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The Job Characteristics Model: How It Works

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Multiple studies have found that engagement is an essential aspect of employee satisfaction as well as organizational success within a job role. Ultimately, when employees are not engaged in their work, they are often less interested and intentional as well.

This often manifests in the form of low productivity levels and higher turnover rates. There are many potential causes of disengagement in the workplace, including job design, for example. 

A report published by Cornell University states that repetitive or tedious work may adversely affect people as well as society. More specifically, the report declared that work of this nature “can cause stress-related mental and physical health problems, employee dissatisfaction and turnover, dysfunctional union/management relationships, and large social class differences in wealth.” 

During the 1970s, two organizational psychologists by the names of Greg Hackman and Richard Oldham introduced what’s known as the Job Characteristics Model to the world. In the eyes of the Job Characteristics Model, the job that an employee is responsible for upholding is vital to the motivation of employees. This theory encompasses five motivational characteristics that promote meaningful work, personal responsibility pertaining to job performance, and job satisfaction, including levels of engagement at work.   

The five pillars of the Job Characteristics Model 

The Job Characteristics Model proposes the following five characteristics for employers looking to enrich the jobs within their organization:

  1. Variety As It Pertains To Job Positions. Job positions should offer variety. Skill variety is possible when the employee performs different activities within their role, and it is best if the various responsibilities also require different skills, as this can minimize the chance of the employee finding their work to be draining, repetitive, or boring. While it can be difficult to achieve variety within certain work environments, especially ones in which the primary job duties are monotonous, industries such as manufacturing can still find ways to eliminate tedious job duties. For instance, rotating and redefining the job positions may reduce the chances of repetitiveness.
  2. Purpose Behind Work Employees Do. The employee’s level of understanding as to why he or she is fulfilling certain job duties, as well as the level of importance that the employer or the organization awards to a job position, will impact an employee’s understanding of his or her purpose at work. Employees are far more likely to view jobs as being meaningful when they fully understand why they are performing their job duties and how they contribute to the bigger picture.
  3. Significance of Tasks. The impact of the job on people within the organization, such as other employees, or those outside of it, including customers. You can boost the morale of your employees’ and encourage them to feel more motivated by making it clear to them that the end result of their work will significantly benefit the organization, even if the day-to-day tasks pertaining to the job are monotonous.
  4. Autonomy, Flexibility, and Independence. This dimension of the Job Characteristics Theory points to the amount of flexibility, independence and overall autonomy that the employee is provided with as they go about fulfilling their job-related duties. With a healthy amount of autonomy, employees will likely feel a greater sense of responsibility and control over the outcome of their efforts. On the other hand, without an adequate  amount of autonomy, employees may feel as though they are being micromanaged, which may deter them from putting forth effort at work. 
  5. Feedback Employees Can Expect To Receive. Feedback, or the direct information that employees are provided with regarding their job performance, will likely have an impact on said employees and how well they adhere to or uphold their job duties. Clear feedback can help employees understand whether or not they are meeting their goals, and if they’re not, then feedback can point them in the direction of success. Additionally, feedback helps employees identify their strong suits and further build upon their strengths. 

Psychological states and outcomes of each job characteristic

As reported by the Business Group on Health, in order to create more meaning for employees at work, three necessary factors include skill variety, task significance, and task identity. Also, autonomy positively contributes to a feeling of responsibility on part of the employees. Last but not least, feedback is essential to employees as it advises them about their job performance, how they are currently doing, and what they could do to improve.

The Job Characteristics Model is widely accepted by management scientists. Additionally, the theory behind it remains one of the most popular work design models to this day.