Work is generally good for physical and mental health and well-being (Waddell and Burton, 2006). However, research shows that not all work produces benefits for health and wellbeing and some jobs can even be harmful, in fact, how jobs are designed is one of the most important levers for wellbeing (What Works Wellbeing, 2020).
According to Torrington et al (2011) job design is ‘the process of putting together a range of tasks, duties and responsibilities to create a composite for individuals to undertake in their work and to regard as their own. It is crucial: not only is it the basis of individual satisfaction and achievement at work, it is necessary to get the job done efficiently, economically, reliably and safely’.
Why is job design important?
One of the reasons job design is so important is because jobs have two broad factors that contribute to wellbeing; demands and resources (Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model; Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti et al., 2001). Accordingly high job demands exhaust our mental and physical resources and therefore lead to the depletion of energy and to health problems. This is the health impairment process. In contrast, job resources foster employee engagement and extra-role performance. This is the motivational process (Bakker, 2020). Evidence suggests that job resources can buffer the effects of job demands on our wellbeing, and this is particularly true when job demands are high.
So what do we need to pay attention too when designing jobs?
Truss et al (2014) identify four elements of job design:
- Job content – actual content of the job should be designed to enable people to find their work meaningful, see how their job fits into the wider whole, allow people to use their skills and knowledge.
- Job context – includes factors such as ergonomic job design, work setting, technology, and flexible working options.
- Working relationships – job design needs to consider not just the job itself, but also the way the job holder is intended to interact with those around them.
- Line manager – the line manager has a vital role to play in bringing the individual’s job design to life. Simply having a well-designed job will count for nothing with an unsupportive line manager who provides no feedback.
We can improve the quality of jobs by training workers to make their own improvements to their work (job crafting) or changing to the way work is done (job redesign) accompanied by appropriate training (What Works Wellbeing, 2020).
Implications for managers and leaders
Because jobs are inter-dependent thinking about how managers and leaders can support job design at individual, team, organisational is important (based on Wang et al, 2016):
- Provide feedback. Boost efficacy beliefs by raising employees self-confidence and providing positive feedback about performance.
- Support the development of personal resources. Provide employees with empowerment, training opportunities, autonomy, decision making latitude, work-related information.
- Support the development of a psychologically safe environment for teams to develop and experiment with new work methods (Kahn, 1990).
- Support teams to take time out. We know that teams that practice reflexivity are more productive “taking time out as a team leads to an average 25% uplift in performance” (cited by White & West AffinaOD) and so supporting teams to have open dialogue with regard to expectations, responsibilities, behaviour’s and responses.
- Raising employees’ identification with the organisation. Explain to employees what the organisation is trying to accomplish and why, help them see how what they do connects to the wider organisation, community, society.
- Build an open and trusting climate. Display behaviours signalling openness and support (e.g. listening to employees’ individual needs, considering new ideas, encouraging personal development, taking actions to address the matter raised).