Job Design Theory is based in the idea that people are motivated by the tasks their job requires rather than through external motivators, such as monetary compensation or benefits. More specifically, Job Characteristics Theory focuses on the idea that one's work must be interesting in order for performance and motivation to be high. Job Characteristics Theory is the most influential, job-based approach to motivation in I/O psychology (PSU WC, L. 10, P. 7). Introduced in 1976 by Hackman and Oldham, the theory model consists of three segments: core job dimensions, critical psychological states, and outcomes. Using the core job dimensions, Hackman and Oldham proposed a formula to determine motivational potential score (MPS) as a measure of success while keeping in mind growth need strength (GNS) which is a variable that allows for individual differences in Job Characteristics Theory (PSU WC, n.d.).
As this theory relates to the case study presented herein, the five core job dimensions (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and job feedback) are all necessary components to an individual's degree of motivation within the workplace (PSU WC, n.d.). Furthermore, the emotional reactions of an individual related to the core job dimensions produces critical psychological states which further impact performance and motivation outcomes. Individuals who receive constructive job feedback while experiencing a degree of autonomy are expected to exhibit improved productivity and responsibility respectively (PSU WC, n.d.). The following case study examines “Lenora's” decision to leave her previous employer and weigh two different employment opportunities as they relate to the job characteristics theory. In addition to the choice between opportunities, Lenora must make a decision to take a potential pay cut in exchange for what looks to be more motivating and fulfilling work.
“Lenora” has been working in a specialized and narrow field of Information Technology. for many years. Though not formally trained, she has acquired most of her skills on the job and has risen to a high level in a large organization. Because she works in a narrow field, she doesn’t often get the chance to branch out into her personal areas of interest, and the nature of her work can mean she has as many as 5 “bosses” to answer to. Due to the nature of her work, she has been highly compensated but has extremely low job motivation and high job dissatisfaction.
Lenora decides to look for another job that will make her satisfied with her career. She is presented with two opportunities. One is with a smaller company (“Company 1”) offering her a salary at 75% of what she was making before. The other is with a start-up company (“Company 2”) at 50% of her previous salary. She analyzes which opportunity is the best for her based on several criteria.
Company 1 offers her a position that would utilize similar skills to her current position that are more business-oriented than technology-oriented. Company 2 offers her a position that would require skills she does not yet possess and would encompass a large range of new responsibilities.
Company 1’s position would be in “middle management” where she would be supervising the work of others in the service of those above her organizationally. Company 2’s position is pitched as entrepreneurial, and ownership of tasks is highly valued and encouraged.
Company 1’s job requirements, if successful, would improve the processes in a specific department and help it meet its goals. This would be a less stressful position than Company 2’s requirements. For Company 2, Lenora’s job parlays directly into the company’s ability to earn new business and pay its employees. Failure to adequately perform her job could mean the company cannot meet its financial obligations and this would put a lot of pressure onto her role.
Both Company 1 and Company 2 have designed the jobs to be flexible enough for Lenora to choose what to prioritize and design the methods to accomplish the job’s goals. By designing the methods to complete her work, she’s got more influence on her outcomes that she would at her old company. Company 1 would require her to be in an office daily on a structured schedule. Company 2 has the same expectations, but the corporate culture is more flexible to work hours and location.
Both Company 1 and Company 2 are much smaller than Lenora’s previous company and would allow her access multiple levels of management. Lenora values regular performance reviews and salary evaluations and feels that Company 1, which has been established for 20 years and has a solid revenue stream, will be more organized in career planning and feedback. Lenora knows Company 2 does not have any procedures in place for formal feedback but she would be working closely with the owners.
After careful consideration of these different criteria, Lenora chooses to go with Company 2, even though it poses greater risk to job stability. The entrepreneurial spirit of the organization is highly appealing, as what Lenora wants the most is the ability to take responsibility for her tasks and to make a direct impact on a company’s success. In her previous job she felt like a white collar factory worker and at Company 2 she would be key player in the direction the company grows. Lenora also has personal goals and values the flexible work atmosphere and autonomy at Company 2.
So Lenora accepts the offer at Company 2 with a 50% salary reduction. Lenora is satisfied and happy with her position. She is learning new things and is motivated to explore other areas of the company. such as payroll and public relations. Company 2 has emerged as the best choice Lenora could have made between the options.
Core Job Dimensions
One of the primary parts of Job Characteristic Theory is Core Job Dimensions, which are five elements that characterize an individual’s potential motivation into particular tasks (Lawrence, 2001). According to Saavedra & Kwun (2000), core job dimensions correlate with the worker’s effectiveness and satisfaction.
1.Skill variety refers to the variety of activities and abilities that an employee can utilize to finish a task (Lawrence, 2001). When finding herself with two choices, Lenora feels that Company 1 is almost identical to her previous job, where she could not pursue her personal interests. Consequently, she would not be able to use her talents in order to accomplish tasks. Company 2 that she chose gives her the ability to be a key player. She can take part in important decisions for the future of the company.
2.Task identity refers to the employees' sense of task completion, from beginning to end, rather than performing a small part of the final piece of work (PSU WC, n.d.). It is the ability to start the process and finish it with visible outcomes (Lawrence, 2001). Lenora had a moderate to high level of task identity in her previous job. Company 1 offered a job that was more specific in nature than Company 2. However, Lenora held all her responsibilities with excellent skills and confidence, and she takes the offer from Company 2 despite some risks. In Company 2, which she chose after careful consideration, Lenora reaches a high level of task identity by learning new skills and exploring new areas. Being a productive employee, she gets an offer to gain knowledge of marketing and public relations skills. Furthermore, she handles payroll issues and communication on behalf of the company executives.
3.Task significance refers to an employee’s sense of the importance of their work to those around them (PSU WC, n.d.). This dimension in particular is critical to Lenora; it speaks to how much she can influence others. Lenora is an employee who needs a high degree of task significance. In her previous job, she could not realize her personal ideas and interests, which lead her to a job change. The first company offered her a managerial position with more stability and less risk. Company’s 2 entrepreneurial culture gives Lenora the ability to be responsible for her own tasks. Lenora enjoys the freedom of analyzing various risks of corporate contracts, as well as additional challenges that give her an opportunity to be a valuable part of the company and have an impact on the company’s future success.
4.Autonomy is one of the most important job components for Lenora. Autonomy is the freedom of actions that an individual has in their workplace and the ability to create and manipulate their own schedules (Lawrence, 2001). Company 1 has a higher degree of structure than Company 2; therefore, Lenora favors company 2 due to its flexible time and location schedule compared to Company 1's strict daily schedule.
5.Feedback refers to the degree to which an employee is receives clear information regarding whether their performance is successful or not (Lawrence, 2001). Company 1 was able to provide such feedback, as the company was well established and was well-known in organizing career planning. Company 2 lacks job feedback but allows Lenora to feel important as she is going to work closely with the owners of the company. For Lenora, job feedback was not an important factor. She chooses Company 2.
As one of the studies of Lawrence done on Job Characteristics Theory (2001) shows, the highest scores are for the degree of freedom, independence, and ability to work close with colleagues. Lenora appreciates the flexible nature of scheduling in company 2. She also loves the fact that she is highly appreciated, and as a consequence, she can work closely with the owners of the company. She expands her responsibilities by getting an offer to acquire new skills. She sees herself as a valuable employee; she can control payroll and communication for the CEO. Numerous studies suggest that perceptions of task characteristics work as background of affective reactions (Saavedra & Kwun, 2000).
Critical Psychological States
The stage following the Core Job Dimensions (CJD) in the Core Characteristics Theory is Critical Psychological States (CPS), which represents Lenora’s experience psychologically from the core job dimensions of her job (PSU WC, n.d. L 10). The first stage of CPS is experiencing meaningfulness of her work, which correlates to the core job dimension of: skill variety, task identity, and task significance. The second CPS stage is experiencing responsibility for the outcomes of the work, which is aligned to the CJD of autonomy, and the last CPS stage is the knowledge of the actual results of the work activities, which marries with the CJD of feedback.
In Lenora’s IT position, we find that she is lacking the first area of the critical psychological state of experienced meaningfulness of the work, as she is unable to branch out into areas of interest. As a result, she is exasperated with the routineness of the tasks and is no longer motivated in spite of her significant compensation. In the subsequent stage, she is not experiencing responsibility for the outcomes of her work, because she has multiple bosses giving her direction. In addition, she feels like a "white collar factory worker", being micromanaged, which negatively affects her feeling of autonomy. While the case study does not explicitly mention her knowledge of the actual results of her work activities, Lenora has risen to a high position within the IT organization, but is lacking the psychological feeling of knowing the actual results of her work activities.
As Lenora searches for a position, she strives to fulfill the critical psychological states she was lacking in her IT position. In Company 2, she is able to fulfill the psychological state of experiencing meaningfulness of the work. Lenora recognizes that the entrepreneurial spirit of the organization will meet this need, as what she wants the most is the ability to take responsibility for her tasks and to make a direct impact on a company’s success. She finds an additional essential element that she was missing in her IT position by taking on the role of a key player in the direction the company grows. Both of these elements of her new position give her a sense of great meaningfulness for what she is about to undertake. Leonora’s sense of experiencing responsibility for the outcome of her work is found in the flexibility to prioritize and design the methods to accomplish the job’s goals, giving her great autonomy. Although Company 2 does not have a formal performance feedback process, Lenora feels that working closely with the company’s owners will fulfill the psychological stage of knowing the actual results of her work activities.
Personal Work Outcomes
One of the key aspects of the Job Design Theory includes the personal work outcomes as experienced by the worker. As summarized by Penn State, “when employees experience meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge of results, they should be more motivated, satisfied, and productive, as well as absent less frequently, and unlikely to resign” (PSU WC, n.d., L10 p. 8). Other examples of positive work outcomes include growth satisfaction, intrinsic motivation and greater ownership (Morgeson, F. and Campion, M., 2003). On the contrary, poor job design can lead to a loss of commitment, greater turnover and absenteeism, as well as mental overload (Morgeson, F. and Campion, M., 2003).
The research team of Hackman and Oldham (1975) devised a formula called the Motivational Potential Score (MPS), which functions as a method of calculating a job’s ability to motivate a person (PSU WC, n.d.). This formula is MPS= (Skill variety + task significance + task autonomy/3) * autonomy * feedback (Hackman and Oldham, 1975). Because of the nature of this formula, any score of zero will result in an overall zero MPS (PSU WC, n.d.). In this new role Lenora has experienced high levels of skill variety; she had a wealth of experience that lent itself to this new role successfully. She also feels a high level of task significance, as illustrated through her additional responsibilities of assisting the chief executives and public relations departments. Furthermore, she has task autonomy in her opportunities to work off-site and her ability to formulate her own schedules of tasks to complete.
Growth Need Strength
While much of the current analysis looks at the job characteristics that lead Lenora to choose Company 2, the remaining factor of individual differences behind her decision has yet to be examined. Hackman and Oldham (1976) discussed this via the concept of growth need strength, based on the conjecture that “only certain types of people would respond well to” jobs high in job design theory characteristics. Growth need strength or GNS explains individual variances in the “need for fulfillment of higher-order needs such as achievement, personal growth, and self-actualization” (PSU WC, n.d.). Those who experience positions scoring high in each of the core job dimensions, leading to the named critical psychological states, resulting in the personal work outcomes designated by Job Characteristics Theory show a high level of GNS (PSU WC, n.d.). Lenora demonstrates that she has a high level of GNS based on her choice of Company 2, because her experience with this company follows these prescribed relationships.
Evaluation and Development of Job Theory
Early Job Design theories found little empirical support (PSU WC, n.d.). However, as refinement continued, the job characteristics theory of Oldham and Hackman found considerably more support in empirical research (PSU WC, n.d.). The current state of the theory and supporting research find that, while generally supported (PSU WC, n.d.; Ali et al., 2013), some elements are more supported than others. Specifically, the components of job characteristics theory all have some relation to improved job satisfaction; additionally, some components have a higher correlation than others (PSU WC, n.d.).
One important development of job theory that came about as a component of job characteristics theory is the concept of Growth Need Strength, which is discussed in detail above. This improvement is significant in that it conceptualized the reasons some individuals react differently to job characteristic changes than do other individuals (PSU WC, n.d.). Another significant improvement is the concept of Motivation Potential Score. This is discussed above as well. This score is a calculated rating or index of how a job can potentially motivate an individual (PSU WC, n.d.). Two individuals may react to job characteristics differently, so it was important for the theory to account for this. These two important improvements to the theory have lead to greater empirical support over time.
However, some finer points to this theory do remain in question. That is, while job characteristics correlate with job satisfaction, their correlation with job performance is not as clear (PSU WC, n.d.). With the current state of the theory there are issues with causality and generalizability. It is unclear whether job conditions truly result in job satisfaction and job performance or whether the relation is more complex. It is also unclear how well the model translates between different cultural applications (PSU WC, n.d.).
Another concern of the current theory is that the nature of work does evolve and is in a state of flux; the characteristics of our jobs can change in fundamental ways (industrial revolution, telecommuting, etc.). The question remains on how this evolution has impacted the relevance of the job design theories (or at least, their component parts) as they have evolved through the years (Kovach, 1987).
Lenora's decision-making in this case was strongly influenced by the concepts in the Job Characteristics Theory. Her desire for autonomy seemed to outweigh her need for feedback. Lenora's ultimate choice to work for the second company exhibits her ambitious attitude. While it cannot be said for certain, it is expected that Lenora would score very high on a GNS scale, a direct reflection of her individual desire to grow both as an individual and with the company. It should also be noted that a motivational potential score could be different for each job as it applies to each individual. Furthermore, the general needs strength varies from person to person where the decision Lenora made for herself may not have been the decision another would have made in their situation.
Other concepts within the five core job components surely affected her motivation as it is not essential that each aspect influences the worker in a positive manner. Individuals who receive constructive job feedback while experiencing a degree of autonomy are expected to exhibit improved productivity and responsibility respectively (PSU WC, n.d.). Lenora placed less importance upon the need for feedback and seemed content to be able to work closely with the owners of Company 2 in addition to the increase in autonomy, task significance and skill variety.
Lenora's decision embraced the main idea of Job Characteristics theory: one's work must be interesting in order for performance and motivation to be high (PSU WC, L.10, P.4). Her desire for interest, thus, overshadowed the significant pay cut she took in her choice to leave her former employer. Consequently, the evidence is provided that Job Design Theories are based in the concept of motivation by the tasks that a job requires rather than through external motivators, such as monetary compensation or benefits.
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