A Motivation Theory: Job Characteristics Model: Management Funda; V4 Issue 3

Do you agree that typically a motivated employee is a productive employee? Imagine then if as a manager you can design jobs such that it makes your people motivated. Would you not have a very powerful tool for enhancing your team productivity? Over the years a lot of people have developed different theories to explain what motivates a person at work. Two such people were Hackman and Oldham. They developed the Job Characteristics Model; a motivation theory which identifies five job characteristics impacting an employee’s personal and work outcomes.

Understanding the Job Characteristics Model

According to The Job Characteristics Model the presence of five core job dimensions ensures three psychological states. These psychological states in turn influence desirable work outcomes like quality of work, job satisfaction etc. Let’s look at them in detail.

Critical Psychological States 

The five core job dimensions stated below result in three different psychological states.

  1. Experienced meaningfulness of the work: The extent to which people believe that their job is meaningful, and that their work is valued and appreciated.
  2. Experienced responsibility for the outcomes of work: The extent to which people feel accountable for the results of their work, and for the outcomes they have produced.
  3. Knowledge of the actual results of the work activity: The extent to which people know how well they are doing.

Core Job Dimensions

  1. Skill variety: This refers to the range of skills and actsivities necessary to complete the job. The more a person is required to use a wide variety of skills, the more satisfying the job is likely to be. However, far too many might be overwhelming, too few, may prove boring. Jobs that require employees to make decisions and solve problems will usually be more satisfying than jobs with tasks that are routine and predictable.
  2. Task identity: This dimension measures the degree to which the job requires completion of a whole and identifiable piece of work. Employees who are involved in an activity from start to finish are usually more satisfied. For example, writing an entire report would be more satisfying than just formatting it.
  3. Task significance: This looks at the impact and influence of a job. Jobs are more satisfying if people believe that they make a difference, and are adding real value to colleagues, the organization, or the larger community.
  4. Autonomy: This describes the amount of individual choice and discretion involved in a job. More autonomy leads to more satisfaction. For instance, a job is likely to be more satisfying if people are involved in making decisions, instead of simply being told what to do.
  5. Feedback: This dimension measures the amount of information an employee receives about his or her performance, and the extent to which he or she can see the impact of the work. The more people are told about their performance, the more interested they will be in doing a good job. So, sharing production figures, customer satisfaction scores etc can increase the feedback levels.

The model says that internal rewards are obtained by individual when he/she learns (knowledge of results) that he/she personally (experienced responsibility) has performed well on a task that he/she cares about (experienced meaningfulness).The more these psychological states are present the greater will be an employee’s motivation, performance, satisfaction. The model is depicted graphically below. 

Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics Model

You can also see in the figure above that the links between the job dimensions and the outcomes are moderated by the strength of the individual’s growth need. This means an individual with high growth need is more likely to experience the psychological states when their jobs are enriched ie., the scope of the job is expanded. And they will respond more positively to the psychological states when they are present.

Applying the Job Characteristics Model

So how can you use this model? Well, you can tweak the design of the existing jobs of your team members. You can even design new jobs such that the job holders experience greater job satisfaction and deliver results. More specifically you can do the following:- 

  • Combine tasks to increase skill variety and improve task identity. For instance make a person completely responsible for recruiting for a vacancy rather than for just sourcing of appropriate profiles for the same.
  • Assign larger, more significant tasks to people, so that they feel connected to and accountable for results.
  • Get people to see how their performance is contributing to the performance of the department, division and organization. Link their goals with the organization goals.
  • Increase participation of your team members in decision making, and delegate more responsibility in order to improve autonomy.
  • Open channels of communication to improve the frequency and quality of feedback.
  • Give your team members knowledge of the results of their work. For example get an electronics engineer who assembles a radio to also test it if it operates properly rather than getting only the quality control inspector to test it.
  • Share feedback from customers, clients, and other stakeholders with your team members.
  • Provide opportunities for providers of a service to meet the recipients of the service.


Apart from job characteristics there are other factors also that influence job performance. But you can surely make a start by designing the job effectively to motivate your team members. Just remember one important point though. When you are redesigning a job be sure to truly enrich the job and, not just give more work for people to do. So go ahead and try your hand at some designing and design some jobs that people will love to do and will do well.


Ask the Expert: Nov'07

1. I have motivated team members who work on client projects. However at times I am unable to allot my team members to any projects due to lack of any immediate project requirements. When they are on bench, how do I still keep them motivated?

There are different ways to keep employees motivated during slack periods. Firstly ask them if they would like to do anything in particular. If not based on your understanding of the team member’s development needs and ability to contribute to other areas in the company you can suggest any of the following activities:-

  • Internal projects: Allocate your team members to internal projects related to process improvements or R and D activities like development of a new service or product. They could also work on cross functional projects like six sigma or non technical projects like being part of the team revamping the performance management system of the organization. The key here is to get them to understand that these projects are as important as client projects and you would be giving them equal weightage during performance appraisals. Also, improvement projects require inputs from professionals who have worked on engagements and all contributions to organization capability building are critical.

  • Job rotation: If the person has always been on projects then giving him a perspective of other jobs will help him enhance his repertoire of skills. For instance for a software developer you can look at temporary roles in quality, system administration, training or pre-sales functions.

  • Self development activities: They can devote some time on self development activities like attending relevant training programs, broadening their skill base,  getting certified in their technical areas, accompanying and observing senior team members when they interact with customers, top management etc. HR can even facilitate exercises that your team members can undertake to know themselves better.

  • Leave: This is also a good time to suggest they take that much awaited vacation.

 2. I am an executive and want to move up in my career? I am told that among other things I need to develop a better business perspective to do that. What is this business perspective? How can I improve my business perspective?

Broadly speaking business perspective is when you develop broader knowledge beyond that of one’s function and job. It entails understanding business metrics. But what is important is to use the knowledge gained to ensure that the tasks that you accomplish meet business needs wherever possible and to align operations to maximize business impact.

I agree with you that by developing a better business perspective you will be able to take on higher levels of responsibilities. Simply because it will help you contribute better towards meeting your company goals.

By being aware that you need to develop business perspective you have taken the first step towards building it.  There are several ways to improve your business perspective. Some of them are listed below:-

  • Take initiative to know your company’s business plans and understand the implications of the same on your own functional area. Your manager can help you with this if you do not know where to get hold of the business plans.
  • Try to understand interconnection between various departments by spending time with people from other departments to understand what they do.
  • Scan the environment for market/competitor trends by reading business sections of the newspaper and business magazines, talking to other people in the industry etc.
  • For any task ask yourself how it is being affected by the business scenario. If required, seek clarifications with others in the company known to have good business perspective, on the same.

3. When my subordinate gets angry with his colleagues or is frustrated by small office conflicts he simply walks away from the job site. I am to blame for this pattern of behavior since I allowed it once so that he could calm down. But now he is doing it repeatedly. How do I deal with it?

It is good that you tried to find a way to help him calm down. But walking off the job permits him to avoid work and the conflict situation. Maybe that is the reason he leaves the job site.  In other words, if at other times he gets along fine with everybody; maybe he leaves the job site because he wants to avoid conflicts due to his inability to handle interpersonal stress.

Meet with him to understand from him why he walks away. Check whether your hypothesis is right? If yes, establish a different expectation for managing interpersonal stress. Recommend him to a training program on managing interpersonal conflicts.

Whatever the reason be, you must clarify what you expect from him in situations like this and also help him find other productive ways to manage interpersonal problems that he comes across at office. Let him know that walking away from the job site is no longer acceptable. Make him understand how this behavior of his interferes with productivity. Tell him that you expect him to cooperate with fellow workers and manage difficulties in the office while remaining on the job site.  

Encourage and reinforce any positive behavior that he exhibits after your discussion. Consider formal counseling if unacceptable behavior continues.