How to Apply the Job Characteristics Model to Your Workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Ensuring that employees stay engaged and productive at work is a crucial objective for business managers and human resources personnel in an organisation. The job characteristics model is a framework that companies can use to track and measure employee job satisfaction. If you work in human resources or management, understanding how to apply the job satisfaction model can help you boost employee morale and productivity in the organisation. In this article, we explain what is the job characteristics model, explore the different aspects of the model, discuss its benefits and show you how to apply it in the workplace.

Related: What Does Human Resources Do? 11 HR Roles and Responsibilities

What is the job characteristics model?

Psychologists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham developed the job characteristics model (JCM) in 1976. This theory posits that employees feel unmotivated when performing unfulfilling and boring tasks. Conversely, employees' motivation levels are high when challenged with exciting and stimulating tasks. The JCM specifies five job characteristics that affect an employee's work performance and motivation. Companies that use the JCM can better tailor and assign jobs that motivate and engage their employees. This can increase employee job satisfaction and quality of life, which leads to better overall performance.

5 job characteristics of the JCM

Here are the five job characteristics of the JCM that can affect employees' psychological states and their work performance:

1. Task identity

Task identity refers to an employee taking ownership and completing a task thoroughly. Instead of working on parts of a project or getting assigned to smaller individual tasks, task identity is about employees seeing the outcomes of their work and feeling more fulfilled when they complete a clearly defined task from start to finish. Task identity empowers employees to see the impact of their work and as a result, feel more responsible, motivated and engaged to complete it.

2. Task significance

Employees who feel their work is meaningful are more likely to report higher job satisfaction and perform better. Task significance is the degree of how much measurable impact a job or task has on others, the organisation or society. A significant task has a positive effect on other people's lives. Employees who feel encouraged by the significance of their work are invested in completing their work and making sure they meet expectations.

They're engaged and believe in the value behind their contributions, particularly if it helps others financially or psychologically. Employees derive satisfaction from knowing that completing their tasks successfully might benefit people in positive ways.

3. Autonomy

Autonomy refers to the degree of control and freedom that employees feel over their own work. These employees who feel empowered with autonomy are independent and responsible when performing their duties. It's important for managers to trust employees to accomplish their tasks and give them the freedom to make small-scale decisions. Autonomy can help employees develop a greater sense of meaning towards their work and feel more engaged in the workplace.

4. Skill variety

Skill variety relates to how many different skills an employee uses to complete their tasks. A job with skill variety allows the employee to develop a range of skills, which keeps them engaged and interested. Repetitive jobs of lower skill variety may not be very fulfilling as they involve mundane tasks that employees are less motivated to complete.

For instance, a claims and expenses executive's role is tedious and repetitive as it involves the simple monotonous tasks of data entry and documentation. In contrast, a client service agent may experience diverse customer requests, ranging from technical difficulties and pay issues to product training. Employees in jobs with high skill variety may face challenging work, but they can develop value-added capabilities that may aid in their career advancement.

5. Feedback

Providing employees with valuable feedback can help them understand their strengths and identify areas of weakness that they can strive to improve. This can help them gain confidence and motivation to become better at their jobs. Communicating regular feedback also strengthens working relationships and may lead to increased productivity when members of the team are committed to completing their individual tasks. Employees may feel valued when they receive feedback about their performance, especially if it's a positive job appraisal or review.

Conversely, by letting them know where they can be better, employees can utilise that feedback to improve their work performance.

How to apply the job characteristics model

Follow these steps if you want to learn how to apply this model:

1. Delegate tasks at various levels to increase responsibility

You can apply the JCM in your workplace by delegating more tasks at various levels to increase overall responsibility. This can help employees in the organisation to feel more responsible and empowered, even those who may consider themselves as junior staff of lower seniority. When employees feel a greater sense of personal responsibility, they're motivated and take pride in their work and tasks. This increased level of engagement also helps every employee to feel valued and trusted for their contributions, creating a healthy and high performing work environment.

2. Switch up the jobs and tasks

You can help employees remain motivated when doing repetitive or tedious work if you switch up the tasks in a job. This creates more skill variety that engages employees and challenges them to employ different skills to complete their work. Varying tasks can help make work more fulfilling and meaningful, especially if you can also demonstrate the impact of their contributions on the rest of the organisation.

3. Strengthen teamwork

You can also apply the JCM model to your workplace by strengthening teamwork across different levels of the organisation. Teamwork creates greater task identity as employees feel more responsible for completing their assigned tasks from start to finish. This helps employees understand their role in the team and feel the tangible impact of their work on the rest of the team.

4. Share detailed feedback

Sharing regular feedback, especially from key stakeholders can help employees feel valued and appreciated, regardless of their position in the organisational hierarchy. Constructive feedback in the form of performance reviews can motivate employees to do better and improve their work. They also serve as a regular objective metric of work performance, which allows employees to self-reflect and set an action plan for the next review. You may also include a reward or incentive structure along with detailed feedback in your performance reviews. This small act encourages employees to set goals to improve their work performance and raises job satisfaction.

Related: Top 47 Performance Review Phrases By Skills (With Examples)

5. Encourage employee rotations

Periodically rotating employees between different tasks or departments can expose them to new and exciting tasks. This increased task variety can help employees to feel more engaged as they learn new skills and form relationships through working with new colleagues. Working in other roles also helps employees to understand the value of their work and how it contributes to the overall organisation. Employees performing new tasks give the company an opportunity to better understand their strengths and competencies, which can lead to better allocation and assignment of responsibilities.

Related: What Is Employee Experience? (With Benefits and Tips)

Benefits of applying this model

There are several important workplace benefits of applying the characteristics model, such as:

Higher engagement at work

A major benefit of applying the JCM is that it can create higher engagement levels between employees and their jobs. Employees are more connected with their work and by extension, the company. This increased motivation positively impacts their work performance and overall job satisfaction, leading to a happier workplace for everyone.

Increased productivity

Applying the JCM helps create a more engaged and enthusiastic workforce. As they're happier and perform better at work, this correspondingly increases employee productivity. This increased productivity benefits the organisation in different ways and might lead to rewards, bonuses or incentives for employees to keep them engaged and motivated.

Lower absenteeism

Motivated employees are enthusiastic about their job and look forward to improving themselves at work. This leads to a drop in absenteeism as they're more engaged at present when performing their tasks. Applying the JCM to create task significance helps to foster strong connections between employees and their work, so they're more likely to participate in company events and projects.

Higher quality of work

With the JCM, employees are motivated to perform at their best and consistently seek to improve. The JCM helps to instil task significance and identity, which makes jobs more meaningful. This further encourages employees to take pride in their tasks and continue to produce good work.

Reduced turnover

Employee turnover is a key indicator of overall job satisfaction in the company. Applying the JCM to your workplace helps employees to feel engaged, productive and happy with their work and tasks. They form stronger relationships with their colleagues and appreciate the role they play in the team. As such, they're satisfied with the work environment and less likely to leave the company, resulting in a lower employee turnover.

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