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Why Job Analysis Matters

July 1, 2002
Related Topics: Disabilities, Featured Article, Compensation, Benefits

Ann, a 44-year-old, worked as an order-filler in a Pennsylvania warehouse.The job that required her to lift as much as 80 pounds, until a back injury tookher off work temporarily. Covered by workers’ compensation, she receivedphysical therapy for several weeks and then returned to her job. After a shorttime, however, she re-injured her back, and was off work again to receivephysical therapy and treatment. Ann returned to work a second time, only to havethe same injury flare up again.

A hard worker and a valued employee, Ann was frustrated by the back injurythat kept her off the job. In addition, her employer was paying thousands ofdollars in disability-related costs because of Ann’s injury, and the companylost the benefit of having her at work. It was time for a new strategy.

The company turned Ann’s case over to a disability-management firm, whichsearched for the underlying reason for her injury. Each time she returned towork, her doctor had pronounced her fit for duty. What then was the problem?

The answer was discovered in a complete job analysis conducted by thedisability-management firm. The analysis broke down the tasks and components ofthe job, as well as the aptitudes, skills, physical environment, and workschedule. This revealed that the amount of weight that Ann had to lift was onlypart of the problem. The compounding factor was that her job required mandatoryovertime, which proved to be too much, too soon, for Ann as she returned towork.

Without a thorough job analysis, Ann could have continued the cycle ofinjuries, perhaps until she was no longer able to perform her job. In the end,it was the job analysis that uncovered the problem and provided the solution.

More than a checklist
More than just a checklist of requirements (such as the ability to type acertain number of words per minute) or physical demands (for example, lifting 50pounds or standing for a certain number of hours), a true job analysis breaksdown and catalogs the movements, motions, and aptitudes of the tasks that makeup a job. Everything from the purpose of the job to the physical environment isnoted. With complete information and understanding of what a job entails,employers have a powerful tool for assisting and placing workers.

At the warehouse where Ann worked, employees were also videotaped as theyperformed their duties, which yielded a wealth of detail about the kinds oftasks, the physical postures, and other demands of their jobs. In Ann’s case,the job analysis became the basis of a plan for her return to work, once theproblem of the mandatory overtime had been identified.

With input from her physician, transitional duties were assigned to Ann, whoperformed her regular job for the first few hours of the day and then worked asan inventory clerk. A job analysis showed that the skills-set of the inventoryclerk matched many of the functions that Ann performed as an order-filler. Theinventory-clerk job, however, was far less physically demanding.

Over the course of several weeks, Ann’s strength and stamina were built up,enabling her eventually to work her regular job for eight hours and then laterthe mandatory overtime as well. Further, using a job analysis to designtransitional duties also reaped a large savings for the employer. Having adisability-management firm oversee her case cost the employer about $2,000 overthe course of eight months; all the while, Ann was able to contribute to companyproductivity.

A benchmarking tool
Ann’s case is a clear-cut example of the value of job analyses,particularly to determine if ill or injured employees can return to their jobsand to assign temporary, modified tasks to them. But that only scratches thesurface of usage for in-depth job analyses. Job analyses are importantdocumentation for interviewing, selecting, and training employees, as well aspromoting them. In this instance, the job analysis serves as a kind of benchmarkto measure and quantify employee performance, and to determine if an employeehas the qualifications to move into a new position.

Further job analyses can be used for safety and prevention to identify andaddress potential hazards and stress factors before they become a problem. Forexample, is it possible to reconfigure workstations to reduce the amount ofbending and lifting? Can a foot pedal be moved? Can an adjustable worktable --to allow workers to sit or stand -- be used?

Who is performing the job analysis?
To be the most effective, the job analysis must be performed by aprofessional who understands how to identify and categorize essential functions(the tasks and components of the job), determine the aptitudes and skills, andobserve the total job environment. Too often, a job analysis is performed bysomeone with no specific training who fills out a kind of "checklist" ofspecific tasks. Or, if an injury occurred last month, a medical department staffmember might be assigned to observe someone else performing the injured employee’sjob.

It takes someone who is trained in job analysis -- and preferably with aspecialty in disability management or vocational rehabilitation -- to break downa job to specific tasks, which are then analyzed. Further, it’s important tocapture not only the "essential functions" of a job -- those tasks that aremandatory and routinely performed -- but the nonessential ones as well.

For example, the main task performed by an employee at an automotive servicedepartment was to drive customers as a courtesy from the shop to nearbydestinations. A more thorough job analysis revealed that when he wasn’tdriving customers around, the employee cleaned cars, which required a lot ofbending, stooping, and twisting, which posed a problem when he was injured. Thisexample shows that a mere checklist of duties usually does not capture all thetasks that employees perform.

Job analyses must also capture the understanding and aptitudes of employeesin their current jobs and help to determine what kinds of translatable skillsthey have for another assignment. For example, does a worker who performs manuallabor have the skills and temperament to work in an office, where he must answerthe phone? Such was the case for longshoremen, whose physically demanding jobsare highly specialized, with few transferable skills outside the docks wherethey work.

Job analyses also should look at other kinds of physical demands of work,such as when an employee is sedentary. For example, desktop publishing requiresworkers to sit for long periods, which can cause neck and spinal problems. Inthis instance, a job analysis should take into account how low the employeesits, the position she sits in, and whether she takes regular breaks to stretchand move around.

Adaptive equipment
Using the job analysis as a guide, employers can investigate whether adaptiveequipment might address a problem -- or prevent a problem from arising -- for astationary worker. For example, an inexpensive computer cart would allow acomputer keyboard to be raised and lowered so that the employee could stand andwork to take a break from sitting.

Further, a job analysis might also look at how workers in similar jobs or incomparable settings perform their tasks, which could offer some insight intopossible accommodations to allow the employee to keep working. Let’s take anexample of a pharmacist who had a knee problem that prevented him from working.He couldn’t stand for long periods, nor could he lift stock to refill thepharmacy shelves. An analysis of similar jobs at other sites -- a hospitalpharmacy, a small retail pharmacy, and a large chain pharmacy -- examined howpharmacists worked in these locations, which provided ideas and potentialoptions for the injured pharmacist.

Further, job analyses not only assist in the placement of ill or injuredworkers. They also serve as a kind of protection for companies to avoidpotential litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under ADA,a person is considered to be qualified for a job if he or she can performessential functions. If the company determines that it does not have a suitableassignment, then having a thorough "catalog" of job analyses to back up thatclaim can help prevent litigation.

While this documentation proves essential in placing an employee in atemporary assignment or modifying a worker’s duties, if the illness or injuryhappens, it’s already "too late" to be the most effective. Job analysesshould be conducted for all jobs and kept up-to-date as the demands of theworkplace change. This will allow observations of the employees performing theirjobs and associated tasks before an injury ever shows up on the radar screen.

Workforce Online, June 2002 -- Register Now!

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