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  • Fall 2012 Job design case
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Job design is the process of making a job more appealing (or desirable) to increase motivation. Although not without skeptics and controversy, for more than fifty years theories and research have supported the idea that those who find work meaningful, challenging, and interesting are more engaged and productive (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 2).  Two rather prominent theories will be examined here.  The first, Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, was a trailblazer of sorts. Herzberg’s two factors were extrinsic aspects of the job such as pay and benefits and intrinsic factors like feeling challenged, having responsibility and autonomy with work. The second theory we will examine was posited by Hackman and Oldham and was called Job Characteristics Theory (JCT). JCT claims to have five core job dimensions and three critical psychological states that when taken together have distinct personal work outcomes.  As we look at these theories through the lens of two postal employees, keep in mind that often employers will blame employees for poor work performance when actually it’s poor job design.  As you will see, rather than waiting for their employer to make their job more interesting, our two employees were resourceful and took job design on for themselves. 

Theory Background

Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory

Published in 1959, Herzberg’s two-factor theory consists of two factors, motivation and hygiene (Abuiyada & Chou, 2012). The motivation factors are intrinsic and generate job satisfaction (Abuiyada & Chou, 2012). The hygiene factors are extrinsic and generate job dissatisfaction (Abuiyada & Chou, 2012). The motivation factors relate to content of the job and the hygiene factors relate to the context of the job (Herzberg, 1974). It is important to note, Herzberg specifies that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not simply opposites of each other. They are two independent and continuous sequences (Abuiyada & Chou, 2012). The absence of satisfaction does not result in dissatisfaction. It is the absence of no satisfaction that results in satisfaction and the absence of no dissatisfaction that results in dissatisfaction. Therefore, the motivation factors do not influence job dissatisfaction and the hygiene factors do not influence job satisfaction (Abuiyada & Chou, 2012).

Job Characteristics Theory 

Core Job Dimensions

Created by Hackman and Oldman in 1976, the Job Characteristics Theory was originally meant to extend the relationship between job characteristics, psychological states, and an employee’s actions at work (Hackman & Oldham, 1976). If there is a well-developed job design, employees will be motivated and satisfied with their job (Redmond, 2012). The theory includes five core job dimensions that when in place, can result in increased benefits for the employee as well as the organization. The five core job dimensions are: Skill Variety - The job requires a variety of activities and skills to complete those activities. Task Identity - The job requires completion, from beginning to an identifiable end. Task Significance - The job has a significant impact on others. Autonomy - The job gives the employee freedom and independence to complete their work. Feedback - The employee receives valuable information concerning his or her performance (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).

Psychological States and Outcomes

The five core job dimensions are linked to three critical psychological states, which represent what individuals experience psychologically from the characteristics of the job (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 7). Skill variety, task identity, and task significance determine the meaningfulness of the work being presented. Workers who receive job feedback will have more knowledge of their results of their performance than those who receive little to no feedback (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 7). Effectiveness of job feedback is key to successes in the workplace.

The job characteristics theory explains that the critical psychological states lead to positive work benefits and when employees are experiencing meaningful, responsible, and knowledgeable of results they are more likely to be motivated, satisfied, and productive. Employees are also less likely to be absent and less likely to resign (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 8).  Specifically, a boring and monotonous job stifles motivation to perform well, whereas a challenging job enhances motivation. Variety, autonomy and decision authority are three ways of adding challenge to a job. Job enrichment and job rotation are the two ways of adding variety and challenge.

The Motivation Potential Score (MPS) can be calculated using the following formula (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 8):

MPS=[(skill variety + task significance + task identity)/3] * autonomy * feedback

The higher the MPS score is, the more likely you are to experience personal and work outcomes described in the model.  If any of the components are 0, the sum of the MPS will automatically be 0 because of the multiplicative nature of the feedback (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 8).

Case Information 

Joe and Peggy were hired to be letter carriers by the United States Postal Service at the same time. Both employees had to pass rigorous cognitive selection exams to prove their ability to read and recognize numbers, letters, street addresses, ZIP Codes and more while under stressors such as time constraints.  Previous work in administrative roles and management positions helped Joe and Peggy both to score exceptionally well.

The role of a letter carrier was at first exciting and fun for both of them. They enjoyed working outdoors for up to 9 hours a day and greeting people in the community.  After awhile, however, both Joe and Peggy found the work lacking in intellectual stimulation. They also found many factors that reduced their motivation including mandatory overtime, delivery and route time pressures, repetitive actions and routes, and a lack of control over what they did and when. Although Peggy and Joe mastered the job, the role lacked purpose and autonomy.

Joe's began pursuing a management role.  Although this would mean even longer hours, Joe felt it would offer him a new challenge and intellectual stimulation in addition to a pay increase.  Peggy, on the other hand felt as though she had few options to improve her work conditions and decided to become more involved with the local chapter of the letter carriers union to fulfill her desire for variation and meaning.  In this way, Peggy was able to find the intellectual stimulation she needed while giving her additional purpose and meaning to her life.  While both of these solutions worked for Joe and Peggy, as a new manager Joe realized that all of the other letter carriers must be feeling (or have felt) the same job dissatisfaction as he and Peggy had.

Theory Application

Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory

In conjunction with Herzberg's (1959) Two-Factor Theory, Joe and Peggy's story presents job dissatisfaction, due to hygiene factors, and lack of motivation, due to job motivators.  Long work hours, delivery time pressures, deadlines, and time constraints are all sources of on-the-job stress related to daily tasks, which represent motivators.  Lack of intellectual stimuli and autonomy are also characteristics that compromise Joe and Peggy's motivation to perform tasks required of their positions as letter carriers. Poor supervision and the company policy to implement mandatory overtime are hygiene factors that are causing dissatisfaction for the both of them.

It is apparent that the major source of displeasure that is affecting Joe and Peggy's performance is motivation factors.  Although as Joe's family is expanding, hygiene factors, such as pay and benefits, have become more meaningful. Joe and Peggy both take matters into their own hands by changing their situations. Joe pursues a managerial position with hopes that he can heighten job satisfaction by increasing his income and also become more motivated by having more responsibilities, autonomy, and intellectual stimulation.  Peggy, on the other hand, keeps her position as a letter carrier but decides to advocate for the local chapter of her union.  This affords Peggy intellectual stimulation and a feeling that she is contributing meaningfully to her work. 

Joe and Peggy take two very different paths to changing their situations. Joe's family circumstances compel him to change hygiene and motivation factors in his job, whereas Peggy chooses only to change her motivational factors.  These two examples show how employees may choose to change their own job design, which may work for or against the company.

Job Characteristics Theory

The Core Job Dimensions 

Skill Variety

Peggy and Joe both initially had little skill variety.  Their work required use of the same skills on a daily basis in that they had to be able to read, communicate with residents occasionally, and walk to deliver mail.  Joe resolved his lack of skill variety by setting his sights on promotion, while Peggy increased her skill variety by joining the union.  As a manager, Joe thought other carriers were likely to suffer from low skill variety as well.  To increase skill variety, Joe could assign letter carriers to rotating routes in order to give them a fresh perspective.  He could also alternate those on walking routes and those on driving routes.  Having variety instead of the monotony of the same routes would be expected to increase job satisfaction and thereby performance.

Task Identity

Joe and Peggy had a fair level of task identity as letter carriers.  They were responsible for transporting mail from the post office to individual addresses, so they were able to see a piece of work from beginning (gathering the mail) to end (delivering the mail).  As a new member of management, Joe may find that he is able to see a variety of tasks from beginning to end, such as scheduling and inventory maintenance.  Peggy may also increase task identity at the union by becoming actively involved in particular issues that appeal to her and seeing those through.  As a manager, Joe is less likely to need to worry about task identity than other factors.

Task Significance

Joe and Peggy had a fluctuating level of task significance to start.  On days when residents were home and greeted them, Joe and Peggy likely felt their jobs mattered.  However, on days when no one was home and the mail was simply dropped in their box or Joe and Peggy were confronted by angry residents, they may have felt there was little importance in their work.  A program or event to show community support and appreciation for Peggy's and Joe's efforts could go a long way in helping them feel their jobs were valued and important. If, as a manager, Joe can increase task significance for employees the letter carriers will be more motivated.  To show the carriers their importance to the community Joe might plan to organize a bi-annual campaign whereby residents are given a postcard to fill out an evaluation and give to their letter carrier.  Positive feedback from residents might increase task significance.


Joe and Peggy would have had little autonomy in choosing how to complete their routes.  The routes were defined for them based on an algorithm designed by computer software.  Their supervisor did not attempt to increase autonomy in their work.  Joe’s autonomy increased exponentially once he entered management though.  Eventually, Peggy found autonomy in the letter carriers union, as she was able to pick and choose issues to address as well as how she would tackle them, but once again she was forced to resort to self-help because her desire for autonomy on the job was not addressed.  Joe would find it difficult to give carriers autonomy because the routes were already defined to maximize efficiency and minimize time spent by carriers.  In this situation, Joe may consider allowing employees to determine which route they will take each week by having a sign-up sheet on a first-come basis.  He might also allow them to decide (between a set number of hours) when to begin their duties in order to increase their autonomy.

Job Feedback

Joe and Peggy would have received an adequate amount of job feedback from residents to whom they delivered mail in many circumstances, as well as their immediate supervisor.  As a manager considering other mail carriers, Joe might want to implement the program mentioned previously so that at least semi-annually carriers were given written feedback from residents.  As their supervisor, Joe would also want to be sure he supplied the carriers with feedback as well.  He could do this by sharing information he is given from residents as well as by appraising delivery duration.  Peggy would have also had the opportunity to received more feedback from the union in addition to residents and her immediate supervisor.  

Psychological States and Outcomes

Both Joe and Peggy became dissatisfied with the letter carrier position due a lack of autonomy.  In accordance with the MPS formula by Hackman and Oldman (1976), their potential motivation score was 0 while in that position (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 8)).  Even if all of the other components of the formula were each 1, the equation would look as follows:

MPS=[(skill variety + task significance + task identity)/3] * autonomy * feedback
>MPS=[(1+1+1)/3] * 0 * 1
>>MPS=[3/3] * 0 * 1
>>>MPS=1 * 0 * 1
>>>>MPS= 0

The autonomy value being 0 means that Joe and Peggy would not have felt true responsibility for their work (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 8).  In addition to that, with little skill variety, adequate task identity, and fluctuating task significance, they would have most likely felt that their letter carrier work was only moderately meaningful.  Because they received adequate feedback from residents and their supervisor, they would have had knowledge of results as letter carriers.  Out of those three psychological states, it is clear why they both desired a position change due to the lack of autonomy.  

Once Joe was given a managerial position he was presented with new challenges, more responsibility, intellectual stimulation and more schedule freedom, which increased his skill variety, task identity, task significance and autonomy.  His MPS would have been improved due these increases and may look like the following:

MPS=[(2+2+2)/3] * 2 * 1
>MPS=[6/3] * 2 * 1
>>MPS=2 * 2 * 1
>>>MPS= 4

Joe's feedback would have not changed much, but with his goal to improve feedback and autonomy to the letter carriers he managers, the average MPS for that position would have increased beyond 0.  With the improvement of four out the five core job dimensions, the meaningfulness of the work, responsibility for the work and knowledge of results would have all improved as well.  


In Peggy's case, becoming more active in the local chapter of the letter carriers' union led to intellectual stimulation, greater responsibility, and more variety.  This would have increased her skill variety, task identity, task significance and autonomy.  Participating in union activities also provided more opportunity for feedback, which could have made her new MPS look more like this:

MPS=[(2+2+2)/3] * 2 * 2
>MPS=[6/3] * 2 * 2
>>MPS=2 * 2 * 2
>>>MPS= 8

Peggy's score could have easily been improved more than Joe's because of the added feedback.  This means that she would have had a significant improvement in the psychological states of meaningfulness of work and responsibility for the work, with a slightly less significant improvement in knowledge of results.  Collectively, she has better opportunities to improve all five of the core job dimensions, instead of just four like Joe.  If it was a situation where Joe's feedback would have increased greatly, such as having a strictly customer relations role, he would then likely have a greater MPS than Peggy.


The probable MPS increases for Joe & Peggy, respectively, signifies that they would experience personal and work outcomes as described in the model while in their new positions.  They would also be more motivated, satisfied, and productive, as well as absent less frequently, and unlikely to resign (PSU, 2012, Lesson 10, p. 8).  


Job design is the process of making a job more appealing (or desirable) to increase motivation.  Although not without skeptics and controversy, for more than fifty years theories and research have supported the idea that those who find work meaningful, challenging, and interesting are more engaged and productive (Redmond & Hill, 2012).  The US Postal Service letter carrier job, while not on an assembly line, is both highly routine and supervised.  It is partially mechanized, involves repetitive stress on various body parts (shoulders, hands, and knees, to name a few), and potential dangers on the routes from dogs, confrontations with angry citizens, and possible vehicle collisions.  Because it is considered a well paying job, many people also consider it highly desirable work.  Yet Joe and Peggy each experienced a lack of motivation because their jobs were not designed to be interesting or challenging.  They both found ways to improve their motivation by resorting to self-help when their supervisor seemed unable or unwilling to address the design of their jobs.  Joe sought a promotion to fulfill his need to be challenged at work and Peggy joined a union to find more meaning in her life, which was missing from her occupation.  Suggestions were put forth as to how Joe could use JCT to improve the motivation of letter carriers that he would now supervise.  It is logical to conclude that postal supervisors should remain vigilant to the job design of letter carriers and find ways to improve core job dimensions to increase employee motivation.  Postal supervisors should also use caution when assigning labels such as "lazy", "slow", or "malingerer" to employees, because after all - it may not be the workers, it could very well be poor job design.


Abuiyada, H. S., & Chou, S. Y. (2012). A two-factor model of organizational citizenship behaviour in organizations. European Journal of Business and Management, 4(3), 134-144.

Hackman, J. R. & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance16, 250-279.

Herzberg, F. (1974). Motivation-hygiene profiles: Pinpointing what ails the organization. Organizational Dynamics, 3(2), 18-29.

Redmond, B., & Hill, V. (2012, November 7). Job Design. Retrieved from 10. Job Design.

The Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2012). Job Design: Do I find my work interesting and challenging? Work Attitudes and Motivation. Retrieved from