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The Job Characteristics Theory was originally introduced by Turner and Lawrence (1965) and then created into a theory by Hackman and Lawler in 1976. The job design theory refers to the way tasks are defined in clear job descriptions to lead to a motivated work force and successful completion of tasks. These tasks are usually agreed upon and understood by both the employer and the employee. The Job Characteristics theory is broken down into:

Five core job dimension

Three critical psychological states

Work outcomes. 

The  five core job dimensions are, skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and job feedback. Skill variety is the amount of different skills that are required or are used to perform a job.  Task Identity is a characteristic of accomplishment, in that the employee can see the end product from beginning to end, how much of the end product was a developed by the user. Task Significance is how important their job is to the end product and what they were able to contribute to the team. Autonomy is how much the individual was able to do on their own. The employee is responsible for their own production and has to hold themselves to a higher level. Job Feedback is viewing the accomplished goal and feedback received from management or supervisors thought of the employee's overall production. 

The critical psychological states are, experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility, and knowledge. Experienced meaningfulness is tied into the job dimensions of skill variety, task identity, and task significance.  Experienced responsibility is tied into the autonomy, or how responsible the employee feels to complete the job. Knowledge relates to how the person believes they are performing the job.

Work Outcomes were measured by Hackman and Oldham (2003) by a Motivational Potential Score (MPS). The idea was that through measuring core job dimensions and critical psychological states, one may be able to predict the potential for motivating a person. The MPS appeared as,  MPS = [(Skill Variety + Task Significance + Task Identity)/3] * Autonomy * Feedback

Details of Case

Amy Katherine is a thirty-year-old registered nurse. She has been employed by Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY for eight years. For the first six years, Amy Katherine worked as a nurse on the neurological surgery floor. She enjoyed this job but after a few years of sporadic schedules and long shifts she decided to switch gears and began working as a nurse in the operating room. In the beginning, Amy Katherine was excited for the change of pace, as well as the more structured scheduled that was offered while working in the operating room. One year into her job in the operating room however, Amy Katherine began to find her work monotonous and less interesting. She dreaded going to work, and looked forward to her days off. Amy Katherine began to miss her years of work on the neurological surgery floor and longed for a way to integrate the knowledge, skills and abilities she enjoyed by being a nurse to the job that suited her best.

This case study will be used to study the differences in Core Dimensions within the Job Characteristics Theory between the content of the work Amy Katherine performed while working on the neurological surgery floor, versus the content of work in the operating room.


Job Characteristics Theory

Core Dimensions

  • Skill Variety: People are assigned to a job because they are perceived to be able to fulfill its requirements
  • Tasks Identity: many tasks, or a reduced number of tasks, depending on ability, time allotment and other constraints 
  • Task Significance: looks at how various functions/components/tasks are carried out to achieve the mission/mandate
  • Autonomy: refers to the degree of control a worker has over the performance of tasks and assignments
  • Job Feedback: direct response, positive or negative, to an activity performed in the interest of an organization, it is better if it comes directly from the source

                                  Tusharpophli. (2011).


                                                                     Core Job Dimensions Comparison

                                                                                     Neurological Surgery Floor vs. Operating Room

                                            Neurological Surgery          

                                          Operating Room

Skill Variety
Putting In IV's,Passing Medicine, Dressing Changes, Bed Baths, Taking Care of patient's questions,Managing Care.

Task Identity
Participated in entire after surgery care. Consulted with patient on pain management, symptom management, walking after surgeries, and coordinated home care

Task Significance
The significance of work was felt when receiving thanks from the patients she cared for. Letters of appreciation and recognition from the hospital reinforced the work that Amy Katherine was doing.

Autonomy relatively high. Amy Katherine made decisions for the patients based on her knowledge of the medical field. She prioritized patient care and worked one-on-one with the patient.

Instant feedback from patients. Amy Katherine knew quickly whether patients were satisfied with their care and experience at the hospital.  

Skill Variety
Skills very limited. Put in catheters on rare occasions. Positioned patients on operating table

Task Identity
Tasks consisted of more of a smaller piece to a larger puzzle. Patients were only in operating room for
short amount of time, leaving little time for Amy Katherine to participate in patient care.

Task Significance
Tasks Significance strong. Amy Katherine played and intrical part to a patients medical experience. Personally, Amy Katherine did not feel she contributed enough of herself to the tasks at hand. She was under the watch of the surgeon and felt their was a lack of communication between her peers

Lack of autonomy. Amy Katherine took a "back seat" to the decisions made by the surgeon. She had verylittle to no control of what happened and completed work based on availability. (If no operations were scheduled, there was little work to be done)

Lack of feedback. Little feedback from supervisor and patient

Critical Psychological States Effects

Experienced Meaningfulness:

While working as a nurse in the operating room, Amy Katherine carried out a limited range of skills and was only with each patient for a short amount of time. Consequently, the time spent with the patient mostly involved time while the patient was unconscious for the surgical procedure.  She could no longer identify with the result of her direct care to the patient and this loss of task identity resulted in less experienced meaningfulness.  While this may have been slightly offset by the high level of task significance, she did realize how important each step was in the process, the overall result was a significant decrease in experienced meaningfulness.

Experienced Responsibility:

Amy Katherine now felt no responsibility in the decision making process.  Rather than being the "nurse in charge of the patient", communicating directly with each patient, bringing each doctor up to speed on the patient's condition, offering advice from time to time, and often responsible to educate the patient's on the recovery process of the procedures they had received, she now functioned more like a second set of hands under the direction of the surgeon.


Amy Katherine knew that the tasks performed in the operating room were important to the outcomes of patient care. However, the lack of feedback from her supervisors and peers, and the fact she could not follow up with the patient left her feeling unsure of her job performance.

Implementing Concepts for the Job Characteristics Model

Combine tasks: Effects skill variety, task identity, and task significance

Group tasks into natural work units: Effects task significance and task identity

Give workers contact with customers: Effects skill variety, autonomy, and feedback

Vertically loaded jobs: Effects autonomy

Open feedback Channels: Effects feedback 

(Hackman and Oldham's, 2003)

Research Support to Theory Application

“The concept of motivation in the workplace is unquestioned as a critical construct that relates to numerous important organizational outcomes (e.g., productivity, turnover, absenteeism, lateness, satisfaction)”  (Marchese, 1998).  Job design may offer some clues to the reasoning behind the lack of motivation Amy Katherine was experiencing.  The intensity of the operating room environment and the high performance system was built around minimizing any chance of error.  This resulted in the development of highly routine work content.  Each individual performing specific tasks results in the specialization of skills but left Amy Katherine feeling disconnected and insignificant in relation to what mattered to her most, the personal interaction with each patient.  "The literature on the job characteristics theory is replete with suggestions that the routinization of work leads to poor quality of working life because it suppresses innovation, involvement, commitment, and other creative expressions on the job resulting in poor performance” (Baba & Jamal, 1991).

The results of a 1991 study of Canadian nurses suggest that a relatively low level of routinization in job content may serve to make a job more interesting, meaningful, and motivational, thus resulting in improved quality of working life.  “Specifically, the analysis revealed that nurses who experienced low routinization in job content reported higher job satisfaction, job involvement, and organizational commitment compared to nurses who experienced high routinization in job content.  They also reported significantly lower levels of work role ambiguity, conflict, overload, job stress and turnover motivation compared to those who experienced higher routinization in job content" (Baba & Jamal, 1991).  "The concept of satisfaction has been linked to various job dimensions" (Anderson, 1984) including job design. Amy Katherine could have a significantly positive outcome by approaching this element.  Since "many researchers have found evidence that employee responses to a job can be affected by job design" (Anderson, 1984), it is easy to accede to the idea of approaching and implementing a new job design to reach a stronger level of satisfaction.  

Job design changes have been shown to impact changes in the level of motivation but these have also been shown to fluctuate over time with an initial spike in motivation with changes to the core dimensions then a return to pre-change levels of motivation.  Griffin (1991), found that task redesign interventions significantly altered employee perceptions in the predicted and desired directions.  Suggesting the importance of monitoring change over a period of time.  This may explain the initial excitement Amy Katherine experienced with the change and now the decreasing motivation she was experiencing.  It may be advisable for Amy Katherine to monitor her level of motivation before making a drastic job change decision based on short-term changes in her level of motivation.  She may also want to consider approaching her employer about conducting a job design intervention.  The employer may be interested in such an intervention if her position is one that is plagued by high turnover and dissatisfaction. 


Once the job design was completed by Amy Katherine and she understood it, it was easy for her to locate weak spots and undertake remedial steps to enhance her work motivation and seek out the floor in Strong Memorial Hospital that suited her ideal core dimensions best. She introduced the job design to her supervisors in hopes to eliminate unnecessary movements of the staff at Strong Memorial Hospital. The elements of the Job Characteristics Theory allowed Amy Katherine and her supervisor a chance to examine what is involved in motivating a person at work. The measurement of the MPS could be used to predict the potential for motivating a person. In Amy Katherine's case, she is highly motivated by increased autonomy, feedback and tasks significance. The job design that Amy Katherine made could be used by supervisors when hiring nurses to examine what a persons MPS is and where they are hoping to get hired. The comparison of core dimensions between the operating room and the neurological floor allowed Amy Katherine to gain insight on how work motivation can be affected. She is currently seeking out another position in the hospital that suits her ideal core dimension, resulting in a high MPS.


Anderson, C.H. (1984).  Job design: employee satisfaction and performance in retail stores.  Retrieved from _ 

Baba, V. B., & Jamal, M. (1991). Routinization of job context and job content as related to employees' quality of working life: A study of Canadian nurses. Journal of Organizational Behavior , 12, 379-386.

Grant, A.M, Parker, S.K, Fried, Y. and Frese, M (2010) Putting job design in context: Introduction to the special issue. pg 15

Griffin, R. W. (1991). Effects of Work Redesign on Employee Perceptions, Attitudes, and Behaviors: A Long-Term Investigation. Academy of Managment Journal , 34 (2), 425-435.

Hackman & Oldham. (2003). Hackman & Oldhams Job Characteristic Model. Retrieved from

Marchese, M. C. (1998). Some factors affecting the relationship between job characteristics and job worth: A job-role interpretation. The International Journal of Organizational Analysis , 6 (4), 355-369.

Tusharpophli. (2011). Organization Behavior. Scribd. Retrieved from

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