Work Design – how and why to structure jobs the right way

Work Design – how and why to structure jobs the right way


Work Design – how to structure jobs the right way


Sometimes people love their work, they’re thriving. Other times they hate it, they’re dying a slow death every day…

You might expect the people who love their work to be doing the high status, high paid professions, like law or medicine and the people who hate their work to be on the other end of the pay status spectrum.

But this is not so.

I’ve talked to lawyers who hate their work because every minute of their job has to be charged to an account. I’ve also talked to home cleaners who love the freedom of their jobs, and who get a great sense of pride helping busy families clean their homes.

What I’ve learned is that how people feel about their jobs is not so much to do with the occupation that they’re in, but how their work is structured or designed and what feelings they get from the ability to demonstrate their qualification, skills and knowledge.

work design


For example, think about the job of a nurse, and imagine you are designing a new nursing job.

Questions you might ask, include which task should the nurse do? How much patient care should there be relative to paperwork? Which tasks should be allocated to doctors, or other medical professionals? Which decision should the nurse make? And which should be made by the nurse manager? Should the nurse be expected to work as part of a team? And if so, who else should be in the team?

These are all work design questions. Often, we don’t think much about them because the job is already designed.

Sometimes it’s only when symptoms of poor work design emerge…like:

  • High levels of burnout
  • Lots of talented people leaving the job

Only that we start to ask these sorts of questions.

When describing work design, we often talk about job characteristics.

This is a short hand way of summarizing important aspects of work design that we know affect people’s health, well-being, and performance. As an example, one job characteristic is skill variety, or how much a job uses a range of different skills.

You can imagine that most of the time the job of a nurse involves several different competencies. Practical skills like moving patients out of their bed, emotional skills like supporting sad families, and administrative skills like maintaining patient records.

We would describe most nursing jobs as having high skill variety. Skill variety is one important job characteristic.

Let’s talk about why work design is important. 

Our work design has a major impact on:

  • How we feel at work.
  • It affects our job satisfaction
  • How committed we are towards our company
  • Even our happiness. 

Listen to this portfolio worker talking about how her work design affects her feelings.


work feelings


Work design also affects how we behave at work. 

Listen to how this Finnish hotel cleaner describes her lack of variety in her work, and her lack of autonomy:

work design consequences


One of the consequences of this poor work design was that the cleaners began to steal.



So, we see the cleaners behave counter-productively to compensate for their poor work design.

Work design can even affect our physical well-being. Multiple  researches conducted  on cyber security agents whose job it is sometimes to sit and watch the screen, for up to eight hours a day with very little rest showed that it causes great problems for their lower back, and for their eyes.


So, work design affects how we feel and behave, and our physical and mental health.


It also affects the productivity of the organisations we work for.


There’s one further reason why work design matters. In many countries, good work design is required by law.

Australia law on work design


In other words, if, as an employer you design work that causes harm, you could be breaking the law.


But what is good work design? And how can you redesign work to make it more effective?


One of the earliest work redesign strategies that companies tried was job rotation. This is where people rotate from one job to another.

Think about people working in a restaurant.

  • One shift, the employee might seat people.
  • The next shift, the employee might take food orders.
  • The next shift, he might serve the food, and so on.

You can see that job rotation increases skill variety, which makes the job more interesting. You can also see how rotating across these different jobs would give employees a better understanding of the whole restaurant, which will help them to do their work more effectively.

Also, when a job is very physically demanding, job rotation can be a good strategy to prevent musculoskeletal strain because different muscles are used across the different tasks.

A step on from job rotation is job enlargement.

In this strategy, the job is enlarged to include a broader range of tasks. Going back to the example of people working in a restaurant, a person might,

in a single evening:

  • seat people at their table
  • take their orders
  • serve food and water
  • then arrange payment.
  • And they might do this for two or three tables across the shift.

Once again, the job has more skill variety. This enlarged job is also higher in what is called task identity. It is often more meaningful to people when they can see a whole job through from beginning to end.

The employee in the restaurant sees the people come in, get seated, eat, enjoy their food, pay and then leave, which can feel more meaningful than just seating people.

Although job rotation and job enlargement can increase an employee’s skill variety and their task identity, neither of these work design strategies improves the employee’s level of decision-making responsibility or their level of job autonomy.

Ultimately, rotation and enlargement are rather limited antidotes to job simplification.

This situation improved in the 1960s and 70s when proposals for work redesign focused on increasing employee’s autonomy over the planning and execution of their own work, or what is called job enrichment.

Job enrichment involves vertically enlarging the job, such as by giving a person responsibility for decisions that normally would be undertaken by their supervisor.

Let’s consider this classic study of job redesign, which took place in a bank in the 1990s.

Before the job enrichment, the bank tellers had rather deskilled jobs. But after the work redesign,instead of bank tellers having to refer commercial checks to specialist tellers, they were trained to be able to carry out all banking transactions.

This increased their skill variety. And after the redesign, instead of having to get the supervisor’s permission to allow customers to withdraw money, tellers were able to do this themselves as long as there were adequate funds in the customer account.

This increased their job autonomy. A rigorous assessment of this job enrichment intervention showed there were positive effects on the teller’s job satisfaction and commitment, and in the long term, positive effects on tellers’ performance. 

You may be able to identify similar ways of enriching your own work or the work of the people you manage.

There is another type of job redesign that also increases autonomy, and that is self-managing teams. 

Whereas job enrichment applies to an individual job, self-managing teams concerns the redesign of a group of jobs. In self-managing teams, groups of employees work together to achieve shared goals. For example, a team of employees might come together to provide a one-stop shop service to a particular client.

Autonomy means that the team is responsible for making its own day-to-day decisions, such as deciding who will do which task. Self-managing teams, also referred to as autonomous work groups, have been successfully introduced in many organisations, with research showing these almost always result in more satisfying and engaging jobs for people. Studies also show positive effects on productivity, for example, because of lower supervisory costs.

You might be wondering at this point, why? That is, why do job enrichment and self managing teams have positive outcomes? 

Here we need to turn to look at some of the theory underpinning work design.

One of the most well known theories is “Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model.” 

This model proposes five core job characteristics, three we’ve already discussed – Skill variety, job autonomy, and task identity. 

The remaining two are feedback from the job and task significance.


job characterstics model


Feedback means finding out how you are doing as you carry out the work.  This is a bit different to getting annual performance feedback in your performance appraisal from a leader about, for example, your strengths and weaknesses. It’s more about the day to day feedback you get when you’re doing your work.

As a nurse, for example, you might receive feedback from the families of patients about how you are doing.

Sometimes jobs are poorly designed, such that only the manager gets to hear about your performance.

Task significance refers to whether the job feels like it has impact or makes a difference. For example, if you were a surf lifesaver, and you see that your work is important in saving children from drowning, you will experience a higher level of task significance.

The model proposes that these five core job characteristics promote three critical psychological states.

In other words, if your job has these characteristics, you will feel your work is meaningful, you will have ownership over the outcomes of your work, and you will have a sense of progress. These feelings then result in higher intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction. 

And when you’re more motivated and satisfied, you’re likely to work harder and try to do your best. 

So your performance is higher. Does everyone benefit from having an enriched job? Well, the research says no. Not everyone will want or need the same work design. People are different in their personality and abilities.  As well as their age, and gender, and family responsibilities. All of these factors can shape what type of work design is best for someone.

One criticism that’s been made about the job characteristics model is that it’s rather narrow.

We need to extend this model to make it more contemporary. There are important core job characteristics beyond the five.

For example, these days, many service jobs have emotional tasks like dealing with dissatisfied customers. This means emotional job characteristics are important even though they weren’t in the original theory.Some of you might be thinking about your own jobs and wondering, why haven’t we talked about the stressful aspects of work?

Well, there’s another important work design theory that focuses on designing healthy work. Professor Robert Karasek argued that high job demands and a lack of job control or job autonomy, cause feelings of stress. 

Intuitively we know this is true, and the research bears it out. If you have a lot of demands in your job, such as high levels of time pressure or role overload, you’re much more likely to experience work stress and even burnout. 

If you have low control, this too is negative for physical and mental health. Indeed, because of the stress they cause, high job demands and low control can even increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

The demand control model goes further. It proposes that greater control can buffer the negative effects of demands. In other words, high demands are okay for health as long as you also have high control.Under this situation, a so called active job, you have the autonomy to master your tasks and engage in problem focused coping. Which means you will feel challenged and learn, rather than experience stress.On the other hand, if you have a lot of demand, but no control, or what’s called a high strain job,then the model argues this is the worst-case scenario for stress. Imagine a job in which angry customers return faulty products to the shop. And yet the shop employees don’t have the authority to replace the product. That is going to feel very stressful.

job demand-control


The job demands model has been extended in recent times, because scholars have recognized that not all demands are bad for people. Scholar’s have also recognized that, as well as control, other aspects of work can help people cope with high demands, such as having social support.

So these days, people talk about a job demands-resources model to indicate that there are other resources beyond control that help people to deal with stressful work demands.


So let’s look at the process of redesigning work or how to go about deliberately changing the work design.


Sometimes work redesign involves just a small set of people, such as when an employee who has been injured is returning to work and it’s necessary to redesign his former job to accommodate the injury. At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes work redesign is much larger, part of an organisational redesign or restructure. Such as when an organisation decides to implement self-managing teams throughout the whole company.

You can imagine, under this situation, it’s important to actively manage the change process. Two things are super important when it comes to work redesign.

First, is the power of participation.  – It is really important to involve the people whose work is being designed in the process. Obviously, it’s more motivating and less stressful for people to have a say in how the work is structured. But even more than that, the solution will be better. This is because the people who do the work day in, day out, know the most about it. Too many times we see managers and consultants designing work for employees without asking the workers themselves. I suggest going even further. Not just consult, but actually involve the workers in the process.

A second, very important point, is to remember that if you want to change the work, you need to change the broader systems and practices that support the work design. For example, if you introduce teamwork, you might need to change the selection system to recruit people who like working in teams. Or you might need to expand the training offered in the company to include training in team processes.

It’s also important to think about how people are paid and rewarded. 


If rewards focus totally on individual contributions, this will not align with the teamwork model. As another example, when self-managing teams are introduced, this can mean a quite radical change in the role of the team leader. Rather than being a supervisor who tells people what to do, the role changes. The supervisor needs to become better at coaching people and helping the team to manage its boundary with other teams.

These sorts of leadership skills are very different to the more traditional command and control model. So when redesigning work, it’s important to think about the ripple effects of the change, for training, selection, leadership, reward systems, and other practices.

It’s not always easy to redesign work. Indeed, it can be very challenging, because it involves changing the traditional power structures in an organisation.


Good work design makes a powerful difference to the lives of people at work.


The problem with the Overqualification…

Have you ever felt that you have job skills that are not required for your job? Or that someone with less job experience than yourself could do your job just as well, or that your previous training is not being fully utilized on your job. If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re one of the 30% of employees that feel overqualified for their jobs.

Overqualification is when people feel they have more education, skills, abilities, and job experience than required for their jobs.

Overqualification is quite prevalent in the world. In developed countries, every fourth employee feels overqualified. These numbers are even higher in developing countries.

There are two main reasons for the prevalence of overqualification. 

First some people may know they’re overqualified fora job, yet they choose it anyway. Perhaps this is the only job available for them and they need to pay bills. Or they would like to spend more time on their family, hobbies, or voluntary work and they’re happy with whatever job they can get. 

Second, poor job design can explain why some employees become overqualified. If people are employed in boring jobs that lack autonomy, challenge or they do not have opportunities to use their qualifications, they can grow overqualified. 

Being overqualified is problematic for both employees and employers. This is because in general overqualified employees dislike their jobs and 

are not committed to them. Being overqualified takes a toll on psychological and physical well-being of these workers most probably because they feel they are wasting their time on boring jobs.

Hiring managers are concerned and rightly so that overqualified employees will quit as soon as they find a better alternative. Numerous studies support this in that overqualified employees voluntarily quit their jobs. If they don’t do that, they engage in counterproductive work behaviors.

For example, they put little effort into their work or they day dream or fantasie instead of working.Engaging in such behaviors can jeopardize the careers of overqualified workers. 

But why do they still engage in these behaviors? 

The research shows that they feel cynical about the meaningfulness of their work, or they may feel angry toward their employment situation.

Given all these negative consequences of overqualification, shouldn’t organisation shy away from hiring these people? 

The answer is no.

Think about it. These people have more qualifications than required for a job, and thus they can be productive workers if managed well.

So how can we do that? 

The key is good job design.

Let’s talk about several job design strategies that can minimize the negative consequences of overqualification and maximize the positives. 

First, make your overqualified people feel empowered and they will feel more satisfied with their jobs and stay longer in the organisation.

Second, give them more job autonomy, and they will feel better. 

This is especially true in highly individualistic countries such as Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Third, provide them with more professional growth opportunities and they will stay longer in the organisation. 

And finally allow them to work with similarly over qualified peers and they will become better employees and better organisational citizens.

To summarise, if you are a manager looking at hiring an overqualified employee you should be aware of possible negative consequences. However, if your organisation can design interesting jobs that offer lots of empowerment, autonomy, and professional growth opportunities, you can reap the many benefits of having outstanding, highly qualified employees.







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Change and how the leader can manage it

Change and how the leader can manage it


Change and how the leader can manage it


How you as a leader can deal with organizational change?
Leaders face many challenges in today’s workplaces. And one of the key challenges is to make sure that the many organizational changes that are occurring are done effectively.
So how do you do this?
The first thing to understand and remember as a leader is that resistance to change is not a bad thing. It is a completely rational response that moves through denial and resistance to exploration and commitment.
4 stages of change
There are lots of reasons why people will resist change.
  • Maybe they’ve had previous experience with a change that hasn’t gone well.
  • Maybe they’re happy with the status quo.
  • Maybe there’s a potential for losing money, and there’s an economic threat.
  • Or maybe there’s a threat that they might fail personally, or that they might lose status or power.


Your job as a leader is to enact the change in such a way that your employees move through the process as quickly and as easily as possible. 


So how do you change the organization so that you get good outcomes with minimum resistance?
The first thing you have to do is to let people know why the change is needed.
  • These days, there is so much change occurring that people are, often rightly, suspicious of impending changes.
  • But let people know what was wrong with the old way and why the new way will help them.
  • Set a clear vision for what the organization will look like after the change has occurred.
  • Let people see that you have thought through the long-term and the short-term consequences of the change and that you have evaluated the need for it comprehensively.
  • Next, communicate, communicate, communicate. Tell people when things are going to happen. Tell them when they are happening. And tell them what you have achieved to date.
Uncertainty lies at the root of many fears about change.
So provide your employees with as much information as you can.
Making the change feel like success will always lead to greater effectiveness than making it feel like a failure.
While you are communicating, make sure you acknowledge and celebrate the small wins.
Of course, you always need to be honest about any setbacks.
And be optimistic and enthusiastic about overcoming the challenges.
So, what can we learn from this?
Leaders make an effective change when they recognize that resistance is natural. Develop a vision, communicate, and celebrate.



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Leadership – how, what, why and who

Leadership – how, what, why and who


Leadership and what affects it


Leadership is all about  creating the space where people are willing and able to share and combine their talents and passions to achieve a common goal!
Our role as leaders is to set the stage, not perform on it!


I’m sure you’ve come across lots of different leaders in your life, some of them good, others not so good.
Spend a few moments now thinking of two leaders that you have known. First, think of a great leader. What was he, or she like? What made them great?
Now, think of a bad leader that you have come across. Why were they bad? What did they do? What made them different to the first leader you thought about?
Now if you try and stand aside, looking at your two examples, you will notice that in both cases leadership is about influence. (no mater if positive or negative one)
A leader is somebody who can sway other people’s opinions and behaviors. A manager may have a title, but a leader has the influence.
The second important element of leadership is that it occurs between a leader, and a follower or a set of followers. If the influencing process occurs amongst peers, then it is a team process, rather than leadership.
The last point is that leadership is not just about who or what the leader is. Leadership is definitely based on these things, but it also depends on how the followers perceive the leader.
For example, if they perceive the leader more as a friend than as a position of power, then they may be less influenced by what the leader says or does.
Leadership also depends on the context. You’re more likely to be influenced by the leader when there’s a crisis happening, and you’re in a state of flux, though when you’re in control and know exactly what to do.
So, all of these things contribute to the degree of influence in the leadership process.
Now that we know a little  bit more about what leadership is, we can start to explore the different types of leadership.
The first differentiation is one that I hinted at earlier when we talked about the difference between leaders and managers.
And this is the difference between formal, and informal leaders.
A formal leader is the person who has the title of being the leader of your group. This might be your boss, the CEO of your company, or the leader of your country.  Everybody knows that this person is the leader because they occupy a formal position.
An informal leader is somebody who doesn’t have a formal position, but who still engages in an influencing process with followers. For example, Martin Luther King didn’t have a formal leadership position, but he had significant influence over his followers. The same can be said of Mahatma Ghandi and Malala, and others.
A CEO recently told me that one of the key leaders in his organisation was the receptionist. Her followers were the customers, and potential sponsors of the organisation who talked to her on a regular basis, and she had tremendous influence over them.
So, the message here is that you do not have to have a title to be a leader. 
The last differentiation I want to make between different types of leadership is whether the leadership comes from the front, or from behind.
When we think of a leader, we tend to think of a Martin Luther King type – a charismatic person standing on a pedestal, and inspiring us to follow them wherever they go.
This is what we call charismatic, or transformational leadership.
However, there’s another type of leadership that we’re beginning to recognize, and that is called servant leadership. In this type, the leader supports the followers from behind. They nurture, defend, and empower their followers, so that they are simply the first among equals, rather than being the person at the front.
Their motto is that the needs of others come first.
Neither of these types are superior to the other, generally. They are simply different types that maybe more relevant to some people, and some cultures, than others.


OK, but how does leaders emerge?


A key thing to note is that leader emergence is very different to leader effectiveness. You might feel like a leader, and everybody else may look to you to be
the leader, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good leader.
Think about how you would answer the following questions:
Leadership questions
If you answer with “yes” to them, then you have a strong leader identity.
If you answered maybe, or no, then chances are you don’t see yourself as a leader and you have a weak leader identity.
Research has shown that the more a person believes him or her self to be a leader, the more likely it is that they will take on experiences that develop their skills and that grow their leadership potential.
Whether you see yourself as a leader or not, depends on how your view of yourself matches up against your view of what a leader should be.
Remember earlier,  when you thought about a good leader? If your view of yourself matches your view of a good leader, then chances are you’ll have a strong leader identity and you’ll actually become a leader.
Then, if other people see your behaviors, and these behaviors match what they think a leader should be, then they will act as though you are a leader, reinforcing your own sense of leader identity.
So, let’s take three examples: 
Jay thinks that all leaders are extroverted. But because he is introverted he thinks that he couldn’t possibly be a leader, and he therefore has a weak leader identity.
Kay is introverted as well. But she realizes that although many leaders are extroverted, there are some good leaders who aren’t, and who are introverted instead. And when she compares herself against what she sees as a good leader, she thinks that they match. Her colleagues also think of her as the leader, even though she is quiet.  So she tries out her leadership more and more.
Ellen, on the other hand, is extroverted, and this matches her view of leaders, so she has a strong leader identity. However, her colleagues see her as domineering, and
this does not match their view of what a leader should be like. So, they ignore her attempts to engage in leadership.
Kay is the only one of the three who will emerge as a leader in the long run.
So when it comes to leader emergence, the most important thing is your leadership schema, or what you think a leader should be like. If you think that who you are matches your leadership schema, then you’ll have a strong leader identity. If your behaviors match other people’s schemas, then they are more likely to let you start becoming a leader.
So think about your own leadership schema, and the schema of those around you. Understand it, challenge it, but most of all think about how it is affecting your leadership, and the leadership of those around you.

So, What makes an effective leader?

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to this, otherwise we’d be surrounded by fantastic leaders.
I’m not saying it will always be the best form of leadership, but the research evidence is strong and robust. So we know that it often works.
Full range leadership theory suggests that there are two basic types of leadership – transactional leadership and transformational leadership. 
  • Transactional leadership is the basic form of leadership, and it’s based on an exchange relationship between the leader and the follower. Essentially, if the follower works hard, then the leader provides a reward. If they don’t, then they’re punished.

Transactional leadership works best when the leader provides clear instructions and enough resources to do the work.

When there are rewards contingent on the behavior, and when the leader actively monitors the performance to make sure that any errors or reduced performance is caught at the right time.

Other theories call this type of leadership – Task-oriented leadership – where the focus of the leader is at the task in hand and how it could be improved, optimized, completed in the best possible way.

Now, transactional leadership tends to get a bit of a bad rap, but actually this is a fundamental part of leading. An effective leader is somebody who does all of these things. 
  • So what is transformational leadership? 

Well, once you’ve got the basics down, and people know what they’re doing, and they’re reinforced for doing the correct behaviors through transactional

leadership, then we can start to motivate them through other means. Transformational leadership is comprised of four elements, or 
what we call the four “I”s:
  • Individualized consideration – it is about knowing who your followers are as individuals, and developing their skills and knowledge.


  • Intellectual stimulation – means that you’re challenging your followers, giving them difficult and complex tasks, and encouraging creativity and innovation.


  • Inspirational motivation – is about setting a vision and linking that to the day to day goals of the group. And about being optimistic and enthusiastic.


  • Idealized influence – which was originally called charisma and involves standing up for what you believe in, discussing your values and your ethical stances.


Some theories call this the “People-oriented leadership” – where the focus of the leader is at people, their abilities, potential, motivation and success


In summary, leader effectiveness is about both managing people and inspiring them. 

Followers need to know what to do, and have the resources to complete the task. But to be a great leader, you also need to transform people so that they want to do the work. 
It’s not easy but it’ll certainly pay off for you.



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