Understanding the Job Characteristics Model (including Job Enrichment)
One of the most important components of human resources management is job design or work design, where the focus is on the specifications of the job that will satisfy requirements of the organization and the person holding the job. It is one core function of human resources management that cannot be overlooked or skipped, considering how it is an essential tool in ensuring high job satisfaction among workers within an organization, and improve productivity and the overall output.
In the course of the life of an organization, there are changes that are bound to affect how various aspects of management operate. Human resources management is not immune to these effects and, many times, the HRM of an organization has to adapt to the changes. One form of adaptation is through implementing job or work redesigns. Another is through the conduct of various activities and programs that are aimed at job enrichment.
Unfortunately, job redesign is not something that can be done overnight. There are several approaches that may be used, and one of the more popular and most acknowledged approaches is that one developed by J. Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham, and which was aptly called the “Job Characteristics Model”.
In this guide, we explore 1) the job characteristics theory and model and 2) how the job characteristics model can help with job enrichment.
THE JOB CHARACTERISTICS THEORY
Hackman and Oldham, both organizational psychologists, developed the job characteristics theory (JCT) and first introduced it in 1976 in the book “Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, Vol. 16, Issue 2”.
According to this theory, “job design has an effect on motivation, work performance, and job satisfaction.” It has served as a framework for management to identify how certain job characteristics affect the outcomes of the jobs.
In a more personal vein, it studies the various factors that make a specific job satisfying for the organization, and for the person doing the job. Therefore, it describes the relationship between job characteristics and the responses of individuals to work or the job being performed.
The Job Characteristics Theory identified five core job dimensions that prompt three psychological states which, in turn, lead to or have an effect on five work-related outcomes or results. As we move forward with the discussion, we will expound on these further.
Out of this theory, the Job Characteristics Model, which is still in full use today, was also introduced. Basically, this model specifies the conditions under which workers or individuals will be internally motivate to perform their jobs effectively.
THE JOB CHARACTERISTICS MODEL
The Job Characteristics Model was verified when Hackman and Oldham tested it on 658 employees, who are working in 62 different jobs in 7 different businesses or organizations. The results were deemed to be reliable and conclusive, which is the reason why it still holds a lot of weight today, despite the number of other job design theories introduced.
Take a look at the diagram of the Job Characteristics Model, as presented by Hackman and Oldham.
In order to get a full picture of the Job Characteristics Model, we have to go break down its composition: the five core job characteristics or dimensions, the five work-related outcomes, and the three psychological states.
Five Core Job Characteristics
Hackman and Oldham provided clear definitions on the five job dimensions or characteristics.
#1. Skill variety
This refers to the “degree to which a job requires a variety of different activities in carrying out the work, involving the use of a number of different skills and talents of a person”. Therefore, it follows that the individual will be required to develop a variety of talents and skills.
This area asks the number of skills and talents that the job requires of the person that will be working on it. A quick giveaway would be to assess whether the job is monotonous and repetitive or if it asks the worker to do a number of different tasks or actions.
Compare two individuals working two different jobs. Job A is pretty much elementary, with the tasks being performed in a routine and repetitive manner. It does not demand much skill or ability. Job B, on the other hand, is quite complex, requiring that the worker be in possession of several skills or abilities. Who, between the two workers, will have greater chances of experiencing meaningfulness in their jobs?
That’s correct. It’s the one working on Job B, since it requires variety in skills.
#2. Task identity
This is the “degree to which the job requires completion of a whole, identifiable piece of work; that is, doing a job from beginning to end with visible outcome”. This involves being able to work on an entire work process, rather than just on bits and pieces of it. Therefore, it is important to assess whether the job or task has a clearly defined beginning, middle and end.
Workers tend to find more meaning in their jobs when they can identify a complete and visible outcome at the end of the day, or of a work cycle. Let us say, for example, that two workers are involved in the same work process. Worker A is responsible for only a small part of the work, probably in the first phase. Worker B, on the other hand, is involved throughout the entire process.
Between the two, Worker B is more likely to find his job meaningful, because he can see a visible outcome, and he feels more involved in the completion of the process. For him, a job that he is able to complete, from beginning to end, seems more worthwhile, than simply working on Phase 1, then not having a hand on the rest of the process. In fact, he may not even be aware whether the process has been completed or not, because he is focused on his assigned phase of the process.
#3. Task significance
Task significance is said to be the “degree to which the job has a substantial impact on the lives of other people, whether those people are in the immediate organization or in the world at large”. The task – and the job – is significant if it can affect other people’s lives. And it should not just be the people within the organization, but even those outside.
For many, a job holds more meaning if it can help improve the well-being of other people (not just himself), whether physically, psychologically, or emotionally. Knowing that their job, and their performance thereof, has the capacity to have a positive impact on others will motivate them further to do better.
Individuals who put great stock on task significance are very keen on finding out whether the job that they are doing actually matters to other people. For them, meaning comes in the form of recognition by other people.
This pertains to the “degree to which the job provides substantial freedom, independence, and discretion to the individual in scheduling the work and in determining the procedure to be used in carrying it out”.
Autonomy is often seen in positions with managerial, supervisorial and ministerial functions. Examples of jobs with high levels of autonomy are managers, team leaders, supervising officers, division and department heads, and senior management. These jobs tend to become more meaningful to the ones performing them because they feel greater personal responsibility for their own actions on the job.
But it’s not just limited to people in managerial positions. Even workers have a strong sense of personal responsibility if they are left to perform their tasks using their own efforts and initiatives, and they are allowed to make the decisions and call the shots.
They will definitely feel less of this autonomy if they are made to meekly follow the instructions of a supervisor, or adhere strictly to what a job procedures manual provides. This will not help them feel responsible for their actions at all.
Job feedback refers to the
“degree to which carrying out the work activities required by the job provides the individual with direct and clear information about the effectiveness of his or her performance”.
As much as possible, workers would like to be kept in the loop on their performance of the job. Not only will this keep them apprised of their progress as workers, it is also one way for them to boost their self-esteem. If they are told by their supervisors or managers that they are going a good job, they are likely to feel motivated to continue with how they are doing so far. In contrast, if they are told that they are not performing as expected, then they will respond accordingly and improve their performance.
If all five characteristics are lumped or combined together, we will be able to come up with a single figure or index that will act as the indicator of the overall motivating potential of the job being evaluated or redesigned. This index will essentially show the possibility or likelihood of a job affecting the attitudes and behaviors of the employee or worker.
This figure or index is called the MPS, or the “motivating potential score”.
Using all five core job characteristics, the formula for the MPS is:
MPS = (Skill variety + Task identity + Task significance)/3 X Autonomy X Feedback
The following propositions can be gleaned from the formula:
- If all five core job characteristics are high, there is a high probability that the worker will experience the three psychological states. This will naturally result to positive outcomes.
- In order for a job to be considered to have high motivating potential, at least one among Skill Variety, Task Identity and Task Significance) should also be high. However, it is a given that the job should also be high on both Autonomy and Feedback. A low score on any of the two will pull the MPS down.
- A low score on any one of the three does not automatically mean that the job will have a low motivating potential, since it could be offset by a high score on any of the other two.
Three Critical Psychological States
According to Faturochman, the only way for the desirable outcomes to appear or materialize is for the individual to experience all three psychological states, and the only way to experience these states, is to possess the core job characteristics.
Hackman and Oldham also mentioned motivation, which will definitely be high among individuals who are able to experience these psychological states.
Psychological State 1. Experience meaningfulness of work
Individuals have to feel that, when they are working, they are doing something meaningful. They feel that their work, in and of itself, is meaningful. This means that they have to feel that what they are doing is generally worthwhile or of value. It should also hold some importance or significance, especially with respect to a system or a set of values that the individual, on a personal level, believes in or accepts.
Looking at the diagram of the model, we can easily see that there is a connection between meaningfulness of work and the first three core job characteristics. In short, a worker will be able to find more meaning in his job if skill variety, task identity and task significance are present.
Meaningfulness of work and Skill Variety:
Not only should the job require a variety of skills and talents; it should also have the appropriate number of skills and talents, and the appropriate skills and talents.
Basically, requiring too many skills and talents may make the job too overwhelming and complex, so the worker will have difficulty keeping up with it. On the other hand, a job that requires too little skills and talents may make it too boring and not challenging at all.
In the same vein, the skills and talents should be a fit for the job itself. There would be no point requiring a skill or talent that will not contribute to the accomplishment of a task.
Take, for example, the job of a chauffeur. Driving is the most basic skill required of him, but in many organizations, they may also require the driver to have mechanical troubleshooting skills and a talent for making conversation, especially when the nature of their job requires them to drive guests and visitors around the city.
Meaningfulness of work and Task Identity:
The worker will feel more pride in their work when they are able to identify it wholly and completely.
Another example given in several write-ups is the manufacture of a washing machine. In the assembly line of a washing machine manufacturing company, there is one worker whose only task is to add one nut to one bolt, in the exact same spot. If he has to do this one thing repetitively, throughout a six- to eight-hour shift, he will be less motivated than, say, another worker who is in charge of attaching the drum and other parts.
Meaningfulness of work and Task Significance:
Say, for example, that an employee is tasked to create project proposals, with the knowledge that these proposals are likely to be approved and implemented, and will result to the company’s earnings increasing and, as a result, everyone’s bonuses also going up.
Task significance is going to be high, because the employee is aware that the results of his job will benefit not only himself, but other employees of the company as well. He will therefore find his job more meaningful and will be more motivated to come up with excellent project proposals.
Psychological State 2. Experienced responsibility for outcomes of the work
We are not talking here of just about any type of responsibility. In the context of the JCM, we are speaking of personal responsibility. The individual has to feel personally accountable for the outcomes or results of his work, or the tasks that he is doing.
Freedom and autonomy is given in the performance of one’s job. The worker will then use this freedom of action to make decisions on how to perform the job, such as making changes in the process, deciding on scheduling, and applying certain principles that he deems appropriate and beneficial to the accomplishment of the task.
However, together with this freedom and autonomy is a sense of responsibility. Depending on the decisions made by the worker, he or she will be responsible for the results, whether it is a success or a failure.
Psychological State 3. Knowledge of the actual results or outcomes
It is a given that knowing the results or outcomes of your job will help you track or monitor your effectiveness in your job. It will also help you evaluate your job performance better.
Having knowledge of the outcomes is important because:
- It will ensure that the worker is fully aware of the success (or failure) of his work and, in the process, allow them to learn from his mistakes.
- It will allow the worker to connect, on an emotional level, with the customers or end users of their outputs. Consequently, this will let them find more meaning in their work.
Now let us take these three psychological states and relate them with the core job characteristics.
The first three core job characteristics – skill variety, task identity and task significance – have a direct impact on the individual worker’s experienced meaningfulness of work.
Meanwhile, the amount of autonomy he enjoys will have an effect on the individual’s experienced responsibility towards work outcomes or results. The fifth core job characteristic – feedback – leads to the individual gaining knowledge of the actual results of the work-related activities of the job.
Originally, the proponents of the JCT proposed five possible work-related outcomes.
- Internal Work Motivation: An employee may derive motivation to perform his work from external sources. However, the best type of motivation would still be intrinsic motivation, which comes internally, or naturally in a worker.
- Job Satisfaction: The simple definition of job satisfaction is the level of contentment of an employee with his or her job. Hulin and Judge, however, gave a more complex definition, referring to it as a multi-dimensional psychological response to one’s job, and these responses could either be cognitive, affective or behavioral.
- Performance Quality: This outcome focuses on the overall quality of how the work was performed. Was it effective? Was it efficient? Were the targets achieved? Were the standards of quality adhered to?
- Absenteeism: A highly motivated worker will definitely register low absenteeism. Usually, workers who are bored with their work, or not challenged at all, will not have the enthusiasm that pushes them to get up each morning to go to work. They will not look forward to the work day ahead and, as a result, are more than likely to just not go to work altogether. Of course, it goes without saying that absenteeism is one of the primary reasons for low productivity.
- Turnover: In any case, a company that registers a high turnover rate in personnel means that there are problems on how its human resources are managed. It could be that the poor job design does not motivate workers to stay long with the company. Thus, they will look for other jobs in other companies or industries.
High turnover also means ultimately higher costs and inefficiencies for an organization. It means they have to frequently recruit and hire people and train the ones that are hired. After a few months, after the employees leave and new ones are hired, another round of training will take place. This will definitely mean more training costs to the company, not to mention severance packages for those who left.
In 1980, however, a revision of the theory and model had the number of outcomes going from five to four. Absenteeism and turnover are removed, and performance quality is broken down into two:
- Quality of Work: How is the work performed? Are the standards of quality set by the company met?
- Quantity of Work: How much of the work was performed? Was the worker able to complete the expected amount of work within the time allotted, without compromising on quality?
The heart of the Job Characteristics Model entails designing (or redesigning) the job in a manner where the core job characteristics are a perfect and complementary fit to the individual’s or worker’s psychological state and, in the process, lead to the achievement of positive and desired outcomes or results.
The theory is not all cut and dried, however, because even the brains behind the JCT recognized that there will be varying responses to jobs that are deemed to have high motivating potential. In short, some employees may respond positively, but there may also be those who would not be affected in the same way.
They addressed this gray area by pointing out that there are inherent traits or characteristics among individuals that will help bridge that divide often seen between the job characteristics and the psychological states. They called these the “moderators”.
1. Knowledge and skills needed to perform the work or task required in the job
The moderator is the level of knowledge and skill that the individual possesses, relevant to the job. Individuals who possess the skills, knowledge and competence in their performance of their job are more likely to feel positively towards their job and, in turn, this will pave the way for obtaining good or better results.
In contrast, if the person performing the job has insufficient knowledge and skill towards the job, there is a low chance of him experiencing the psychological states. He can also expect less than stellar, and even negative, results or outcomes.
2. Growth need strength
According to the theory, Growth Need Strength (GNS) moderates the relationship between core job characteristics and the psychological states. At the same time, it also moderates the relationship between the psychological states and the possible results or outcomes.
This answers the following questions:
- How strongly does the individual want to accomplish something?
- How much does the individual hunger for personal learning and development?
“Growth need strength” is defined as the degree to which people have a need for personal growth and development. Individuals who are “hungrier”, or those who have high growth need strength, are more likely to have a more enthusiastic response to various opportunities that come their way. They have a greater thirst for personal accomplishment, and they will see the job as an excellent tool for learning and development.
3. “Context” satisfaction
The context we are talking about here is “work context” or “job context”, and they often include job security, pay or compensation, the co-workers, and the managers. It means that individuals may be motivated by internal aspects, but that does not mean they completely ignore the external ones.
Individuals are also inclined to respond positively if they are satisfied by the contextual factors mentioned. For example, if they feel that they are being paid an amount commensurate to their job, then they will be more motivated to perform better. If they are satisfied with the quality of leadership that the supervisor is demonstrating, then they are also likely to improve their performance at work as part of the team.
The rule of thumb is that, the higher the moderator levels are, the higher will also be the likelihood of the three psychological states to be experienced by the individual.
Individuals that exhibit high levels in the moderator variables (knowledge and skills, growth need strength and work context satisfaction) are more likely to have a more positive response in their experience of the psychological outcomes. This also means that they can expect better outcomes or results.
HOW THE JCM CAN HELP JOB ENRICHMENT
Application of the Job Characteristics Theory and model will enable the company to design jobs better and, in many cases, redesign existing jobs. The most common actions derived from the application of the theory are:
Enforcing job rotation
Add variety and challenge by encouraging job rotation. There is a lower possibility of workers being bored of what they are doing, since they will not be stuck with their job for years on end.
They will also get to have a bigger glimpse of the work that is being done by the company, instead of being solely focused on their own tasks.
Varying assigned work and combining tasks
In order to enable skill variety, the jobs may be redesigned to require skills and talents that are varied instead of being monotonous and repetitive. By combining different tasks in a job, you will also be enhancing task identity and task significance.
Delegation of tasks to the lowest possible level
While there are advantages to centralization (e.g. more control, easier monitoring), decentralization is still widely preferred. If tasks are delegated to the lowest possible level, this will encourage autonomy even among the rank-and-file. This vertical loading or distribution of jobs will, in turn, create a deeper sense of responsibility among all employees for the outcomes of their work.
Assigning work to groups or teams
Not only will this encourage teamwork and cooperation within the organization, it will also encourage the wholeness of the output of the processes of the company. Being able to see the whole process or the bigger picture is one way to enforce task identity among the workers. When assigning tasks to teams, make sure that the teams are identifiable, specifically with the type of work they do. Team identity must be kept clear and strong to begin with.
Encourage the sharing of ideas
Ask for the ideas of other workers and encourage them to share their opinions and suggestions. The team – the organization, as a whole – is working towards a common goal, so it is only right to get everyone involved.
Set effective performance evaluation and rewards systems in place
Motivate employees by putting in place systems to evaluate performance and give rewards. When evaluating performance and setting rewards,
- Set performance standards high, but still attainable. This will encourage employees to perform better than average.
- Measure performance objectively. There should be a system that can measure performance effectively and objectively.
- Provide incentives for executives, employees, and groups. Some examples of incentives are pay raises, bonuses, additional compensation packages, profit sharing, and stock options, to name a few.
Connect the employees or workers with the customers or end users
This will allow the workers to know firsthand what the end users think or feel about the output of their work. This feedback mechanism has proven to be one of the most effective, since the workers are directly connecting to those that they are serving or catering to.
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