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We know that the world is changing: the evidence is all around us. Markets are growing and becoming more competitive and dynamic. According to Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (online), the systems and methods that once served to hold organisations together are now more likely to inhibit communication and demotivate employees. Managers now need to take account of the changing attitudes and expectations of employees. They need to find new ways to organising work so that it allows more flexibility and brings motivation and job satisfaction to employees.
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Robinson, I. (2006) argues that motivated employees generate high levels of performance, are enthusiastic and energetic and are committed and loyal to the organisation. They are likely to demonstrate a range of discretionary behaviours in solving organisational problems, be prepared to use their skills for the benefit of the organisation. By contrast, demotivated employees are likely to be apathetic and to have higher levels of absence. It is self evident that organisational performance is likely to be greater with motivated and engaged employees.
The concept of job design opens a new perspective to creating a more favourable work environment in which motivated employees will improve and enhance organisational performance.
Aims & Objectives
In this project, I will explore what impact job design has on both employee well-being and organisational performance. The purpose of my research is fundamentally to find out whether the following hypothesis is true:
H0. Job design improves employee performance.
Answering the following questions will help to research into my topic as well as either prove or disprove the hypothesis I have put forward. These are the following:
What are job design and its impact on employee performance?
Approaches in job design: Mechanistic approach vs Motivational approach.
What is the role of IT in job design?
Such a study should offer insight into the changes going around and a basis for managers for reflecting on how best reorganise work to improve performance.
Preliminary literature review
There is a wealth of literature covering the topic of my research hypothesis. My study of the literature will start with the key question of what job design is and how it impacts employee performance. I will then compare two different approaches, mechanistic approach and motivational approach in job design and assess the role of IT in this context.
“Jobs are created by people for people. Whether deliberately or by default, choices are made about which tasks to group together to form a job, the extent to which job holders should follow prescribed procedures in completing those tasks, how closely the job incumbent will be supervised, and numerous other aspects of the work. Such choices are the essence of job design, which may thus be defined as the specification of the content and methods of jobs…” (Wall and Clegg, 1998:265-268).
Background to job design
The concept of job design dates back to the birth of scientific management in the late nineteenth century and early studies of organisational and management practice (CIPD, online). The work of industrialists such as Taylor and Ford focused on defining clear job roles, suggesting that workers required specific tasks and boundaries to enable organisation to become more productive, effective and efficient. This approach encompasses production efficiency methodology that breaks every action, job, or task into small and simple segments which can be easily analysed and taught (Business Dictionary, online). It aims to achieve maximum job fragmentation to minimise skills requirement and job learning time. Taylor (1914) was one of the first to develop the idea of time and motion studies to identify the most efficient movements during a work task. Workers were selected and trained to perform their jobs using Taylor’s approach and were offered monetary incentive to ensure that they performed to their maximum efficiency. Bloisi (2007) argues that the problem with this approach to job design is that it is too preoccupied with the productivity and ignores the worker’s social needs.
According to Pickard (2006, in CIPD), in the 1960s, the focus shifted from hard, process-oriented approach to job design emphasizing social behavioural perspective of employees.
While scientific management aimed on achieving organisational effectiveness through task fragmentation, during the middle part of the twentieth century, there was recognition that motivation would influence organisational performance. The work of Maslow and McGregor advocated that job design could be heavily influenced by understanding and responding to the motivations of individuals. However, it was Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation and the concept of job enrichment that was to shape the development of job design during the second half of the last century (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2002).
This new approach, called human relations approach (Bloisi, 2007) stems from the assumption that jobs can be designed to stimulate employee motivation and increase job satisfaction. Herzberg (1993, in Bloisi, 2007) asked two questions: “What makes you feel good about your work?” and “What makes you feel bad?” From the answers received, Herzberg concluded that the job satisfaction was one of the key elements of motivational job design. In his two-factor theory he identified hygiene factors and motivator factors. ‘Hygiene factors’ are referred to practices at work that would cause dissatisfaction, but if corrected would not motivate (i.e. salary, company policies and administration as well as supervision). For example, if an employee were given a laptop computer to do his job, it may stop him to be unhappy because of the lack of the IT, but he would not be motivated to work harder. On the other hand, ‘motivator factors’, such as achievement, advancement, growth, recognition, responsibility and work itself, tend to create satisfaction and positive attitude and discretionary effort of employees (Robinson, 2006).
The impact of job design on employee performance
From the studies of motivator factors, different job design models were developed, such as Hackman and Oldham’s (1980, in Bloisi, 2007). They developed a job characteristics model that identified the motivational factors of a job from the following aspects:
Skills variety – the variety of skills needed to complete the task.
Task identity – how much of the complete product or service is completed by the worker; how much they feel they have ownership of the task.
Task significance – how important is the task to the lives of others.
Autonomy – how much of decision-making role the person has while doing a job.
Feedback – how much feedback an employee is given about their job performance.
The Figure 1 below shows how job characteristics described above impact on critical psychological states of employees, therefore improving their job satisfaction and performance.
Core job Critical psychological Outcomes
Feedback from job
Meaningfulness of work
Responsibility for work outcomes
Knowing the actual results of the work activities
High quality work performance
Figure 1. Job characteristics model.
Source: Adopted from Hackman and Oldham (1980: 77).
It can be seen from the diagram above that when the critical psychological states are high, then employees will have a high level of internal work motivation. This leads to a greater productivity and helps create competitive advantage through people.
During the 1990s an increased emphasis on employee empowerment led to “high discretion” models characterised by individual job enrichment and self-managing teamwork (Huczynski and Buchanan 2001, in CIPD online).
Herzberg (Accel online) developed a set of principles for the enrichment of jobs as follows:
Removing some controls while retaining accountability;
Increasing personal accountability for work;
Granting additional authority and freedom to workers;
Making periodic reports directly available to workers rather than to supervisors only;
The introduction of new and more difficult tasks into the job;
Encouraging the development of expertise by assigning individuals to specialized tasks.
This approach aims to involve employees in decision-making processes, planning, organisation and control of work. An example of this can be through self-managed teams, where workers are given a goal to achieve but it is their teams that decide how tasks are allocated to achieve their goal.
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Job rotation can also be used as part of the motivational approach; here, employees are moved from one job to another over time (Bloisi, 2007). When job rotation is used, most of the jobs tend to be similar. However, it can increase skills variety and help boost job identity. The Figure 2 illustrates how job redesign can improve work and make it more meaningful.
After the redesign of the cashier’s jobs, their new jobs were found to be more motivating and as a result their job performance increased significantly.
Before job redesign After job redesign
Cashiers cashed cheques, processed deposits and payments for bills
Business customers were referred to a business advisers
Foreign currency transaction were referred to another cashier
Auditors ensured transactions balanced
Errors were notified to cashiers
No feedback on workload
No records were kept on who did the transactions
Cashiers handled all aspects of the transaction for both business customers and foreign currency
Feedback on errors available immediately
Feedback on volume displayed on a computer screen
Cashiers signed their names to each transaction so they were recognised as taking responsibility for their work
Figure 2. How job redesign can make work more efficient and meaningful.
Source: Bloisi (2007: 84).
Research has shown that if work is seen as meaningful and important to the individual then they are likely to be more committed to the organisation and more productive.
The role of IT in job design
Developments in technology and increased use of the Internet open a new perspective in organisation and job design. Many employers are developing flexible working patterns using latest technological advances. There are great advantages as well as drawbacks to it.
Here are some examples of how employer and employees can benefit of IT:
Employees are encouraged to work more flexibly: it means they can work from home.
Employees can save money and time on travelling to work.
Although employees are physically absent at work, employers can always contact them either by mobile phone or email.
Apart from that, organisations safe a huge amount of money on property costs, when some of the workforce is based at home.
Disadvantages of using developed communication technologies at work:
Employees are no longer able to switch off from work: they work outside their habitual nine-to five hours.
It can lead to increased employee stress and dissatisfaction, which ultimately leads to less productive work.
Despite these obvious disadvantages, the benefits of the use of the communication technology are major. As stated in Bloisi (2007), British Telecom encourages staff to work more flexibly. Following a workstyle analysis it now has 7500 of its workforce formally based at home and another 40,000 have remote access. Not only has it saved £180 million in property costs, but also improved productivity by 20-40 per cent.
The example above illustrates how flexible working in job design can act as a significant motivator contributing to employee well-being and improved productivity.
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