Job Design

  • File photo | Credit Job Zone/Department of Labor

What is Job Design?

Job design, which is an outgrowth of job analysis, is concerned with structuring jobs in order to improve organization efficiency and employee job satisfaction Opens in new window.

It is not uncommon for managers and supervisors to confuse the processes of job analysis and job design. Job analysis Opens in new window is the study of jobs as currently performed by employees. It identifies job duties and the requirements needed to perform the work successfully.

Job design involves conscious efforts to organize tasks, duties and responsibilities into a unit of work to achieve certain objectives. Job design, by sequence, follows job analysis.

Job design is concerned with changing, modifying, and enriching jobs in order to capture the talents of employees while improving organization performance. For example, companies such as Harley-Davidson Opens in new window, Banner Health Services Opens in new window, and PageNet Opens in new window, which are engaged in continuous improvement, or process reengineering, may revamp their jobs in order to eliminate unnecessary job tasks or find better ways of performing work.

Job design should recognize the capabilities and needs of those who are to perform the job. Job design, therefore involves three steps:

  1. The specification of individual tasks,
  2. The specification of the method(s) of performing each task, and
  3. The combination of tasks into specific jobs to be assigned to individuals.

Steps 1 and 3 determine the content of the job, while Step 2 indicates precisely how the job shall be performed.

While designing a job, requirements of the organization and individual needs of the job holder must be considered. The key to successful job design lies in balancing the requirements of the organization and the job holder.

Usually, the practice in designing job has been simplifying the tasks to be performed. This often results in making jobs highly specialized. While specialization has many advantages, it tend to result in boredom and even degradation of the job holder (see Specialization Opens in new window).

Significance of Job Design for Organizations and Employees

The significance of job design need not be overemphasized. The design of jobs has a critical impact on organizations and employee objectives. From the organization’s perspective, the way tasks and responsibilities are grouped can affect productivity Opens in new window and costs. Jobs that are not satisfying or are too demanding are difficult to fill. Boring jobs may lead to a higher turnover Opens in new window.

For an employee, motivation Opens in new window and job satisfaction Opens in new window are affected by the match between job factors (content, qualifications and rewards) and personal needs. Therefore, thoughtful design of jobs can help both the organization and its employees achieve their objectives.

It is well-known that jobs are more than a collection of tasks recorded on a job-analysis Opens in new window schedule and summarized in a job description Opens in new window. Jobs are the foundation of organizational productivity and employee satisfaction.

How well jobs are designed will play an increasingly important role in the success, even survival, of any organization during the next millennium. On the flip side, it may be stated that poorly designed jobs may lead to lower productivity, employee turnover Opens in new window, absenteeism, complaints, sabotage, unionization, resignations and other problems.

Factors Affecting Job Design

Job design is affected by organizational, environmental, and behavioral factors. A properly designed job will make it productive and satisfying. If a job fails on this count, the fault lies with the job designers who, based on the feedback, must redesign the job.

We now propose to elaborate the various factors affecting job design.

1.   Organizational Factors

Organizational factors include characteristics of task, work flow, ergonomics, and work practices.

1.1   Characteristics of Task

Job design requires the assembly of a number of tasks into a job or a group of jobs. An individual may carry out one main task which consists of a number of interrelated elements or functions. On the other hand, task functions may be split between a team working closely together or strung along an assembly line.

In more complex jobs, individuals may carry out a variety of connected tasks; each with a number of functions, or these tasks may be allocated to a group of workers or divided between them. Complexity in a job may be a reflection of the number and variety of tasks to be carried out, or the difficulty of predicting the outcome of decisions. The internal structure of each task consists of three elements:

  1. planning (deciding the course of action, timing and the resources required),
  2. executing (carrying out the plan), and
  3. controlling (monitoring performance and taking corrective action when required).

A completely integrated job will include all these elements for each of the tasks involved. The worker (or group of workers) having been given objectives in terms of output, quality and cost targets, decide on how the work is to be done, assembles the resources, performs the work, and monitors output, quality and cost standards.

Responsibility in a job is measured by the amount of authority someone has to put to do all these things. The ideal job design is to integrate all the three elements.

1.2   Work Flow

The flow of work in an organization is strongly influenced by the nature of the product or service. The product or service usually suggests the sequence and balance between jobs if the work is to be done efficiently. For example, the frame of a car must be built before the fenders, and the doors can be added later. After the sequence of jobs is determined, the balance between jobs is established.

1.3   Ergonomics

Ergonomics Opens in new window is concerned with designing and shaping jobs to fit the physical abilities and characteristics of individuals so that they can perform their jobs effectively.

Ergonomics helps employers to design jobs in such a way that worker’s physical abilities and job demands are balanced. Ergonomics does not alter the nature of job tasks but the location of tools, switches and other facilities, keeping in view that the handling the job is the primary consideration.

1.4   Work Practices

Work practices are set ways of performing works. These methods may arise from tradition or the collective wishes of employees. Either way, the HR department’s flexibility to design jobs is limited, especially when such practices are part of a union-management relationship. Failure to consider work practices can have undesirable outcomes.

Work practices were, till now, determined by time and motion study which determined the standard time needed to complete a given job. The study required repeated observations. The accuracy of the readings depended on the competence of the engineer.

Deviations from the normal work-cycle caused distortions in measurement, was biased towards existing work practices with little effort at methods’ improvement, and could be carried out only when production was underway. A new technique has now emerged, which if introduced, could drastically alter the work practices in industrial undertakings. Called Maynard Operating Sequence Technique (MOST), the technique uses a standard formula to list the motion sequences ascribed in index values. There will be resistance from the workers to the introduction of MOST, but the benefits from the technique should help cope with the opposition.

2.   Environmental Factors

Environmental elements affect all activities of HRM, and job design is no exception. The external factors that have a bearing on job design are employee abilities and availability, and social and cultural expectations.

2.1   Employee Abilities and Availability

Efficiency consideration must be balanced against the abilities and availability of the people who are to do the work. When Henry Ford made use of the assembly line, for example, he was aware that most potential workers lacked any automobile-making experience. So jobs were designed simple and required little training. Therefore, considerable though must be given as to who will actually do the work.

2.2   Social and Cultural Expectations

There were days when getting a job was the primary consideration. The worker was prepared to work on any job and under any working conditions. Not any more. Literacy, knowledge and awareness among workers have improved considerably, so also their expectations from jobs. Hence jobs must be designed to meet the expectations of workers.

When designing jobs for international operations, uniform designs are almost certain to neglect national and cultural differences. Hours of work, holidays, vacations, rest breaks, religious beliefs, management styles, and worker sophistication and attitudes are just some of the predictable differences that can affect the design of jobs across international borders.

Failure to consider these social expectations can create dissatisfaction, low motivation, hard-to-fill job openings and a low quality of work life, especially when foreign nationals are involved in the home country or overseas.

3.   Behavioral Elements

Behavioral factors have to do with human needs and the necessity to satisfy them. Higher-level needs are more significant in this context. Individuals inspired by higher-level needs find jobs challenging and satisfying which are high on the following dimensions:

3.1   Feedback

Individuals must receive meaningful feedback about their performance, preferably by evaluating their own performance and defining the feedback. This implies that they should ideally work on a complete product or on a significant part of it.

3.2   Autonomy

Autonomy Opens in new window is being responsible for what one does. It is the freedom to control one’s responses to the environment. Jobs that give workers authority to make decisions will provide added responsibilities, which tend to increase the employee’s sense of recognition and self-esteem. The absence of autonomy, on the other hand, can cause employee apathy or poor performance.

4.   Use of Abilities

The job must be perceived by individuals as requiring them to use abilities they value in order to perform the job effectively.

5.   Variety

Lack of variety may cause boredom. Boredom, in turn, leads to fatigue and fatigue causes mistakes. By injecting variety into jobs, personnel specialists can reduce errors caused by fatigue.

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  • References
    • Understanding Management, Job Characteristics Model (p 421-422) By Richard L. Daft, Dorothy Marcic.
    • Managing Human Resources, Job Characteristics (p 164) By George W. Bohlander, Scott Snell.

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