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Job Design History and Overview

The job design approach was conceptualized from Frederick Winslow Taylor's research of time and motion and scientific management.  Taylor was a mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency through education and experience in factory work during the post-Industrial Revolution era.  This was a time in American history when a significant amount of the workforce consisted of uneducated, English, illiterate immigrants.  Taylor noticed that most jobs of this time were fairly simple, such as assembly line and factory jobs.  He noticed several issues with this work setting.  Employees seemed to complain about having such a boring job.  This led to higher absentee rates and high turnover rates. Managers thought the best way to increase motivation was with money but did not think about job content (PSU World Campus, 2014).  Taylor's ideas of separating the planning from execution and simplifying tasks have polarized views of his legacy amongst historians.  One of the views that Taylor strongly believed in was the idea that management was responsible for deciding how to divide and design the work, as well as, institute the control methods (Morgeson, F. and Campion, M. 2003). In addition, many identified his ideas to be employee-centric, focusing on designing tasks to fit the abilities of the workforce while others interpreted his emphasis on the measurement of time and productivity to be dehumanizing (Sandrone, 2012). 

No matter the interpretation, Taylor’s contribution to the study of redesigning tasks and processes to motivate workers and increase productivity is indisputable.  His ideas to discover and implement "the most suitable practice where it exists", "decompose tasks into constituent elements", and eliminate things that do not add value (Hamel, 1995) inspired two predominate theories in this approach to motivation. The first, Frederick Herzberg's (1974) Two-Factor Theory, states that two factors contribute to motivation and cause satisfaction or dissatisfaction (PSU, 2012).  The second, Hackman and Oldham's (1976) Job Characteristics Theory focused primarily on the content and nature of the tasks.

The general concept of job design (or re-design) is that workers are motivated to perform better when they find satisfaction in their jobs. Research suggests jobs that are interesting, motivating, and meaningful often supply employees with a high level of satisfaction, which translates into a productive work-force that meets business goals (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005). On the other hand, aimless or haphazardly designed jobs that lack adequate attention to the needs of the workers can be described as nothing more than "arbitrary groupings of activities" (Campion & Thayer, 1987, p. 78). 
     


Herzberg's Two-factor Theory

 

Otherwise known as the motivation-hygiene theory, the two-factor theory was developed by Frederick Herzberg and is based on­ the idea that there are two factors in job motivation.  Herzberg did not believe motivation came from external rewards, or different situations within the job.  He believed motivation came from the actual nature of the job (PSU World Campus, 2014). The two factors he believed in are extrinsic, or "hygiene" factors, and intrinsic motivators and its correlated constructs --satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Herzberg believed that hygiene factors, such as company policies, working conditions, and compensation, did not serve to motivate individuals but could cause or prevent dissatisfaction (Herzberg, 1974). Properly developed intrinsic motivators, according to Herzberg, included areas such as interesting work, recognition, and personal growth, which could enhance employee motivation and satisfaction. Below is a table that shows the top factors to both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The table demonstrates that factors leading to one do not lead to the other and provide examples of hygiene and motivational factors. Herzberg reasoned that the feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposite of each other on a scale, but are in fact, different constructs. According to Herzberg, satisfaction can only exist if there are motivating factors. Likewise, hygiene factors can only lead to dissatisfaction or a lack of dissatisfaction, but if there is dissatisfaction there can be no motivation. 

 

General Characteristics of Herzberg’s Theory

1.   Hygiene Factors– Extrinsic factors relating to job context (e.g., benefits, pay, working conditions, relationships with co-workers, ect.). Hygiene factors lead to dissatisfaction or lack of dissatisfaction, these factors alone do not lead to satisfaction (PSU, 2012).

2.   Motivational Factors– Intrinsic factors relating to job content (e.g., autonomy, level of challenge, responsibility, ect.). Motivators lead to satisfaction or lack of satisfaction (PSU, 2012),

3.   Satisfaction– Satisfaction, which is considered to be different from dissatisfaction, leads to motivation. For example, if an employee feels that his or her work is meaningful s/he may feel satisfied and take pride in the job therefore motivating him/her to exhibit high performance (e.g, staying late after work, paying close attention to details, helping new employees).  

4.   Dissatisfaction– Dissatisfaction, which is considered to be different from satisfaction, does not lead to motivation.  For example, an employee who is content with pay will not quit but may not be motivated to perform at a higher level than s/he is already performing.

Matthew Alanis is an Instructor of Business at Willow International Community College in Fresno, California. Matthew was also previously an Adjunct Professor at Reedley College and holds an M.B.A. from Fresno State University. Matthew has held jobs in the private sector in addition to teaching and explains how Herzberg' Theory relates back to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the impact the theory can have in the work place.



(Alanis, Episode 84: Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory of Motivation)



Job Characteristics Theory

In 1976, Hackman and Oldham developed the Job Characteristics Theory, which took the idea of intrinsic motivation further by defining psychological states that must be present in order for workers to be motivated. These states are dependent upon the characteristics of the job and are moderated by an individual’s internal desire for growth (Hackman & Oldham, 1976). The Job Characteristics Theory suggests that employees may be more internally motivated, satisfied with their overall job and personal growth opportunities, generate high quality work, and have a lower absence and/or turnover when all are followed by a well-developed job design. This, in turn, will result in positive work outcomes. The theory was originally intended as a way to evaluate jobs and to see if they should be redesigned to increase employee motivation and production. After creation of the theory, a relationship between job characteristics and the employee's motivation was found. The Job Characteristics Theory has three primary components: core job dimensions, critical psychological states, and work outcomes. Each of these components work together to influence employee motivation. The relationships of the three primary components and the way in which each corresponds to employee motivation is illustrated below in the Job Characteristics Model of Work Motivation (Campion & Thayer, 1987).

(Graphic of Job Characteristics Model of Work Motivation is from Hackman, J., & Oldham, G. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of the theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 25-279 as cited in PSU WC, L 10, p. 7)

Core Job Dimensions

There are five core job dimensions: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and job feedback.  

  • Skill variety refers to the number of different skills a specific job requires. 
    • Ex) Management positions have high skill variety because they must supervise employees, track company performance, and provide feedback.  Assembly line positions have low skill variety because they use one skill repetitively throughout the day.   
  • Task Identity is the extent to which a job requires completing the whole process from beginning to end.
    • Ex) A landscaper who works alone will do a job completely from start to finish to meet the customer's desires, this is high task identity.  A factory who only boxes the final product has low task identity because he/she only performed a small portion of the overall task.
  • Task significance refers to how important a job is and its impact on others.
    • Ex) All jobs do have a level of importance, and everyone will view this differently.  An emergency room doctor may feel his/her job is more meaningful than that job of the hospital janitor.    
  • Autonomy is the level of choice, freedom, and independence employees feel they have to do their jobs. 
    • Ex) Assembly line workers do not have a high level of autonomy; they experience little freedom in what they do on a daily basis, and will likely always have a schedule set for them.  A school principle has higher job autonomy.  They have different tasks to do everyday, and action oriented.
  •  Job feedback is the direct and clear information received by the employee regarding the effectiveness of their performance.
    • Ex) A electrician will receive immediate feedback when they are working on a job.  A sales manager who implemented a new sales technique for his/her team will not receive immediate feedback, he/she will have to give it time to see if it truly worked.

Critical Psychological States

There are three critical psychological states: experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility, and knowledge.  
       

  • Experienced meaningfulness is the extent to which the employee feels his job is important.  The core dimensions, skill variety, task identity and task significance, are all areas that determine the meaningfulness of the job.
     
  • Experienced responsibility is the degree of personal accountability a person has for their work outcomes. This accountability would lead to a feeling of autonomy.
     
  • Knowledge refers to how well a person believes they are performing on the job, which may be influenced by the job feedback an employee receives regarding their performance.  

     
When these states are met the employee should have increased motivation, satisfaction, and productivity levels.  This will also lead to less frequent absence, and less chance of the employee resigning (PSU World Campus, 2014).  These critical psychological states are crucial in designing a stable working environment.


Work Outcomes

To measure work outcomes, Hackman and Oldham (1976) developed what they termed the Motivational Potential Score (MPS).  MPS suggests that by measuring the elements from the core job dimensions and critical psychological states, on­e may be able to predict the potential for motivating a person. MPS is a summary index of a job's potential for motivating a person using the five core dimensions (Smith & Hitt, 2005). Skill variety, task identity, and task significance all contribute to a sense of meaningfulness. Autonomy gives the jobholder a sense of responsibility and feedback satisfies the need for knowledge. A score of 0 on any one of the characteristics results in an overall motivational score of 0. Scores above 0 will vary by the individuals rating the job.

Hackman and Oldham (1976) developed the following equation to determine a person's MPS:
   
MPS = [(Skill Variety + Task Significance + Task Identity)/3] * Autonomy * Feedback

      

Further, Job Characteristics Theory predicts attitudes and behavior based on the reactions of job incumbents to their tasks. The impact of a job on a person is moderated by a person's needs (Hackman & Oldham, 1976). According to Hackman and Oldham (1980), if certain characteristics are present in a job, jobholders will be internally motivated to perform well because certain needs will be met. This sequence is explicit in Hackman and Oldham's (1980) explanation of the 'motivating potential' of jobs. Increasing the motivating potential signifies the degree to which jobs are 'enriched' in that they provide for the fulfillment of growth needs (Gardner & Cummings, 1988). Growth needs, in turn, focus on the development of human potential and the desire for personal growth and increased competence (Alderfer,1969).  Growth need strength is different for each individual and not every person would respond well to position with high MPS (PSWC, 2013).  Some employees simply want someone else to tell them what to do, get a paycheck, and go home (PSWC, 2013).

Matthew Alanis explains how businesses utilize the Job Characteristics Theory of Motivation to find the aspects of jobs that lead to motivation (note: this is a two part video. Click here for part 2.)

(Alanis, Episode 85: Job Characteristics Model of Motivation (Part 1))



Campion and Thayer - A Multidisciplinary Approach to Job Design 

 

The theory by Campion and Thayer (1987), based on their study in job design, includes four different approaches: Mechanistic, Motivational, Biological, and Perceptual/Motor Job Design.  Job design quality and functionality can be well assessed by using the questionnaires / scales created by Campion and Thayer (1987), based on their exhaustive review of Job Design research.  

 

 

Using the following questionnaire, they analyzed more than 120 jobs. They also “collected information on a broad spectrum of job outcomes including job satisfaction, absenteeism, training time, staffing difficulty, physical effort required, injury rates, error rates, job stress, and mental demands…The technical details of this study are presented in the February 1985 issue of Journal of Applied Psychology” (Campion & Thayer, 1987, p.68).  They found four different approaches to job design, and that each of those approaches was geared towards a different set of outcomes.  The four sets of questions are outlined below, they come directly from Campion & Thayer (1987). 

       

THE MECHANISTIC JOB-DESIGN APPROACH

1. Job specialization: Is the job highly specialized in terms of purpose and/or activity?

2. Specialization of tools and procedures: Are the tools, procedures, materials, etc. used on this job highly specialized in terms of purpose?

3. Task simplification: Are the tasks simple and uncomplicated?

4. Single activities: Does the job require the incumbent to do only one task at a time? Does it not require the incumbent to do multiple activities at one time or in very close succession?

5. Job simplification: Does the job require relatively little skill and training time?

6. Repetition: Does the job require performing the same activity or activities repeatedly?

7. Spare time: Is there very little spare time between activities on this job?

8. Automation: Are many of the activities of this job automated or assisted by automation?

 

THE MOTIVATIONAL JOB-DESIGN APPROACH

1. Autonomy: Does the job allow freedom, independence, or discretion in work scheduling, sequence, methods, procedures, quality control, or other decisions?

2. Intrinsic job feedback: Do the work activities themselves provide direct, clear information about the effectiveness (in terms of quality and quantity) of job performance?

3. Extrinsic job feedback: Do other people in the organization (such as managers and coworkers) provide information about the effectiveness (in terms of quality and quantity) of job performance?

4. Social interaction: Does the job provide for positive social interaction (such as teamwork or coworker assistance)?

5. Task/goal clarity: Are the job duties, requirements, and goals clear and specific?

6. Task variety: Does the job have a variety of duties, tasks, and activities?

7. Task identity: Does the job require completion of a whole and identifiable piece of work? Does it give the incumbent a chance to do an entire piece of work from beginning to end?

8. Ability/skill-level requirements: Does the job require a high level of knowledge, skills, and abilities?

9. Ability/skill variety: Does the job require a variety of types of knowledge, skills, and abilities?

10. Task significance: Is the job significant and important compared with other jobs in the organization?

11. Growth/learning: Does the job allow opportunities for learning and growth in competence and proficiency?

12. Promotion: Are there opportunities for advancement to higher-level jobs?

13. Achievement: Does the job provide for feelings of achievement and task accomplishment?

14. Participation: Does the job allow participation in work-related decision making?

15. Communication: Does the job provide access to relevant communication channels and information flows?

16. Pay adequacy: Is the pay for this job adequate compared with the job requirements and pay for similar jobs?

17. Recognition: Does the job provide acknowledgment and recognition from others?

18. Job security: Do incumbents on this job have a high degree of job security?

 

THE BIOLOGICAL JOB-DESIGN APPROACH

1. Strength: Does the job require fairly little muscular strength?

2. Lifting: Does the job require fairly little lifting, and/or is the lifting of very light weights?

3. Endurance: Does the job require fairly little muscular endurance?

4. Seating: Are the seating arrangements on the job adequate (with ample opportunities to sit, comfortable chairs, good postural support, etc.)?

5. Size differences: Does the workplace allow for all size differences between people in terms of clearance, reach, eye height, leg room, etc.?

6. Wrist movement: Does the job allow the wrists to remain straight, without excessive movement?

7. Noise: Is the workplace free from excessive noise?

8. Climate: Is the climate at the workplace comfortable in terms of temperature and humidity, and is it free of excessive dust and fumes?

9. Work breaks: Is there adequate time for work breaks given the demands of the job?

10. Shift work: Does the job not require shift work or excessive overtime?

 

THE PERCEPTUAL / MOTOR JOB-DESIGN APPROACH

1. Lighting: Is the lighting in the workplace adequate and free from glare?

2. Displays: Are the displays, gauges, meters, and computerized equipment used on this job easy to read and understand?

3. Programs: Are the programs in the computerized equipment for this job easy to learn and use?

4. Other equipment: Is the other equipment (all types) used on this job easy to learn and use?

5. Printed job materials: Are the printed materials used on this job easy to read and interpret?

6. Workplace layout: Is the workplace laid out so that the employee can see and hear well enough to perform the job?

7. Information input requirements: Is the amount of attention needed to perform this job fairly minimal?

8. Information output requirements: Is the amount of information that the employee must output on this job, in terms of both action and communication, fairly minimal?

9. Information processing requirements: Is the amount of information that must be processed, in terms of thinking and problem solving, fairly minimal?

10. Memory requirements: Is the amount of information that must be remembered on this job fairly minimal?

11. Stress: Is there relatively little stress on this job?

12. Boredom: Are the chances of boredom on this job fairly small?

    

Utilizing this system, we can ensure that the mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual aspects of a worker are being addressed and not neglected.  A thorough application of these exhibits (above) will result in a positive and productive experience for both worker and manager, or employee and employer.  In the end, they both want the same thing, a happy, healthy and productive worker, who does not need many sick days and does not suffer job-related injuries, etc. Campion and Thayer’s (1987) work deserves much attention and respect, and has been widely used in the world of Occupational Sciences and I/O Psychology. 

      

 


Application of Job Design in the Workplace

There are several ways to implement job design in the workplace. Campion and Thayer (1987) offer four individual approaches: mechanistic, motivational, biological, and perceptual/motor. Each is designed to focus on different characteristics of a job, thereby producing different outcomes, costs, and benefits when used to redesign a job. The table below compares and contrasts the four approaches:
     

Table based on job design approaches from Campion & Thayer (1987).

Theories at Work

Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory:

Prior to Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory, organizations felt that employees were motivated by financial incentives and workplace conditions.  The Two-Factor Theory placed more emphasis on job content and providing employees with work that is meaningful, challenging, and interesting (PSWC, 2013).  The Two-Factor Theory led to the implementation of job enrichment, which is still common in organizations today (PSWC, 2013).  The Herzberg theory suggests that management needs to focus on reestablishing work so motivators are able to work. This can be done through job enlargement, job rotation, and job enrichment:

Janitorial positions can be enriched by allowing employees to order their own cleaning supplies. This is a task that was normally done by the manager, but by passing it to the employee he/she may feel an increase in job satisfaction. Also, allowing the janitor to create his/her own work schedule increases the autonomy of the job (PSU, 2012).

In the past, the duties of secretarial positions included running errands for the supervisor, answering phones, scheduling appointments, and passing along messages. Secretarial positions have been enriched by allowing secretaries to take care of accounting and finances, sitting in on meetings, and dealing with human resource issues (PSU, 2012).

  
Before a job can be enriched, it must be analyzed to determine what the job entails and how it can be improved.  This can be done through the following steps:

Step OneReview the literature and other extant data (training manual, old job descriptions, etc.)
Step TwoAsk immediate managers about responsibilities and tasks required to do the job well
Step ThreeAsk similar questions to the current employee doing the job
Step FourObserve an employee who does the job well
Step Five

Try to do the job yourself, careful to not attempt jobs that are very dangerous and that are done by employees with prolonged experience

Step SixWrite a job description detailing all your findings

(Robertson and Smith, 1985)
     

Job Characteristics Theory:

Assemblers on an assembly line are required to stand or sit in constant position for significant periods of time engaging in repetitive, monotonous motions. To enrich these jobs, employers may implement a rotating assembly schedule to allow the employees to complete several different tasks during a scheduled work day. Anyone who works a job where they are constantly doing the same motion over and over (example: cashiers, line cook, truck drivers, call centers) have the chance of becoming unsatisfied with their monotonous work. Employers should consider the motivating factors that would be present with re-designing the job to increase job motivation and (potentially) productivity.  This can come in the form of job rotation, which is defined as "systematic movement of employees from job to job within an organization" (Cheraskin & Campion, 1996).  This can also come from the four approaches to job design outlined in Champion and Thayer (1987).  These include Mechanistic Job Design approach, Motivational Job Design approach, Biological Job Design approach, and Perceptual Job Design approach.  Each of these approaches have benefits and drawbacks to consider.  Champion and Thayer (1987) suggest that any job redesign approaches should involve the job incumbent in the redesign.

The main purpose of job design (or re-design) is to increase both employee motivation and productivity (Rush, 1971). Increased productivity can manifest itself in various forms. For example, the focus can be that of improving quality and quantity of goods and services, reduce operation costs, and/or reduce turnover and training costs.  It should be stated that while the job characteristics theory correlates with job satisfaction, the correlation with job performance is not as clear (PSU World Campus, 2014).
     

 


Research on Job Design

Herzberg's Two-factor Theory

An empirical test was conducted to investigate the validity of the two-factor theory that failed to stifle the debate centered on the theory (Ewen, Hulin, Locke, & Smith, 1966). The empirical test assessed multiple hypotheses using a sample of 793 male employees from diverse work backgrounds. Motivators (intrinsic variables) were the work itself and promotions, whereas the hygiene (extrinsic variable) was salary. The intrinsic variables were referred to as “satisfiers” and the extrinsic one was referred to as the “dissatisfier.” The study used the Job Descriptive Index (JDI) to measure job satisfaction precisely.  This instrument was developed at Cornell University and according to Ewen et al. (1966) is a well-constructed and reliable tool to measure job satisfaction. 

The results revealed that the satisfiers demonstrated a stronger correlation to both overall satisfaction and dissatisfaction than did the dissatisfier. They also strongly imply that discontented feelings towards intrinsic variables produce general dissatisfaction. However, the participants that were neutral towards intrinsic variables were discovered to be generally more satisfied then the malcontent. These remarkable outcomes were consistent with each hypothesis tested. These results don’t bolster one theory to the detriment of the other--rather, the results prove aspects of one theory while simultaneously disproving components of the other. This experiment was designed using only three factors that influenced job satisfaction which left out many factors that could have impacted results. There were some other limitations in this study, but the evidence suggests that, overall, satisfiers remain the most significant source of job satisfaction. The dissatisfier was found to be dependent upon how content the participant was with the satisfier. This empirical test yielded data that failed to confirm the Herzberg two-factor theory as well as the one-dimensional traditional theory of job satisfaction (Ewen et al., 1966).

Nathan King (1970) presents a study comparing five versions of the theory offered by other researchers in their attempts to define Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory. The author attempts to explain and evaluate these versions of the theory, hoping to isolate a conclusive definition. Each version carries a different balance of motivators and hygiene, but all posit that the combination of the two is what determines motivation. In the end, the study exposed the limits of current empirical data on the theory as well as extant holes in the research. In addition, King discovered that not all versions could be supported empirically, and that further investigation was needed to determine a valid working definition of the two factor theory.

Interestingly, a recent empirical study was published concerning the two-factor theory and how it influenced job motivation for seasonal hotel and tourism workers. The study itself was largely focused on peaking demands of work at different times of the year (Kennedy, 1999). The researchers questioned whether motivation increases or decreases based on the season and investigated which factors influence job motivation. According to this study, Herzberg proposed that humans have two sets of needs and our work satisfaction and dissatisfaction depend on whether those needs are met (Lundberg, Gudmundson, & Andersson, 2008). The results of this study confirmed that work motivation is in fact driven by the satisfaction of our higher needs and not by our mundane needs. According to this study, if employers want employees to have higher work motivation, then they must give more responsibility and feedback to all employees.

Another study conducted by Parsons and Broadbride (2006) also confirmed the two-factor theory and its effect on motivation. This study focused on work motivation in a retail setting. The researchers were theorizing whether extrinsic or intrinsic factors increased work motivation, and if so, which one increased it the most. What the researcher found was that intrinsic factors such as responsibility, self-development, and personal recognition increased job satisfaction and work motivation. They also found that extrinsic factors decrease employee's job satisfaction.

Job Characteristics Theory

The job characteristics theory had more research conducted with greater support for it. Hackman and Oldham (1976) defined which work characteristics produced more satisfied workers in job situations. The five characteristics are: autonomy, skill variety, task identity, task significance, and feedback. According to the theory, these five components boost positive behavioral and attitudinal outcomes while lessening chances of negative ones. As a result of these changes, people should become more motivated and therefore improve work performance (Greasley, 2009). Another study, conducted by Fried and Ferris (1987), discovered via meta-analysis that those five characteristics correlated strongly with job satisfaction, growth satisfaction, and internal work motivation. However, these five traits showed a poor relationship to job performance and absenteeism.

Humphrey, Nahrgang, and Morgeson (2007) conducted a study, which attempted to prove whether the five characteristics truly show a relationship with all characteristics suggested by the theory. The study reviewed more than 250 studies and nearly 250,000 participants confirming that job design is integral to worker motivation. Although there was definitive evidence of differing levels of effects each of these characteristics has on worker motivation, the end result still confirmed the theory created by Hackman and Oldham: That each of these components has a legitimate and real effect.

Another study was conducted on the relationship between job design and burnout among prison staff. Due to the high psychological demands and deleterious effects of emotional stress on prison employees, research suggests that the job characteristics impact employee motivation and performance that ultimately result in burnout and high turnover (Lambert, Hogan, Dial, Jiang, & Khondaker, 2012). Drawing from Hackman and Oldman’s Job Characteristics Theory (1976), researchers set out to discover which dimensions of the Job Characteristics Theory, specifically supervisions, job variety, feedback, and autonomy, are negatively experienced by the staff. Surveys were administered to prison staff at a state-run, high security facility.  With a response rate of 68%, the researchers were able to determine that emotional burnout (dependent variable) was negatively correlated with the four job characteristics. When the supervision, variety, feedback and autonomy indices were high, there was a decrease in respondent’s feelings of emotional burnout. What’s more, the positions held had a direct impact on emotional exhaustion in that those respondents who had frequent contact with inmates had a higher rate of burnout. Interestingly, the largest effect on the dependent variable was the job characteristic of autonomy, followed by position and feedback, while supervision and job variety had no significant effect. This data suggests that positive, rather than negative affect, increases staff performance by providing clarity of job expectations and sense of control among hierarchical or power-driven workplace such as a correctional facility.  That is, workplace stressors are mediated by the positive effects of the aforementioned characteristics and assist in reducing emotional burnout and turnover.
     

Current Research in the Field

Job Design and Reinforcement Theory

One recent study correlated the job-design theory with monetary compensation. Since establishing social relationships relate to the dimensions of skill variety, task significance, autonomy, and in some cases job feedback, then jobs that have a social aspects to them, like dealing with clients and customer (both internal and external) are thought to be more rewarding and motivating. A hypothesis that the researchers proposed that emotional labor in a position is more motivating depending on the value of the reward for performing well. Their study found that jobs designed around interacting with customer that had a financial reward ended up being positively correlated, that is the employee was more satisfied and motivated in their position when the job involved working with the public as well as being financially rewarding for good performance with the same public (Grandey, Chi, & Diamond, 2013). This brings into play the tenets of reinforcement theory as well since positive reinforcement through monetary compensation can play an important part in motivation as well. Since the job design was performed, the test for the researchers brought the idea of “the reinforcer is contingent or dependent on certain behaviors occurring” for the employees when they worked well with customers (PSU WC, 2014, L.3, p.4).  This demonstrates that job design can either be enacted on its own or combined with other theories of motivation to have an enhanced effect. In this specific case, the positive behaviors multiplied with reward for correct action, but only if the job was designed to directly deal in the public.

Oldham and Hackman's Research (Updated)

One recent meta-analysis contributing to the field of job design emphasizes the fact that the situation has changed from when Herzberg initially developed his own theory. The core of this theory looks to the situation as it is today, with workers doing work at a variety of locations, even from home in some instances. In addition to the change of venue, jobs are no longer specified to a single task, instead having workers “balancing among several different activities and responsibilities, none of which is defined as their main job” (Oldham & Hackman, 2010, p.466). This reflects that the nature of job design has changed into a more fluid concept, with workers doing tasks “as required” instead of focusing on being a solitary piece of an organization. Though the researchers had previously hypothesized that work in this form would become more specialized, in many ways it has become vaguer, requiring employees to be a “jack of all trades” in the workplace.

The primary focus of the study discusses how jobs have become more of a social entity, requiring even greater communication with people both in and out of an office, instead of being compartmentalized. It even goes to the point where employees are responsible for crafting their own positions, instead of relying entirely on an organization to do it for them. This type of thinking changes job design into a participative process, one where a company lays out a basic framework, but employees become responsible for the intricacies of “their own preferences and needs…[and] inefficiencies and redundancies in the work processes” (Oldham & Hackman, 2010, p.471). A concept of this nature makes the process of job design a continually evolving process, dependent upon the will of the employee and balanced with the requirements of the company.

In addition to the enhancement of social aspects for the individual performing the position, the culture of the company is being examined as well. Since culture is initially established by the management of a company, then it falls on them to make the necessary changes to job design that allow people more autonomy while keeping the core of the organization whole. The researchers refer to this as managers being able to “give increasing attention to ‘trickle up’ models”, making certain that employees are engaged in their jobs while allowing them the freedom to make the workplace their own (Oldham and Hackman, 2010, p. 473). This extended even to team-based structures that endorse creativity and specialization in tasks. Since the team structure is so prevalent in companies currently, it lies on the managers of those teams to make sure that the composition is made up of people that can complete organizational goals in an appropriate time frame. Only by making sure that jobs are designed well and the appropriate people fill those positions can make this possible.
   
      


Strengths and Weaknesses of the Job Design Theory

Herzberg's Two-factor Theory

Herzberg's Two-Factor theory provided awareness that job design can impact employee satisfaction and motivation and laid the ground work for Job Characteristics Theory and became the basis for job enrichment (PSU, 2012). Herzberg's theory is evidenced through anecdotal support (Northouse, 2010).

There are multiple weaknesses with Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory. There are no tangible measures for hygiene and motivation factors (Northouse, 2010). Workers may have "cognitive satisfaction" because their hygiene needs are being met, but they still are not motivated at their jobs (Bright, 2008, p.7). Herzberg's study (which had the highest positive results for the theory) has been criticized because the methodology was not scientifically sound (Northouse, 2010). Additionally, the study made the assumption that all employees want the same outcomes (Locke, 1976). This assumption discounted individual differences and goals. In fact, there is little support for Herzberg's Two-Factor theory and it is considered invalid by the majority of organizational scholars (Locke & Henne, 1986)

Job Characteristics Theory

Job Characteristics Theory improves upon Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory (Northouse, 2010). It has been studied extensively, has tangible measures, and high physiological scores were achieved (Loher, Noe, Moeller, & Fitzgerald, 1985). As reported by Loher et al., (1985), there was an average correlation of .40 between core job dimensions scores and reported job satisfaction.

The main weakness of the Job Characteristics Theory is the correlational data. While correlations can be informative, they can also be misleading. Correlation does not show causation. The Job Characteristics Theory was conducted within a short-time frame instead of using long-term data (Griffin, 1991).  Therefore, the results from the short term studies are unable to accurately predict what would occur in the long term (PSU, 2010).   It also does not take cultural differences into consideration and the outcomes would likely not be the same across different cultures (Pearson & Chong, 1997).  It is very important that we do not generalize results of this theory across different cultures.  This is important because the predictions made by this theory are not universal (PSU World Campus, 2014).  Lastly, the theory has not been tested as a whole by the majority of researchers, rather parts of the theory have been tested (PSU, 2012).

In regards to this theory, it is important to note that most researchers have only tested parts of the theory instead of its entirety.  
   
    


Job Design and Generational Differences

A significant increase in the longevity of humans, coupled with a decrease in birth rates, has created concern regarding job design and how it can be constructed to fit multiple generations working side by side with substantially different ideals (Grant, Fried, Parker, & Frese, 2010). While popular media outlets have made claims that the Millennials, also known as Generation Y, hold fundamentally different values than the preceding generations, few empirical studies have been conducted to properly examine the differences they may have with regard to work motivations (Grant et al., 2010). This makes it increasingly difficult to draw conclusions pertaining to job design and how it may need to be adapted to fit a blended work-force (Grant et al., 2010). Because differences in age and experience creates cohorts that are confounded, designing a proper study is challenging (Grant et al., 2010).

Twenge (2006) suggests that Millennials are less concerned with acquiring social approval than previous generations and more likely to be characterized by higher levels of self-esteem, narcissism, assertiveness, and the belief that outcomes of events are controlled by external circumstances, which may discourage taking initiative and proactive thinking (Grant et al., 2010). With respect to job design, this raises concern of whether Millennials will be more likely to expect praise and reject criticism when given interpersonal feedback, or if they will be more comfortable negotiating ideals and taking initiative in crafting their jobs, but less likely to do it in a way that meets with organizational goals (Grant et al., 2010).

The higher proportion of elderly workers who have chosen to remain employed and the retired who have chosen to return to work has raised additional questions regarding job design and how the generations will be able to work together (Grant et al., 2010). Will they be inclined to pursue more peripheral jobs that allow them a greater degree of family and leisure time, or will they be interested in competing with a younger generation that is motivated by the more demanding jobs (Grant et al., 2010)? It remains to be seen whether the motivation of the older generations to continue working will be determined by task significance, meaningful contribution, or possibly both and whether all generations can effectively work together under the same job design or if designs will need to be altered (Grant et al., 2010).
   

Other Job Design-Related Topic Research

Flow (a state of consciousness where people become totally immersed in an activity and enjoy it intensely) has been identified as a desirable state with positive effects on the well-being of employees and innovation at work.  Positive psychology has a strong focus on quality of life and the opportunities for personal growth and optimal functioning.  Flow research supports the view that work provides opportunities for experiencing a state of positive well-being (Henry, 2004).  Flow has been described as "a particular kind of experience that is so engrossing that it becomes autotelic, that is, worth dooing for its own sake..." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999, p. 824).  Although flow is perceived to be worth doing for its own sake, it brings about benefits for organizations and their employees, such as job satisfaction, enthusiasm, contentment, and motivation.  To date, there has been limited attention paid to which activities and job characteristics may promote flow at work.  Nielsen and Cleal (2010) conducted a study on flow states, specifically, identifying activities and predictors of flow so that businesses can design jobs that will facilitate this higher level of employee engagement and productivity.  They found that employees in jobs that involve planning, problem solving, and evaluation with clearly-defined roles and objectives experienced more flow states, and were therefore more engaged and effective, than employees in positions where their roles were not clear or where they were performing their duties in an unstructured environment where their work was not reviewed on a regular basis.  The implications of their study's findings are that when human resource managers are implementing interventions to promote flow, they need to ensure that the work is organized in a way that provides problem-solving activities and that it's evaluated at regular intervals.  Both aspects are important for promoting flow.
    

 


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