Motivated, engaged employees are a valuable asset to any organization – if not the single most important asset in successful companies! The principle behind the Job Characteristics Model (JCM) is that it’s the task itself that’s key to employee motivation.
Find out more about the JCM and its benefits.
Job Characteristics Theory
The Job Characteristics Model (JCM) is based on the Job Characteristics Theory (JCT) first postulated by organizational psychologists J. Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in 1975. In a nutshell, the JCT states that task design plays a major role in employee motivation, performance, and satisfaction.
It examines various aspects that determine whether a job or task is fulfilling and meaningful and addresses the question from the perspective of both the organization and the individual employee. In doing so, it correlates a job or task’s characteristics with the responses and satisfaction level experienced by the person carrying out the work.
So, what is the Job Characteristics Model?
The JCM builds upon JCT principles to create a schematic and practical model.
Although the JCM is relatively old, it’s still widely used to this day. The model specifies the conditions under which employees remain motivated to perform their job to the best of their abilities.
So, let’s take a closer look at the JCM!
Core job characteristics
Core job characteristics are an important element of the JCM.
Hackham and Oldham identified five such characteristics*:
- Skill variety – The degree to which a job involves a range of activities, requiring employees to develop a variety of skills and talents. Employees can experience more meaningfulness in jobs that require several different skills and abilities than when the jobs are elementary and routine.
- Task identity – The degree to which the job requires employees to identify and complete a workpiece with a visible outcome. Workers experience more meaningfulness in a job when they’re involved in the entire process rather than just being responsible for a part of the work.
- Task significance – The degree to which the job affects other people’s lives. The influence can be in either the immediate organization or the external environment. Employees feel more meaningfulness in a job that substantially improves either the psychological or physical well-being of others than in a job that has limited effect.
- Autonomy – The degree to which the job provides employees with significant freedom, independence, and discretion to plan out their work and determine job procedures. For jobs with a high level of autonomy, the outcomes of the work depend on employees’ own efforts, initiatives, and decisions, rather than on instructions from managers or standard operating procedures. In such cases, employees experience greater personal responsibility for their own successes and failures at work.
- Feedback – The degree to which employees are aware of their results. This entails clear, specific, detailed, actionable information about the effectiveness of their job performance. When employees receive clear, actionable information about their work performance, they have better overall knowledge of the effect of their work activities, and what specific actions they need to take (if any) to improve their productivity.
Psychological states are a second important element of the JCM. These relate to employee motivation and satisfaction levels while performing a given task or job.
Hackham and Oldham identified three such states*:
- Meaningfulness – Is the work they do worth their while? Do their tasks have added value for the organization or society? Do tasks conflict with their personal beliefs and values? And is their work interesting?
- Responsibility for outcome – Give employees the freedom to plan their work as they see fit and relate this freedom to autonomy and responsibility.
- Knowledge of results – Do employees know if their approach is successful? Do they have the opportunity to learn from any mistakes? If so, this creates a stronger emotional bond with customers or end-users.
Reality, however, isn’t always as cut and dry as a theoretical model. No two employees will respond to a job or task in the same way. For example, variety isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for everyone to experience fulfillment in their work. The factors that determine the attitude someone has to their work are known as ‘moderators’ within the JCM.
We’ve identified three such moderators:
- Skills & knowledge – Is there a good match between your employees’ skills and expertise and the job requirements? If so, employees will be much more enthusiastic about their work situation.
- Performance & excellence – Is there a high drive to perform and excel? And do your employees have an appetite to learn and work on their professional development? Employees with a high drive will be more enthusiastic about new opportunities they encounter and view their work as a path towards continued professional development.
- External factors – Employees who are rewarded commensurate with the work they perform are generally far more motivated. Management and leadership styles also have an effect on employee satisfaction levels.
What are the benefits to your organization?
Applying the Job Characteristics Model offers numerous benefits. Below, you’ll find several options:
1. Combining more varied jobs and tasks
The Job Characteristics Model helps make employees’ jobs and tasks more appealing, varied, and challenging. You can rotate and redefine jobs so that employees have to use more of their skills, and their work becomes less monotonous and repetitive.
The JCM encourages ‘decentralization’. This involves delegating tasks to the lowest possible organizational level, encouraging autonomy, self-reliance, and personal responsibility.
3. Assigning tasks to groups and teams more easily
The JCM offers an opportunity to encourage and structure teamwork more effectively within your organization. Create clearly defined teams that are dedicated to the particular job they perform. Teamwork and cooperation also result in a clearer focus on the output that team members produce. Employees also become more engaged and committed when they can clearly see the larger picture and the effect their work has on the organization as a whole.
4. Sharing ideas
Knowledge sharing is a powerful impulse for progress. The JCM is a great tool for encouraging employees to exchange ideas and opinions among themselves.
5. Creating a stronger bond between employees and customers/end-users
By clearly mapping job characteristics, you also help bring employees and customers/end-users closer together. Employees experience how customers and end-users evaluate their work, which results in useful and valuable feedback that helps elevate their perception of their work. A bond then emerges between employees and the people who benefit the most from their work.
6. Reducing staff turnover
Fulfilled and intrinsically motivated employees are less likely to look elsewhere for employment. By applying the JCM properly, you’ll also help reduce staff turnover, which is highly beneficial to your operational continuity.
Quantify to qualify
To get the most out of the JCM, it’s advisable to work out exactly who can do what well and what they like doing. Skills matrices are an ideal way to keep track of skills and competences in a clear, orderly, schematic fashion.
Working with skills matrices has many benefits, especially if you use special-purpose skills management software.
- They allow you to see at a glance who has which skills, expertise, and interests.
- You’ll also discover that it’s much easier to find suitable replacements if someone’s off sick, is away on vacation, or leaves the company.
- It becomes much easier to see if there’s a match between the skills required for the job and their interests.
- Equally important is the ability to spot and close any skills gaps emerging, either by retraining existing staff or recruiting new staff.
*Hackman, J.R. & Oldham, G.R. (1975). “Development of the job diagnostic survey”, Journal of Applied Psychology, 60(2)