The five job characteristics that motivate workers and performance

04 April 2018

We know making simple changes to an employee’s job design can improve their workplace wellbeing. But how does that work in practice?

According to the Job Characteristics Theory, there are five job elements that, if adjusted to an individual’s personality, behaviours and strengths, can make a real difference to job satisfaction.

Developed by Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham, and tested on 658 employees working in 62 different jobs, the theory is widely used as a framework to study how particular job characteristics impact job outcomes.

These five elements include:

  1. Skill variety – Workers experience more meaningfulness in jobs that require several different skills and abilities than when the work is basic and routine.
  2. Task identity – This is when an employee can identify and complete a piece of work with a visible outcome. Employees experience more job meaningfulness when they are involved in the entire process rather than just being responsible for part of the work.
  3. Task significance – This is the degree to which the job affects other people’s lives. Employees feel more meaningfulness in a job that substantially improves the psychological or physical well-being of others than one that has limited impact on anyone else.
  4. Autonomy – This is how much the job provides the employee with significant freedom, independence, and discretion to plan their work and the procedures involved.
  5. Feedback – When workers receive clear information about their work performance, they have better knowledge of how they are going in their job, and what specific actions they need to take (if any) to improve their productivity.


Job Characteristics Theory

The Job Characteristics Theory even uses an equation to determine the “Motivating Potential Score” of a particular job design based upon these five elements. The equation is Skill Variety plus Task Identity plus Task Significance divided by three and multiplied by Autonomy multiplied by Feedback.

The theory proposes these five elements lead to positive outcomes through the creation of three psychological states, including:

  1. Experienced meaningfulness – The degree to which the employee finds their work meaningful.
  2. Experienced responsibility – The degree to which the worker feels they are accountable for their work results.
  3. Knowledge of results – The degree to which the employee knows how well he or she is performing.

Every job has these five characteristics to a greater or lesser extent but no one combination of these characteristics makes for the perfect job.

It is important to keep in mind one job size does not fit all, as individual workers also bring different psychological states to bear upon the job they are doing. Remember, it is job design’s role to adjust the levels of each characteristic to suit the individual worker and the job they are performing.

This article was featured in our monthly e-Newsletter SuperFriend News which provides practical advice for employers to guide them in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.