Job Enrichment: A Practical Guide + 12 Examples

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Job Enrichment: A Practical Guide + 12 Examples

Job enrichment is a well-known job design method. In this guide, we will explain what job enrichment is, dive into the advantages of job enrichment, give examples of how to enrich jobs, and compare job enrichment to job enlargement.

Table of content
What is job enrichment? A definition
Job enrichment theory
Advantages of job enrichment
The Job Diagnostic Survey
12 job enrichment interventions
Job enrichment vs. job enlargement
Barriers to job enrichment
Wrapping up

What is job enrichment? A definition

Job enrichment is a process that is characterized by adding dimensions to existing jobs to make them more motivating. Examples of job enrichment include adding extra tasks (also called job enlargement), increasing skill variety, adding meaning to jobs, creating autonomy, and giving feedback.

The goal of job enrichment is to create a motivating job. This can be done, for example, by taking a regular, ‘boring’ job and adding extra responsibilities that make the job more meaningful for the worker. Job enrichment is, therefore, part of job design and job redesign.

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The biggest reason to invest in job enrichment is that it leads to motivation. This makes job enrichment especially relevant for highly skilled, white-collar service jobs. According to Fein (1986), job enrichment is less important for blue-collar workers. Here their primary concern is pay, job security, and the rules of the workplace. Job enrichment is less effective in this context because it does not address these problems.

To conclude with a job enrichment definition: Job enrichment is the process of adding motivators to existing roles in order to increase satisfaction and productivity for the employee.

Job enrichment theory: a brief history

To understand where job enrichment came from, we should take a look at the history books.

In the early days of 1914, the Ford Motor Company had captured 48% of the automobile market. Henry Ford gained this market share because he fundamentally changed the way cars were built.

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Together with Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, he created a first version of the assembly line. Ford and Taylor applied an engineering approach to work by chunking a complex process like building a car into simple tasks that are then executed by workers, specialized in just that one task (e.g., attaching a wheel). This resulted in the first mass production of cars. In 1914, the Ford Motor Company was able to make a new car every 93 minutes – a record at the time.

However, there was a problem. Even though the workers in the Ford factory were highly productive, they were bored out of their minds. It turned out that aligning workers with the most efficient work activities is not always the best way to motivate and retain them.

Ford factory
Ford’s moving assembly line was good for the company’s productivity but less so for employee morale.
Image source

A few decades later, in 1959, Frederick Herzberg published his two-factor theory of motivation. Herzberg proposed that some job factors result in satisfaction. These are motivators. Examples include recognition, responsibility, meaningfulness, and a sense of achievement. A satisfying job should have sufficient motivators.

This motivational approach offers an alternative to the engineering approach used in scientific management. In the motivational approach, job enrichment plays a crucial part. Here, jobs are created to satisfy an employee and their needs, AKA motivate. This approach provides people with autonomy, responsibility, the ability to do a job from start to finish, and performance feedback.

This approach was later refined in Hackman and Oldham’s 1980 job characteristics model. They proposed that there are job characteristics that lead to meaningfulness, motivation, and performance. Job enrichment is the process of adding motivators to existing jobs to increase job satisfaction.

Job characteristics model

The validity of this model was assessed through a meta-review of nearly 200 studies on the model. The results of the analysis showed support for the different job characteristics, although there was some debate about the exact number of dimensions. Psychological states were confirmed as a mediator between job characteristics and outcomes (Fried & Ferris, 1987).

Since the topic of job enrichment has been so well-established in the literature, we will use some older sources as they are still the go-to place for this technique.

Advantages of job enrichment

As mentioned in our definition, the main goal of job enrichment is to create motivation, higher satisfaction, and work quality improvements for employees.

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The results of job enrichment can be categorized in psychological states and personal and work outcomes. Examples of psychological states are meaningfulness, responsibility for the outcomes of the work, and knowledge of the actual results and impact of the work. Examples of work outcomes are motivation, high-quality work performance, higher work satisfaction, better employee experience, and lower absence and employee turnover (Hackman & Oldham, 1980; Orpen, 1979).

One could imagine that job enrichment could also lead to decreased satisfaction due to the increasing intensity and scope of the work. This has not been found in the literature. Rather, the increasing intensity and scope are experienced as a motivational variable. The exception is workers with low growth needs or with low knowledge and skills. For these workers, job enrichment was more likely to produce frustration than satisfaction (Cummings & Worley, 2009).

Other advantages include that people experience their jobs as being more enriched, show higher job involvement, internal motivation, and increased loyalty. A study by Niehoff and colleagues (2001) showed that job enrichment led to higher loyalty in the high-stress environment of a downsizing company. In this situation, job enrichment was successfully used as a way to retain people.

Interestingly, job enrichment does not necessarily lead to greater productivity. Although employees experience the work as more meaningful, they don’t necessarily generate more output.

The Job Diagnostic Survey

A tool to enrich jobs is the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS). The JDS is a framework that helps to calculate a motivating potential score.

The basis for the JDS is the assumption that motivation consists of meaningfulness, autonomy, and feedback. Per job, a score is identified and calculated for each of these factors. The motivating potential score is a function of these three states, illustrated by the figure below.

In the figure, two jobs are compared. Job A scores around 6.5 on meaningfulness (the average of skill variety, task identity, which is the extent to which a job is done from start to finish, and task significance), 6.4 on autonomy, and 6.3 on feedback, making the motivating potential score 6.5*6.4*6.3 ≈ 260. Job B scores significantly lower, bringing its motivating potential score to less than 40.

JDS Diagnostic Profile

12 job enrichment interventions

In this section, we will go over a series of job enrichment interventions. All these interventions are aimed at increasing skill variety, task significance, broadening roles, and increasing autonomy.

1. Job Diagnostic Survey. The first intervention is the JDS we discussed previously. I mention this here as this is often the starting point of any enrichment intervention. These interventions should be aimed at jobs with low motivating potential scores.

2. Creating natural work units. The formation of natural work units is about grouping interrelated tasks together. This creates ownership of the tasks and allows the employee to see the result of their work, leading to an increase in ownership, task identity, and perceived task significance.

3. Combining tasks. Divided jobs can be put together to create broader, more rewarding jobs. Cummings & Worley mention Corning Glass Works, a laboratory hotplate assembling plant. Separate tasks were combined so that each operator would completely assemble, inspect, and ship a hotplate. This meant that each assembler could identify with a finished product and self-inspect it, leading to greater task significance, autonomy, and feedback. This resulted in an increase in productivity of 84%, a drop of controllable rejects from 23 to less than 1%, and absenteeism dropped from 8 to less than 1%.

4. Quality circles. Quality circles, or Kaizen groups, are groups of employees who regularly meet to consider ways of resolving problems and improving productivity in their organization. These small groups increase participatory management and lead to more task identity and autonomy.

5. Suggestion programs. In line with quality circles, Employee Suggestion Programs (ESP) encourage employees to offer suggestions that improve the performance and quality of their work. Usually, the ESP is overseen by HR. Sometimes cash awards are awarded for employees whose ideas are implemented or result in savings or revenue.

6. Task teams. A task team, task force, or task group is a unit established to work on a single defined task or activity. Originally introduced by the United States Navy, it is now used in business settings as well. Similar to the quality circle, a group of employees works together to come up with improvements related to a specific business activity, often overseen by a manager.

7. Feedback. The simple act of giving regular feedback may be the easiest job enrichment intervention of them all. Feedback, whether it comes from one’s direct manager or peers through a 360-degree feedback assessment, helps the employee to grow and develop and is a key way to enrich one’s job.

8. Autonomy. Autonomy is another key part of the motivating potential of a job. Any intervention that can increase autonomy will lead to an increase in motivating potential. Examples include being able to determine when one takes a break or being made responsible for a project or process.

9. Purpose. We haven’t mentioned Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory yet. Deci and Ryan propose that motivation is created through three drivers, a need for autonomy, a need for competence, and a need for relatedness. This was later popularized in Daniel Pink’s book Drive. A purpose for doing the work can help in creating relatedness to the work. A clearly stated and identifiable purpose will increase task significance.

10. Establish client relationships. Another job enrichment intervention is to establish client relationships. When jobs are split up, workers have little to no contact with, or knowledge of, the ultimate user. By establishing client relationships, the task identity and task significance are increased. Cummings & Worley recommend three steps. First, the client must be identified. Second, the contact between the worker and the client needs to be as direct as possible. Third, criteria by which the client judges the product or service should be clear and the client’s judgment should be relayed back to the worker.

11. Vertical loading. Vertical loading may be the most crucial job enrichment and design principle. A job that is vertically loaded has responsibilities and a large degree of control that was formally reserved for management. This greatly increases autonomy. Vertical loading is often lost when a mistake is made. At this point, a supervisor steps in and removes the responsibility, leading to lower vertical loading and a decrease in autonomy.

12. Horizontal loading. Horizontal loading is also referred to as job enlargement. Job enlargement is a form of job enrichment and will be discussed in the next section.

Job enrichment vs. job enlargement

Job enlargement is the increase in job duties by extending the range of job responsibilities. Contrary to vertical loading, where the degree of control is increased, job enlargement focuses on simply adding duties to the job, without necessarily increasing autonomy or control.

Job enlargement thus enables a worker to do more, have a wider range of activities, increase their skill variety, and improve their earning capacity.

An example is an office secretary who will now also welcome the occasional guests who visit the office. This gives her a welcome break in her daily work as she likes to make people feel at home and chat with new people. This will help her motivation.

Measuring employee engagement
Job enlargement is the broadening of a role by adding different tasks.

The effects of job enlargement diminish over time. At some point, the office secretary starts to find guests a bothersome distraction that prevents her from finishing her work, the effect disappearing as the novelty wears off.

The continual increase of job enlargement is referred to as job creep. This happens when an employee gets an ever-increasing task load, leading to an unmanageable workload.

When we think about job enrichment vs. job enlargement, we see that job enlargement is a specific way to enrich jobs. By adding tasks and increasing task load, an employee can get a more enriching and motivating work experience.

Barriers to job enrichment

Cummings and Worley list several barriers to job enrichment. These obstacles are often part of the organizational system. It’s good to be aware of potential limitations to job enrichment as they can impact the viability and effectiveness of your intervention.

1. The technical system. Existing systems in the organization can prevent a job from being enriched. An example is an assembly line in which work stations are designed for the execution of a single activity. This makes work highly standardized and impossible to enrich without changing the technical system.

2. The HR system. The HR system may also have formalized jobs with job descriptions that prevent job enrichment. In addition, roles may be defined by labor unions or in collective labor agreements. Changing jobs to enrich them may be nearly impossible and require extensive negotiation between the employer and unions.

3. The control system. Budgets, production reports, and accounting practices may also limit the degree to which jobs can be enriched. Organizational departments may also play a role. The sales department is usually the department that has client relationships. If the product team wants to be better connected with customers, this may lead to struggles and internal competition.

4. The supervisory system. Almost any successful HR intervention requires the active participation of management. The supervisory system can be a major bottleneck when it comes to granting autonomy, task completion, and feedback. A controlling manager is a surefire way to fail a job enrichment intervention aimed at vertically loading a job.

5. Individual motivation. Another factor is the motivation of the individual. Job enrichment is especially effective for an individual with a high need for growth as they will welcome the additional change and challenge. However, enriching the jobs of workers with a low growth need will more likely produce frustration than satisfaction.

Wrapping up

That wraps up this guide on job enrichment. If you have any questions, post them in the comments below and we will get back to you! The same thing goes for enrichment interventions, if you have experience using them, please share it with us.


What is job enrichment?

Job enrichment is the process of adding motivators to existing roles in order to increase satisfaction and productivity for the employee. This can be done through increasing autonomy, skill and task variety, providing feedback, and so on.

What is the purpose of job enrichment?

The purpose of job enrichment is to make jobs more motivating by increasing meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge of the results of a job. This means that an enriched job has a high motivating potential.

What is the difference between job enrichment and job enlargement?

Job enlargement is a way to enrich a job. Job enlargement, or horizontal loading, involves a broadening of a role by adding different tasks. Job enlargement can lead to higher skill variety.

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