This CQ Dossier describes the Job Characteristics Model and the five characteristics that influence important work outcomes and psychological states. The dossier provides a critique of the Job Characteristics Model through reviewing meta-analytic studies that have tested the validity of the model. We also have a look at two case studies that show how the model can be used in different settings.
What is the Job Characteristics Model? The JCM provides recommendations for job enrichment
What is the best way to design work so that people are engaged and perform well? The Job Characteristics Model provides recommendations on how to best enrich jobs in organizations and was designed by Hackman and Oldham in 1976 and updated in 1980 (Hackman & Oldham, 1976, 1980). The model provides five characteristics that state how best to design work including:
The Job Characteristics Model states that these characteristics influence outcomes of motivation, satisfaction and performance. The model also includes intervening variables of meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge of results.
Skill variety occurs when the individual engages in a wide range of activities that require different skills.
Task identity occurs when the employees completes a whole segment of work from start to end.
Task significance occurs when the job has real meaning through making an impact on people.
Autonomy occurs when employees have freedom and discretion in deciding how to carry out their work. Feedback is when employees are given clear feedback on their performance effectiveness (Oldham & Hackman, 2010).
How can you measure job characteristics?
To assess whether jobs provide enrichment and also to test their model, Oldham and Hackman created the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS). The JDS is a self-report measure that assess employees’ assessment of the five job characteristics (Hackman & Oldham, 1980).
The JDS also assesses employees’ Growth Need Strength. Growth Need Strength assesses how much the employee values opportunities to grow and develop at work. The Model also makes the assumption that the job holder has the appropriate knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to do the work.
How to apply the Job Characteristics Model?
The Job Characteristics Model has been applied across different settings, roles, and organizations.
Job Characteristics Model applied to entrepreneurs
One application focused on the utility of the model for entrepreneurs. The model was applied using those characteristics that focused on the “work itself” done by entrepreneurs (Batchelor, Abston, Lawlor & Burch, 2014). The authors provide a series of propositions that need to be tested but they provide initial demonstration of how the Job Characteristics Model can be applied to entrepreneurs.
The application is interesting because the Model was originally designed for those who worked for an organization. The authors argue that entrepreneurs tend to have higher internal motivation because they work for themselves and enjoy the freedom and autonomy that comes from owning their own business (Batchelor et al., 2014).
Using the Job Characteristics Model to increase student motivaton
The Job Characteristics Model was also applied within a Business School setting to increase student motivation, which is still a problem within educational settings (Sukumar, Tandon & Pointer, 2007). The researchers utilized the model through designing course characteristics aligned with the JCM, such as task type, student autonomy, and formal evaluation (Sukumar et al., 2007). The authors suggest various classroom activities to increase the five JCM characteristics.
To increase task variety, they suggest activities that require several skills such as oral and written communication and decision-making. Tasks can include short case analyses, group assignments and experiential exercises (Sukumar et al., 2007).
With task identity, educators are encouraged to design courses that allow students to experience achievement based on tangible outcomes and can include development of business or marketing plans for new products or a semester-long management game, with student groups competing in a simulated marketplace (Sukumar et al., 2007).
It is also important that students appreciate that the KSAs they acquire through college courses are important in the real world to increase task significance. Activities can include application of KSA to explain a current business event or to develop projects for external organizations.
The JCM also states that individuals must have agency and control in their work and this is also important for students. One way for students to gain autonomy is through involving students in the design of a course, with boundaries set by the instructor.
Finally, the authors prescribe incorporating evaluation and feedback within business courses with feedback being timely and substantive. This feedback can be immediate such as gaining feedback from professors and students when giving a class presentation (Sukumar et al., 2007).
What is the evidence behind the Job Characteristics Model?
There is evidence to support the Job Characteristics Model although the research suggests some ambiguity in the validity of the model. An initial 1987 meta-analytic review examined 200 studies that had include the Job Characteristics Model within their research (Fried & Ferris, 1987). They found support for the multiple dimensions of the JCM, but it was unclear on the exact number. However, they did find that the job characteristics were related to psychological and behavioral outcomes with a role for psychological states as intervening factors.
However, although there were correlations between the job characteristics and psychological states, the pattern showed less support for the JCM. For example, task identity was related to responsibility yet had weaker relationships with meaningfulness or knowledge of results. However, skill variety and task significance both showed strong relationships with meaningfulness than with the other two psychological states (Fried & Ferris, 1987).
However, there were few relationships between the psychological states and performance; in fact, the strongest relationships were between job characteristics and outcomes. Task identity, job feedback, MPS had strong relationships with work performance but there was no relationship with performance and meaningfulness, responsibility, and feedback (Fried & Ferris, 1987).
A recent review that focused on work design research provided a critique of the JCM through examination of more recent research (Parker, Morgeson & Johns, 2017). They concur with Fried and Ferris (1987) that although the JCM is related to several affective and behavioral outcomes, the specific model has received weaker support.
Recent research finds that there is a lack of support for growth need strength as a moderator with limited support for the mediational mechanisms (Parker et al., 2017). The only intervening variable that has gained support as an important psychological state is meaningfulness (Parker et al., 2017).
Benefits of the Job Characteristics Model
The main benefit of the JCM is that it provides professionals with a template on how to design jobs through the five core characteristics. The research on the JCM have demonstrated key work design variables including the following (Parker et al., 2017):
In addition, the JCM characteristics are related to job analysis so can be used in designing jobs to aid in selection and job training.
What are the limitations of the Job Characteristics Model?
As stated previously, the main limitation of the JCM is that some of the key theoretical linkages within the model are not supported. The other limitation of the JCM is that the model was developed in the 1980s when job design was well aligned with fixed roles within organizations. However, the workplace has changed and there is now an emphasis on core competencies that are applicable across a wide range of settings and jobs.
CQ Net - Management skills for everyone! provides a review of leadership competencies models that demonstrate this shift. However, the JCM can still be useful in helping organizations understand how to craft jobs that motivate and empower employees.
The JCM is a recognized and valuable model that enables professionals to consider how best to design jobs. Although there are certain flaws in the JCM, most of the elements within the framework are supported through empirical evidence. Professionals can utilize elements of the JCM to help consider how best to design jobs.
The Job characteristics Model (JCM) provides recommendations on how to best enrich jobs in organizations
The JCM’s characteristics includes skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback
The Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS) assess employees’ assessment of the five job characteristics
There is some support for the validity of the model
The JCM is related to several affective and behavioral outcomes, the specific model has received weaker support
Experienced meaningfulness has gained support as an important psychological state
References and further reading
Batchelor, J., Abston, K., Lawlor, K., & Burch, G. (2014). The Job Characteristics Model: An Extension to Entrepreneurial Motivation. Small Business Institute Journal 10, 1, 1-10.
Fried, Y., & Ferris, G. R. (1987). The validity of the Job Characteristics Mode; A review and Meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology 40, 2, 287-322.
Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational behavior and human performance, 16, 2, 250-279.
Hackman, R. J., & Oldham, G. R. (1980). Work redesign. San Francisco, CA: Addison Wesley.
Oldham, G.R., & Hackman, J. R. (2010). Not What It Was and Not What It Will Be: The Future of Job Design Research." 31, 2, 463-479.
Parker, S. K., Morgeson, F. P., & Johns, G. (2017). One Hundred Years of Work Design Research: Looking Back and Looking Forward. Journal of Applied Psychology 102, 3.
Sukumar, T., Tandon, S., & & Pointer, L. (2007). Designing Business School Courses to Promote Student Motivation: An Application of the Job Characteristics Model. Journal of Management Education 31, 6, 812-31.
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.