Job design specifies the contents of jobs in order to satisfy work requirements and meet the personal needs of the job holder, thus increasing levels of employee engagement. As observed by Wall and Clegg (1998: 265):
Jobs are created by people for people. Whether deliberately or by default, choices are made about which tasks to group together to form a job, the extent to which job holders should follow prescribed procedures in completing those tasks, how closely the job incumbent will be supervised, and numerous other aspects of the work. Such choices are the essence of job design.
Jobs and roles
A distinction can be made between jobs and roles. A job is an organizational unit consisting of a group of defined tasks or activities to be carried out or duties to be performed. A role is the part played by individuals and the patterns of behaviour expected of them in fulfilling their work requirements. Jobs are about tasks, roles are about people. This distinction means that while jobs may be designed to fit work requirements, roles are developed as people work flexibly, demonstrate that they can do more and take on different responsibilities. Role development (as covered in the next section of this chapter) happens informally, in contrast to the more formal approaches to job design (considered below).
Factors affecting job design
Deciding on the content of a job starts from work requirements because that is why the job exists. When the tasks to be done have been determined it is then necessary to consider how the jobs can be set up to provide the maximum degree of intrinsic motivation for those who have to carry them out with a view to improving performance and productivity. Consideration also has to be given to another important aim of job design: to fulfil the social responsibilities of the organization to the people who work in it by improving the quality of working life, an aim that, as stated in Wilson’s (1973) report on this subject, depends upon both efficiency of performance and satisfaction of the worker.
Clearly, the content of a job depends on the work system in which it exists and the organization structure in which it is placed. Job design therefore happens within the context of work and organization design, as described in this chapter, but it is also affected by the following factors:
- the characteristics of jobs;
- the characteristics of task structure;
- the process of intrinsic motivation;
- the job characteristics model;
- the implications of group activities.
The characteristics of jobs
There are three fundamental characteristics shared by all jobs:
- Job range – the number of operations a job holder performs to complete a task.
- Job depth – the amount of discretion a job holder has to decide job activities and job outcomes.
- Job relationships – the interpersonal relationships between job holders and their managers and co-workers.
Job design requires the assembly of a number of tasks into a job or a group of jobs. An individual may carry out one main task that consists of a number of interrelated elements or functions.
Or task functions may be allocated to a team working closely together in a manufacturing ‘cell’ or customer service unit, or strung along an assembly line. In more complex jobs, individuals may carry out a variety of connected tasks (multitasking), each with a number of functions, or these tasks may be allocated to a team of workers or be divided between them. In the latter case, the tasks may require a variety of skills that have to be possessed by all members of the team (multitasking) in order to work flexibly. Complexity in a job may be a reflection of the number and variety of tasks to be carried out, the different skills or competencies to be used, the range and scope of the decisions that have to be made, or the difficulty of predicting the outcome of decisions.
The internal structure of each task consists of three elements: planning (deciding on the course of action, its timing and the resources required), executing (carrying out the plan) and controlling (monitoring performance and progress and taking corrective action when required). A completely integrated job includes all these elements for each of the tasks involved. The worker, or group of workers, having been given objectives in terms of output, quality and cost targets, decides on how the work is to be done, assembles the resources, performs the work, and monitors output, quality and cost standards. Responsibility in a job is measured by the amount of authority that someone has to do all of these things.
The ideal arrangement from the point of view of engagement and motivation is to provide for fully integrated jobs containing all three task elements. In practice, management and team leaders are often entirely responsible for planning and control, leaving the worker responsible for execution. To a degree, this is inevitable, but one of the aims of job design is often to extend the responsibility of workers into the functions of planning and control. This can involve empowerment – giving individuals and teams more responsibility for decision-making and ensuring that they have the training, support and guidance to exercise that responsibility properly.
The case for using job design techniques is based on the premise that effective performance and genuine satisfaction in work follow mainly from the intrinsic content of the job. This is related to the fundamental concept that people are motivated when they are provided with the means to achieve their goals. Work provides the means to earn money, which as an extrinsic reward satisfies basic needs and is instrumental in providing ways of satisfying higher-level needs. But work also provides intrinsic rewards related to achievement, responsibility and the opportunity to use and develop skills that are more under the control of the worker.
The job characteristics model
The most influential model for job design is the job characteristics model developed by Hackman and Oldham (1974). They identified five core job characteristics:
- Skill variety: the degree to which a job requires an employee to perform activities that challenge his or her skills and abilities.
- Task identity: the degree to which the job requires completion of an identifiable piece of work.
- Task significance: the degree to which the job outcome has a substantial impact on others.
- Autonomy: the degree to which the job gives an employee freedom and discretion in scheduling work and determining how it is performed.
- Feedback: the degree to which an employee gets information about the effectiveness of his or her efforts – with particular emphasis on feedback directly related to the work itself rather than from a third party (for example, a manager).
Hackman and Oldham explained that if the design of a job satisfied the core job characteristics the employee would perceive that the work was worthwhile, would feel responsible for the work and would know if the work had been completed satisfactorily. The outcome of this would be high-quality work performance and high job satisfaction as a result of intrinsic motivation.
The implications of group activities
Jobs should never be considered in isolation. All job holders belong to formal or informal groups and the interrelationships that exist in such groups should be considered when looking at the content of an individual job.
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