Egg Yolks and Egg Whites (job descriptions)

There is a theory called the “egg yolk, egg white theory” which I was first introduced to when I studied the Advanced Diploma in Language Teaching Management, at ESADE, Spain (now called the International Diploma in Language Teaching Management).

The theory goes like this: all jobs have an element of prescribed tasks (this is the egg yolk) and less defined areas (this is the egg white). The more responsibility you have in your job, the smaller the yolk and the larger the white. So a new teacher with very little experience should, in theory, have a very detailed job description outlining the school’s expectations of the teacher.  This extreme of the spectrum is exemplified by a certain well-known chain of schools (to remain nameless) which offered a type of blended learning solution to students and required their teachers to “follow the script” in the class (all yolk and no white).

As we gain experience and are given roles of responsibility e.g. Level coordinator, ADOS, etc the amount of white increases and the amount of yolk is reduced. The base requirements of this position of responsibility will be outlined and hopefully agreed with the person in question, but the level coordinator will have the freedom to be creative to develop their functions within the constraints of their job description.

If we move further up the scale to Academic Manager, Director of Studies, Director of Teacher Training etc, again theory has it that the yolk reduces in size and the white increases. The white needs to be large to allow for innovation, and give these people the flexibility to deal with the inevitable unexpected issues which arise.

People’s experience, ambition and personality play a fundamental role in how comfortable they feel with the amount of yolk and white in their jobs. For insecure, inexperienced teachers, taking on a job with too much white and not enough yolk can be extremely stressful.

It is also very important that the job description actually matches the job to be carried out. Take the case of a woman who was looking for a low-stress job in which she just had to do what she was told. She didn’t want the sort of job which demands initiative and responsibility.  She applied for and got a job for which the job description, pay and advertisement implied that this would be the case. The reality was far from that. She walked into a job which demanded a high degree of organisation and autonomy. She was very stressed by the job, her colleagues were not happy with her performance, her confidence was undermined and she ended up leaving the company.

At the other end of the spectrum there can be too little definition in job descriptions of positions of responsibility and as a result conflict can arise. When job descriptions are not very defined, a person’s perception of their responsibility and role in an organisation may not correspond to their boss’ perception or to their colleagues’. This is often exacerbated by the fact that jobs evolve over time but job descriptions are not usually re-written, re-negotiated or shared with other members of the organisation.  Added to this is the potential confusion and association connected to job titles. People in positions of responsibility are usually assigned job titles which should communicate effectively and succinctly their role in an organisation. When job titles do not perform this function and cause misunderstanding, it is time for them to be changed.

Underestimating the importance of a clear job title and job definition which corresponds to the correct amount of yolk and white for the position in question, will cause unnecessary stress for all involved. And if the position or job evolves, especially at higher levels of responsibility, re-defining, agreeing and making public these changes, will not only help to make an organisation run more efficiently, but will lead to transparency, acceptance and fewer misunderstandings.