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Decades
of job specialisation during the 20th century which aimed to
maximise efficiency actually resulted in unsatisfied employees who were likely
to leave their jobs or be absent, and who were challenging to manage (Hackman
& Lawler, 1971). This realisation resulted in a number of job design models
which had at their core the understanding that jobs which trigger intrinsic
motivation, through characteristics such as autonomy and variety, are more
likely to improve vital outcomes for both the individuals and their
organisations (e.g. Fried & Ferris, 1987; Hackman & Lawler, 1971).

The
expectancy theory of motivation (Vroom, 1964) constitutes the basis of motivational
models. The basis of this theory is that motivating employees to perform on the
basis that they feel good when they do, and bad when they do not, was a much
more effective motivational technique than the promise of rewards or the
avoidance of unwanted attention, and thus job design models began considering
how to encourage intrinsic motivation. This idea is supported by much research,
as indicated by a meta-analysis of 259 studies, which found that motivational
characteristics explained 25% of the variance in subjective performance and 24%
in job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Humphrey, Nahrgang &
Morgeson, 2007). Research suggests that this is due to humans constantly
seeking meaning in all aspects of their lives, including at work (Ryan &
Deci, 2001), as one experiences high well-being and happiness when perceiving
one’s own life as meaningful (King & Napa, 1998; Zika & Chamberlin,
1992).

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Two
models which both take a motivational approach to job design will be considered
in this essay. These are the Job Characteristics Model (JCM; Hackman &
Oldham, 1976) and the Job Demands-Resources Model (JD-R; Bakker &
Demerouti, 2007). The JCA model identifies five core characteristics which
Hackman and Oldham state should be considered during job design in order to
increase employee motivation, and thus enhance the positive outcomes. These
characteristics are skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy,
and feedback received. The relationship between these characteristics and the
desired positive outcomes is mediated by three factors; meaningfulness of work,
responsibility for work outcomes, and knowledge of the results. The
relationship is also moderated by three factors; growth-need strength,
knowledge and skill, and context satisfaction.

Since
its conception in 1976, the JCM has had a growing body of research supporting
its claims that the five identified work characteristics are strongly related
to job satisfaction and internal work motivation, and also have weaker
relationships with performance and absenteeism, as confirmed by a meta-analysis
(Fried & Ferris, 1987). Despite this, and the influence the model has had,
as indicated by the fact that the model and its measures had been cited nearly
2000 times by researchers as of 2006 (ISI Web of Knowledge, 2006), the model
has encountered much criticism. For example, research has been unable to
confirm the mutual exclusiveness of the five characteristics, and no
relationship has been successfully identified between the outcomes, suggesting
that they do not result from the same job characteristics (Parker & Wall,
1998). Furthermore, the majority of the supporting evidence is cross-sectional
(Parker & Wall, 1998), thus not allowing for causal inferences to be made.

The
JD-R model is similar to the JCM model in that it operates on the presumption
that increasing motivation will have positive outcomes for employees. The key
assumption which differentiates this model however, is the notion that every
job has risks which are specific to that role and can be classified in two
categories of ‘job demands’ and ‘job resources’, and these are both associated
with stress (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Job demands are physical,
psychological, social, or organisational features which are performed and
entail the use of psychological and/or physical resources. While job resources
have the same sources, they are necessary to achieve goals or encourage growth
through learning (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).

At
the core of the JD-R model are two psychological processes which relate to
strain and motivation. The first of these is the idea that employees will
experience exhaustion, and therefore health problems, when their jobs are
ineffectively designed with high demands (Demerouti et al, 2000, 2001; Leiter,
1993). Second is the premise that high engagement and high performance results
from good job resources improving both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in
employees. Therefore, good resources can buffer against job demands, as
illustrated by evidence that social support is a buffer against job strain
(e.g. Haines et al., 1991; Johnson & Hall, 1988).

A
number of studies have supported the propositions of the JD-R model and the end
organisational outcomes. For example, many studies have indicated that job
demands and resources constitute two separate psychological processes which
impact organisational outcomes (e.g. Bakker et al., 2003; Schaufeli &
Bakker, 2004). Furthermore, Bakker et al. (2005) researched whether the
association between job demands and well-being was in fact buffered by
availability of job resources with a sample of 1000 employees at a higher
education institute. The research indicated that a combination of high demands
and low resources predicts burnout, however if resources are high then the high
demands were significantly less likely to result in burnout. The same has been
demonstrated in other high demand jobs, such as with a sample of dentists in
Finland (Hakanen et al., 2005). Further research into this effect could examine
the potential effect of personal resources on the relationship between job
demands and resources, and organisational outcomes. The use of more objective
measures for outcomes could also benefit the evidence base for this model.

Although
the evidence previously discussed provides support for many aspects of the JCM
and JD-R model, the evidence did not consider two factors which must be
deliberated when discussing job design, and these are the mental and physical
health of employees. However, both these models do have bodies of evidence regarding
the health implications of job design. For example, research has found that the
JCM characteristics of feedback and autonomy both correlate with emotional
exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal accomplishments, which are the three
components which constitute burnout (Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Jackson et
al., 1986).

Moreover,
research suggests that context-free mental health, which is a global construct
untied to a particular setting or context (Warr, 1987), is an outcome of job
characteristics (Kelloway & Barling, 1991). The largest predictor of context-free
mental health is emotional exhaustion, which is in line with previous research that
identified a strong correlation between emotional exhaustion and depression
(Meier, 1984). However, this research ignored three of the five job
characteristics, and therefore cannot support every aspect of the JCM.

Research
has also been conducted regarding the JD-R model. For example, Holman, Axtell,
Sprigg, Totterdell and Wall (2010) provided support for the model as changes in
both resources and demands were associated with changes in well-being. This
supports previous research where high demands negatively affected well-being
(Hockey, 1997; Lee & Ashforth, 1996), while high resources positively
affected well-being (Jackson, 1983; Karasek & Theorell, 1990). However,
this research did not incorporate random allocation of employees to groups, so
differences that occurred could be due to selection effects.

Furthermore,
there has been extensive research regarding the effect of control on health
outcomes of employees, which relates directly to both the discussed models. For
example, predictions of coronary heart disease in a sample of civil servants in
London could be predicted by low job control (Bosma, Marmot, Memingway,
Nicholson, Brunner & Stansfel, 1997). Also, Jimmieson and Terry (1999)
conducted a literature review of the research in the field and identified
recurring evidence that stress-related outcomes, such as anxiety, psychological
distress, burnout, irritability, psychosomatic health and alcohol consumption
were all related to low levels of job control. Following from this review, Bond
and Bunce (2001) conducted what was potentially the first longitudinal
quasi-experiment in the field, and identified that increased job control via
work reorganisation interventions resulted in improved mental health, reduced
absence, and higher self-rated performance. This study expands on previous
research findings that job redesign, which increases control, improves
psychological well-being (Wall, Corbett, Martin, Clegg & Jackson, 1990).

However,
while there is some evidence supporting the health benefits of job demands in
line with the discussed models, much research in this area does not include a
control group, nor an extended follow-up period (e.g. Cordery, Mueller &
Smith, 1991; Murphy & Hurrell, 1987). Furthermore, the majority of the
research conducted used cross-sectional designs, which make it impossible to
draw causal inferences, so without more quasi-experimentally designed research
it will be impossible to make strong claims regarding the effectiveness of job
redesign interventions (Semmer, 2003). Additionally, it is vital that further
research is conducted outside of the very specific construct of job control.
Until there is a sufficient body of research considering all the aspects of
job-design models, the practical implications of utilising the models cannot be
fully understood. This research must also be constructed to measure the
mediation path of every job characteristic independently in order to gain an
understanding of how each feature works both independently and when interacting
with one another (Preacher & Hayes, 2008). Measuring these aspects with
more positive measures of mental health (Warr, 1987, 1990) could also help to
provide a more complete view of the impact of job design models.

In
conclusion, a vast amount of research has been conducted regarding many
job-design theories, especially the ones which take a motivational approach.
However, the literature attempting to confirm the validity of the models is not
near completion, nor is the research attempting to measure the health
implications of job design in line with these models. Until a focus is placed
on longitudinal research which incorporates random allocation of participants
between an experimental and control condition covering a broader range of job
characteristics, we will be unable to suggest that the models discussed above,
and the health implications they have, are valid and reliable.

 

 

 

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