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  • Spring 2016: Job Design
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There are a lot of reasons to like a job; pay, benefits, bonuses, commute time; there are also a lot of reasons to like a job; challenge, authority, influence, fulfillment; all of these are factors, and most people would be hard-pressed to tell the difference, or pick the most significant few out of the group. It seems to have become the norm in America for the employed to bounce around in search of hygiene factors like the former list; less so for the latter.

In examining what appeals in the next job, or what keeps employees in their current one, it is of paramount importance to consider the psychological theory of Job Design. The compilation and structure afforded to the theory by its key tenets of Skill Variety, Task Identity, Task Significance, Autonomy, and Job Feedback help it to provide an analytical system that, while not without its own flaws, brings forth a comprehensive set of guidelines by which a leader can generate the right kind of environment for his employees.

In analyzing this theory, the proverbial "meat and potatoes" revolves around the situation of a recent graduate named Skylar. Her struggles and ways to prevent them on the part of management, will be outlined. Perhaps more importantly, the best ways to visualize and detect the presence of undesirable factors related to Job Design Theory will be made significant. Throughout, the impact that Job Design Theory can have when properly executed will be laid bare. Let’s begin.

Case Study

Skylar recently graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Business Administration. Shortly after graduation, she was hired to work as an administrative assistant, specifically supporting the leadership team of a technology startup company in San Francisco. Initially, she was very excited about this job opportunity, especially since the position would allow her to work remotely from her home in Pennsylvania. However, now having worked in this position for a little over 9 months, Skylar is feeling very unmotivated.

When she first accepted the position, she was under the impression that the job would require a varied skill-set. Specifically, she was told that it was a dynamic role, one in which she would have ever-changing requests and no two work days would be the same. This really excited her, because she is a phenomenal problem solver, enjoys challenges, and she’s good at “thinking on her feet.”

To Skylar’s dismay, the position actually turned out to be the total opposite of what was originally described. Her responsibilities are limited and very monotonous. She does the following same things almost every day: schedule meetings, book travel, scan receipts, send confirmation emails, and fax documents. As a result, Skylar feels underutilized and no longer interested in doing the same exact things day after day after day. Furthermore, she doesn’t feel as though her work is meaningful or that she’s making a difference.

In her eyes, a monkey could do her job. She doesn’t think her job counts for anything or really even matters. And even if her job were truly making an impact on the leadership team she supports, she wouldn’t know that because she has yet to receive any feedback from them. She was supposed to receive a performance review every 90 days; it’s 9 months later, and she hasn’t been given even one performance review. Moreover, working remotely isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

While Skylar enjoys the luxury of making her own schedule and flexibility of choosing her work environment, she gets very lonely at times. Her virtual interactions with co-workers are generally brief, not leaving time for personal discussion. Since Skylar is a people person, she works better in an environment where she can actively collaborate with others. Since this is her first real job out of college, she knows that she must stay at least one year. However, she’s acutely aware of her current state of unhappiness and has begun to count down the weeks until she can begin applying for other jobs. Unless something changes with her current role, she will definitely be resigning on her one-year anniversary and not a day later. 


Skylar’s experience as a recent graduate with aspirations of success is a story that plays out all too often.  In this case, the company that hired Skylar made the role of an administrative assistant look very attractive with opportunities to allow Skylar to use her skill-set.  As the example states, this didn’t happen.  The company may have intended to utilize Skylar’s skills but over the course of nine months, the concern for employee satisfaction and retention had not really been on the radar of those in leadership positions at this start-up company.  Once talented people began to go elsewhere, leadership noticed and wanted to make changes.

In this case, there are multiple Job-Design theories that can be put into place in order to identify issues and provide solutions that the leadership team of this startup can implement.  The changes that needs to happen in order to motivate the employees to not only stay but also to preform can be best described in Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristic Theory.

In this situation, Skylar has a need to be more engaged with the work that she does. Her rate of pay remains the same, so this isn’t a valid reason for motivation. She feels that she can be doing so much more and doesn’t feel connected to the company for which she works. 

When referencing the Job Characteristics Model of Work Motivation, there is a deficiency (for Skylar) in each of the five core job dimensions.

Skill Variety: According to our case, Skylar is extremely skilled in various areas.  This is one of the reasons she took the position in the first place. She was told that she would have the opportunity to utilize her skill set within the ever-changing requests and that no two work days would be the same.  Over-time, this wasn’t the case. And with each day, her responsibilities became more and more monotonous.  One way for the company to combat this monotony is to vary Skylar’s workload or even have her work on projects that can utilize her skills. 

Task Identity: Much of Skylar’s work described in the case doesn’t carry much meaning.  Booking travel, scanning receipts and scheduling meetings doesn’t really give off a sense of importance.  Because of this lack of importance, Skylar struggles with finding meaning behind these tasks, which is why her motivation to perform her job has decreased (compared to when she started).

Task Significance: While Skylar’s work may be seen as important by some, if Skylar doesn’t feel that significance, her outlook on the tasks she performs will detract from her maintaining a high level of motivation. In order to fix this, Skylar must find her job to be rewarding. This is very much dependent on the tasks and responsibilities she takes on.  Because her tasks are so monotonous, it may always be difficult for Skylar to see her job as rewarding.

Autonomy: The particular job that Skylar performs has a high level of autonomy. She works remotely, makes her own schedule and has the flexibility of choosing her work environment.  While Skylar enjoys the freedom of these benefits, she works better in an environment where she can actively collaborate with others.  In order to have a stronger connection with the company she works for, it may actually be beneficial for her to move to San Francisco where the company headquarters are located. This would also give her the opportunity to spend time with her leaders.

Job Feedback: Skylar (like everyone) wants to know how she is performing. She was told that she would receive 90-day evaluations in order to let her know how she is performing.  As of nine months, she has not received one. This can be difficult for anyone if your leader isn’t informing you on a regular basis on how well you are doing. This also doesn’t allow for changes to be made in performance, because if Skylar wasn’t doing well, she doesn’t know that since she hasn’t been informed.  Feedback is quite possibly the most important of the five core job dimensions, because it fosters communication which in turn can facilitate change in the previous four areas.

On many different levels, Skylar is not happy with her current job.  It hasn’t been what she expected.  The Job Characteristic Theory can be a way for her company to identify deficiencies in their workplace. Chances are that if one person is feeling unsatisfied with their role, there are probably ten more people with the same lack of motivation.  Understanding what adjustments need to be made and knowing how to increase value in job tasks can only increase the performance of a company.  In the case of the start-up company that Skylar works for, it’s extremely important for this new organization to be able to adjust quickly to issues that arise. A start-up (more so than any another type of business) can’t ignore the type of problem Skylar is experiencing.

Please refer to the main wiki page for more information regarding the Job Characteristics Model of Work Motivation as well as other theories regarding Job Design.


The significance within the Job Characteristics Theory clearly shows a multitude of solutions to the current and potential future issues at hand. We’ve established the hope Skylar sought out with this job, her ability to do the job beyond its capacity and the full circle realization of her dissatisfaction of the job. Should Skylar’s superiors recognize this and initiate proper application of the Job Characteristics Theory, they could fix Skylar's present dissatisfaction and protect the company from losing an exceptionally qualified employee (which is a hard thing to come by for a start-up company early on in its key growth stages). Skylar’s qualifications being under utilized as they are, make her job not nearly as satisfactory as she seeks extended lateral movement which self-generates motivation for her.

By adding to her workload and using her in other areas that need extended support, several needs are met. The initial thoughts she had of the job could become a reality, where Skylar becomes satisfied and the company utilizes current resources with increased efficiency. Hackman and Oldham understood the significance of salary, good benefits, and working for a strong company (New Charter University, 2016). The MPS = ((Skill Variety + Task Identity + Task Significance) ÷ 3) × Autonomy × Feedback applied to this situation shows the quick results that its application could have (New Charter University, 2016). Hackman and Oldham also understood that people are not machines and what things keep a person's living in good standing (New Charter University, 2016). When an employees is found to be in a dissatisfied state, neither party (employee nor employer) can benefit unless the underlying issues of that dissatisfaction are addressed. The Job Characteristics Theory can effectively address those issues with positive ease.


New Charter University (2016). MG641: Leadership and Organizational Behavior. (2016). Retrieved March 27, 2016, from

Pennsylvania State University (2016). PSYCH 484, Lesson 10: Job Design: Do I find my work interesting and challenging? Retrieved from:

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