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FREE online courses on Job Design and Enrichment - Approaches to Job Design

There are three important approaches to job design, viz.,

  1. Engineering approach,
  2. Human approach and
  3. The Job characteristic approach.


Engineering Approach


The most important single element in the Engineering approaches, proposed by FW Taylor and others, was the task idea, “The work of every workman is fully planned out by the management at least one day in advance and each man receives in most cases complete written instructions, describing in detail the task which he is to accomplish . . . This task specifies not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.” The principles offered by scientific management to job design can be summarised thus:

l       Work should be scientifically studied. Taylor advocated fragmentation and routinisation of work to reap the advantages of specialisation.

l       Work should be arranged so that workers can be efficient.

l       Employees selected for work should be matched to the demands of the job.

l       Employees should be trained to perform the job.

l       Monetary compensation should be used to reward successful performance of the job.

These principles to job design seem to be quite rational and appealing because they point towards increased organisational performance. Specialisation and routinisation over a period of time result in job incumbents becoming experts rather quickly, leading to higher levels of output. Despite the assumed gains in efficiency, behavioural scientists have found that some job incumbents dislike specialised and routine jobs.

Problems with engineering approach

After listening to several complaints from employees about their highly specialised jobs, Walker and Guest indicated the problems with job specialisation thus:

(a)      Repetition: Employees performed a few tasks repeatedly. This quickly led the employees to become very bored with the job. There was no challenge to the employees to learn anything new or to improve the job.

(b)      Mechanical pacing: Assembly line workers were made to maintain a certain regular pace of work. They could not take a break when they needed to, or simply divert their attention to some other aspect of the job or another individual.

(c)      No end product: Employees found that they were not turning out any identifiable end product; consequently, they had little pride and enthusiasm in their work.

(d)      Little social interaction: Employees complained that because the assembly line demanded constant attention, there was very little opportunity to interact on a casual basis with other employees and share their work experiences, beliefs and sentiments.

(e)      No input: Employees also complained that they had little chance to choose the methods by which they performed their jobs, the tools which they used, or the work procedures. This, of course, created little interest in the job because there was nothing which they could improve or change.

Human Relations Approach

The human relations approach recognised the need to design jobs in an interesting manner. In the past two decades much work has been directed to changing jobs so that job incumbents can satisfy their needs for growth, recognition and responsibility. Herzberg's research popularised the notion of enhancing need satisfaction through what is called job enrichment. One widely publicised approach to job enrichment uses what is called job characteristics model and this has been explained separately in the ensuing section. 

According to Herzberg there are two types of factors, viz. (i) motivators like achievements, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth and (ii) hygiene factors (which merely maintain the employee on the job and in the organization) like working conditions, organisational policies, inter-personnel relations, pay and job security. According to Herzberg, the employee is dissatisfied with the job if maintenance factors to the required degree are not introduced into the job. But, the employee may not be satisfied even if the required maintenance factors are provided. Herzberg feels that the employee will be satisfied with his job and he will be more productive if motivators are introduced into the job content. As such, he asserts that the job designer has to introduce hygienic factors adequately to reduce dissatisfaction and build motivating factors. Thus, Herzberg has put emphasis on the psychological needs of the employees in designing jobs.

The Job Characteristics Approach

The Job Characteristics Theory of Hackman and Oldham states that employees will work hard when they are rewarded for the work they do and when the work gives them satisfaction. Hence, they suggest that motivation, satisfaction and performance should be integrated in the job design. According to this approach, any job can be described in terms of five core job dimensions which are defined as follows:

(a)      Skill variety: The degree to which the job requires that workers use a variety  of different activities, talents and skills in order to successfully complete the job requirements.

(b)      Task identity: The degree to which the job allows workers to complete whole tasks from start to finish, rather than disjointed portions of the job.

(c)       Task significance: The degree to which the job significantly impacts the lives of others both within and outside the workplace.

(d)      Autonomy: The degree to which the job allows workers freedom in planning and scheduling and the methods used to complete the job.

(e)      Feedback: The degree to which the job itself provides workers with clear, direct and understandable knowledge of their performance.

All of the job dimensions impact workers psychologically. The first three dimensions affect whether or not workers view their job as meaningful. Autonomy determines the extent of responsibility workers feel. Feedback allows for feelings of satisfaction for a job well done by providing knowledge of results.

The core job dimensions can be combined into a single predictive index called the Motivating Potential Score. Its computation is as follows:

 Motivating     Skill variety + Task identity + Task significance

  potential   =                                                                   x Autonomy x Feedback


Jobs that are high on motivating potential must be high at least in one of the three factors that lead to meaningful work and must be high in both autonomy and feedback and vice versa. These three critical psychological states lead to the outcome such as (a) high internal work motivation, (b) high growth satisfaction, (c) high quality work performance, (d) high general job satisfaction, (e) high work effectiveness and (f) low absenteeism and turnover (Figure 13.1). The model says that internal rewards are obtained by an individual when he learns that he personally has performed well on a task that he cares about.

Figure 13.1: Job Characteristics Model

Ironically, the main feature of the job characteristics design method – its intrinsic psychological motivation – may be its biggest drawback. Supervisors attempting to apply these principles may discover that for many employees these psychological states are unimportant. In fact, research to date indicates that some employees respond exceedingly well to jobs redesigned according to job characteristic dimensions, whereas for others, it has no discernible impact.

Sociotechnical Systems Approach

The above theories of job design are all concerned with designing individual jobs. The approach taken by the sociotechnical systems method is the design or work systems that foster a meshing of the technical and social aspects of jobs. In order to create jobs, which have this supportive relationship, work teams not individual jobs, must be studied. Jobs in the traditional sense are non-existent and instead, each worker plays an assigned role in accomplishing the group's objectives. Redesigning work through sociotechnical systems methods requires the combined efforts of employees, supervisors and union representatives in analysing significant job operations. Jobs are not necessarily designed to be intrinsically motivating; rather, they are designed so that the work is accomplished. As in scientific management, a supervisor's goal is to ensure that the organization's objectives are met. However, this is accomplished by concentrating only on critical job aspects, by forming work teams consisting of members who have the necessary qualifications to accomplish the tasks and by allowing work groups the autonomy to manage their own work process.

The thrust of the sociotechnical approach to job design is that both the technical system and the accompanying social system should be considered when designing jobs. According to this concept, jobs should be designed by taking a ‘holistic' or ‘systems' view of the entire job situation, including its physical and social environment. Using the sociotechnical approach, the following guidelines have been developed for designing jobs:

1.       A job needs to be reasonably demanding for the individual in terms other than sheer endurance and yet provide some variety (not necessarily novelty).

2.       Employees need to be able to learn on the job and to go on learning.

3.       Employees need some minimum area of decision making that they can call their own.

4.       Employees need some minimal degree of social support and recognition at the workplace.

5.       Employees need to be able to relate what they do and what they produce to their social life.


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