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INTRODUCTION

Job Design theories assert that motivation comes from the content of an individual’s job. It is a common assumption that employees are to blame for lack of motivation and productivity, and job design inadequacies are frequently ignored. However, job design is often the cause of such problems, and a job redesign can help increase motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity. A primary focus of job design in general is finding the right individuals to fit jobs based on the characteristics of the job and the individual (Penn State University World Campus [PSU WC], 2015, L. 10).

Recently, employers have been focused on designing and redesigning jobs based on the talent in the workforce rather than on specific problems (Bright, 2008). This is important in order to attract and retain valuable employees and produce positive outcomes like satisfaction and productivity. Employers feel pressure to design new jobs and redesign current jobs to be more enriching by “giving employees more tasks and greater levels of control and autonomy over how they perform their job tasks,” (PSU WC, 2015, L. 10, p. 5). This could make tasks more meaningful, interesting, and enjoyable depending on the individual employee.

While there have been many theories and approaches that have made job design what it is today, this paper will analyze a real-life situation using two of the most commonly applied aspects of job design – Job Characteristics Theory and Campion and Thayer’s four approaches to job design.

More in-depth information about the historical perspectives and theories of job design as a whole can be found on the job design main wiki page.


Case Study

Becky is a graduate student at the University of Illinois in Chicago; she is studying Occupational Therapy and will be graduating in December 2015. She is currently working for a healthcare organization as a paid intern converting paper files into digital files and simple data entry. Her job duties include scanning paper medical files in order to create digital files, and manually adding patient information into the new digital files that may have been recorded on paper after the original scan. This job initially attracted her because it would allow her to: 1) earn money for her degree and living expenses, 2) log hours working in the field to satisfy a major requirement, and 3) network with employers whom she may want to work for in the future. However, once she delved into the work, she realized that the job was neither interesting nor appealing.

Becky is an intrinsically motivated person who takes pride in her work. She is career-oriented, putting all of her effort into attaining a high GPA in order to attain a high-quality and high-status career in occupational therapy. Unfortunately, her job as a data entry intern threatens that intrinsic motivation due to an inadequate job design. Data entry and scanning are mindless tasks that require almost no thought; they are tedious and monotonous, requiring repetitive motions. The tasks can be performed by anyone who has a general knowledge of computers, thus, the job requires little to no training and has high utilization. Becky, being highly attracted to learning and acquiring new skills, is left bored and unsatisfied. Although she knows the job is important for her future, it is hard for her to find meaning, intellectual stimulation, and a link to future advancement in the actual tasks. In this job, there is no room for creativity, let alone control over how and when the job is done because there is essentially only one task that can be done in one way. It is also hard for Becky to work alone, which she does for eight hours a day, four days a week at this job. She works much better when she is able to collaborate with and help others. However, she is isolated in a back office in the facility, and she is the only intern currently employed for the data entry duties. She has little to no contact with the doctors, nurses, and receptionists working in the facility, and no access to patient interactions. It is even rare for Becky to be in contact with her direct supervisor, as feedback and performance evaluations are rare due to the simplistic nature of the job.

Usually Becky is not used to struggling to find the motivation to go to work. On school days, she is excited to attend classes because she knows they will be stimulating and engaging. Once at work, she finds it hard to stay on task; frequent daydreaming and attention to other activities (e.g., texting, homework, and reading) threaten her productivity. She can be found checking the time frequently throughout the day to see how much time is left before the workday is over.

ANALYSIS

Hackman and Oldham (1976) devised the Job Characteristics Theory that describes job-based motivation as an outcome of a given job’s content and the nature of its tasks (as cited in PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). According to this theory, interesting work can lead to motivation and enjoyment (PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). Each core job dimension influences a different critical psychological state, which will then determine specific personal work outcomes (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: Streamlined Job Characteristics Model

 

Core Job Dimensions

Hackman and Oldham (1976) found five key job dimensions that affect personal work outcomes: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and job feedback (as cited in PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). Becky’s current situation as a graduate intern can be easily analyzed using four out of the five dimensions. She is in a position with low skill variety because her only task involves scanning documents and entering patient information into the organization’s information management system when necessary. Becky also has low task identity because she is not involved in the entire document management workflow. Her tasks are limited to one small aspect of the vast operations of the organization. In regards to task significance, Becky feels as if she has no impact on those around her – she is simply a back-office paper-pusher. Scanning documents and data entry are self-contained responsibilities. Unfortunately, in this job, she lacks the opportunity for social interactions, which she values highly. Lastly, as an intern, Becky is not afforded much autonomy. She has little to no control over how she completes the tasks because there is only one way to scan documents and one way to enter data. Becky also has no control over her schedule; she reports to work when she is required to and completes her eight hour shift. This low level of autonomy is harmful to her motivation.

 

Critical Psychological States

Within Job Characteristics Theory, each of the core job dimension is connected to a critical psychological state (PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). These relationships can be found in Figure 2.

 

Figure 2: Relationship between Core Job Dimensions and Critical Psychological States

 

In Becky’s case, the design of her internship does not lead to positive critical psychological states. Because her current position has low skill variety, task identity, and task significance, she does not experience meaningfulness in her internship. She does not feel like she contributes to the overall mission of the organization. She also does not feel she is making an impact on the lives and jobs of those around her. The seclusion of her current job design in particular is detrimental to her motivation.

Becky wants ownership of her responsibilities and wants to take on additional challenges. Unfortunately her current position doesn’t satisfy these needs. Since she is unable to have the autonomy she desires, she experiences low responsibility for the outcomes of her work. Sometimes she even daydreams and becomes disengaged with her work activities due to her lack of ownership and job-related discretion. Ultimately, this is counterproductive, resulting in a loss of efficiency for the organization, which only serves to decrease her feelings of responsibility.

 

Work Outcomes

The combination of core job dimensions and critical psychological states result in several personal work outcomes. In Becky’s situation, the work outcomes are not positive. While she is typically a motivated person, she is experiencing low motivational levels related to her internship. She also is not satisfied with her position. However, because she understands the long-term implications of finishing her internship (including developing networks), she is unlikely to resign or experience absenteeism.

Another way to analyze Becky’s motivation is through Hackman and Oldham’s (1976) Motivation Potential Score (MPS; as cited in PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). The MPS represents the likelihood that people will be satisfied and motivated by their job design (PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). As one might assume, because of Becky’s low scores across four out of the five core job dimensions, Becky’s score would be low or zero. This essentially means that there is a low likelihood for her to be motivated in her internship. However, through redesign, her MPS and corresponding work outcomes could be improved through enriching her job’s content and autonomy. This would subsequently increase her motivation, satisfaction, and productivity.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REDESIGN

Job Characteristics Theory

To increase Becky’s motivation and to reduce the risk of absenteeism, lower productivity and job dissatisfaction, Becky’s employers should redesign her job to make her work more interesting. Her supervisor should redesign the job based on Becky’s skills and talents rather than relying solely on the need to solve the company’s initial problems. Becky’s employers should begin by increasing the job’s skill variety. Currently, the only skills she requires are administrative skills, such as scanning documents and data entry. Two mentors could be assigned to her – a nurse and a doctor. She could work with these mentors to learn more about her future career, and the organization could benefit from the skills she has learned in graduate school. By assigning mentors to Becky, this could be one method to increase her growth need strength which, as Alderfer (1969) states, is a person’s need to fulfill needs such as personal growth, achievement, and self-actualization (as cited in PSU WC, 2015, L. 10). Becky’s mentors could teach her some of the skills and knowledge she could need as an occupational therapist, while providing her hands-on training in a clinical setting. In order to increase Becky’s responsibilities and increase skill variety, Becky could be allowed to take a patient’s vitals and transcribe the patient’s medical history with her mentor’s supervision. She could do this for a select number of patients per day, which would still allow her time to complete her administrative responsibilities. Her employers may even consider allowing her to be in the exam room with the doctor that is mentoring her, as he examines a patient. As the doctor examines the patient, he can explain to Becky what he is looking for and what he sees. By working with mentors and directly with patients, this would give Becky the opportunity to have the social interaction she needs and could further increase her job satisfaction. It could also make Becky feel as if she is making a true impact, and will teach her much more than she would learn just pushing paper, and would increase task significance, all in a safe environment. With the new job responsibilities implemented, she would have increased task identity because she would be able to work with patients from their initial exam.

Further, Becky can also seek methods to increase autonomy in her position as she gains more responsibilities. She could have control over when she works with mentors and when she completes data entry tasks. Becky’s current internship responsibilities leave much room for improvement. By implementing this job redesign, an intern can easily find continued satisfaction from this opportunity.

 

Campion and Thayer’s Four Approaches

One of the most widely utilized studies in Job Design theory is the approach taken by Campion and Thayer (1987) that breaks down four different approaches of jobs: mechanistic, motivational, biological, and perceptual/motor. They sought to have a“different outcomes, costs, and benefits” (Job Design Wiki, 2015, para. 16) by using this dynamic approach to categorize jobs and maximize satisfaction while reducing negative behaviors, such as absenteeism, errors, or injuries. Using their approaches and questionnaires, Becky’s job can be redesigned to increase her engagement and job satisfaction.

Becky’s role requires a very low skill level and a minimal amount of training. In addition, the role is very repetitive and does not require mental stimulation. Campion and Thayer (1987) describe this type of role in the mechanistic approach, specifically because it is highly unspecialized and can be trained easily, with very few tasks and the same type of work being completed in an almost robotic, automated, and repetitive fashion. With a mechanistic approach, Campion and Thayer (1987) assert that a job results in decreased job satisfaction and motivation, which Becky is experiencing. This is causing her to become disengaged from her work and dreadful of each shift. More mechanistic jobs are also associated with an increase in absenteeism. There is an opportunity for the job to be redesigned with the three other approaches in mind to increase Becky’s motivation, satisfaction, productivity, and overall engagement.

Becky’s role also involves factors from the biological and perceptual/motor approaches, but their links are not as pronounced as that of the mechanistic approach. Becky’s job is high in the biological approach due to the minimal amount of physical activity required. The perceptual/motor approach goes hand-in-hand with the mechanistic approach and discusses more of the equipment and facility factors. The simplicity of Becky’s job involves very little mental strain or stress associated with her tasks.

Becky’s dissatisfaction stems from her lack of social interactions, the monotonous nature of the duties, and little association to her aspirations of becoming an occupational therapist. The approach associated with fulfilling these needs is the motivational approach, which enriches job functions and is the only approach out of the four that lends to the social dynamics of job design (Campion & Thayer, 1987). Because of this, the recommendation is to focus on the motivational approach as the primary means of redesign.

The following questions are the determinants of the motivational approach in the Campion and Thayer (1987) study. The responses for the questionnaire are listed, followed by the recommendation for redesign.

 

 

Current

Proposed

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

No. Becky is required to work a specific schedule that does not allow for independent decision making or task independence. She must complete the responsibilities as she has been directed.

The position can be redesigned by giving Becky a method to share feedback with her superiors on process improvement suggestions to streamline her efforts.

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?

No. Becky currently works at her own pace, and while she has not received negative feedback on her performance, she does not have defined goals or deadlines for her work.

The job should receive regular feedback from her superiors to show daily/weekly/monthly performance information so Becky is aware of her progress and quality/quantity of her work.

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?

No. Becky is not receiving feedback.

Becky should be included in staff meetings and have interaction with her peers daily. Her superiors should schedule bi-weekly one-on-one meetings to review intrinsic and extrinsic feedback.

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

No. Becky is isolated in her office, away from the other staff.

While there may be space limitations that do not allow for Becky to be moved from her office, she could be included in staff meetings or be utilized within the office to cover lunches for front office staff or other duties that would allow her to have social stimulation. Becky would also benefit from the social interaction gained by working directly with patients (as in the mentor recommendation discussed).

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

Yes. The tasks are simple, and the goal is entering the information accurately.

No recommendation for redesign in clarity.

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

No. Duties are minimal and repetitive.

There is an opportunity to cross-train Becky in another role to be able to fill-in as necessary throughout the office for needs that are non-licensed, such as front office, phones, and billing.

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?

No. Becky is completing the task as the final step.

If Becky had a more thorough understanding of the work completed before and after she receives the paperwork, it could give her sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for seeing the impact of her work  and how it ties into her future career.

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

No. It is very entry-level, and does not require specific knowledge or ability.

Becky could be trained on other aspects of the information management system, as well as front-desk operations.

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

No, the current design on requires a general typing ability and being able to navigate a computer.

By giving Becky opportunities to cross-train in other departments, it will increase skill variety.

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

No.

If Becky is given in-depth information on how the organization leverages the scanned documents, it would help her see how she is adding to the overall mission of the organization.

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

No.

As the incumbent, Becky could be utilized to determine how to evolve the position and consult on how to maximize the role and effectively integrate it into the rest of the office functions.

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

No.

While this role is listed as an internship, by giving additional responsibilities, it could more thoroughly prepare someone, like Becky, to be in a patient care environment.

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

No. Without a sense for what happens with the work after it is completed or a more thorough understanding of its importance, it lacks any feeling of achievement.

Regular feedback from superiors, including one-on-one meetings as well as education and training on the full process, could prove helpful in boosting productivity through a strong sense of meaning (Campion & Thayer, 1987).

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

No. With the rare occasions of feedback from her superiors, it does not give opportunity for Becky to be proactive in helping to make decisions for the role.

While Becky does not contribute to decision-making within her job, she could be an advocate for the redesign. This will lend to continued success for the interns that will eventually replace her.

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

No. The role is task-oriented and has little to no input or output of communication.

Becky could be given the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback about how to increase the efficiency of her job.

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

Yes. Pay is comparable to the front office staff, which she could be cross-trained within.

No recommendation for redesign.

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

No. The lack of social interaction with other staff members removes her ability to be recognized.

As mentioned above, a mentor could provide Becky with recognition and acknowledgement in regards to her performance.

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

N/A - internship

No recommendation for redesign.

 

In summary, the main objective of the redesign could increase Becky’s motivation, satisfaction, productivity, and overall engagement. This could be achieved by providing opportunities to cross-train, shadowing mentors, learning different functions of the information management system, and contributing to staff meetings. Additionally, a more thorough understanding of the impact and outcome of her work, would give a stronger sense of identity to the position.

Campion and Thayer (1987) assert that each approach requires tradeoffs. The downsides to the motivational approach include an increase in training time, a greater incidence of error since Becky would be multitasking, and a potential loss of productivity since data entry would no longer be Becky’s only task (Campion & Thayer, 1987). Due to the increased complexity, this might make finding talent more difficult for the organization. However, because of the many advantages that would yield from having a more flexible individual in the role, a redesign utilizing aspects from the motivational approach could benefit both the organization and interns.

CONCLUSION

As indicated in the case study above, Becky possesses high aspirations of becoming an occupational therapist. To offset the cost of her education and build a network for her future career, she accepted an internship scanning documents and entering information into the organization’s information management system. Unfortunately, the job design for this position includes monotonous tasks, which affects her motivation, satisfaction, and productivity. In addition, Becky has been unable to solicit feedback from her supervisors regarding her assigned work activities, and is often isolated from co-workers.

Becky could experience more positive work outcomes, like motivation and satisfaction, that would increase her productivity, if her current position was redesigned to provide greater autonomy, task identity and significance, skill variety, challenge, learning opportunity, feedback, and social interaction. The original job design encompassed job characteristics that were ill-suited for Becky’s work ethic, personality, and career aspirations, crippling her growth need strength. However, by redesigning the job utilizing the Job Characteristics Theory and Campion and Thayer’s motivational approach it could elicit better outcomes and satisfaction for both Becky, future interns, and the healthcare organization.

REFERENCES

Bright, K. (2008, March 1). Power to the people: The ladder. Sydney Morning Herald, p. 7.

Campion, M., & Thayer, P. (1987). Job design: Approaches, outcomes, and trade-offs. Organizational Dynamics, 15, 66-79.

Job Design. (2015). Retrieved from Work Attitudes and Job Motivation – Brian Redmond Wiki: https://wikispaces.psu.edu/display/PSYCH484/10.+Job+Design.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2015). PSYCH 484 Lesson 10: Job design: Do I find my work interesting and challenging? Retrieved from: http://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fall15/psych484/001/content/lesson10/lesson10_01.html.

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