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Motivation is a hypothetical construct that involves those psychological processes involved with the arousal, direction, intensity, and persistence of voluntary actions that are goal directed. As described in the Lesson 1 Commentary, motivation is the key to understanding behavior in the workplace. Motivation can be intrinsic or created from within the person, or extrinsic when created by stimulus from outside the person. (Lesson 1: Introduction to Work Motivation). Categories of variables that affect motivation include individual characteristics and work-environment characteristics. One category that has not yet been discussed in this course is job characteristics, which helps answer the question that many employees are interested in: Do I find my work interesting and challenging? (Lesson 10: Job Design). When examining motivation from the Job Design approach, one’s job is the primary source of workplace motivation. The emphasis of Job Design is on the jobs that are performed and the fit of individuals into those jobs (Lesson 10: Job Design). Hackman and Oldham developed the most well-known and influential job-based approach to motivation in Industrial Organizational Psychology in 1976. This Job Characteristics Theory supports that when the work is interesting, individuals will enjoy their jobs, and will therefore be highly motivated and perform well (Lesson 10: Job Design). In the case presented below, the subject is motivated to understand characteristics of his occupation, and by using Job Characteristics Theory, the subject of the case can bring the theory to practical application.

Job Design

Case Description:

John is a general licensed Independent Contractor who specializes in carpentry. He owns his own business, where his jobs consist of building various household items such as outside decks for private homes, tables, chairs, cabinets and doors. He has owned his carpentry business for 20 years and gets most of his business through customer referrals. He is the only employee of the company, but when he needs other tasks done that involve the job he is doing such as tiling or landscaping around a deck, he will outsource the work to a contracting company that specializes in these tasks. John does not have a workshop, and does all the work at the customers’ homes. 

Applying Job Characteristics Theory:

There are five core job dimensions that can be used as part of Job Characteristics Theory. These can describe in detail John’s individual Job Design. Specifically one can break down skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and job feedback and apply these concepts to John’s situation. Skill Variety refers to the number of skills that job requires and task identity refers to the extent to which a job requires completing an entire piece of work. The other core dimensions of task significance, autonomy, and feedback refer to the impact of the job on others, freedom, and response about performance (Lesson 10: Job Design)

John has a high skill variety in that his job requires a number of different skills (Lesson 10: Job Design). He is an expert carpenter, and can build and fix anything that has to do with carpentry. He can build many different things, and knows how to operate many different tools. He uses large table saws to cut wood for cabinets and decks, and can use precise tools to shape smaller projects. In contrast, if John only knew how to build outside decks, and knew nothing about any other sort of wood working, he would have a relatively low skill variety because he would only know how to do one task for his job, but because John knows many different building tasks, he has high skill variety.

John also has a high sense of task identity because he completes an entire piece of work from beginning to end. He does not work in a guitar manufacturing facility, where he only shapes the body of the guitar and never deals with creating the entire guitar, he instead is a carpenter where every job he is hired to do, he completes from beginning to end. In the case of if John was hired to build an outside deck, he would build the structure, cut every piece of wood, screw every piece in, and stain he deck by himself. John has very high task identity. The only way John’s task identity would be higher would be if he did not outsource certain tasks that are unrelated to carpentry. But when examining just the carpentry tasks, John’s task identity is extremely high.

Task significance refers to the impact that a job has on others (Lesson 10: Job Design). John consistently gets good reviews from his clients and they always tell him how good of a job he has done. He feels good about the work he does because he is able to build things that will be in someone’s house for a long time. Many people have been positively impacted by John’s wood working skills and love the final outcome of the projects that they hire John to do. John has high task significance.

When examining the degree of freedom, discretion, and independence that one has, John has relatively high autonomy. John also has majority of the control over how he schedules his work or determines the procedures for doing his work. He does the entire wood working job from start to finish does not have a boss because he owns his own company (Lesson 10: Job Design). He does have to do what the client wants, so ultimately the job is up to the discretion of the client. He sometimes does work that he does not think looks good, like an oddly shaped deck, but that is what the client wants. He has a high degree of autonomy, but his sense of autonomy is not as high as other aspects of Job Characteristics Theory, because ultimately the customer has the final say on how to do a task or how they want a task done. Overall though, John does have a great deal of autonomy in that he sets his own schedule, determines the procedures of tasks, and establishes his own reward. This can be compared to someone in a guitar manufacturing firm with a low sense of autonomy who builds the same guitar piece to certain specifications and is usually closely observed by a supervisor to meet output requirements.

John also gets a lot of job feedback from his clients who provide direct and clear information about the effectiveness of his performance (Lesson 10: Job Design). It is obvious when John does his job incorrectly because the client will tell him that is not what they wanted. This core dimension of Job Characteristics Theory is high for John because he always receives a great amount of job feedback. He is directly working for the client and will know if they are satisfied with the job.

Job Design - Home Wiki Page


By specifically examining critical psychological states of meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge, it shows John is highly motivated in all the five core job dimensions (Lesson 10: Job Design). Skill variety, task identity, and task significance all determine the meaningfulness of John’s carpentry work. Though John has a lower sense of autonomy than the other core dimensions, it still leads to feelings of responsibility in that John is often given the freedom to determine important aspects of his job. Finally, the feedback that John receives from customers leads to knowledge of results. According to Job Characteristics Theory, the three critical physiological states of meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge show that John is motivated, satisfied, and productive (Lesson 10: Job Design).


Lesson 1: Introduction to Work Motivation (2013). Psychology 484: Work Attitudes and Motivation, Pennsylvania State University, Retrieved from

Lesson 10: Job Design (2013). Psychology 484: Work Attitudes and Motivation, Pennsylvania State University, Retrieved from