Job Design: A Practitioner’s Guide
Job design has never been more relevant. Jobs are changing faster than ever and new jobs are invented every day. In this article, we will explain the basics of job design and how it can lead to jobs that add value to the organization while being motivating and fun for the employee. We also offer a proven and science-based framework that helps in designing better jobs.
What is job design? A definition
Job design is the process of creating a job that enables the organization to achieve its goals while motivating and rewarding the employee. This means that a well-designed job leads to higher productivity and quality of work, while also leading to higher job satisfaction, lower absence, and lower employee turnover intentions.
In today’s VUCA world, the content of jobs is changing more and more rapidly, making continuous job design more important than ever. In a previous article, we focused on the drivers of job redesign. In this article, we will explain how job design works from a practical perspective, and which strategies can be used to design a job.
How job design works
To properly redesign jobs, we need a framework to guide this redesign process. The best-known framework is Hackman & Oldham’s job characteristics theory.
Back in 1980, Hackman & Oldham proposed that each job should have five core job characteristics to be motivating for the individual. These characteristics remained consistent over time and are still used today.
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|Skill variety||The degree to which a job requires a broad array of skills. A financial controller managing three different departments will have more skill variety than a controller managing one specific department. Jobs with greater skill variety are more challenging and require more competence|
|Task identity||The degree to which an individual performs a whole piece of work. For example, designing a full house interior is more rewarding than designing a single room|
|Task significance||The degree to which the work impacts others. When work impacts others, the task feels more meaningful, leading to higher satisfaction|
|Autonomy||The level of independence and freedom an individual has. Higher levels of autonomy make a person feel more responsible for their work|
|Feedback||The information that workers receive about the effectiveness of their work. Feedback can come from the work itself (e.g., a functioning product) and external sources (e.g., customer satisfaction). Feedback from the work itself provides the most satisfaction and leads to knowledge of the results of work activities|
When a job has these five characteristics, it will be more meaningful, the employee will feel more responsible, and have more knowledge of the work results. This, in turn, leads to the outcomes we mentioned in the introduction: high motivation, higher quality performance, job satisfaction, and low absenteeism and turnover.
The process described above is summarized in this model, which forms the basis for job design. Let’s now look into some job design techniques that can be used to improve the motivational power of these core job characteristics.
Job motivating potential
The idea behind motivational power is that when employees like their job, they are more likely to give it their all and push for better results, which benefits both the employee and the organization. This is commonly accepted.
Hackman and Oldham proposed a system, which they called the motivating potential score (MPS). To calculate this score, one takes all core job characteristics into account and uses these to calculate the motivating potential of the job.
To do this, each of the core job dimensions should be scored on a scale of one (low) to seven (high). Next, these values can be put into the formula as follows:
According to the formula, a low score on either autonomy or feedback will significantly impact the motivating potential of the job, while a lower score on either skill variety, task identity, or task significance will have a less significant impact.
In the figure above, job A scores much higher on all motivational dimensions compared to job B. Because these motivational elements are multiplied, the MPS difference between the two jobs is huge (255 vs. 40). A better approach would be to transfer some of the autonomy or feedback opportunities from job A to job B, if possible.
Four job design strategies
In order to increase the motivational potential of a job, four common job design strategies are used. Each of these strategies will make an impact on one or more of the elements in the MPS formula. The strategies are job rotation, job enlargement, job enrichment, and job simplification. We will explain each of them briefly and then link to an in-depth article on the topic.
1. Job rotation
Job rotation is a practice of moving employees between jobs in an organization. This increases the skill variety, helps employees orientate in potential new roles, and learn through different experiences.
Job rotation programs can lead to increased motivation and create flexibility in deployment resulting in easy replacement in case of absence.
2. Job enlargement
Job enlargement involves adding additional activities within the same hierarchical level to an existing role. An example is a designer specialized in hotel room design, now also getting involved in restaurant design. The work requires similar skills but the work’s content differs.
Job enlargement increases the skill variety and task identity, enabling a worker to do more of similar activities, which reduces monotony, teaches a variety of skills, and gives a broader range of responsibilities, accountability, and autonomy.
3. Job enrichment
Where job enlargement is aimed at adding tasks, job enrichment is characterized by adding motivational dimensions. This means that job enlargement could be a form of job enrichment.
Job enrichment focuses on adding motivators to existing roles, increasing the MPS. Examples include adding opportunities to receive feedback, establishing client relationships to increase task significance, and creating natural work units, which is aimed at grouping interrelated tasks together to increase task identity.
4. Job simplification
Job simplification is the opposite of job enlargement and a bit of the odd one out. Job simplification is the process of removing tasks from existing roles to make them more focused.
Job simplification is about stripping skill variety to create a more focused task. This can be used in case of job creep when a job has been enlarged over time and has become unmanageable.
Job crafting and job design
So far, we have introduced job design as a top-down driven approach in which either the manager or the OD professional determines what factors can be changed to improve the motivational potential of a job for the employee.
These days, employees have considerable freedom to customize, modify, and craft their own job, either independently or in collaboration with their manager. The process of an employee taking the initiative and shaping the characteristics of their job is referred to as job crafting.
Job crafting can be encouraged through higher organizational support, higher levels of autonomy, and higher self-efficacy, which is the employee’s belief in their capacity to achieve what they want to achieve. Job crafting leads, in turn, to higher levels of job satisfaction.
Job design is a systematic approach to creating jobs that are both motivating for employees and add value to the organization. The latter is important – the role needs to fit in the organizational framework and help to contribute to organizational goals. If this is not the case, the role is redundant and should be removed.
This shows a fine balance and difficulty when it comes to designing jobs. Some jobs need to happen even though they are not motivating. In this case, there are still other tools in the OD professional’s toolkit. These include good management, creating a strong vision and a culture that connects and retains people, and selecting people who thrive on stability and predictability.
When done well, job design can be an incredibly fun and rewarding process, for both the manager or OD practitioner, as well as for the employee.
Job design is the process of creating a job that enables the organization to achieve its goals while motivating and rewarding the employee.
Job design is important because in today’s VUCA world, the content of jobs is changing more and more rapidly, making continuous job design more important than ever.
When done well, job design leads to higher productivity and quality of work, while also leading to higher job satisfaction, lower absence, and lower employee turnover intentions.