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.