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, and 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 absenteeism and high turnover rates. Managers thought that the best way to increase motivation was with money, but did not think about job content (Penn State World Campus University [PSU WC], 2015a, L. 10). 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 & Campion, 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 appropriate practices, break down tasks into its constituent elements, and eliminate things that do not add value (Hamel, 1995) inspired two predominate motivation theories. The first, Frederick Herzberg's (1974) Two-Factor Theory, which stated that worker motivation stemmed from the job's nature, as opposed to external rewards (as cited in PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). The second, Hackman and Oldham's (1976) Job Characteristics Theory, focused primarily on the content and nature of the tasks (as cited in PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
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 workforce that can meet 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. As stated earlier, Herzberg believed that motivation did not come from external rewards (e.g., pay, benefits), but from the actual nature of the job instead (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). The two factors are extrinsic, or "hygiene" factors, and intrinsic motivators and its correlated constructs – satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Herzberg believed that hygiene factors, which are related to the job context, such as company policies, working conditions, and compensation did not serve to motivate individuals but could cause or prevent dissatisfaction (Herzberg, 1974; PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). Properly developed intrinsic motivators, which are related to the job content, included areas such as interesting work, recognition, and personal growth, which could enhance employee motivation and satisfaction (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). Figure 1 shows the top factors to both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The figure demonstrates that factors leading to one do not lead to the other and provides 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 not achieve positive satisfaction, which correlates with motivation, only dissatisfaction or a neutral level of satisfaction, not achieving motivation.
Figure 1: Factors Leading to Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction
General Characteristics of Herzberg’s Theory
|Hygiene Factors||Extrinsic factors relating to job context (e.g., benefits, pay, working conditions, relationships with co-workers). Hygiene factors lead to dissatisfaction or lack of dissatisfaction; these factors alone do not lead to satisfaction.|
|Motivational Factors||Intrinsic factors relating to job content (e.g., autonomy, level of challenge, responsibility). Motivators lead to satisfaction or lack of satisfaction, not dissatisfaction.|
|Satisfaction||Satisfaction leads to motivation. For example, if an employee feels that her work is meaningful, she may feel satisfied and take pride in the job, therefore motivating her to exhibit higher performance (e.g., staying late after work, paying close attention to details).|
|Dissatisfaction||Dissatisfaction does not lead to motivation. For example, an employee who is content with his pay may keep his job, but not necessarily be motivated to perform at a higher level than usual (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10) .|
Figure 2: Possible Interactions Between Herzberg's Factors
Below is a video from Matthew Alanis on the Herzbery Theory and how it relates back to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the impact it can have in the workplace. Alanis is an Instructor of Business at Willow International Community College in Fresno, California. He was previously an Adjunct Professor at Reedley College, holds an MBA from Fresno State University, and has held jobs in the private sector.
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 a well-developed job design can cause the employees to be more internally motivated and satisfied with their overall job, as well as personal growth opportunities. A well-developed job design can also, generate higher quality work, and have lower absenteeism and/or turnover rates. 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 this theory, a relationship between job characteristics and the employee's motivation was identified. 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).
Figure 3: Job Characteristics Model of Work Motivation from Hackman, J., & Oldham, G. (1976) (as cited in PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10)
Core Job Dimensions
There are five core job dimensions: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and job feedback (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
|Skill Variety||The number of different skills a specific job requires.||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 few skills repetitively throughout the day.|
|Task Identity||The extent to which a job requires completing the whole process from beginning to end.||A landscaper who works alone and who will do a job completely from start to finish to meet the customer's desires has high task identity. Conversely, a factory worker who only boxes the final product has low task identity because he only performs a small portion of the overall task.|
|Task Significance||The impact the job has on others.||All jobs can have a level of importance, but the significance of each job can be interpreted differently by each individual. An emergency room doctor may feel that her job is more meaningful than the job of the hospital's janitor.|
|Autonomy||The level of choice, freedom, and independence employees feel they have to do their jobs.||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. On the other hand, a school principle has higher job autonomy, since they can choose their work activities and schedule.|
|Job Feedback||The direct and clear information received by the employee regarding the effectiveness of their performance.||A electrician can receive immediate feedback when they are working on a job. Conversely, a public relations manager who implements a new PR strategy might never find out how well her strategy influenced sales.|
Critical Psychological States
There are three critical psychological states: experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility, and knowledge (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
- Meaningfulness of the work is the extent to which the employee feels his job is important. Skill variety, task identity, and task significance all influence one's meaningfulness of the job.
- Responsibility for work outcomes is the degree of personal accountability a person has for their work outcomes. This responsibility leads from the feeling of autonomy.
- Knowledge of results 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 absenteeism and less chance of the employee resigning (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). These critical psychological states are crucial in designing a stable working environment.
To measure work outcomes, Hackman and Oldham (1976) developed what they termed the Motivational Potential Score (MPS; as cited in PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). 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 (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). 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 behaviors 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 (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). Some employees simply want someone else to tell them what to do, get a paycheck, and go home (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
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
In a study conducted by Campion and Thayer (1987), the researchers found four different approaches to job design: 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.
Figure 4: Campion and Thayer's Four Job Dimensions
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,” (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. 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. Figure 5 compares and contrasts the four approaches:
Figure 5: 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 (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). The two-factor theory led to the implementation of job enrichment, which is still common in organizations today (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). 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 is usually done by the manager, but by passing it to the employee, he may feel an increase in job satisfaction. Also, allowing the janitor to create his own work schedule increases the autonomy of the job (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
In the past, the duties of secretarial positions included running errands for the supervisor, answering phones, scheduling appointments, and passing along messages. However, Joyner (1998) states that 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 (as cited in PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
Figure 6: Job Design
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 (Robertson and Smith, 1985):
|Step One||Review the literature and other extant data (training manual, old job descriptions, etc.)|
|Step Two||Ask immediate managers about responsibilities and tasks required to do the job well|
|Step Three||Ask similar questions to the current employee doing the job|
|Step Four||Observe an employee who does the job well|
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 Six||Write a job description detailing all your findings|
Job Characteristics Theory
Assemblers on an assembly line are required to stand or sit in a consistent 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 (e.g., cashiers, line cooks, 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 a systematic movement of employees from one job to another within the organization (Cheraskin & Campion, 1996). This can also come from the four approaches to job design outlined in Campion and Thayer (1987). Each of these approaches, mentioned earlier, have benefits and drawbacks to consider. Campion 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 operational costs, reduce turnover and/or 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 WC, 2015a, L. 10).
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 and colleagues (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 as compared to 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 has had more research conducted with greater support for it. Hackman and Oldham (1976) defined which work characteristics produced more satisfied workers in job situations. As stated earlier, 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 supervision, 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. Moreover, the positions held had a direct impact on emotional exhaustion – in that those respondents who had frequent contact with inmates had a higher burnout rate. 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 a sense of control among hierarchical or power-driven workplaces 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 component, such as dealing with clients and customers (both internal and external) are thought to be more rewarding and motivating. The researchers hypothesized 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 customers, which had a financial reward, positively correlated; in other words, 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 (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. 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, 2015b, 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 with 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 the 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 & 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. This is achieved by making sure that jobs are designed well and that the appropriate people can fill those positions.
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 WC, 2015a, L. 10). Herzberg's theory is evidenced through anecdotal support (Northouse, 2010). For example, many employees claim that a competitive pay with great benefits are not enough to keep them satisfied, and that their job content matters as well (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
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; PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). 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; PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
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 psychological scores were achieved (Loher, Noe, Moeller, & Fitzgerald, 1985). As reported by Loher and colleagues (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 as 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 WC, 2015a, L. 10). 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 to not generalize the results of this theory across different cultures. This is important because the predictions made by this theory are not universal (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10). Lastly, the theory has not been tested as a whole by the majority of researchers; rather only parts of the theory have been tested (PSU WC, 2015a, L. 10).
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 workforce (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 wellbeing 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 doing for its own sake," (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999, p. 824). Additionally, flow 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 is evaluated at regular intervals. It appears that both aspects are important for promoting flow.
Around the world, it has become easier than ever to discover examples of Job Design Theory in action, thanks to the proliferation of technology augmenting each and every medium of communication in existence. It is worth noting that multiple journals, editorials, and other useful works have begun to pay closer attention to the theory in recent years, and, perhaps more importantly, have attempted to improve and expound upon the work already in existence.
Articles on the growth of this theory's margin of interest are quite easy to find. At almost the top of Google's search results list for "Job Design Theory contemporary businesses," Harvard Business Review lists a study by Nohria, Groysberg. and Lee (2008) regarding workplace motivation and the different theories being used to try and combat slovenly, unhappy workers. Job Design Theory (and it's proverbial progeny) factors in nicely. There is very clearly more, but the relevance is there. Nohria (et al, 2008) talk about how businesses need to meet their employees' "basic emotional drives to acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend... Reward systems that truly value good performance fulfill the drive to acquire. The drive to bond is best met by a culture that promotes collaboration and openness. Jobs that are designed to be meaningful and challenging meet the need to comprehend. Processes for performance management and resource allocation that are fair, trustworthy, and transparent address the drive to defend" (Nohria et al, 2008).
While the four-drive workplace model isn't exactly the same as Job Design or Characteristics theory, it's worth noting due to a) the relevancy of the research to the topic, b) the fact that there are clear markers connecting it to Herzberg's two-factor model (four-drive, two-factor, hyphenates, hellooooo?), and c) the repeated fact that the subject of psychological job motivation is a fluid topic of academic discussion, and that new theories, blended theories, and occasionally entirely unrelated theories are all used to understand better the quandary that is workforce motivation.
Evolving Workplace Motivation
The evolution in workplace motivation; along side the development of handling dissatisfying results of degraded motivation are constantly changing over time. For example, the significance assembly line operator, doing the same motion and task over and over 50 years ago compared to now rate differently. The manual requirement of having a person do this was placed in hire regard than it would be now. Especially given now that robots or automation has replaced most of these movements. 50 years ago if an assembly line operator was late or missing it would be a much bigger loss than by today’s standards. The mind set of those still behind these positions not given the prestige they once held but instead labeled as ‘entry level, monotonous or boring’ will make motivation more difficult. Add in to that theory that the average intelligence of a person has grown significantly since that time as well and it only compounds the issue.
Job Characteristics Theory within Job Design will adapt to this evolving spectrum. For example, 'Managers may tend to blame employees for low productivity when the real problem lies in a poorly designed set of tasks.' (2015c) 20 years ago a computer programmer was much more of a rare breed than that position is today, 20 years from now many of the original practices held in that position will be common knowledge. The motivation of the programmer in a 40-year differential scales quite differently from one another. What’s great about Job Characteristics Theory is it will adjust given the perimeters are set to adjustment as well. Basic office work now would have been of that of an ‘office manager’ 25 years ago. Motivation factors are night and day between those same positions, but evolved. To have the same theory of solving issues regardless of the time frame stands true to its effectiveness.
Job Design Theory and Application to the Voluntary Sector
Job design theory has more recently been introduced to the volunteer sector, as it has been utilized in the private sector, and has been identified as an important concept in business management for over 30 years. This theory suggest that people feel motivated by jobs which make them feel as though, they can make a difference, and jobs should be designed to keep this in mind (). Volunteers also want to take ownership of tasks and to experience the satisfaction of successful completion of work assignments ().
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