WHAT IS WORK DESIGN?
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.