Hackman and Oldham's Job Characteristics

Understanding the Basis of Job Enrichment

Hackman and Oldham's Job Characteristics - Understanding the Basis of Job Enrichment

© Veer
Philip Lange

What characteristics lead to a high level of job satisfaction?

If you can provide satisfying work, then you're more likely to have happy and highly motivated workers. That's why it's so important to design work so that people's jobs are as satisfying as possible.

But how can you create this job satisfaction? That isn't quite so clear, and many ideas and theories have emerged over the years. J. Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham looked at many of these job motivation theories in 1976, and developed a key model of work design called the Job Characteristics Model. It has since become the basis for many job enrichment strategies.

The Background

Many motivational theorists believe that enriching people's work is key to developing a sense of motivation within them. They argue that this then translates into increased job satisfaction and productivity. Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory started the push toward work redesign by describing a variety of motivating factors, such as recognition and promotion opportunities, that must be present in a job for it to be motivating.

These job enrichment theories were supplemented with findings from people like Clayton Alderfer. He found that motivating factors are very individualized. In other words, when designing motivating jobs, you must pay attention to individual needs.

The Job Characteristics Model

The Job Characteristics Model starts at this point. It suggests five core job dimensions that must be present to generate positive work outcomes. These then lead to three psychological states, and these states influence desirable work outcomes.

This is shown in figure 1, below:

Hackman and Oldham's Job Characterisics Model Diagram

Reprinted from Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, Vol 16.2, J Richard Hackman and Greg R Oldham, "Motivation Through the Design of Work: Test of a Theory", pp250-279, Copyright (1976), with permission from Elsevier. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00305073

The model is made up of these elements:

Core Job Dimensions

How satisfying a job is can be measured according to these five dimensions:

  • Skill variety – This describes the range of skills and activities necessary to complete the job. The more a worker is challenged to use a wide variety of skills, the more satisfying the job is likely to be. Jobs that ask workers to make decisions and solve problems will usually be more satisfying than jobs with tasks that are routine and predictable.
  • Task identity – This dimension measures the degree to which a person can complete an activity or job in full. Workers who are able to take an activity from start to finish are usually more satisfied. For example, sewing an entire dress would be more satisfying than just sewing buttons onto it.
  • Task significance – This looks at the impact and influence of a job. Jobs are more satisfying if workers believe that they make a difference, and are adding real value to co-workers, the organization, or the larger community. For example, if a worker is interested in sports, constructing signs for the Olympic games would be more satisfying than constructing signs for a new business park.
  • Autonomy – This describes the amount of individual choice and discretion involved in a job. More autonomy leads to more satisfaction. For instance, a job is likely to be more satisfying if people are involved in making decisions, instead of simply being told what to do.
  • Feedback – This dimension measures the amount of information a worker receives about his or her performance, and the extent to which he or she can see the impact of the work. The more that people are told about their performance, the more interested they'll be in doing a good job.

Critical Psychological States

According to Hackman and Oldham, these core job dimensions lead, to a greater or lesser extent, to three different psychological states. These are:

  • Experienced meaningfulness of the work – This is the extent to which people believe that their job is meaningful, and that their work is valued and appreciated.
  • Experienced responsibility for the outcomes of work – This is the extent to which people feel accountable for the results of their work, and for the outcomes they have produced.
  • Knowledge of the actual results of the work activity – This is the extent to which people know how well they're doing.

According to the model, where people experience these states to a great extent, they improve their outcomes, do higher quality work, and contribute more meaningfully to the organization. This is what every manager wants!

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Motivating Potential Score (MPS)

Using the five core job dimensions, you can score each job by its potential to motivate people. This is shown by the equation below:

From this equation, we can see that autonomy and feedback carry more weight than any of the first three job dimensions. For instance, a job can be low on skill variety and still have a reasonable MPS if autonomy or feedback are high. A job that's low on either autonomy or feedback, though, will be scored significantly lower.

Note 1:

The model is strongly affected by individuals' needs for personal growth. People who have high growth needs will respond more positively to a job with a high MPS. Perhaps they care more about their work!

Note 2:

Assessment of these dimensions is necessarily quite subjective. When using this approach, make sure that you're as consistent as possible in your judgment when you're comparing one job with another.

Testing the Model

To test the Job Characteristics Model, Hackman and Oldham created a Job Diagnostic Survey that measured the key variables described in their model. They administered this survey to 658 workers, in 62 jobs, across seven industrial and service organizations.

The survey asked workers to describe their jobs objectively, and researchers also observed the jobs for one or two hours. Then the supervisors and researchers rated the jobs themselves. Finally, managers were asked to rate worker performance. These results were then correlated, with the results that the Job Characteristics Model was found to have strong validity.

Using the Model

Using this model, you can do the following to improve and enrich jobs in your organization:

  • Combine tasks to increase skill variety and improve task identity. Job enlargement and job rotation are popular strategies for accomplishing this.
  • Assign larger, more significant tasks to people, so that they feel connected to and accountable for results. This increases task identity and significance.
  • Ask workers for their ideas and perceptions related to task significance. If the job itself isn't socially significant, you can find ways to contribute to the community through workplace fundraising and other events.
  • Increase participation in decision-making, and delegate more responsibility in order to improve autonomy.
  • Open channels of communication to improve the frequency and quality of feedback.
  • Share feedback from customers, clients, and other stakeholders.

See our article on job enrichment for more ideas on improving job design, and see our self-test "How Good are Your Motivation Skills?" for more on motivating people.

Limits of the Model

The Job Characteristics Model considers only job-related factors that can be changed to increase the positive work behaviors and outcomes (such as higher performance and less absenteeism). It doesn't look at how relationships and other interpersonal issues affect job satisfaction and performance. (See our articles on Sirota's Three Factor Theory, and Motivating Without Bonuses for more on these.)

Also, it does not address teamwork, simply because the survey was designed to assess individual work. Since this model was introduced, it has been tested in team settings, and the basic ideas hold true.

Key Points

The Job Characteristics Model provides us with a foundation for creating and designing jobs that people will want to do well. The model has been rigorously tested, and shown to outline key strategies for making work more satisfying and motivating.

Key to this is providing jobs in which people can use many different skills, that are significant in scope, and that people are proud of. Providing feedback and allowing workers to take significant responsibility for their work are also important. Other factors will ultimately influence job performance, but if you use these characteristics as a starting point, you'll be on the right track.