Viewing the subject of Job design

Managers translate their preferences for, and decisions about, decentralization into the decisions they make about job design. Job design is a vehicle for systematically implementing the degree of decentralization that managers want and believe is necessary for pursuing organizational goals in view of the circumstances that we just discussed. Job design is thus a way for managers to communicate to employees the opportunities that employees will have for exercising power and authority.

The pursuit of quality improvements has encouraged job redesign in many organizations. At Clark Schwebel Fiber Glass, a producer of the glass-fiber fabric used in computer circuit boards, plants in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina were redesigned to encourage and enable the transformation to total quality and the total involvement of all employees. The assumption is that expert workers, with training and guidance can then redesign their work and organization to maximize productivity and quality. The result has been increased employee involvement in addition to improved quality and cycle times and reduced costs.

Approaches to Job Design:

Experts have been thinking about design for many years. Indeed, early management practices often concentrated on this aspect of organization. Over the years, three different ways of viewing the subject of job design have emerged: the mechanistic, motivational and biological approaches.

Mechanistic Job Design: Consider the jobs of factory workers on an assembly line. Each worker is required to do only one or two simple things over and over again. Most of these jobs are fairly easy to learn and so to do. Such jobs are suited to the mechanistic approach to job design, inspired by the turn of the century researcher Frederick W Taylor who systematically attempted to make jobs simple and efficient. Jobs like these still exist. It is an open question however whether they serve anyone’s interests well. Very little authority is invested in such jobs as sweeping out a stadium after a concert or game and cutting lawns on a college campus. What authority is present in these cases is a degree of expert power.

Motivational Job Design: As the limits of the mechanistic approach became clear, researchers began to seek out ways of making jobs varied and challenging. J Richard Hackman and others identified five core job dimensions: skills variety, task identify, task significance, autonomy and feedback.

Much effort in recent years has gone into making routine jobs more rewarding by redefining such jobs to include greater legitimate and expert authority. The term empowerment, as practiced at Nordstrom and in numerous other companies clearly indicates what managers are trying to do in these job redesign decisions. Job enlargement and job enrichment are two empowering ways to redesign jobs.

Recent changes at the General Electric plant in Lynn, Massachusetts are examples of job enlargement and job enrichment. Peter Boglioni used to operate one kind of lathe equipment. Now, as a byproduct of downsizing at the plant, he has been trained to operate numerous machines so that he can ‘make aircraft engine parts from start to finish’. This is an example of job enlargement. Another result of downsizing decisions is that Boglioni and his fellow machinists work together in cells or units that have no formal supervisors; the workers manage the job and call in help when problems arise. This is job enrichment on top of job enlargement, Boglioni and his associates have been given greater line authority that enriches and enlarges what they do.

Biological Job Design:

A whole new approach to job design is a biological approach called ergonomics, which is a systematic attempt to make work as easy as possible. One example of the importance of ergonomics comes from Hardee’s restaurants.