WHAT IS WORK DESIGN?

THE BASICS

Work design concerns the "content and organization of one’s work tasks, activities, relationships, and responsibilities"  (Parker, 2014). 

Imagine designing the role of a police officer. Illustrative work design decisions include:

  • Which activities should be grouped together to form a meaningful police officer job?

  • Which decisions should be made by officers and which by their supervisors?

  • Should individual jobs be grouped together into a team?

  • Can one build in routine tasks amidst complex ones to ensure officers are not overwhelmed?

 

These decisions - about the content and organization of one’s work tasks, activities, relationships, and responsibilities - will affect outcomes at multiple levels including whether individual officers feel engaged or stressed at work, and whether the wider police service achieves its targets, such as how effectively crime is detected and prevented.​

Often work design is described in terms of "job characteristics", or features of work that affect how people feel about their jobs. Research has identified many job characteristics that are positive, that result in work being more motivating or less stressful.  Examples of positive job characteristics include: 

  • Job autonomy: Being able to make decisions within the job

  • Task variety: Having a range of tasks in the job

  • Skill utilisation: The opportunity to use one's skills in the job

  • Task significance: Doing a job that is important

  • Task identity: Doing a whole job

  • Job feedback: Getting feedback whilst doing one's work 

 

WORK DESIGN: A BRIEF HISTORY

Interest in work design arose during the Industrial Revolution. At that time, people came together to work in factories, which led to questions about how to best organise work. The answer to the question came in the form of Taylorism.

Find out about Taylorism in the short video shown here. 

HOW TO DESIGN MOTIVATING WORK?

Because of the problems of Taylorism, various strategies that have been tried to create better work designs, including job rotation, job enlargement, job enrichment, and self-managing teams.

 

These are all forms of “work redesign” that are intended to make work more interesting and meaningful rather than simplified, low-autonomy jobs that Taylorism made popular.

 
 

ABOUT THE THEORY

So far, we have looked at how simplified jobs can be ‘redesigned’ to be more meaningful and motivating. What we haven’t looked at yet is the theory that underpins some of these work redesign efforts.

It is important to understand theory because it allows designers to really think about the underlying principles when looking at work structures.

 

In this next video, Sharon will discuss the Job Characteristics Model, a prominent model in the Work Design literature.

CONSIDERATIONS TO MAKE

WHEN RE-DESIGNING WORK

Work ‘redesign’ means changing the way that the work is designed. Sometimes work redesign can be a simple ‘tweak’ to improve a job.

 

Other times, work design can be a significant change that is part of a large-scale organisational redesign. In this video, Sharon discusses some of the considerations to make when redesigning work.

CAN EMPLOYEES CHANGE

THEIR OWN WORK DESIGN?

Yes! Even though work design is sometimes constrained by the situation, such as the type of technology or the approach of the leader, people in the jobs can shape their work designs too.  

 

This has been referred to as "job crafting" by some researchers (related concepts include job-role negotiation, i-deals, proactive work behavior). Job crafting involves changing one's tasks, relationships, and ways of thinking about work in order to make one's job more meaningful and motivating. 

Examples of job crafting include:

  • Focusing efforts on tasks that are most interesting;

  • Building new relationships with others at work;

  • Reducing uninteresting or unnecessary tasks;

  • Introducing better ways of doing things; and

  • Obtaining more support from the supervisor.

 
 
 

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The Centre for Transformative Work Design

is part of the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University.

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