Helpful hint: the Olympics of job design

Post Olympics we are left pondering how we can maintain the euphoria and positive good will the Games created (at least until the Paralympics start in a couple of weeks time).

For organisations, in today’s climate, it’s incredibly challenging to keep people happy and motivated.

People work well (and therefore enjoy their work more), when they have well designed jobs. The job characteristics model, designed by Hackman and Oldham, is based on the idea that the task itself is key to employee motivation which in turn is related to experiencing three psychological states:

1. Meaningfulness of work
That labour has meaning to you, something that you can relate to, and does not occur just as a set of movements to be repeated. This is fundamental to intrinsic motivation, i.e. that work is motivating in an of itself (as opposed to motivating only as a means to an end).

2. Responsibility
That you have been given the opportunity to be a success or failure at your job because sufficient freedom of action has given you. This would include the ability to make changes and incorporate the learning you gain whilst doing the job.

3. Knowledge of outcomes
This is important for two reasons. Firstly to provide the person knowledge on how successful their work has been, which in turn enables them to learn from mistakes. The second is to connect them emotionally to the customer of their outputs, thus giving further purpose to the work (e.g. I may only work on a production line, but I know that the food rations I produce are used to help people in disaster areas, saving many lives).

To experience these three states jobs must have certain characteristics:

• Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
• Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
• Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
• Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
• Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.

In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value. For example: vary work where possible to encourage skill variety; assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance; delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility; connect people to the impact of their work through feedback.

Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied. Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as The Royal College of Physicians.

Job design is clearly not as exciting as the Olympics – in fact it’s often seen as boring and a bit redundant. But creating meaningful jobs which motivate individuals is incredibly powerful and we all know how much positive impact the wonderful Gamemakers had on our own experience of the Games. Imagine if our own customers felt the same way after every interaction with us?