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Defining roles and responsibilities in the workplace: Why does it matter?


Without clearly documented roles and responsibilities, HR managers often struggle with a confused, inefficient, and even stagnant workforce.

You can fall into this trap if you’re:

  • Disconnected from the teams you hire for

  • Using outdated, vague, or confusing documentation

  • Growing your business (and all hands are on deck)

  • Hiring without candidate skills testing

Accurately defining employee expectations helps you hire more relevant, talented staff.

If your responsibility definitions need a little work – but you’re in the middle of a hiring cycle – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed about what to do next or even where to start.

This article offers insight into:

  1. Why thoroughly defining these elements is so important to your organization

  2. How to lay out roles and responsibilities from any point in your business’ life cycle

Why clearly-defined roles and responsibilities are essential in the workplace

The differences between a role and a responsibility

Firstly, there’s a difference between a role and a responsibility:

  • A role is a position or a part you play on a team

  • A responsibility is something you do within that role

For example, an outbound sales agent’s role is to qualify and warm up leads. One of their responsibilities is to secure revenue for the business.

Here’s why explicit roles and responsibilities definitions for both make meaningful differences to new hires, existing employees, and your HR strategy.

Attract better candidates

With roles and responsibilities laid out in detail at hiring, your candidates feel more confident about what they’re applying for.

At least 70% of candidates prioritize details about roles and responsibilities over all other information you give at the interview stage.[1]

Well-defined job responsibilities and roles set you apart from generic job ads. Candidates know what to do once on board, how they impact the business, interact with others, and what prospects they have.

You filter out candidates without experience, skill sets, or adaptability to your culture.

For example, for an accounting role, share:

  1. What’s expected daily (such as filing expenses)

  2. Who they report to

  3. Where they might progress to (e.g., senior client liaison)

You can further filter out the pack by explicitly defining essential accounting skills.

Boost team motivation and morale

Establishing team guidelines bestows confidence, and your workers see the impact of those guidelines at each stage of their specific tasks.

Role clarity also reduces potential stress, anxiety, and confusion over what’s required. Role ambiguity and role conflict both lead to burnout and low performance.

Employees who understand what they need to do to achieve a desired outcome feel more confident and empowered. They don’t need to reach out for help as often, creating a more self-sufficient culture in which workers feel more rewarded.[2]

As a team leader, you benefit, too – after all, simplicity breeds efficiency.

Improve team productivity

Role clarity is great for improving employee performance. Data shows that improved individual role and responsibility definitions enhance employee output by 25%. In addition, 83% of employees who feel their specific roles are clear also report high productivity levels.

Survey by Effectory reveal employees with high clarity in their roles report high levels of effectiveness and other areas


Transparency in roles and responsibilities helps you thoroughly define project, employee, and team goals, which, in turn, help you build checkpoints for their career progression. 

Guesswork and confusion regarding responsibilities create more questions, grinding productivity down. Thorough guidelines remove this ambiguity.

Employees, naturally, feel more confident knowing where they stand. A thorough Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) further helps productivity and autonomy to thrive, as well. The extra autonomy also removes the need for constant supervision.

Improve collaboration and cohesion

Staff members (and their departments) work more efficiently when they respect the individual parts they play in building an end product.

Role conflicts caused by vague instructions create unnecessary extra work, raise tensions, and slow down productivity.

Vagueness works both ways. Undercommunication leaves infinite room for guesswork, while overcommunication (long email threads and seemingly endless team meeting schedules) becomes overwhelming.

A well-defined roles and responsibilities matrix helps departments understand the part each person (and team) plays in the final product. When everyone sees who does what (and why), there’s a greater sense of respect and accountability.

Communication improves with more coherent instructions, too. An obvious chain of command and well-defined responsibilities reduces “back-and-forth,” working overlap, and general human error.

The four benefits of having clearly-defined roles and responsibilities in the workplace

6 tell-tale signs your team needs more clarity on roles and responsibilities

There are a few ways to spot if your team lacks role clarity. 

Remember, you won’t always receive direct employee feedback, and you can’t always blame poor documentation on a lack of HR competencies.

Here are a few indicators to look out for.

Tell-tale sign


Employees are burned out

Your team’s too tired and frustrated to produce great work

No one’s working well together

There’s a lack of communication, and people could clash over projects

Work is getting sloppy

Work quality, punctuality, and general attention are slipping

Workers are quitting frequently

You’re hiring as much as you’re firing (or as people are leaving your company)

New hires are struggling with probation periods

Despite coaching and support, it’s apparent your new hires aren’t improving quickly enough on the job

Documentation simply doesn’t exist

Employees have to rely on supervisors and need a lot of help

1. Employees are burned out

Stressed, irritable, and over-tired employees struggle to work with others and focus on producing good results. 

Flimsy, inaccurate, or underwhelming role clarity could drive long-term sickness, a lack of respect for others, and negative attitudes towards work, team members, and their firm.

2. No one’s working well together

High workplace morale doesn’t always mean you have a team that works well together. A lack of communication and restrictive role clarity leads to low respect for what each person does in the chain of command. 

This results in disappointing work quality and stunted productivity. As a result, managerial expectations end up clashing with employee expectations.

3. Work is getting sloppy

Sloppy work means missed deadlines, careless output quality, and important points frequently getting ignored. A knock-on effect is workers failing to improve despite coaching and development.

If you don’t define clear roles and responsibilities, your entire team could waste time redoing the same work. It’s a widespread problem: In the US, a single employee wastes almost five hours a week because of duplication of effort.

With larger teams, work gets sloppy when members don’t collaborate or communicate effectively – often due to a lack of good documentation or explicit responsibilities.

4. Workers are quitting frequently

If you’re experiencing a “revolving door” culture where you hire as often as your employees quit, take a closer look at your role detailing.

Unclear roles and responsibilities frustrate workers. They feel ignored and lost, as though they are not a proper part of the team. This leads to disengagement and, eventually, quitting.

The added effect for a company where this occurs is a reputation for short-term hiring and below-average employee culture. 

However, solid role definition combats this by showing an employee exactly where they stand within the greater picture and the true impact of their work.

5. New hires are struggling with probation periods

Worrying patterns of new hires (despite showing promise at interview) failing to pass probation means your roles and responsibilities lack clarity.

Hires failing to adapt – and struggling to respond positively to feedback – may mean you need to revisit your role definitions. 

Consider if the attitudes of your most recent hires are souring, too. Worrying patterns in disciplinary actions don’t necessarily mean your hiring process needs work – your hires may simply not have enough support to grow.

Comprehensive definitions and documentation help new hires understand their positions in a company more efficiently and therefore grow in confidence.

6. The documentation simply doesn’t exist

If your staff frequently asks for support and shows little to no autonomy after the first few months of hiring, review your documentation. 

Employees without well-defined guidelines might feel a little stranded. This affects their confidence, breeds frustration, and leads to output missing the mark. If multiple personnel struggle without guidance, you could have a clarity problem.

Create easy-to-read SOPs, digital guides, and workflows everyone has access to. Provide support channels when necessary so your team members don’t feel isolated.

Roles and responsibilities template: 8 things to include for optimal role clarity

Before we dive into ways to clarify your team roles and responsibilities, always remember to share the same information across your whole organization.

Keeping everyone informed:

  • Provides staff with departmental news and responsibilities (even outside of their own)

  • Helps employees understand their impacts on the chain of command

  • Gives your staff the confidence to continue working autonomously

Share this information through a “hub” or a “portal” accessible through your intranet. Use portals to track goals, monitor individual and team performance, and bridge gaps between HR and staffers.

A single document or checklist shouldn’t replace your work as an employee liaison. HR managers should back up their SOPs and role details by communicating freely and honestly with staff.

Here’s a roles and responsibilities template to help you start.

Defining the role and its responsibilities: A quick breakdown

Clarity-boosting tip


Summarize the role(s)

Distinctly define what you expect from employees

Explain responsibilities in detail

Detail the necessary tools, daily tasks, and who workers answer to

Outline expectations

Split “desirable” and “essential” requirements when hiring (and test for skills), and show why these factors are vital for the role

Establish the chain of command

Be transparent on who team members report to, when, and any checkpoints required

Outline management responsibilities

Advise if there’s anyone answerable to the employee and to what extent

Create clear paths to success

Outline what success looks like in this position and how personnel expects to get there

Focus on progression

Describe opportunities in-house to progress, learn, and develop

Share employee experience

Create “social proof” and share case studies to support your culture, opportunities, and all-around support

8 tips to consider for optimal role clarity

1. Summarize the role(s)

When defining the role, describe it as concisely as possible. What is it the employee in this position does? What’s their job title, and where do they fit into your company?

Being concise at the point of hiring accomplishes two major things:

  1. Leaves little room for applicant doubt

  2. Helps an applicant feel confident about their new role

People want to know that their work matters. Try sharing a few examples of how this role changes the outcome of product or service delivery.

For example, if you’re hiring for a customer service role, explain that you expect an employee to:

  • Reassure customers with negative experiences

  • Answer general inquiries about products

  • Help build business revenue (and potentially receive performance bonuses)

Summarizing and updating roles after hiring helps to boost individuals’ feelings of self-worth. It gives them a transparent record of what you expect from them and a standard to measure themselves against.

2. Explain team roles and responsibilities in detail

Going deeper into the daily responsibilities of a position helps applicants make up their minds about whether or not to apply.

The knock-on effect for you is that you receive higher quality and more specialized candidates.

Delving into detail on responsibilities post-hiring improves employee autonomy, too. Staff members might simply use a well-defined SOP to check where the buck stops and how they affect others.

Adding detail to employee responsibilities includes:

  • Building upon daily tasks and checkpoints

  • Identifying who they answer to

  • Explaining which tools and programs they need to do the job

Diving deep into these details removes any doubt or assumption from the minds of your new hires and existing employees. Always assume that new hires need guidance, regardless of how talented and experienced they appear.

When fleshing out responsibilities, link to specific guides, SOPs, and walkthroughs. Walls of text are tough to digest – where possible, use your company’s intranet to encourage staff to explore at their own pace.

3. Outline expectations

Being clear on what people need to succeed in their roles refines candidate quality. Clear expectations show applicants your boundaries and the most talented hires how to progress with you.

Ideally, focus on splitting experience into “required” and “desired” columns.

For example, if you’re hiring a copywriter:

The added effect is that the applicants you want to attract know they have a great chance of getting hired. 

Skills-based hiring (and testing at application) helps applicants prove their worth, regardless of experience.

With skills-based hiring, you onboard better-fitting candidates and help existing team members understand how to progress further internally.

4. Establish the chain of command

Every employee’s role outline should directly tell them who they report to and who reports to them. An easily understandable chain of command drastically improves communication.[3]

A chain of command doesn’t purely list managers and supervisors but includes the departments and subject matter experts employees report to at each stage in the project plan.

For example, a graphic designer could report to a marketing manager, a copy editor, and their own supervisors.

This chain should explain what management expects from their workforce through these communication channels. Who do they present drafts to? Who should they email or IM if they need immediate support?

It’s wise to list any regular meetings, coaching sessions, and appraisals expected of your staff. Be explicit on weekly project reviews and deadline checkpoints.

Transparent chains of command help departments build mutual respect through collaboration and lower the risk of double working (which slows down productivity and reduces morale).

5. Outline management responsibilities

Well-defined responsibilities help both entry-level hires and managers adapt to new cultures. 

Management role clarity builds autonomy and reduces miscommunication between employees and supervisors.

Just as you outline who workers answer to, consider the reverse – who’s answerable to them? Do they communicate with multiple departments or several employees within a single team?

Be clear on the reviews and sessions managers carry out to keep projects on track. Build company-wide coaching checklists and edit them with regular feedback from your managers.

As with all hires, it’s easy to assume that a qualified manager needs little motivation and detail from day one. However, this attitude risks communication overlap, inappropriate or irrelevant feedback delivery, and frustrated personnel.

6. Create clear paths to success

If you have any shining examples of success in a role, share them with new employees to help them visualize their own path. By sharing success, you give your hires a better picture of how your company works and what you expect from them.

Consider using case studies from previous clients and current crew. You could include the following points:

  1. What challenges did the client face before using your services?

  2. What did the team need to do to succeed? What were the checkpoints?

  3. Did the team need any additional tools, support, or feedback?

  4. What was the client’s end response? Did they need a revision, or were they happy with the end result?

“Showing, not telling” helps people to visualize how individual and team success is possible. This removes ambiguity and the need for clarification at the point of hiring and on the job.

Consider creating simple checklists or visual funnels for staff to follow based on their roles and departments. Make sure each step is logical for a given position or role, with routes for help and support if people need it. 

7. Focus on progression

Many employees value learning in-house via their employers. Beyond salary and financial incentives, your hires want to build new skills and grow with you. 

Progression opportunities aren’t always appropriate for some opportunities. When candidates can’t move higher in a role, show them potential incentives for great work.

In job descriptions, let applicants know exactly where a role can lead if they show aptitude and loyalty. If a supervisory role is possible within five years of onboarding, emphasize this.

Show you care about helping staff members gain new skills and experience by emphasizing any learning and development opportunities you offer, including training and webinars, or even certifications.

Show where these new skills could lead them in your organization, and share case studies from employees who progressed into higher-paid, more satisfying, and challenging positions.

Outlining progression opportunities helps:

  • Attract talented people who value career development over immediate salary

  • Retain those who are looking for higher salaries and new challenges

Testing employee skills post-hiring helps you find new opportunities for your staff and solve specific problems across your organization more efficiently. A skills-based hiring model helps managers find and prepare for such opportunities.

8. Share employee experiences

Make your job openings more tempting with detailed examples of what happens on a typical day on the team. By bringing in these examples, you add an extra dimension to an otherwise simple wall of text.

Sharing experiences isn’t purely promotional. Letting employees share their stories helps candidates:

  • Understand whether or not they’re the right fit for the job

  • Appreciate what management expects of them from day to day

  • Resolve any questions they have that prevent them from applying

  • Decide if they’re happy in such a position long-term

This new dimension of clarity helps to save time and effort all around and enables you to find candidates with relevant experience and the right personality for your culture.

It applies the other way around, too. Up to 15% of job applicants refuse offers because the culture’s a bad fit.[4]

Clearly-defined team roles and responsibilities lead to effective skills-based hiring

With well-defined roles and responsibilities, you know more precisely what you’re looking for in new hires.

Consider hiring based on specific skills and experiences (e.g., skills in Shopify or Magento for an ecommerce web design role). This way, you’re not relying on outdated criteria such as college degrees or years of agency experience as sole reasons for onboarding.

Skills-based hiring is trending because candidates expect greater job satisfaction and not just attractive salaries. 

It helps new hires understand better how their talents affect the companies they join and what’s expected of them as soon as they arrive.

From HR’s perspective, skills-based hiring ensures a higher quality of candidates and a wider, more diverse talent pool.

It all starts with role clarity – detailed documentation on roles and responsibilities helps HR teams and managers find the precise skills they want to test for.

HR managers and recruiters use resources such as TestGorilla’s library of tests to measure capability when hiring. Tests help cross-promote employees once on board and open up new, less obvious opportunities.

For example, when hiring a brand manager or marketing specialist, a Branding Strategy test helps to show applicants’ experience in building identities and how to reposition them in changing markets.

Role clarity = happier staff = corporate growth

When you plainly establish roles and responsibilities in the workplace, your teams (and new hires) know where they stand.

As an HR manager, consider using solid role identities to hire based on skills, not just experience.

With well-defined responsibilities, your team is happier, more confident, more productive, and ready to grow with your firm. You reduce employee turnover, too.

Skill-based hiring changes how HR managers grow their businesses and opens infinite opportunities to talented professionals.

If you’d like to know more about how skills testing helps improve your corporate culture and boost growth, we’ve got more guides to help you navigate your way through pre-employment testing.

If you’re already hiring managers to help lead and grow highly skilled teams, why not start with our Leadership and People Management test? Sign up for your free-forever account or book a free 30-minute live demo of our software.


  1. Reilly, Kate. (July 24, 2017). “5 Insights from LinkedIn’s Latest Research on What Candidates Want”. LinkedIn Talent Blog. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-strategy/linkedin-new-research-inside-mind-of-todays-candidate 

  2. Sixpence, Samuel; Muzanenhamo, Leonard; Ukpere, Wilfred. (December 31, 2022). “Linkage between rewards and workspace morale in a hyperinflationary environment”. Organizational Culture, Leadership and Human Resources Management. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.ssbfnet.com/ojs/index.php/ijrbs/article/view/2235 

  3. “The Chain of Command & Why It’s Important”. (March 31, 2021). Organimi: Organizational Design. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.organimi.com/the-chain-of-command-why-its-important/ 

  4. “2018 Job Seeker Nation Study”. (2018). Jobvite. Retrieved March 2, 2023. https://www.jobvite.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2018\_Job\_Seeker\_Nation\_Study.pdf


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