Meaningful job design has a big impact on motivation and satisfaction. How can you create work that people want to do? Here's what the research says...
Emphasize the meaningful impact a job has—how it helps coworkers, customers, or your organization's important partnerships.
Meaningful job design starts with emphasizing why the work is meaningful. When people know the positive impact their work has on others, motivation, dedication, and job performance are stronger.
Remind people of the broader significance of their work for people inside and outside the organization. Make the connection as personal and direct as possible5,12.
For a quick explanation of job design:
Include decision-making as a core job responsibility.
When people feel a sense of autonomy to make decisions in their work, good things happen. Meaningful job design looks at decisions that need to be made within the organization's work, and how to keep those decisions open for discretion wherever possible.
Being able to make decisions and choose specific work methods and procedures promotes greater job satisfaction. Help people feel a sense of ownership in their work—allow choice and freedom on important matters within the scope of a job's impact2,8,15.
Build wellness right into the work—Job autonomy can improve health!
Meaningful job design has heart health implications. Jobs with low decision latitude and high stress are associated with greater risk of heart attack. To protect health, embed appropriate decision-making in jobs and identify and mitigate stressors9.
Meaningful job design gives people the opportunity to use a variety of skills to accomplish a result—beginning to end.
Writing about economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Adam Smith described the efficiency of division of labor. He lauded the efficiency by which 10 workers' divided efforts performing extremely narrow, repetitive actions produced 48,000 pins in a day. While such division and repetition might be efficient, people tend to be more motivated and satisfied by varied work that challenges us to see something through from beginning to end.
In a service context, variety and completion might involve handling all needs of a client rather than just one specific part of the service. Variety encourages a sense of ownership and meaning rather than a feeling of being just another cog in a wheel7,8,14.
How am I doing? People crave feedback to gauge the quality of their work.
Tasks that automatically provide feedback support a desirable psychological state known as "flow." If you’re building a table, you can judge the quality of your work as you go (e.g., Does it wobble? Do things fall off of it? Is it smooth?). In knowledge and service work, clear indicators are usually absent. People in those roles must rely on feedback from others.
Help people develop a sense of personal competence by ensuring feedback loops of information on how well they’re doing. Sometimes feedback can come from the work itself, from performance metrics, from customer or coworker comments, or a combination.
Important! Make sure to keep the feedback focused on task performance rather than the individual as a person1,10.
Design social connections into jobs.
Human interaction matters. People who have more opportunities to connect with coworkers and supervisors are more satisfied, engaged, committed, and less likely to leave.
Link people with others in similar and different roles. Encourage people to discuss challenges and seek advice from colleagues and supervisors3,6,8.
Job design primarily impacts attitudes about the work. Don’t count on job design alone to boost job performance.
Including greater autonomy, ownership, feedback, and impact in a job can boost satisfaction and motivation. But research suggests that direct effects of job design on job performance are limited.
After all, motivation to do well, and satisfaction with the scope of work being undertaken are only productive when paired with the ability to succeed4,11,13.
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Karasek, R. A., Theorell, T., Schwartz, J. E., Schnall, P. L., Pieper, C. F., & Michela, J. L. (1988). Job characteristics in relation to the prevalence of myocardial infarction in the US Health Examination Survey (HES) and the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES). American Journal of Public Health, 78(8), 910–918. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.78.8.910
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Van den Broeck, A., Ferris, D. L., Chang, C.-H., & Rosen, C. C. (2016). A review of self-determination theory’s basic psychological needs at work. Journal of Management, 42(5), 1195–1229. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206316632058