy busy, the grocery store list is not critical, you don’t know why your boss wants it annnd you know it’s going to require some thinking and concentration. How quickly are you going to make that comprehensive list? Not fast, right?

    IF everything else with your relationship with your boss is going okay, I would let this go. Really. She’ll get to it at some point. I would make my own list of the various activities I go in and out of, so I would have that prepared for when she opens the conversation.

    IF everything else in your relationship with your boss is NOT okay, I would start addressing the bumps in the road that come up frequently and fixing those bumps. I realize that you could have several concerns that you think a job description might fix. But I think it would be more efficient to cut directly to the immediate concerns and address those.

  23. Irene*

    I had the same thing happen to me (it did not go on for two years, however), but I finally put in a letter to my boss that I needed a job description by a certain date, or I had to move on and find another job. We had merged with another Company. He did not, and I quit. By giving notice to the boss, when I collected my unemployment and they came after me, the referee said “She gave you notice” and you did not respond, so she is entitled to her unemployment. Thanks to having everything documented. It also depends on how bad you need that job, or how bad that issue bothers you.

  24. Ann*

    This is a bigger deal than what some comments on here are making it out to be. Its a big deal not to have a job description because of how easy it is to file a lawsuit for grounds on unfair dismissal. In order for your dismissal to be fair:
    1. Need to have a clear understanding of your job duties and expectations (because if you dont have a clear understanding – by clear I mean have it in writing – you can argue that you were dismissed on unfair grounds. After all, how are you meant to do your job well if you don’t even know what your priorities are?)
    2. You had an actual performance review where it was made clear (once again in writing) that if you did not improve on your performance you would be dismissed
    3. You were given a sufficiently reasonable amount of time to improve, and you haven’t improved.
    When you think about it, those laws are fair – both for the employer and the employee. But sometimes the employer likes to take advantage of your job’s ambiguities by not giving you a job description so they can justify firing you. I’m not a lawyer but I was in a similar situation in my previous job. After sensing extreme hostility from my boss, I resigned. It wasnt until after when I sought legal advice that I realised because none of 3 conditions above were satisfied that if I were dismissed I had a good case for unfair dismissal. Dont give in to intimdation tactics by companies because in your contract they give you a 101 reasons why they could fire you and by not giving you a job description they are not even giving you one reason to justify staying (ie ‘I have done everything in my job description, I have done everything you have asked for, I have never spoken ill to any of my bosses’ etc etc). Seek legal advice (even if you dont pursue legal action), know your rights, pay the $500 for the one hour, write down your questions, be informed and know what your entitled to. Even if you are not dismissed or dont pursue legal action at least you will be making informed decisions. Just remember HR knows ALL OF THEIR LEGAL RIGHTS, do you know yours? Everyone deserves to be given a fair chance to serve their company to the best of their abilities. Never let anyone intimidate you from wanting something that seemed fair and reasonable. Once again I would seek legal advice as a lawyer will have your best legal interest at heart, HR only cares about the company and counselors are just as ignorant as the rest of us. Best of luck.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This isn’t correct, at least not in the U.S. There aren’t laws against unfair dismissals in the U.S. Discriminatory ones, yes, but it’s not illegal to not give you a chance to improve, etc.

  25. MV*

    Well, I had a “manager” title for 11 years without ANY authority to make decisions for my department. I was salaried and spent many long days cleaning up the messes that the decision-makers had created. I spent just about all of my time doing production work and asked periodically for a job description because I was truly perplexed that I even had the title of manager. I resigned that fake “leadership” position and am now paid hourly for the work I have been doing all along. Still no job description, but at least I get paid for the hours I work.

  26. NOJD EqualsUnderpay*

    The answer is money. They can save the company a lot of money getting you to perform job descriptions outside of what you were hired to do. The business owner I work for, has no HR dept at all, and does not perform yearly evaluations or evaluations at all for that matter. Then, they usually promote someone with just as low integrity as themselves to be the defensive line between themselves and the employees, to mitigate any fallout from the greedy policies. They call this person the operations manager or some such completely innocuous title whereby you cannot measure their productivity…. Greed can make for a truly shitty boss.

  27. Andy*

    Actually it IS A LAW that you be provided with a clearly written and executed job description. It has to have a current date/ year, be revised if you get the job after someone quit/got fired meaning any extra work done or parts of the job not required to be done have to be included in description. The manager’s “expectations” are to be clearly stated and explained so they can’t keep adding more and more work on you and when you can’t finish you get a write up. Bastards are Sneaky and I’m a Union member.

  28. Mark*

    This is obviously so that the employer does not have to pay you for 2/3rds of the work you do. “If” they “define” it all, you have grounds to reconsider your pay, but it is my guess they added new functions to your original job, and merely do not want to compensate you for it. I have the exact same problem, and it is infuriating.

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