Job knowledge characteristics

Motivational Impacts of knowledge characteristics On Workers

Knowledge characteristics are classified as motivational characteristics and reflect the kinds of knowledge, skill, and ability demands that are placed on an employee Opens in new window as a function of what is done on the job (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006).

While knowledge characteristics may relate to positive work attitudes and work behaviors, the associated cognitive demands can negatively affect older workers' wellbeing (Humphrey, Nahrgang & Morgeson, 2007).

Because increased age is often associated with a general decline in cognitive function, one might hypothesize that jobs that are high in these types of demands might present challenges for older workers and lead to negative outcomes.

However, while older adults often experience a loss in fluid intelligence, they usually experience an increase in crystallized intelligence. Thus, Morgeson and Humphrey’s knowledge characteristics likely interact differently with age, depending on the extent to which they require fluid or crystallized intelligence.

In the remainder of this entry, we pay attention to four kinds of knowledge characteristics.

1.   Job Complexity

Job complexity Opens in new window refers to the extent to which the tasks on a job are complex and difficult to perform (Campion, 1988). Although originally conceptualized as an aspect of mechanistic job design, Edwards, Scully, and Brek (2000) found that complexity is a distinct factor.

Because work that involves complex tasks requires the use of numerous high-level skills and is more mentally demanding and challenging, it is likely to have positive motivational outcomes for workers performing it (See Job Complexity to learn more).

2.   Information Processing

The amount of information processing Opens in new window needed at work reflects the degree to which a job requires attending to and processing data or other information. Some jobs require higher levels of monitoring and active information to process than others, such as air traffic controller (Wall & Jackson, 1995).

Similar to job complexity, high levels of information processing requirement may be motivating, as successfully accomplishing them signals possession of higher levels of job-related abilities and skills.

However, workers in mid and late careers may be at a disadvantage when facing high levels of information processing requirements, because usually their cognitive abilities are not at developmental peak any more due to the normal aging process (Learn more here).

3.   Problem Solving

Problem solving Opens in new window reflects the degree to which a job requires unique ideas or solutions and reflects the more active cognitive processing requirements of a job (Jackson, Wall, Martin, & Davids, 1993).

Problem solving involves generating unique or innovative ideas or solutions, diagnosing and solving nonroutine problems, and preventing or recovering from errors.

As such, it is conceptually related to the creativity demands of work and is a natural extension to the information demands of a job (Shalley, Gilson, & Bum, 2000).

On the one hand, workers in their mid and late career may have accumulated sufficient experience and knowledge that could guide them quickly to solutions for problems encountered in their jobs.

On the other hand, if problem solving imposes high demands of information processing, then this type of job will be more challenging for older workers than their counterparts who are in early career stages.

Older workers’ success in these types of jobs is likely to depend on the extent to which their experience can compensate for the need for information processing. In other words, if older workers could quickly locate several prominent solutions based on their experience, then the need to go through all possible solutions becomes less relevant.

4.   Specialization

Specialization Opens in new window reflects the extent to which a job involves performing specialized tasks or possessing specialized knowledge and skill. This notion of specialization Opens in new window was first identified by Campion (1988).

Specifically, as opposed to the breadth of activities and skills inherent in task and skill variety Opens in new window, specialization reflects a depth of knowledge and skill in a particular area.

Compared to younger counterparts who are in early career stages, older workers in mid and late careers typically enjoy knowledge advantages in dealing with highly specialized jobs.

In addition, to maintain satisfactory performance on highly specialized jobs, a life-long learning Opens in new window orientation is a must. As such, older workers who are open to learning and new experiences are most suitable for these type of jobs.