Job design is the deciding of a job's key contents, from the duties and responsibilities involved to the systems and procedures followed by the person in that role. The purpose of job design, or redesign, is to optimise the work process and improve productivity.

This factsheet examines job design taking into account motivation theory, behaviour, employee empowerment, team working and flexible working. It looks at the key factors which influence job design and at the elements which contribute to its effectiveness. It considers job design as a feature of high performance working and the manager's role in driving engagement through job design. It concludes by looking at understanding and measuring job quality.

Although in many organisations, formal job design is considered passé, there are clear advantages to it as part of an integrated approach to workforce strategy. With the increasing scope and diversity of tasks that individuals perform each day, it’s essential that job design enables employees to respond to organisational needs quickly and effectively, and does not unnecessarily restrict them. For example, the practice of multi-skilling and rapid retraining will ensure that individuals’ skills remain up-to-date and match the changing nature of work.

Thoughtful job design and its execution not only ensures that the capability to deliver current organisational objectives is in place, but it also builds the flexibility and agility to meet changing business imperatives. Even though job standardisation is inevitable in certain jobs, such as manufacturing lines or call centre operator roles, employers should take care to ensure that the link between task and engagement is recognised and that employees derive meaning and satisfaction from their jobs. To do so, HR practitioners should consider all the factors that contribute to job quality, and understand which are particularly relevant for an individual’s stage in their life and career.

Job design is the process of determining what a job comprises, how it is carried out, and how it relates to other relevant jobs. This includes deciding on the duties and responsibilities of the job holder, the methods to be used in carrying out the job, and its fit within the organisational structure.

The purpose of job (re)design is to optimise the work process and improve productivity by reducing repetitive elements within and between jobs, as well as increasing responsibility and challenge through techniques such as job enlargement, job enrichment, job rotation and other non-monetary means.

The evolution of job design

Job design emerged during the industrial revolution. In the early 1900s, Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ principles were used to measure and sequence human inputs alongside machinery to achieve higher efficiencies. Two important concepts emerged:

  • Method study examines the efficiency of how and why jobs are done or sequenced, and it is still used today, for example, in designing ‘lean’ manufacturing processes.

  • Work measurement aims to establish the time needed to complete tasks which is important for resource planning and cost control, and is now used less widely as the measures of effectiveness have shifted to considering the outputs of work.

This mechanistic approach to job design primarily served productivity and efficiency, and involved close supervision of workers and low autonomy, although varying the tasks through job rotation was used to improve work experience.

With the rise of theories of motivation, behavioural considerations were integrated more firmly into job design, taking into account employee need for job satisfaction. For example, research on the human need for work to provide meaning and self worth over and above the satisfaction of the basic ‘hygiene’ needs suggested that people will only be satisfied and productive when jobs offer recognition, advancement and personal growth. This approach is also sometimes referred to as ‘job enrichment’ where workers are encouraged to take more responsibility for how they perform their jobs within given parameters.

Later, with the rise of ideas on empowerment, the responsibility for job design shifted to individual employees, giving them more autonomy over how to perform at least some aspects of their job. The same idea of devolved responsibility can be applied at the team level where team members can decide collectively who will perform certain tasks and how.

Finally, with HR needing to respond to ever-shifting business needs, flexible working approaches to job design are a means of matching changes in demand for services with a more flexible resource, while giving people an opportunity to shape their way of working in a way that helps them achieve greater work-life balance, leading to greater wellbeing and satisfaction. This may involve workers doing more than one job simultaneously, 24/7 service coverage, and distribution of human resources across multiple locations. The ways of meeting both the organisation’s and the workers’ needs for flexibility through smart and agile working are described in our report HR: getting smart about agile working.

Job design relies on careful job analysis – gathering information about the job, including its content, purpose, and required outputs. This analysis should form the basis of a job description and person specification/job profile. Multiple internal and external factors should be taken into account in the process of job design.

Organisational environment

  • The nature, range and volume of tasks to be performed in the job.
  • The workflow, or the sequence and relationship between tasks to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Ergonomics - shaping the job to best fit the physical capabilities of humans. This may also cover any reasonable adjustments that might be required to ensure the job can be carried out by someone with a disability. See our disability and employment factsheet.
  • Work organisation, for example, remote working or the type of team an individual works in (cross-functional team, project team and so on) which will impact on how tasks are designed and carried out.

Changes in the external context

  • Technological developments which enable tasks to be performed in different ways, for example, automation, offshore collaboration and digitisation.
  • Education levels which influence the availability of certain skills such as engineering and design capabilities.
  • Demand from customers, for example, the expectation for 24/7 services (as in customer service roles).

People-related considerations

  • Health and well-being, expressed by ensuring that jobs don’t damage employees either physically or psychologically.
  • Fair reward and recognition, reflected in establishing fair levels of reward for a job - see more in our market pricing and job evaluation factsheet.
  • Job satisfaction, which involves designing jobs that provide meaningful, interesting and stretching work, reflecting the capabilities, strengths and desires of employees.
  • Work-life balance and flexible working - see more in our factsheets on well-being at work and flexible working.

The objectives of job design will vary according to business demands and the organisation’s approach. However, the following will feature to a lesser or greater degree in deciding both the approach and desired outcomes.

  • Business purpose. Job design should support the purpose of the organisation and what it needs to do to succeed. Its purpose, for example, could be to sell a particular product, to provide a generic service, to constantly deliver innovative new designs, and so on.

  • People capability. Consider existing capabilities both internally and in the wider labour market.

  • Quality. Design jobs to minimise the risk of errors and to impose a degree of self-checking by employees to ensure highest possible quality standards.

  • Speed. Jobs should be designed to ensure that timeliness of task completion is appropriate to the job. For example, in the case of an emergency, the speed and appropriateness of the response is probably the most important feature of the job.

  • Health and safety. Jobs must be designed to ensure they don't risk the well-being or safety of the job holder, their colleagues, customers or other individuals.

  • Productivity. Jobs must be designed to ensure the primary focus of the job holder is on things that matter and add value to the business.

  • Sustainability. Jobs should be designed with a view to sustainability, ensuring that organisations can respond flexibly in the face of changing economic, social and political landscapes. Also ensure there is room to develop the job over time to take account of the evoloving individual and organisational capabilities.

  • Quality of working life. Job design should incorporate sufficient flexibility, breadth and challenge to ensure individuals are motivated, excessive and prolonged stress is minimised, and wherever possible job security is assured to sustain good quality work for employees.

Job design has long been a feature of high performance working initiatives. Specifically, the role of job design is in ensuring that skills and motivation are adequately applied. Engagement with the task is the most significant driver of organisational performance, according to our Lens on engagement research. This emphasises the need for a careful job design, alongside positive line management practices and organisational leadership supporting employee engagement levels. Further evidence is available on designing jobs for and managing young people, who may not have prior experience of work and hold misconceptions about working life in general. Find out more in our report Developing the next generation.

Job quality is one of important indicators of effective job design. Yet, there is no single measure of job quality, with academics and practitioners using a number of relevant concepts. These include ’good work’, well-being at work, fulfilling or meaningful work, and many others.

While there is no consensus on a definition, our report Understanding and measuring job quality identified six key dimensions of job quality:

  • pay and other rewards (such as wage level, type of payment, benefits)
  • intrinsic characteristics of work (such as skills, autonomy, meaningfulness, fulfilment)
  • terms of employment (such as opportunities for development and progression, job security)
  • health and safety (including both physical and mental well-being)
  • work-life balance (such as flexibility and intensity of work)
  • representation and voice (such as trade union representation and involvement in decision-making).

These can be defined both in objective and subjective terms. On the one hand, there are ’essential’ characteristics of a job, for example pay, that contribute to the quality of that job regardless of the individual performing it. On the other hand, workers’ personal circumstances also influence the extent to which they may perceive it to be ’good’ or ’bad’. For example, a low-paid teaching job may provide the employee with substantial satisfaction and intrinsic value if they enjoy its social aspect and derive meaning from educating pupils. So, understanding job quality must take into account objective characteristics of the job, as well as how well it fits with individual preferences.

Books and reports

GRANT, A.M., FRIED, Y, and JUILLERAT, T. (2011). Work matters: job design in classic and contemporary perspectives. In ZEDECK, E. APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology: Vol 1: Building and developing the organization. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

SPREITZER, G. (2008) ‘Taking stock: a review of more than twenty years of research on empowerment at work’ in BARLING, J. and COOPER, C. (eds). The SAGE handbook of organizational behaviour: Volume one: micro approaches. London: Sage Publications.

TAMKIN, P., COWLING, M and HUNT, W. (2008) People and the bottom line. IES report 448. Brighton: Institute for Employment Studies.

Journal articles

GIANCOLA, F. (2011) Examining the job itself as a source of employee motivation. Compensation and Benefits Review. Vol 43, No 1, January/February. pp23-29.

HERNAUS, T. and VOKIC, N.P. (2014) Work design for different generational cohorts: determining common and idiosyncratic job characteristics. Journal of Organizational Change Management. Vol No 4. pp615-641.

MOHR, R.D. and ZOGHI, C. (2008) High-involvement work design and job satisfaction. Industrial and Labour Relations Review. Vol 61, No 3, April. pp275-296.

SIMONS, R. (2005) Designing high-performance jobs. Harvard Business Review. Vol 83, No 7, July/August. pp55-62.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

This factsheet was last updated by Ksenia Zheltoukhova.

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

Ksenia Zheltoukhova: Head of Research 

Ksenia is responsible for leading research innovation and capability development at the CIPD. She joined in 2013 as a Research Adviser, leading a number of projects, including a major research programme, Profession for the Future, investigating principles-based approach to professional standards as a way of driving ethical and sustainable decision-making by the business.

Prior to the CIPD, Ksenia was a researcher at The Work Foundation, working on Future of HR, Leadership, and Health and Well-being streams. With a background in organisational psychology, she holds a PhD in Management from Lancaster University, where her research examined the effects of leaders’ sacrificial behaviours on followers.

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