Job Characteristics Theory

A worker's motivation is closely tied to his psychology.
A worker's motivation is closely tied to his psychology. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Job characteristics theory was first developed as a model by Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in order to understand the factors that determined how satisfied a person would be with a job and his level of motivation. According to Hackman and Oldham, there are five basic characteristics of all job positions- skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback. These characteristics all help determine three crucial psychological states -- meaningfulness, responsibility and knowledge of results.


A job will have greater meaning for an employee if it is something that she can relate to on an emotional level. Merely rote mechanical work will not satisfy this condition. The work an employee does must have meaning in itself through variation of tasks and through a sense that she is accomplishing something significant. Employees must be able to feel that they are not merely cogs in a larger machine, but independent actors.


In order for an employee to feel responsibility, he must also have a definite sense of autonomy. The work that he does, he must do himself. Constant feedback from a manager or anyone else will greatly undermine the sense of responsibility that an employee feels. He must also have a sense that to a large extent how he accomplishes a job is up to him and that he is judged more by results than methods.


Knowledge of the results of the work that an employee accomplishes is vital, according to Hackman and Oldham, if she is to feel properly motivated and learn from her mistakes. This psychological state also reinforces those of responsibility and meaningfulness. An employer can improve the knowledge of results that an employee has by providing appropriate feedback, which includes a story and an overall picture of the business and organization to which an employee belongs.


The motivation that an employee feels can be more or less correlated with the work that he produces. The more motivated an employee, the higher the quality of his work, according to the theory. According to Hackman and Oldham, the motivation of an employee will be directly correlated to how high his sense of responsibility is and how meaningful he finds his work. If an employer wants motivated employees, she needs to design jobs around these basic considerations.

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