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    Job Characteristics Model: A Comprehensive Guide

    March 5, 2022

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    job characteristics model
    Avi Jain
    Written By
    Avi Jain
    Topic
    Recruitment

    The job characteristics model is an excellent way to keep your employees engaged. Did you know that 22% of companies that reported improved engagement also reported improved productivity?

    There are all sorts of jobs out there. Some challenge you, and others don’t. Some jobs can be rather repetitive, and even the most challenging jobs plateau at some point.

    Only 36% of employees in the US feel engaged at work; this is a major concern. Using the job characteristics model will help you keep your workforce engaged.

    As an HR professional, keeping your workforce motivated and engaged is a constant struggle. You want your employees to enjoy their jobs, but you also want them to execute their tasks with all their hearts all the time.

    This is no mean task.  Organizational psychologists mulled over this fact and realized that it isn’t necessarily about the job, rather about making the job interesting, no matter what the role. They even found that the more time an employee spent in a role, the less productive they were.

    Greg R. Oldham and J. Richard Hackman came to this discovery, and their solution was the Job Characteristics model.

    Read this detailed article to learn about the job characteristics model and how you can implement it in your organization to motivate your employees and keep them engaged.

    What Is the Job Characteristics Model?

    The job characteristics model recommends actions to enrich a job.  Essentially it finds how a job can go from a mundane one to one that is filled with purpose and keeps employees engaged and motivated to ensure that they do the job well.

    There are five components to the job characteristics model:

    •          Skill variety
    •          Task identity
    •          Task significance
    •          Autonomy
    •          Feedback

    We will delve into a little more detail about these components later on.

    Advantages and Disadvantages of the Job Characteristics Model

    This section will help you understand what the advantages and disadvantages of the job characteristics model are:

    Advantages:

    • The major reason to use the job characteristics model is that HR professionals have a clear template that they can use to design jobs using the five core components.
    • The job characteristics model also helps HR teams to design training programs for employees and helps them choose the right candidates for specified roles.
    • This model is also a great tool that helps to create job strategies. 
    • Job satisfaction is improved. A poll by Gallup revealed that 21% of the companies showed greater profitability when their employees were more engaged. 
    • Jobs are enriched, which means that employees enjoy their jobs more and be more motivated while executing their daily tasks.     
    • Since jobs are divided into basic tasks, it becomes easier to delegate specific tasks.
    • The job characteristics model also provides a clearer understanding of who does what.
    • Since you know the exact parameters involved in a job, it makes it easier to evaluate these parameters and provide employees with performance appraisals.

    Disadvantages:

    • One major disadvantage of the job characteristics model is that it is outdated. The theory is from the 1970s. The world we work in today has changed drastically. These designs were for jobs that had fixed roles within organizations.
    • Now it is common to expect employees to execute more than one function.
    • Another obvious disadvantage of the job characteristics model is that every criterion must be met for it to work efficiently. In some cases, it could be that employees do not possess the required mental skills, abilities, or even the education required to execute the job function.
    • Forcing enriched jobs on employees who do not have the required skills to cope with the job will demotivate and frustrate them, which is the opposite of the desired effect.

    Significance of the Job Characteristics Model

    Work design efforts began in the early 1960s. The prevailing notion of the time was that simplified jobs could lead to more productivity. Research revealed that quite the opposite was true. The more repetitive and monotonous the daily job role was, the lesser was the employee motivation, and the more productivity was affected adversely. This was merely due to employee dissatisfaction.

    The job characteristics model was one of the early attempts at enriching jobs. There were prior attempts that had some success. The existing theory by Greg Oldham and J. Richard Hackman comes from an earlier work by Turner, Lawrence, and Hackman.

    Although it was created in 1975, it remains one of the most influential attempts to design jobs that motivate employees.

    The theory’s final version was published in 1980 and had new added parts - moderators, knowledge and skill, and context satisfaction. The final theory also dismissed work outcomes, absenteeism, and turnover and focused more on internal work motivation.

    Components of Job Characteristics Model

    Now that we have understood the history and relevance of the job characteristics model, let’s dive into the five components:

    •          Skill variety
    •          Task identity
    •          Task significance
    •          Autonomy
    •          Feedback

    1. Skill Variety

    This component of the job characteristics model helps define the extent to which a job requires various activities. That is, it defines the need for a worker to hone a variety of skills.

    Employees tend to find jobs more meaningful when they have to use several different skills and abilities to execute their roles. The opposite is true of jobs that require one or no particular skill and are extremely repetitive.

    An assembly line worker who is responsible for packaging finished goods in carton boxes requires only the skill of folding boxes and packing the goods in them neatly. Whereas the assembly line manager needs to know each of the processes, understand the machinery, identify problems with the assembly line, manage production levels and manage employees.

    If we hypothesize that the compensation for both these tasks is equal, then the assembly line manager is likely to be more motivated and more satisfied with their job.

    2. Task Identity

    This component of the job characteristics model refers to the degree to which the employee’s function produces a visible outcome. Being able to see the result of your toil gives employees a sense of satisfaction.

    The individual who assembles the watch holds a final product in his hand before it ships out. They see what the culmination of efforts produces. On the other hand, an employee whose job it is to stamp out and polish cogs for that watch may never have the joy of putting together the watch and admiring its final form.

    3. Task Significance

    This is an important one. Employees who work day in and day out need to know that they matter, and that their efforts make the world a better place in some way. That is what task significance is. If your efforts directly contribute to making people’s lives better, you are likely to feel much more rewarded for your effort. In essence, the question is, is my job important?

    First responders are great examples. Police personnel, firefighters, nurses, and so on experience a sense of joy when they see that the tasks they perform daily save lives. This in itself is an excellent reward.

    4. Autonomy

    Freedom is something that every human seeks. This component of the job characteristics model has to do with the amount of freedom an employee has to carry out their functions. Jobs that allow employees to think for themselves, plan their schedule, and work approach offer much more autonomy than jobs that involve specific tasks being assigned to employees.

    Greater autonomy directly correlates to an increased feeling of responsibility and ownership.

    An artist has the freedom to paint what is in his mind’s eye. They are not bound by the limitations of geography, mathematics, physics, or even human limitations. They are free to explore and express themselves in unimaginable ways.

    If you were to take that artist and confine them to painting ten-inch tiles with only one color, they would no doubt experience severe exasperation.

    5. Feedback

    This component of the job characteristics model has to do with how much an employee knows about the results of their efforts. Specifying their roles, giving them specific information that they can use, and letting them know how effective their efforts have been in achieving the desired outcome makes them have a clear understanding of why they do what they do.

    Performance feedback is a great way to ensure that employees know what they are doing and what else they could do to improve.

    Implementing the Job Characteristics Model

    Now that we know exactly what the job characteristics model is, let’s understand how HR departments can implement this model in their organizations.

    The theory is relatively straightforward. However, redesigning every work function in your organization can feel like a Herculean task. The best approach is to select any one role and then design it.

    It isn’t as complicated as it may seem. The goals are simple, make the job more interesting and make employees feel like doing their jobs better. One way to do this is to put yourself in your employees’ shoes, look at things from their perspective.

    Here are a few ideas to help you redesign roles:

    • Observe: Even if you have been in HR a very long time and you understand the roles well, spending some time shadowing employees may give you the intimacy to the role that you require to modify it and redesign it.

    Don’t hesitate to ask employees casual questions, like why they do something a certain way, why one task couldn’t be done first, or how they prioritize tasks. But make sure you let them know that you are there to learn from them and not tell them what to do. If you haven’t spent much time with a particular employee, it may be advisable to get to know them first, then begin shadowing them. You do not want them to be uncomfortable.

    • Survey: This is especially a good idea in large organizations where it would be next to impossible to observe every job function closely. If you can do both, even better. Put together a clear questionnaire that has a mix of yes and no answers and open-ended questions. This is a great opportunity to bring employees in on the process, get people in a specific role to help you create the survey questions.

    Collect data from supervisors and collect their opinions as well. This way, you will get a close-up look and a high-level overview of what changes you can make.

    • Interviews: Talk to your employees, bring them in for meetings to understand what they do, how they do it, and it will give you insights into what else you can change. Another great way to understand how to make an employee enjoy their job is to ask them what would help them enjoy their roles. Interviews allow you to get close and personal, and you will likely get some very different perspectives. The more data you have, the better the decisions you can make.
    • Checklist: Giving supervisors a checklist is also a good way to understand which areas employees are not executing properly and will give you insights on quality and efficiency too.

    If you can use all these tools to gather your data, it becomes relatively easy to implement the job characteristics model. Yes, this will take a lot of time, and it is going to come under significant pressure on resources. However, the results are worth it.

    After all, you do want a more engaged and motivated workforce that is happy to work harder for you and increase productivity.

    Now that you have all this information, go ahead and read the points below to begin implementing the job characteristics model.

    The first thing you need to do as an HR professional is to understand everything that is involved in a particular role. Let’s take a look at how you can implement the job characteristics model. Use the checklist below to help you implement it.

    • Add tasks to a role to enrich it. Increase the number of tasks so that the number of skills required to execute that task increases. One way to do this is to give them more tasks and expand what they do.
    • Give your employees a chance to hold more responsibility, give them more important tasks. An increased sense of responsibility gives employees a feeling of ownership and ultimately drives them to do the task better.
    • Show employees how their performance is adding to the organization’s overall goal. Give them a clear understanding of what they are doing, what more they can do, and how they can do it. Aligning their goals with the organization’s goals is an important step.
    • Listen to your team, give them a voice and let them help in making decisions that impact the organization or your team’s goals. Feeling that they are being heard, that their ideas are valued, and the knowledge that their opinion counts go a long way in keeping employees motivated and engaged in their roles.
    • Feedback is an essential part of it all. Create open channels and work hard to maintain them. This also means that you have to be as transparent as possible. You have to be willing to listen to employees and give them feedback. 
    • Regular performance appraisals and reviews are essential to let an employee know how they are doing and what else they need to do to meet expectations.
    • Let your employees know what your customers say about your products and services. Seeing how their hard work has helped customers will give employees a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that their work contributes to the betterment of another individual.
    • This next one may not be possible in every job, but encourage employees to rotate jobs wherever possible. This does two things. It allows employees to see how much effort their colleagues put in and also consider honing new skills. Employees may even find that they enjoy another job function and are better at it than the one they were previously doing.

    Conclusion

    The Job characteristics model is quite widely used and has been tested thoroughly over the years.

    Three different psychological states determine how an employee responds to job characteristics. You will notice this when you redesign the roles.

    o   The will react based on the meaningfulness they experience

    o   The responsibility they feel towards the outcomes

    o   The knowledge of the final results of their efforts

    How your employees feel about these three parameters determines their motivation to do that job and the satisfaction they feel in being in a particular role.

    Remember, this isn’t a one-off, do it and forget it, model. The job characteristics model is meant to improve organizational effectiveness by increasing employee job satisfaction and motivation levels. We said earlier on in this document that the longer an employee remains in one role, the less productive they become.

    This means that you have to constantly keep enriching roles and find ways of keeping employees engaged in their jobs. This may sound like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, but it isn’t. You have already created the template, and by the second round, you already know what you need to do. All you need to do is make a few small tweaks every so often to ensure that employees are constantly challenging their abilities and finding innovative ways to meet their targets.

    This also does you a huge favor in helping you decide the kind of candidates you should be hiring. A well-designed job makes the required skills, abilities, talent, and responsibilities crystal clear. You can then use that as a template to hire the perfect candidate as well.

    We have said that we need to give employees more tasks, use more of their skills, and find ways of giving them challenges. This also means that we have to allow them to develop. Train your employees to hone those skills and become better at the jobs.

    Gartner
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