Early attempts to develop new approaches to job design
During and immediately after the second world war American writers, particularly, were questioning the relationship between job and organization design and productivity.
It was being recognized that difficulties arise in the selection of personnel if only those able to tolerate and work well in simple, highly repetitive jobs are to be recruited.
As early as 1950 in the USA job rotation and job enlargement were being both advocated and tested as means for overcoming boredom at work with all its associated problems.
In an early case example IBM introduced changes to machine operators' jobs to include machine setting and inspection. In addition they introduced other wide-ranging changes in both the production system and the role of foremen and supervisors.
It is less than clear just how successful changes of this type have been in practice. Undoubtedly management in certain circumstances can benefit from the increased flexibility of the labor.
However, workers often expect higher payment to compensate for learning these other jobs and for agreeing to changes in working practices. The new jobs are often only a marginal improvement in terms of the degree of repetition, the skill demands and the level of responsibility; as a result workers have not always responded positively to such change. Job enlargement schemes may not be feasible, e.g. in motor vehicle assembly, without a major change in the production facilities.
The concepts of both job rotation and enlargement do not have their basis in any psychological theory. However, the next generation of attempts to redesign jobs emerging from the USA developed from the researches of Frederick Herzberg. During the 1950's and 1960's Herzberg developed his 'two factor' theory of motivation.
In this theory he separated 'motivators' from 'hygiene' factors. The hygiene factors included salary, company policies and administration as well as supervision. They were seen as potential sources of dissatisfaction but not of positive motivation.
Another set of factors including achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, growth and the work itself were postulated as the 'real' motivators.
From this theory Herzberg developed a set of principles for the enrichment of jobs as follows:
- removing some controls while retaining accountability;
- increasing personal accountability for work;
- assigning each worker a complete unit of work with a clear start and end point;
- 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.
Herzberg's other major contribution to the development of ideas in the area of job design was his checklist for implementation. This is a prescription for those seeking success in the enrichment of jobs:
- select those jobs where technical changes are possible without major expense;
- job satisfaction is low;
- performance improvement is likely with increases in motivation;
- hygiene is expensive;
- examine the jobs selected with the conviction that changes can be introduced;
- 'green light' or 'brainstorm' a list of possible changes;
- screen the list (red lighting) for hygiene suggestions and retain only ideas classed as motivators;
- remove the generalities from the list retaining only specific motivators;
- avoid employee involvement in the design process;
- set up a controlled experiment to measure the effects of the changes;
- anticipate an early decline in performance as workers get used to their new jobs.
Job enrichment, then, aims to create greater opportunities for individual achievement and recognition by expanding the task to increase not only variety but also responsibility and accountability. This can also include greater worker autonomy, increased task identity and greater direct contact with workers performing servicing tasks.
Whilst job enrichment is based on a theory resulting from research carried out by Herzberg and his colleagues, the research is not itself without its critics. Later research has not always produced such neat results. Also the focus of the approach is the individual job and only limited consideration is given to the wider context in which the job is carried out, particularly social groupings.
Some examples of job enrichment have been considered by the various parties involved as highly successful continuing over many years. Results reported include greater productivity as well as a more satisfied and better paid work force.
However, the approach has limitations, including its inapplicability in certain situations, the lack of opportunities in others and the emphasis upon management decision at the design stage. Nevertheless the principles advocated in the design of jobs have obvious merit.