The management technique of job enrichment has its roots in the 1950s and 1960s psychology but its relevance still prevails. Based on the power of personal satisfaction and by using special motivators, jobs have been redesigned to become genuinely motivating and trigger a better performance.

It’s not even just a theory: several studies and experimental initiatives have proved that job enrichment is indeed able to bring benefits to both the employee and the organization.

Job Enrichment | Definition, Benefits, and Tips

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In this article, we take a closer look at what exactly job enrichment contains, what are its benefits and limitations to the employee and the company. Allowing that, overall, it is a valid method for motivating the workforce, we dive deeper by presenting the guiding principles behind the theory, a three-step technique to help introduce it, and some best practices to set a good example.

THE 3W’s OF JOB ENRICHMENT

What?

Job enrichment is a method for redesigning jobs, a motivation technique that aims at making work more interesting and challenging for the employees. It mainly consists of giving more responsibility than what originally applied to the job, creating opportunities for professional growth and recognition.

The concept that people might perform better if their job is motivating enough was first introduced in 1968, in a Harvard Business Review article by Frederick Herzberg. During his research, the author, a psychologist found that there are different factors motivating and demotivating people in the workplace, and they work quite separately from each other.

 

According to Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory, a bad working environment with too much supervision, bad relationships, and working conditions decreases motivation (hygiene factors). But the opposite of it is not true: if all these external factors are taken care of, it still doesn’t make the workers more motivated.

Instead, he found the motivation of the workforce is only increased by internal factors (motivators), such as achievement and recognition, responsibility, or advancement and growth.

Hence Henzberg believed that managers should make sure they are adding motivators besides improving the job environment because satisfaction will only come in a healthy surrounding.

Where (and where not)?

There are three major types of job design methods. Besides job enrichment, management might also opt for a job enlargement or job rotation. The aim of the three is similar: to keep the employees challenged and to prevent them from boredom caused by repetitive tasks.

Contrary to the vertical nature of job enrichment due to the raised level of challenge, job enlargement tries to enrich jobs by giving more tasks, i.e. in a horizontal manner.It is a technique commonly applied in times of recession. The newly added tasks are not any more challenging than the old ones but the sheer amount and novelty of them is supposed to better satisfy the workers’ needs. However, many times it is just an extra workload that drains the employee’s energy resources.

The other method, job rotation is based on variety rather than quantity or quality: the employees are taking turns doing different jobs for short periods of time and get different but similarly challenging tasks. It helps the workers learn new skills and appreciate others’ works, but sometimes it’s just not enough to satisfy higher ambitions or to deepen someone’s expertise.

Why?

The purpose of using job enrichment for motivation is to give the employee a clear meaning of his or her function so that it gives more satisfaction. From a business perspective, this is important because satisfied employees are generally more productive and more loyal – a financial gain and a financial saving (of replacing them) for the enterprise.

Besides, reducing repetition of tasks, the first action point of job enrichment, instantly makes the job less boring, more enjoyable, and improves productivity with self-driven employees.

BENEFITS AND LIMITATIONS

For the employee

The benefits for the employees can be best summarized by the Hackman & Oldham job characteristics model: according to this, reaching the psychological states of the meaningfulness of work, responsibility, and the knowledge of outcomes will make a person highly motivated.

To meet these needs, jobs can be designed with the five job characteristics in mind: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. Such motivation techniques can increase job satisfaction.

Benefits in detail:

  • Meaningful work: A work that has a clear purpose, be it from the perspective of the organization or that of the individual, is the best way to increase satisfaction. This is usually a result of using the right combination of the individual’s skills and talents also called empowerment because it gives room to ambitions, reduces the risk of boredom, and fulfills the higher order needs of the individual. The task must be one that can be perceived as a whole (the work process has a definite beginning and end) so that finishing it can be perceived as an accomplishment for the individual, and that this task is clearly a part of something bigger. The contribution to a comprehensible outcome and the sense of belonging to a (workplace) community also make work meaningful.
  • Responsibility: Higher-level jobs are characterized by giving the workers more freedom in choosing when and how they would like to complete their tasks. It helps them to learn complementary skills and make them feel more competent, more expert in their field. When a person is made responsible, a successfully completed task will improve their chances of recognition, which, again, fulfills a higher order need.
  • Knowledge of outcomes: An individual who knows what his or her efforts turn into, or how his or her mistakes effect the overall performance, will more likely be motivated. Feedback plays an important part in creating this knowledge: whether it comes from a co-worker or a manager, it helps the employees decided if they got closer to the desired outcome or not.
  • Advancement: Job enrichment gives tools to the employee to improve their skills and learn new ones, many times even managerial ones. If they are ambitious enough, the positive feedback will be a motivation to advance, and the new competencies make them more confident to take opportunities. People with proven skills are generally presented with better career opportunities.

Limitations:

  • Ego problem: Different personalities react differently to having power. While for some employees means an appreciation and, simply, more responsibility, others will use their new status to try to rule or discipline their co-workers. Giving senior powers to junior employees might also hurt the ego of more experienced professionals or the managers, who can have the impression that the power is not only shared but taken away from them. So job enlargement might cause workplace issues and disturb the lives of accustomed teams.
  • Being uncomfortable with decision-making: The opposite of the ego problem, when the employees whose jobs have been enriched with managerial tasks, are not comfortable to make serious decisions every day. These people will not be empowered by this job design, but rather, discouraged by their lack of skills. While one of the main purposes or advantages of job enrichment can be the early spotting of future leaders, there will be some who, eventually, fall out of the sieve.
  • Possible dissatisfaction with the organization: When deciding to enrich jobs at the organizations, managers also have to make sure they add some contextual elements in order to prevent dissatisfaction. As in the original theory of Herzberg, if the work environment is not satisfying because the organization does not provide the necessary elements, the workers will be dissatisfied regardless of their jobs being enriched or not.

For the company

Employees usually feel valuable when assigned more responsibility and autonomy, so they are more likely to go the extra mile.

Benefits in details:

  • Reduced absence days or turnover of staff: Employees who find their jobs satisfying will not want to escape their duties, while those who are not motivated will use every chance to skip work, on purpose or by producing psychosomatic symptoms. Furthermore, workers who are given the right amount of responsibility and autonomy will not want to leave, and a low turnover sends a good message about the company to the labor market. Not to mention the time of the hiring staff saved for other purposes.
  • Reduced hiring and training costs: A low turnover also means that the costs of hiring and training can be kept low. It is not to be ignored when an average US company spends anywhere from 6 to 9 months of the previous worker’s salary, or 3,000-10,000 USD, on hiring-related activities (job adverts, interviews, screening, onboarding), not to mention training (another 10-20% of the yearly salary over the course of the first years), and it will take time for him or her to reach the productivity level of those who left.
  • Reduced upper management workloads: When workers are given autonomy, it reduces the need for the management to control and motivate them – so some of the most time-intensive tasks.
  • Help to select future managers: Ambitious employees thrive when given more responsibility and put in a situation where they can prove their qualities. This is also a gain for the organization, because they can see which of their workers are capable of leading others, without running the risk of promoting someone who is unsuited for a managerial role.
  • Improved corporate morale: A job enrichment is an act of trust in one’s skills, and employees who are trusted act more professionally and are generally more motivated. Their positive attitude will create a better working environment, encouraging all to keep up.
  • Improved productivity: Allowing for creativity and personalization is one of the major drivers of job satisfaction – just what businesses aim to achieve with job enrichment. Luckily, the same satisfaction is also a driver itself, of productivity, and that is an argument that a for-profit business cannot ignore.
  • Giving people more responsibility by enriching their job is an efficiency-booster: Especially in organizations with several levels of managerial hierarchy, employees that can take over managerial tasks create a more efficient organizational structure. With less management levels, the business is easier to operate and every decision about where to expand is easier to make.

Limitations:

  • It is not suitable for all: The original job enrichment theory of Henzberg was created with a large corporation in mind, but also for a limited number of people (essentially the self-driven ones) who can qualify for such a program. Later studies questioned that the method was suitable for other types of workers and organizations.
  • Responsibility levels don’t match employee skills: Not all people crave for more responsibility at work, and even if some of them do, they might not all have the skills to deal with such a n increased liability. Leaders who cannot properly assess skill levels and enrich the jobs of those who are unable to cope with this pressure might do more harm than good.
  • Wrongly assessed new workload: It takes a good manager to assess what workload is appropriate for each type of people. Job enrichment, although mainly focusing on adding quality, might also increase the quantity of work required from an individual to an untenable level. Besides, when it’s taken from someone else’s workload, it might leave those workers (or managers) doing less than they could.
  • Unintentionally or intentionally increased monitoring: In order to measure the effects of job enrichment, monitoring might be increased, which leads to dissatisfaction, counteracting the positive effects of the enrichment.

TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FOR ENRICHING JOBS

Principles

Also called as vertical loading, some major principles will define what needs to be done during the job design to make it enriched:

  • Brainstorm potential changes, apply certain principles (learn more about job design): Henzberg suggested to start the process with making a list of the possible options a job can be enriched with.
    • A higher level of reporting (for a more senior audience),
    • a variety of specialized tasks related to a certain profession,
    • allowing an employee to oversee and work on a complete workflow,
    • giving extra training or other incentives

The point is to make the employee more accountable but also increasing his or her chance for success. Besides that, being enriched means different things for different personality types, hence the purpose of listing and assorting them.

  • Caring, leadership, people-first culture needed: The whole organization, not just certain managers, has to be ready to enrich jobs. In order to prepare for a vertical job design, companies has to have a people-focused approach built from the ground up. They really have to believe that the human workforce is their most important asset. Then it will not sound strange to announce that creating better lives for them is a legit business goal. This approach sparks new energies because the employees interiorize these values and start to look at work in another way: as a means for personal growth.
  • Recognize positive contributions: Feedback is an absolutely necessary tool for applying the most important principle: positive reinforcement. This is how your employees will know they are on to making a meaningful contribution to the organization. Without it, the responsibility is just pressure and the challenge is just an obstacle, and the employees will lost their interest in professional growth.
  • Eliminate dissatisfaction: Along the lines of the above cultural principles, when the whole organization has adopted the right mindset, this should be the first step of your action plan. Dissatisfaction can be caused by poor company policies, non-adequate supervision, an unsupportive team, job insecurity, or non-competitive salaries and wages. These are objective and technical issues that should be solved before any kind of motivation technique could be applied.
  • Create more satisfaction: Give the selected employees autonomy to make certain decisions and authority to be able to enforce them. Such level of control over what they do and how they do it increases satisfaction by reinforcing their belief in their own abilities. The application of news skills and successfully completed tasks of various challenge levels pushes them further the upward spiral.

Make sure you recognize your employees contrbutions.

 

Three-step technique

  • Effort to performance: The first step in establishing job enrichment is to make sure the efforts of the workforce can be translated to actual performance measures. This starts with the communication of clear goals, on an individual level as well as on the company level, in order to steer the efforts in the right direction and to let everyone know what they are working for. If the necessary resources (infrastructure, communication and support) to work towards these goals are also available, and employees are encouraged to share and improve, it will have a positive effect on productivity. The ultimate goal is with this step is to internalize motivation, so increased performance is born out of commitment
  • Performance to reward: Just as with the goals, a business should define precisely what the rewards for good performance will be. Other than reaching a goal, a reward is a common motivator and it can not only be financial, but it will surely have to fit the employee’s needs. With an increased autonomy, they can then decide for themselves which rewards are worth pursuing and how much more are they willing to put in their work to achieve them. Extra pay, paid time-off, flexible working options, or prizes, paid training or higher education are incentives worth to give a try.
  • Reward to satisfaction: Material and immaterial rewards are both able to bring satisfaction to the employee. If asked, they will be able to tell what rewards specifically will accomplish its purpose in job enrichment. Belonging to a community, for example, has always been something that fills people with a sense of well-being. Growth is also interpretable on a social and on a personal level.

Best practices

No matter how idealistic it may sound, job enrichment is an actual and valid tool for the management to improve business outcomes. Let’s see some practical examples of what an organization can do to make work a better place:

  • Quality circles: Quality circles are teams of workers who help each solve problems and find constructive solutions related to their work quality. Through regular discussion sessions led by a supervisor, they can analyze a certain situation and come up with suggestions for improvement. The involvement in such discussions increases the sense of authority over one’s job while finding solutions are rewarding experiences that also strengthen the bond among coworkers. Originated in Japanese manufacturing, the method started to spread in the US in the 1990’s, and although its popularity has decreased in the early 2000’s, it is still considered an effective technique for job enrichment.
  • Self-directed teams: Self-directed work teams go one step beyond quality circles because they are not only suggesting solutions and methods and they are not a loose group. In fact, they are engaged together in day-to-day operations and solve problems just like management would do, using a common set of previously discussed rules as a guideline. This way, everyone in these teams can be empowered with authority and feel the consequences of the team’s decisions – and the output is a definite improvement in quality.
  • Information-sharing: Transparency and regular collaboration among the colleagues are the base job enrichment should be built upon. Those individuals who share and are able to access work-related information can be more aware of the tasks of other jobs, help out other workers easier, and can get feedback about their own work more easily. Personal growth is facilitated by the power of community again, to allow for more autonomy, authority, and recognition for the individual.

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