job-characteristics-model

Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics Model

  • Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model is a framework that businesses use to design jobs that facilitate employee motivation.
  • Hackman and Oldham’s model is based on the idea maintaining motivation in the workplace lies in the job itself. While mundane tasks were found to decrease productivity, more varied tasks had the opposite effect.
  • Hackman and Oldham identified five job characteristics that enrich a role and cause employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance to increase: skill variety, task identity, task significance, task autonomy, and feedback. These factors are linked with three psychological states that improve an employee’s motivation in the workplace.

Understanding Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model

Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model is a framework that businesses use to design jobs that facilitate employee motivation.

Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model was released in 1975 by organizational psychologists J. Richard Hackman and Greg R. Oldham. 

To determine why some employees lost interest in their roles, Hackman and Oldham studied 658 workers in 62 jobs across seven companies and published their results twelve months later.

The results became known as the Hackman and Oldham job characteristics model which remains popular with organizations today.

The model is based on prior research conducted in the 1960s. Organizational theorists of the time started to realize that production lines (touted for their efficiency) were also somewhat inefficient because mundane, repetitive tasks made workers less motivated and productive.

Hackman and Oldham’s model is based on the idea that the key to maintaining motivation in the workplace lies in the job itself.

In other words, while mundane tasks decreased productivity, more varied tasks had the opposite effect. The researchers also believed that this idea had merit irrespective of the role or industry.

Hackman and Oldham’s five core job characteristics

Hackman and Oldham identified five job characteristics that enrich a role and cause employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance to increase. 

The five characteristics include:

  1. Skill variety – the extent to which a job requires the employee to use multiple skills or perform diverse activities. 
  2. Task identity – the extent to which tasks have a clear start and finish. That is, can the employee recognize when one task ends and another begins?
  3. Task significance – does the employee feel like their position has meaning? Does it make an appreciable impact on the company or its customers?
  4. Task autonomy – is the employee free to accomplish their tasks with little oversight? Or do they feel micromanaged and stifled?
  5. Feedback – the extent to which an employee is aware of (and understands) their own performance. Feedback is derived from traditional sources like managers and customers but can also come from the job itself. 

The three critical states of Hackman and Oldham’s model

Before we list the three critical states, it is worth mentioning that job satisfaction pertains to various intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of the job.

It is not satisfaction in the context of happiness or self-contentment.

Hackham and Oldham described these aspects in terms of three psychological states that are linked to the five characteristics mentioned earlier.

Each state improves one’s motivation whilst at work, so let’s now look at how the five characteristics and three states interact.

Meaningfulness of work

Meaningful work has meaning to the employee and is something they can relate to on some level.

This form of work is fundamental to intrinsic motivation.

In other words, the employee is motivated by some inherent aspect of the work and does not see their presence in the workplace as solely to collect a salary, for example.

Characteristics that fall under this psychological state include:

  1. Skill variety.
  2. Task identity, and
  3. Task significance.

Responsibility

Employees feel responsible for their job when they are provided with the freedom, discretion, and independence to work as they see fit.

This relates to the characteristic of task autonomy.

Knowledge of outcomes

Knowledge of outcomes means the employee is aware of how their inputs (work or effort) translate into outputs (performance). 

Knowledge of outcomes refers to the characteristic of feedback which, as we noted earlier, comes from others or the job itself. 

Hackman and Oldham’s job model best practices

To use Hackman and Oldham’s research to their advantage, organizations and managers should at the very least:

  • Vary work activities to foster skill variety. This can be achieved via rotating employees through different stations or areas and encouraging them to upskill.
  • Ensure tasks are clearly defined wherever possible – particularly in menial positions.
  • Maximize the delegation of tasks to subordinates to increase autonomy and thus responsibility, and
  • Make a connection between the work employees produce and the outcomes of that work. This may include regular performance reviews where certain metrics such as customer satisfaction or equipment downtime are referenced. 
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