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Guidelines on Work Description Writing


These guidelines provide information, guidance, advice and explanation on the application of the Classification System and Delegation of Authority Policy in relation to work description writing.


Work Description – a document approved by the respective manager that describes the work requirements of a position or a job. A work description contains all the information needed to evaluate the work using the appropriate classification standard.

Position – the work assigned by the respective manager that can be performed by one person.

Job – a unique position, or a number of positions that are similar or identical and whose work is described by one work description.

(Reference: Classification System and Delegation of Authority Policy)

Generic Work Description – a work description that records the work assigned to a number of similar or identical positions at the same occupational group and level. A generic work description can describe similar or identical work across organizational boundaries.


The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service sets out the values and ethics of the Public Service to guide and support public servants in all their professional activities. Democratic, professional, ethical and people values are identified.

In addition, the Classification Monitoring Framework defines a number of more specific values related to classification that are aligned with these Public Service-wide values. Deputy Heads, managers and human resources advisors are accountable for exercising their classification authority in a way that respects all of these values.


The Public Service classification system is position-based; almost every employee is appointed to a specific position. The work assigned to individual positions is described in a work description and evaluated by applying the occupational group and sub-group definitions and the appropriate classification standard. The resulting group, sub-group, and level provide a basis for the compensation of employees in the Public Service.

In addition to their importance in determining appropriate pay ranges, work descriptions are also essential building blocks for most human resources management functions needed to attract, retain and motivate skilled workers. This includes recruitment, promotion, performance management, career management, learning, labour relations and human resources planning.

Most collective agreements entitle employees to a complete and current statement of duties. An accurate and up-to-date work description serves this purpose.

Poorly described work can result in inappropriate classification and compensation which, in turn, can cause employee dissatisfaction, recruitment and retention difficulties, and grievances. Furthermore, if a work description is under-classified, it might adversely affect employees’ career advancement. If a work description is over-classified, it will lead to inefficient use of salary dollars and could create an inappropriate precedent for other similar jobs.



The Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada (PSHRMAC) has a continuing overall accountability for the integrity of the classification system including work descriptions.

The Classification System and Delegation of Authority Policy authorizes Deputy Heads to classify positions in their respective departments in accordance with the policy, the appropriate classification standard, and guidelines developed and issued by the PSHRMAC. Departments should choose management practices and appropriate measures to meet their needs within the parameters of the framework prescribed in the policy and the information provided in these guidelines.

Deputy Heads are responsible for ensuring that:

  • managers and human resources advisors in their department receive adequate training in the classification system, including the classification standards used by the department so that they are able to effectively exercise their responsibilities and delegated authorities; and
  • there are effective systems and controls in place to ensure the accuracy, currency and quality of work descriptions ( see Classification Monitoring Framework).

Managers are responsible for ensuring that:

  • they understand the classification system, including the use of classification standards and the allocation of positions to occupational groups;
  • they obtain qualified advice on organizational design and on the content of work descriptions within their organizational context;
  • their organization design and the assignment of work to positions are efficient, effective and affordable;
  • work descriptions accurately reflect the work assigned and performed;
  • the accuracy and currency of work descriptions is maintained as the work changes or new work is assigned; and
  • they establish reasonable and defensible effective date of work descriptions;
  • they authorize work descriptions and encourage employees to read and sign their work description as an indication that they have read the information contained therein.

Human resources advisors are responsible for ensuring that:

  • managers are advised on organizational design and work description content within the organizational context;
  • managers are advised on appropriate format and content of work descriptions in preparation for the classification of the position; and
  • managers are aware of the criteria for establishing effective dates.



Human resources advisors have been trained in the application of the classification standards and are available to provide information on occupational group allocation and the specific information requirements of the standards.

For some jobs, where there is a mix of different types of work, it may not be possible to determine the group allocation until the work is completely described. Additional information may need to be added at that time.

When it is not clear from the outset what the occupational group and/or sub-group for a new position will be, the Key Activities and other significant information on the work should be described in order to facilitate an appropriate allocation. Once the allocation is known, other information that is required to evaluate the work with a specific classification standard can be added to the work description. Percentage of time should not be part of the work description and is not a reliable indicator of the primary purpose of the work.

It is necessary to develop a sufficient understanding of the work through the analysis of mandate, organization structure, accountabilities of related positions and the specific work assigned to the position. The nature and complexity of the work assigned to a new or existing position could have financial implications for the responsible manager. Any potential financial impacts should be taken into consideration when designing jobs(see Assignment of Work section in Reclassification Guidelines).


Best Practice – Preparing to Write Work Descriptions


  • Contact your human resources advisor for advice on group allocation and existing classification standard factors.
  • Review your organization chart, mandates and accountabilities of related positions.
  • Review the requirements of the position with others including colleagues and the employee performing the work, if applicable.
  • Consult with the departmental heads of such corporate functions as IT, finance, communications, etc. in order to get their input when revising or writing a work description that touches on these mandates.
  • Consider using a generic work description where appropriate. See Annex A –  Guidelines on Using Generic Work Descriptions.




As a minimum, every work description should include identifying information such as:

  • Position Number;
  • Position Title;
  • Authorized Group and Level;
  • National Occupational Classification (NOC) Code;
  • Effective Date;
  • Department;
  • Branch/Division;
  • Location;
  • Job/Generic Number; and
  • Supervisor’s Position Number, Group & Level.

Human resources advisors should provide managers with a unique position number for each position in accordance with departmental practice.


Best Practice – Use of Position/Job Numbers

  • Every position has a unique position number.
  • All positions using the same generic work description are linked with a common job/generic position number.

It is important that all work within an occupational group be described in a consistent manner regardless of whether the work is found within one department or across several departments. To this end, departments and agencies should follow these principles:

  • Starting the work description with the Client Service Results – These results are the products or services or a combination of the two that the position provides or delivers. They are the results of the activities that make up the work and not the activities themselves. Describing these results sets the tone for the rest of the work description and helps determine the primary purpose of the work for those reading the work description.
  • Describing the work through the identification of the Key Activities – These are the activities that the incumbent must perform in order to deliver the Client Service Results. These are also important for determining the primary purpose of the work and for providing a basis for understanding the work for occupational group and sub-group allocation and evaluation purposes. While there is no fixed number of Key Activities that should be covered in a work description, five to seven Key Activities are usually sufficient to capture the primary responsibilities of most work. Percentage of time should not be part of the work description and is not a reliable indicator of the primary purpose of the job.
  • Describing the work in relation to the four criteria identified in the Canadian Human Rights Act – For each of the criteria, i.e. Skill, Effort, Responsibility and Working Conditions, there should be an explanation outlining the demands of the work. The content of each criterion should relate directly to the work described in the Key Activities and to the factors in the classification standard that will be used to evaluate the work.
  • Including additional information required to evaluate the specific factors of the classification standard being used – The Key Activities and the description of Skill, Effort, Responsibility and Working Conditions may not include all the information required by a specific classification standard. Any additional information that is needed to apply the classification standard should be added to the work description to allow for the evaluation of each factor in the standard.
  • Ensuring that all significant aspects of the work being evaluated are visible in the work description – It is important not to overlook or under-describe any feature of the work that is evaluated by a particular classification standard.
  • Using language that describes with equal complexity the work done by women and men – Historically, work traditionally done by men and work at higher levels in the hierarchy have been described with stronger language. Using weaker language to describe work traditionally done by women or work done at lower levels of the hierarchy can result in its being undervalued. Therefore, it is very important to use consistent, bias-free language when writing work descriptions for all types of work.

Best Practice – Writing Work Descriptions

  • The content of work descriptions, including the Client Service Results, Key Activities, a description of the Skill, Effort, Responsibility and Working Conditions as well as any information required for evaluation with a specific classification standard is completed in three pages. Sometimes more information is required.




Describing work is not easy. We all bring our own experience and perspectives to the process. Managers should be wary that pitfalls exist and take action to avoid them. Some pitfalls include:

Lack of information – Missing information needed to apply the appropriate classification standard.

Inconsistent information – Job information that is inconsistent with the organizational mandate or structure.

Too detailed information – Too much information leading to rambling, confusing work descriptions that make it difficult to understand the true nature of work. As a result, too much detail makes it harder to identify work information that is critical for allocation or evaluation purposes.

Too much jargon – Excessive terminology used on the job that may confuse those applying the classification standard.

Gender bias – Any factor or behaviour that, even unintentionally, favours one sex over the other.

Work inflation – A bias to make work appear to be more demanding or more complex.

False expectations about the nature of the work – Assumptions about work being overly important or unimportant to the job.

Just part of the job – A tendency to see certain situations as conditions of employment rather than recognizing the effort required to cope with them.

Position titles – The tendency to assume that a position title actually tells us what is involved in the work; OR the assignment of a title that does not reflect the nature of the work.

Weak terminology – The tendency to pick weak words when describing work done by workers at a lower level in the hierarchy.

Vague terminology – Words that could be read many ways, resulting in potential misapplication of the classification standards.

Failure to see that work has changed – An insensitivity toward changes in the way the Public Service does business.

Confusing individual performance with the work itself – The tendency to describe the work as it is performed rather than the work that has been assigned.



The effective date establishes when the work described in the work description has officially been assigned to a position.

In the case of reclassification, a retroactive effective date will have financial implications for the manager, as the employee will be entitled to retroactive pay for the period that he or she has been doing all aspects of the newly assigned work. In order to have a defensible effective date, managers should consider the following questions:

  • When were all or parts of the work added?
  • Were all or parts of the work added at the same time?
  • Which parts of the work made the difference in group allocation and/or level?

When the position is new, the effective date reflects the point at which the new work has been officially classified and when the position is ready to be staffed.

Managers are encouraged to discuss the effective date with the human resources advisor and the employee concerned if the position is encumbered. These discussions could add needed information, simplify decisions and avoid disputes on effective dates.


Best Practice – Effective Dates

  • The human resources advisor and the employee are consulted prior to the establishment of an effective date in the case of the reclassification of a position.

Managers are responsible for the accuracy of work descriptions submitted for classification. Their dated signature on a work description indicates their approval of the work that they have assigned and confirms that the content of the work description is accurate and complete.

Employees naturally have an interest in ensuring that work descriptions accurately reflect the work they do. If there is an employee in a position, he or she should have the opportunity to read and comment on the work description. For a generic work description, the manager should consult with a representative sample of the employees whose work is included in the work description.

Final approval of the work description is the responsibility of the manager.


Best Practice – Approval of Work Descriptions

  • All work descriptions are signed and dated by the responsible manager prior to being submitted for classification.
  • All work descriptions are signed by the employee to indicate that he or she had the opportunity to read and comment on the content of the work description.




Over time, the work of all positions changes through shifts in organizational requirements and the introduction of new programs. New technology can also result in changes to work, as can the active assignment of new responsibilities by the manager.

It is the responsibility of managers to review the continuing accuracy of work descriptions in light of significant changes in the organization and the work assigned. Managers should be aware when duties change and should be encouraged to update work descriptions.

Departments have found it helpful to establish systems to ensure that managers review the work descriptions in their area of responsibility on a regular basis.


Best Practice – Cyclical Review and Update

  • A departmental system is in place to review the accuracy of work descriptions on a cyclical basis, and when the position becomes vacant and is proposed for staffing.

A number of automated work tools to assist managers in writing work descriptions are being developed across the Public Service. These automated tools can ensure consistency of application across departments and can simplify the process for managers.


Best Practice – Selecting or Developing an
Automated Work Description Tool

An effective and efficient tool:

  • reflects classification policy, values and principles;
  • reflects information provided in these Guidelines on Work Description Writing in matters of work description content;
  • respects the intent of the Canadian Human Rights Act;
  • fosters gender-neutrality in both process and outcome;
  • is usable and easy to understand by managers and human resources advisors; and
  • encourages consultation with human resources advisors, to ensure the appropriateness of the work description in the specific organizational setting or context.

Annex A – Guidelines on Using Generic Work Descriptions


The Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada (PSHRMAC) supports the use of generic work descriptions as an efficient management practice. They assist managers by streamlining the development of competency profiles, learning plans, statement of qualifications and the development of broader and more efficient recruitment and promotion processes.

It is up to departmental managers to determine how broad their generic work descriptions should be within their own organizational context. Generic work descriptions allow managers to see commonalities and encourage consistent application of classification standards across organizations.

In addition, generic work descriptions are:

  • less costly than writing individual work descriptions;
  • helpful in increasing the transparency of the classification system particularly where the rationale is made public;
  • supportive of relativity between positions across the organization/department; and
  • helpful in the transition to new classification standards.



While there are great efficiencies, managers and human resources advisors should also be aware that there are risks to be considered. Action should be taken to avoid these risks:

  • Particular attention must be paid to organizational context. Generic work descriptions taken out of their organizational context may not be appropriate in other organizations. When “borrowing” generic work descriptions from other organizations, it is necessary to review the evaluation to ensure that it is appropriate in the new context.
  • Inappropriately classified generics may quickly spread misclassification across many positions.
  • While it is easier for managers to select pre-written and pre-classified work descriptions, care must be taken to ensure that the generics are well written and that a suitable generic has been selected.

Best Practice – Writing and Selecting Generic Work Descriptions

A well-developed and well-chosen generic work description has the following characteristics:

  • The appropriate occupational group and level is clearly identifiable.
  • The work of all positions using the same generic work description is in the same occupational group and at the same level.
  • The work described in a generic work description covers the vast majority of the work that has been assigned; AND the employees of positions using a specific generic work description perform the vast majority of the work described in that work description.
  • A reader can identify the work being done from the work description alone. It is not necessary to write additional fact sheets of information describing the duties of individual positions.
  • The nature of any work not explicitly described in the selected generic work description would not be significant enough to make a difference in occupational group or level.
  • The work described is appropriate to the organizational context including mandate and supervisor/subordinate reporting relationships, in which the generic is applied.
  • Managers seek the advice of their human resources advisor when choosing a generic work description for positions within their organization.

Departments should undertake change management processes to increase the use of generic work descriptions in their organization and thereby streamline the classification process. Departments should carefully consider the implications of using generic work descriptions in their own context and environment. The following are examples of issues that will require consideration:

  • Initial cost of development and maintenance may seem higher than writing unique work descriptions. However, there will be longer-term savings in both effort and turnaround time.
  • There will be a need for ongoing monitoring to ensure that the generic work descriptions are not misapplied within the department. This may result in a shift, over time, of classification resources from performing transactional client-service functions to performing corporate monitoring functions.
  • Managers may think that they have less flexibility in designing positions than they had when each position was treated individually. However, their expectations could be managed through training and increased information on the benefits of consistency found with generics.
  • Employees may feel that their work is not reflected in the generic work descriptions; this perception can be managed through appropriate communication and training.



It is important to review generic work descriptions on a regular basis and to take action to update them in a timely manner. In an organization that uses generic work descriptions, this is particularly important. Work may change for some positions described by a generic work description and not for others described by the same work description. Departments need to understand how to manage changing work in such an environment and should develop approaches to dealing with potential issues.


Best Practice – Managing Changing Work within Generic Work Description Environments

  • Individual organizations continue to evolve to meet operational requirements while using departmental generics. The human resources advisor assists the manager in the appropriate use of generics through matching the work description with the actual work assigned to employees.
  • The human resources advisor assists the manager in selecting or writing a new generic work description should the work of an employee change significantly. The change in this employee’s work and the requirement to select or write another work description does not necessarily impact the work or appropriate generic for other employees using the original generic work description.