Job Design and Job Characteristics Theory
Job design is an important prerequisite to workplace motivation, as a well-designed job can encourage positive behaviors and create a strong infrastructure for employee success. Job design involves specifying the contents, responsibilities, objectives, and relationships required to satisfy the expectations of the role. Below are some established approaches managers can take to doing it thoughtfully and well.
Job Characteristics Theory
Proposed by Greg R. Oldham and J. Richard Hackman in 1976, job characteristics theory identifies five core characteristics that managers should keep in mind when they are designing jobs. The theory is that these dimensions relate to, and help satisfy, important psychological states of the employee filling the role, with the results of greater job satisfaction and motivation and less absenteeism and turnover.
Core Job Characteristics
Below are the core job characteristics:
- Skill variety: Doing the same thing day in, day out gets tedious. The solution to design jobs with enough variety to stimulate ongoing interest, growth, and satisfaction.
- Task identity: Being part of a team is motivating, but so, too, is having some ownership of a set of tasks or part of the process. Having a clear understanding of what one is responsible for, with some degree of control over it, is an important motivator.
- Task significance: Feeling relevant to organizational success provides important motivation for getting a task or job done. Knowing that one’s contributions are important contribute’s to sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
- Autonomy: No one likes to be micromanaged, and having some freedom to be the expert is critical to job satisfaction. Companies usually hire people for their specialized knowledge. Giving specialists autonomy to make the right decisions is a win-win.
- Feedback: Finally, everyone needs objective feedback on how they are doing and how they can do better. Providing well-constructed feedback with tangible outcomes is a key component of job design.
In the following Ted Talk, career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional external rewards aren’t always as effective as we think, and those that speak to a person’s internal motivation are often more potent and lasting:
Below are the psychological states that help employees feel motivated and satisfied with their work:
- Experienced meaningfulness: This is a positive psychological state that will be achieved if the first three job dimensions—skill variety, task identity, and task significance—are in place. All three dimensions help employees feel that what they do is meaningful.
- Experienced responsibility: Dimension four, autonomy, contributes to a sense of accountability, which, for most, people is intrinsically motivating.
- Knowledge of results: Dimension five, feedback, provides a sense of progress, growth, and personal assessment. Understanding one’s accomplishments is a healthy state of mind for motivation and satisfaction.
The combination of core job characteristics with psychological states influences work outcomes such as the following:
- Job satisfaction: When employees feel that their jobs are meaningful, that positive psychological state contributes to a sense of satisfaction.
- Motivation: Employees who experience responsibility in their job, a sense of ownership over their work, and knowledge of the results tend to be more highly motivated.
- Absenteeism: When employees are motivated and satisfied, absenteeism and job turnover decrease.
Overall, the manager’s goal is to design the job in such a way that the core characteristics complement the psychological states of the worker and lead to positive outcomes.
Job Design Techniques
As a motivational force in the organization, managers must consider how they can design jobs that lead to empowered, motivated, and satisfied employees. Below are a few established methods to accomplish this objective:
- Job rotation: As noted in the above model, it’s not particularly motivating to do the exact same thing every day. As a result, rotating jobs and expanding employees’ skill sets accomplish two objectives: increased employee satisfaction and broader employee skills.
- Job enlargement (horizontal): Giving employees the autonomy to step back and assess the quality of their work, improve the efficiency of their processes, and address mistakes contributes to satisfaction in the workplace.
- Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards: Giving employees autonomy helps generate intrinsic rewards (self-satisfaction) and motivation. Extrinsic rewards (such as time off, a bonus, or commission) are also motivating.
- Job enrichment (vertical): It’s important for managers to delegate some of their planning to seasoned employees as they grow into their roles. By turning over control of work-task planning to employees themselves, they feel a strong sense of engagement, progress in their career, and ownership of their work outcomes.
Research shows that people perform better when they are committed to achieving particular goals. Factors that help ensure commitment to goals include the following:
- The importance of the expected outcomes
- Self-efficacy, or belief that the goal can be achieved
- Promises or engagements to others, which can strengthen commitment level
In a business setting, managers cannot constantly drive employees’ motivation or monitor their work from moment to moment. Instead, they rely on goal setting as an effective means of helping employees regulate their own performance and stay on track. Goal setting affects outcomes in the following important ways:
- Choice: Goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities, and away from goal-irrelevant actions.
- Effort: Goals can lead to more effort; for example, if one typically produces four widgets per hour and has the goal of producing six, one may work more intensely to reach the goal than one would otherwise.
- Persistence: People are more likely to work through setbacks if they are pursuing a goal.
- Cognition: Goals can lead individuals to develop and change their behavior.
Edwin Locke and his colleagues examined the behavioral effects of goal setting, and they found that 90 percent of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance, whereas those with easy or no goals showed minimal improvement. While some managers believe it is sufficient to urge employees to “do their best,” these researchers learned that people who are instructed to do their best generally do not. The reason is that if you want to elicit a specific behavior, you need to give a clear picture of what is expected. “Do your best” is too vague. A goal is important because it establishes a specified direction and measure of performance.
You’ll recall from the discussion of SMART objectives in the Management module that setting effective goals and identifying the best means of meeting them are important aspects of the controlling function of managers. It turns out that setting SMART goals is also a powerful way to motivate employees, especially when employees are able to participate in the goal-setting process. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-constrained goals give both managers and employees clear direction and a way to measure performance.
Goals and Feedback
Managers need to track performance so employees can see how effective they have been in attaining their goals. Without proper feedback channels, employees find it impossible to adapt or adjust their behavior. Goal setting and feedback go hand-in-hand. Without feedback, goal setting is unlikely to work.
Providing feedback on short-term objectives helps to sustain an employee’s motivation and commitment. When giving feedback, managers should do the following:
- Create a positive context
- Use constructive and positive language
- Focus on behaviors and strategies
- Tailor feedback to the needs of the individual worker
- Make feedback a two-way communication process
Goal setting may have little effect if the employee can’t evaluate his own performance in relation to the goal. By giving accurate, constructive feedback, managers can help employees evaluate whether they need to work harder or change their approach.
Goal-setting theory is very useful in business, but it does have limitations. Using production targets to drive motivation may encourage workers to meet those targets by any means necessary—resulting in poor quality or, worse, unethical behavior. You’ll recall that this was the case in the recent Wells Fargo scandal, where employees created millions of fake bank accounts in order to hit sales targets. Another problem with goal setting is that a manager’s goals may not be aligned with the goals of the organization as whole, and conflict may ensue, or the employees may feel uncertain about which goals ought to be prioritized (first the manager’s, then the organization’s? Or vice versa?). Either way, performance can suffer. In addition, for complex or creative tasks, it is possible for goal setting to actually hamper achievement, because the individual can become too preoccupied with meeting goals and distracted from completing tasks. This is especially true is if reviews and pay increases are strongly tied to goal achievement.
Videos: Motivation in Today’s Workplace
The following videos contain examples of motivational theory being used in today’s companies. As you watch, see if you can recognize any of the theories you’ve studied. Are they need based or process based? What are the results of the different motivational strategies these companies use?
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