Employees who do not have a clear understanding of how their jobs fit into the overall work picture of their organization are more likely to exhibit carelessness and the inability to make clear distinctions on which aspects of their job are most important. This is according to a study conducted by two DePaul University industrial-organizational psychologists.

“This study clearly shows that employees vary greatly with regard to how accurately they understand the critical function of their jobs,” say Erich C. Dierdorff and Robert S. Rubin, both professors in the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul.

Their findings were published in the fall issue of Personnel Psychology.

How workers perceive the requirements associated with their jobs and the value of performing those jobs can provide key information to human resource practitioners. Such knowledge can aid in several human resource functions, including job redesign, job evaluation, training needs and performance management.

“This is information that can help in analyzing jobs so that the right kinds of people can be hired to fill those positions. Job information is important, not only in recruiting and hiring, but also in setting compensation rates and conducting performance reviews,” said Dierdorff.

It is incumbent upon the organization to assure that job and personnel-related decisions are being made on high quality information, he added.

Not only is an understanding of work role requirements useful to human resource managers, but clarity of one’s role and responsibilities can greatly impact work motivation, satisfaction and performance of individual workers, as well.

“We looked at how people perceived their jobs, not how well they performed them. If two individuals with the same job had a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities but performed them slightly differently, that is acceptable as long as they both know what is expected of them,” said Dierdorff.

In their study, they focused on two aspects of how employees rated their jobs. The first was carelessness, which is when employees are more likely to think certain aspects of their jobs are more important than others, when in fact they are not. For example, a person whose work does not provide the opportunity to have much interaction with co-workers and little, if any, with customers, lists interpersonal skills as highly important to the job. By doing so, that person is being careless in providing an accurate judgment, noted Dierdorff.

The second is being able to discriminate as to which job requirements are more important.

“If, for example, there are 15 key skills required for a job, can the person make the fine-grain distinctions between those requirements?” the authors write. “If asked if oral or written communication skills are more important to that position, can the employee make an accurate distinction between these two different skills?”

The researchers also wanted to determine whether role ambiguity had an influence on how people viewed their work. They concluded that it did.

They found there can be a wide variance in work role ratings, and not all of it is due to differences in jobs. Much of it comes from the different perceptions people have about their jobs, even if they perform similar work, when making their ratings.

“People who perform a job often do not agree with others on what is important or what is needed to perform the job,” said Dierdorff.

These kinds of variables in job ratings are an indication that employees are not on the same page when understanding their work roles.

“That’s a clear signal that management needs to clarify work roles and provide training to minimize the differences and impact the quality of decisions based upon factors important to the organization,” Dierdorff noted.

Surprisingly, the person performing the job may not provide the best quality information about that job.

“I know that’s contrary to logic, but studies have found that professional analysts can delineate the most important attributes and provide more accurate job-related information that management can use when making important personnel decisions,” said Dierdorff.

Dierdorff and Rubin based their findings on ratings from 203 employees from 73 different occupations about their jobs.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is an international group of 6,300 industrial-organizational psychologists whose members study and apply scientific principles concerning workplace productivity, motivation, leadership and engagement. For more information about SIOP, visit http://www.siop.org.