People loving work. Work people love. It happens. We see it when we get the joy of working alongside someone who clearly loves what they do. We experience it when we’re a customer being served by someone who is clearly happy to help. We live it when we’re doing something fulfilling.
Yet if we listen to work stories, work engagement scores, and work satire on every multimedia channel, what do we hear? There are a lot of people NOT loving work, and there's a lot of work people DON’T love.
The easy answer to throw around? Blame the employee for poor motivation and commitment. Blame the immediate supervisor too, for not being able to effectively raise the person’s motivation.
The truth? The performance and motivational outcomes we see in our workplaces don’t just come from individual qualities. Our outcomes result from human and organizational dynamics that reach beyond individual people.
At the core of the dynamic is the Person – Work Interaction.
Boring Jobs = Bored People.
Energizing Jobs = Energized People.
Hiring self-motivated people is a great goal. What a person brings to the work matters. Just as we don’t all have equally long legs, we don’t all bring equally strong self-motivation capacities. Leaders, Hiring Managers, and HR Professionals can intentionally attract and choose people who may be better inclined to love their work.
But even the most naturally driven person will get discouraged in a poorly designed job. What the work brings to the person matters too. And the work is what organizations and leaders can directly shape.
Well-designed jobs foster stronger motivation, deeper engagement, and happier job satisfaction. What separates good job design from bad job design?
The work characteristics that create better performance and motivational outcomes, and work people love more, are pretty clear. Many are intuitive, but there’s also great research evidence to affirm great job design ideas to boost work people love and people loving work.
Apply these concepts to any job—whether you’re defining a job from scratch or tweaking an existing job. Leave boring jobs and bored people behind in favor of energizing jobs and energized people.
Jobs with More BREADTH Are More Lovable
Job Enlargement (a.k.a. horizontal expansion) = allowing more responsibility in a job; expanding its scope.
Peter Drucker recommended making jobs both challenging and broad in scope3. Broadly demanding jobs require people to use more extensive knowledge and skills to perform well. “Big” jobs with wide-ranging responsibilities may seem daunting. But challenging jobs motivate growth because they readily reveal a person’s strengths and weaknesses. In a broad job, people develop self-knowledge and learn to apply their greatest strengths to their work to achieve positive outcomes. As we learn to apply a greater number of skills, we’re more likely to derive greater fulfillment.
Of course, being thoughtful about job breadth is important. It has to be possible for qualified people to perform the range of skills required to achieve desired results. Jobs that require opposite skillsets may not be humanly possible.
Good questions to ask: “Does the job, when completed, produce an outcome of value to the organization and the person accomplishing the job? Or does the job, when completed, only mark off a specific step or task that requires many more steps or tasks?”
Having a broader impact is more engaging and motivating. Completing multiple types of tasks in a workday is more energizing than repeating the same activity over and over.
The “size” of jobs is particularly relevant in smaller organizations. As a small organization grows and develops its products or services, new jobs often arise organically when there is a need that current employees cannot address (i.e., either they lack the skill or the bandwidth).
It can be tempting to define a new position solely with that new, unfulfilled need in mind. Instead of taking an overly narrow, unrealistic and shortsighted approach, it’s beneficial to begin with a vision in mind for how a new team member can broadly complement the existing team and produce value over time.
Job (Re)Design Opportunity: Define jobs broadly so people can wear multiple hats and combine knowledge and skills in interesting ways. Inspire deeper fulfillment and commitment with wider responsibility. Invite people to bring many strengths and capabilities to their work, and to grow the outcomes they’re able to accomplish.
Jobs with More FREEDOM Are More Lovable
Job Enrichment (a.k.a. vertical expansion) = allowing more control or autonomy to make decisions in a job
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits three universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness9. Competence is relevant to the point above – when we bring many skills together to achieve great results, our sense of competence is energizing. Relatedness comes later in this post.
Autonomy describes our need to feel like we can choose our own actions. A positive sense of autonomy sparks motivation and improves well-being. Thwarted autonomy demotivates and lowers our overall well-being.
Job creators at Google strive to allow employees maximum autonomy or freedom of choice. This practice supports work motivation, and also attracts high performers, a group that generally values autonomy in work1.
Researchers distinguish 3 forms of autonomy in a job:
Autonomy restrictions are embedded in many jobs. For instance, a customer service associate will often have limited autonomy regarding what needs are brought forward and when. However, freedom to choose the best methods to serve the current need can compensate.
Where it’s possible to introduce choice, the freedom and sense of control over a workday becomes energizing. How could you enrich jobs with autonomy in your organization?
Job (Re)Design Opportunity: Look at what constrains choice in each job, and imagine ways to stretch freedom in the work where possible. All projects have constraints, and providing too little direction can harm productivity and consistency, but with each new constraint, ask “Is this really necessary, or can people have greater choice in when, how, or which results to deliver to achieve important organizational outcomes?”
Before Self-Determination Theory, the most notable theory of job design was Job Characteristics Theory6. Both highlight autonomy; Job Characteristics Theory further emphasizes four other key dimensions. Here’s the list:
Jobs vary tremendously in these elements. Want to create a boring job? Make all of these characteristics as low as possible. Want to create an energizing job? Make each one stronger.
Jobs with More MEANING Are More Lovable
Together, Task Significance, Task Identity, and Skill Variety create Experienced Meaningfulness – a sense that one’s work is generally meaningful, valuable, and worthwhile.
Work that feels meaningful is more motivating. In one study, fundraisers in a call center were more effective after reading stories about people who had benefited from their effort4. Similarly, radiologists gave more thorough reports and had more empathy toward patients whose photographs accompanied CT scans5,8.
Jobs with high levels of Task Identity and Skill Variety encourage a sense that the job is sufficiently broad (i.e., enlarged). Jobs that call on a range of skills are energizing because people are fully utilizing unique talents. Accomplishing a project that is wide in scope creates a sense of real accomplishment (e.g., “I made that” rather than “I contributed a tiny piece of that”).
Job (Re)Design Opportunity: To encourage meaningful work, craft jobs that allow people to make a positive impact in the world. Even relatively small impacts matter. Look for jobs that are so limited that the person ends up feeling like just another cog in a wheel. Fit multiple steps or aspects into each job so a person doing the job can proudly deliver a relatively complete product or experience.
Bonus Job (Re)Design Opportunity: Recognize when someone demonstrates a new or unexpected skill, and find ways for them to use and grow those skills at work.
Jobs with More FEEDBACK Are More Lovable
Work that provides feedback – some indicator of how we’re doing – energizes our sense of mastery or competence. Work that has feedback built into it tends to be more engaging and more conducive to the psychological state of flow2. In knowledge work, knowledge of results can be difficult, since results are rarely immediate or obvious. Often, knowledge workers rely on feedback from other people.
Job (Re)Design Opportunity: Spot the feedback that happens on the job (or lack of feedback). Where possible, make sure people can see outcomes of work they are accomplishing (e.g., sales figures, customer ratings). Where the job does not produce success information, cultivate recognition among team members and from leaders. With knowledge work, strive for a shared understanding of signals of progress and good work along the way to the eventual outcomes. Feedback doesn’t have to be only positive – direct experience with less-than-successful results creates a learning and course-correcting opportunity.
Jobs with More CONNECTION Are More Lovable
The work one person completes does not paint the full picture of a job. Every job includes interactions with others – team members, customers, partners. Relatedness, a primary need identified in Self-Determination Theory, emphasizes how important human connection is in our lives and our work. Thoughts about job design for one person performing a role are incomplete. Helpfully, researchers have sorted out some key social characteristics of jobs:
These and other social characteristics of jobs positively affect employee attitudes above and beyond the task-oriented, motivational characteristic in the job characteristics model7. A job with strong social characteristics fosters deeper commitment to the organization, greater job satisfaction, and lower intention to leave.
Just as with breadth, there can be too much of a good thing. Extremely high Task Interdependence between jobs can backfire as coordination becomes problematic5. Excessive exposure in a job to Interpersonal Feedback can become overwhelming. Unwarranted social support built into a job can counteract autonomy.
Job (Re)Design Opportunity: Look beyond a job’s breadth, freedom, meaning, and feedback. Explore how each job is built to connect to other jobs. What reasons does each job have to interact with other jobs on the team? What separations exist that limit success within jobs? Where are there opportunities to improve the job’s social characteristics and connection.
Well-designed jobs are easy to love. Intentionally designing jobs – breadth, freedom, meaning, feedback, and connection – pays off to boost motivation and commitment.
What jobs in your organization could easily benefit from more thoughtful design? What are the best job (re)design boosts you can accomplish?