Job design is the process of establishing employees’ roles and responsibilities and the systems and procedures that they should use or follow. The purpose of job design, or redesign, is to coordinate and optimise work processes to create value and improve productivity. Job design is also a central element in creating good quality jobs or ‘good work’ which will benefit both employees and employers.
This factsheet examines job design and it’s evolution taking into account motivation theory, behaviour employee empowerment and job quality. It looks at the principles of job design and the role of job analysis. It concludes by looking at assessing job quality.
What is job design?
Job design, or redesign, is a process of determining job roles and what a job involves, as well as how it relates to other relevant jobs and the organisation’s structure. It includes deciding on the duties and responsibilities of the job holder, the way the job is done, as well as what support and resources the job holder needs. It can be done stringently or flexibly, depending on the nature and scope of the work that needs to be done.
The main purpose of job design is to optimise work processes, ensure the right value is created and improve productivity. It does this by clarifying roles, systems and procedures; reducing repetitive elements within and between jobs; and optimising the workers’ responsibility.
However, these aspects of managing people are not only about the face-value effectiveness of allocating resources. They’re also closely linked to core employee attitudes and work behaviours, including motivation, commitment, discretionary effort and job satisfaction. These are enhanced through techniques such as job enlargement, job enrichment and job rotation.
Job design is an important element of people strategy as it influences:
- How well organised work is.
- How fulfilling and motivating employees find their work.
- What opportunities employees have to develop skills and progress.
- Whether workloads are sustainable and healthy.
Job design is thus a central component of job quality or ‘good work’ that benefits those doing the job as well as the organisation's long-term growth and sustainability.
The evolution of job design
The idea of job design started in the industrial revolution. In the early 1900s, Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ principles were used to measure and sequence human inputs alongside machinery to achieve higher efficiencies. Two important concepts emerged:
Method study examines the efficiency of how and why jobs are done or sequenced, and it is still used today, for example, in designing ‘lean’ manufacturing processes.
Work measurement aims to establish the time needed to complete tasks which is important for resource planning and cost control, and is now used less widely as the measures of effectiveness have shifted to considering the outputs of work.
In principle, Taylorism could involve varying tasks through job rotation to improve work experience. But above all, it was a mechanistic approach to job design that primarily served short-term productivity and efficiency, limiting worker autonomy as far as possible and making little effort to enhance people’s working lives. Nonetheless, it’s an important stage in the history of job analysis and design that can still be influential today.
With the rise of theories of motivation, behavioural considerations were integrated more firmly into job design, taking into account employee needs for job satisfaction. In particular, Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics theory described fives aspects of jobs that contributed to employee motivation, satisfaction and performance:
Skill variety: the range of skills needed to do a job.
Skill identity: whether a worker identifies with their job because it involves seeing through cohesive tasks from start to end.
Task significance: whether a job affects the lives or jobs of others. Together with skill variety and identity, this contributes to how meaningful people find their work.
Autonomy: the freedom workers have to schedule their work and choose how they do it. This makes employees feel responsible for their work.
Feedback on performance: gives employees knowledge of the outcomes of their work, motivating them to achieve goals and helping them to improve.
Autonomy, and related ideas of task discretion, job crafting and empowerment, involves handing over some managerial control to individual employees, giving them more influence over what tasks they perform, how and when. Self-management can also be applied at the team level, with team members agreeing their work as a group. Our report Power dynamics in work and employment relationships looks at power in the employment relationship through seven key dimensions, and how employees can shape their working lives.
High-performance work practices
Job design is central to theories of high-performance work practices (HPWPs), or clusters of these into high-performance work systems (HPWSs). These broadly align with job characteristics theory, presenting a mutual gains view of people management based on the model of ability, motivation and opportunity:
- Employees’ knowledge, skills and abilities are increased (ability).
- Employees are motivated to put these to use (motivation).
- Employees are empowered to put them to use (opportunity).
While employees with the right knowledge, skills and ability are recruited into the organisation, it's job design together with training that's central to developing them further. Along with appropriate people management skills, job design is central to motivating and empowering employees.
Another aspect of job design concerns when and how much people work. These decisions can be driven by employers, for example through the use of temporary and zero-hours contracts, or by employees themselves, through flexible working arrangements that allow them to shape their working hours and achieve greater work-life balance.
Principles of effective job design
The objectives of job design will vary according to business demands and the organisation’s approach. However, the following will feature to some extent in deciding both the approach and desired outcomes.
Business purpose. Jobs should support the the organisation’s purpose and what it needs to do to succeed. This could be to sell a particular product, to provide a generic service, to constantly deliver innovative new designs, and so on.
Health and safety. Jobs must not risk the wellbeing or safety of the job holder, their colleagues, customers or other individuals.
People capability. Consider existing capabilities both internally and in the wider labour market.
Quality. Jobs should minimise the risk of errors and to impose a degree of self-checking by employees to ensure highest possible quality standards.
Speed. Jobs should ensure that time to complete tasks is appropriate to the job. For example, in the case of an emergency, the speed and appropriateness of the response is probably the most important feature of the job.
Productivity. Jobs must ensure the primary focus of the job holder is on things that matter and add value to the business.
Sustainability. Jobs should take account of sustainability, ensuring that organisations can respond flexibly in the face of changing economic, social and political landscapes. Also ensure there is room to develop the job over time to take account of the evoloving individual and organisational capabilities.
Quality of working life. Jobs should incorporate sufficient flexibility, breadth and challenge to ensure individuals are engaged and motivated, and not under excessive or prolonged stress, and have opprtunities to develop.
Designing jobs for young people, who may not have experience of work and hold may misconceptions about working life in general, needs particular care.
The role of job analysis
Job design should rely on careful job analysis – gathering information about the required outputs, the work needed to achieve them job, and the skills, resources and autonomy that will enable it. It should be informed by external and organisational factors as well as human, motivational and growth factors, as outlined below.
External factors include:
- Demand from customers, for example, the expectation for 24/7 services (as in customer service roles).
- The labour market, in particular how likely it is that people will have all the capabilities needed for the role; if not, it may be necessary to create more than one job.
- Technological developments which enable tasks to be performed in different ways, for example, automation, offshore collaboration and digitisation.
Organisational factors include:
- Workflow, or the sequence and relationship between tasks to achieve the desired outcomes and how the job will slot in with other jobs in the organisation.
- The nature and range of tasks to be performed in the job, which need to be considered alongside whether employees have the necessary capabilities and resources.
Human factors include:
- Ergonomics. Shaping the job to best fit the physical capabilities of humans. This may also cover any reasonable adjustments required to ensure the job can be carried out by someone with a disability.
- Appropriate workloads. Overwork is a common feature of contemporary work, and a major source of stress.
- Work-life balance, including flexible working.
Motivation and growth factors include:
- Creating and maintaining jobs that are inherently satisfying and motivating, providing meaningful, interesting and stretching work with autonomy.
- Creating and maintaining jobs that are enriching, presenting good opportunities for professional growth and progression.
The job analysis should form the basis of a job description and person specification or job profile.
Assessing job quality
It’s important to measure job quality so employers can understand the strengths and weaknesses of the jobs in their organisations and how they can improve them. Employee surveys are a common way to gather such data.
Our Good Work Index survey captures data on seven dimensions of good work. The measures of job design and the nature of work relate to skills, workload, empowerment and meaning. They cover workload or work intensity, job complexity and how well this matches a person’s skills and qualifications, work autonomy, the resources people have to carry out their work, how meaningful people find their work and development opportunities provided.
Employers can use the questions from our Good Work Index survey and benchmark the results against our data from the UK.
Books and reports
GRANT, A.M., FRIED, Y, and JUILLERAT, T. (2011). Work matters: job design in classic and contemporary perspectives. In ZEDECK, E. APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology: Vol 1: Building and developing the organization. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
SPREITZER, G. (2008) ‘Taking stock: a review of more than twenty years of research on empowerment at work’ in BARLING, J. and COOPER, C. (eds). The SAGE handbook of organizational behaviour: Volume one: micro approaches. London: Sage Publications.
TAMKIN, P., COWLING, M and HUNT, W. (2008) People and the bottom line. IES report 448. Brighton: Institute for Employment Studies.
CHURCHILL, F. (2020) One in three UK workers in ‘low quality’ jobs that could be affecting their health. People Management (online). 4 February.
HACKMAN, J. R. (1980) Work redesign and motivation. Professional Psychology. Vol 11, No 3, pp445-455.
HERNAUS, T. and VOKIC, N.P. (2014) Work design for different generational cohorts: determining common and idiosyncratic job characteristics. Journal of Organizational Change Management. Vol No 4. pp615-641.
PIERCE, J. L., JUSSILA, I. and CUMMINGS, A. (2009) Psychological ownership within the job design context: revision of the job characteristics model. Journal of Organizational Behavior. Vol 30, No 4, pp477–496.
SIMONS, R. (2005) Designing high-performance jobs. Harvard Business Review. Vol 83, No 7, July/August. pp55-62.
TIMS, M., BAKKER, A.B. and DERKS, D. (2015) Job crafting and job performance: a longitudinal study. European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology. December, Vol 24, No 6. pp914-928.
CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.
Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.
This factsheet was last updated by Jonny Gifford.
Jonny Gifford: Senior Adviser for Organisational Behaviour
Jonny is the CIPD’s Senior Adviser for Organisational Behaviour. He has had a varied career in researching employment and people management issues, working at the Institute for Employment Studies and Roffey Park Institute before joining the CIPD in 2012. A central focus in his work is applying behavioural science insights to core aspects of people management. Recently he has led programmes of work doing this in the areas of recruitment, reward and performance management.
Jonny is also committed to helping HR practitioners make better use of evidence to make better decisions. He runs the CIPD Applied Research Conference, which exists to strengthen links between academic research and HR practice.