Job design

Traditional views on job design and work organization

Two basic assumptions dominated early thinking about the scientific management approach to the design of jobs and work organization.

First Assumption - Management

Management can be most effective if it devises rules and procedures to govern the way in which the task is to be undertaken. Management is assumed to be more effective than labor at devising methods for executing the work and then at planning and organizing. By breaking the work down into simple elements;

  • the training of workers is clearly simplified
  • workers are more easily substituted, one for another
  • supervision is made easier as it is apparent when workers are doing something that is not part of the specified task.

Second Assumption - Workers

Human beings are rational economic beings. The prime goal is assumed to be monetary and consequently reward systems which relate pay levels to output are seen as likely to result in maximum output.

As such, humans will examine a situation and identify a course of action likely to maximize their self interest and act accordingly.

All that is required to maximize output, from the organizations perspective, is to hire the right people, train them properly and construct an appropriate reward system. If the work can be paced, say be a machine, a worker can develop a natural rhythm and momentum.

Some research findings

In the 1950's Louis Davis reported a survey of job design practices in large industrial organizations in the USA. The study looked at low to moderately skilled jobs, assembly line, packing, inspection etc.

Considerable variation in policies towards job design were noted and in the responsibilities of job design. In some companies industrial engineers were responsible. In others, personnel and in others supervisors. Overall, no systematic approach was noted or that any alternative principles were being evaluated. The primary objective set in each instance was the minimization of costs of performing a task.

Criteria used in job design from the study included:

  • Economic considerations
    • the desire to minimize costs
  • Technical considerations
    • relating to process requirements
  • Time and Space
    • limitations imposed by time and space
  • Skill requirements
    • availability of labor with the right skills
  • Machinery
    • equipment needed
  • Industrial relations
    • management / union agreements relating to staffing levels and wages
    • traditions, customs and norms of the plants
A better way?

All too often in our post–industrial societies, despite much research on what constitutes a productive, rewarding work environment, examples of counter productive organizational environments can be all too easily found.

Job designers would appear to have ignored the psychological and social aspects of work to the detriment of the organization, the workforce and society as a whole. Opportunities (and the benefits flowing from) the development of problem solving and other skills in employees, at all levels, are being squandered.

For instance, high levels of task rationalization are associated with high levels of boredom, which in turn is associated with job dissatisfaction and counter productive worker behavior. (It should be noted that such jobs have some appeal to some workers.)

Research, some of which is described on this site, indicates that there are no clear rules to design jobs. It can be said, though, that people bring a diverse range of skills and abilities to the workplace, together with a diverse range of experiences, aspirations and expectations.

The task facing responsible organizations would therefore be to strike a balance between the needs of the organization to achieve it's goals and the creation of a working environment which results in the job satisfaction for employees.

Next | Early attempts to develop new approaches