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Organisational Psychology – Work Design

Answer the Question:

What is the psychological impact of work design?

How it Began?

Terkel (1972) described work as “a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short for a sort of life rather than a Monday to Friday sort of dying.  Perhaps immorality is part of the quest.”

There exist a highly diverse body of scientific concepts and findings about work organizations and the people who operate them. This diversity reflects the many problems that modern industry and commerce present for scientific study. For both practical and scientific purposes it isoften necessary to isolate problems such as work design for human convenience, job evaluation, selection, incentive schemes, primary group organization, supervision, and management organization. At the same time, most specialists agree that these problems are interrelated – beyond a certain point the solution of one kind of problem depends upon solving some of the others.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565

The collective act of working creates and sustains whole communities and shapes cultures on a social level.  Work activities exert a powerful influence on how people think, feel, behave, and relate to one another.  Work can have both a positive and a negative effect.

Research on Employee motivation contains considerable evidence that job design can influence satisfaction, motivation and job performance. It influences them primarily because it affects the relationship between the employee’s expectancy that increased performance will lead to rewards and the preference of different rewards for the individual.  For example, Fredrick Herzberg developed the Two Factor Theory: Hygiene Factors and Motivational Factors

Globalization and new technology continue to change what work we do and the way that we work. Characteristic content of tasks, jobs and roles performed by workers continue to evolve, not simply in regards to the shift toward knowledge work but the blurring of the lines between managerial and non-managerial work and the removal of boundaries between work and non-work activity.

Outsourcing has relocated low skilled and semi skilled manufacturing to developing economies whilst in developed economies the majority of the labour market are employed in the services sector.  Changes to the nature of work, and how work and jobs impact people, highlight the need to investigate novel approaches to the design of work.

Key Terminology

Work Design – Task, Job and Work role characteristics

Job Design – Content, Structure and organization of tasks and activities that are performed by an individual on a day-to-day basis in order to generate work products.

Role Design – Recurrent behaviours expected of a person occupying a particular position.

In Brief

The expanded focus on both job and role design has become necessary in order to adequately describe and assess the impact of changes to technology, work and patterns of working.  The characteristic content and pattern of work, as it affects workers, emerges not solely from the immediate somewhat-fixed demands of the task environment, but also from the dynamic physical, social, and organizational context in which work is performed.

Most jobs can be seen as comprising both prescribed and predetermined tasks and activities, typically those that need to be done in order to create or transform work products, and discretionary and/or emergent components.  It also recognizes that, in most work settings, matching a person to a job is a decision that involves considering not just his or her capacity to perform particular tasks, but also to occupy particular roles.

The aims of work design are to improve job satisfaction, to improve through-put, to improve quality and to reduce employee problems (e.g., grievances, absenteeism).

What does this mean to Organization Development?

Problems of task performance, supervision,etc., have the character of part problems. Thus, the analysis of the characteristics of the organisation as a holistic system has strategic significance for our understanding of many specific work related problems. The more we know about these systems, the more we can identify what is relevant to a particular problem and detect problems missed by the conventional framework of problem analysis.

Organizational Development methodology recognizes the interaction between people and technology in workplaces. Socio-technical Systems Theory recognizes both the social aspects of people and society and technical aspects of organizational structure and processes. Technical is not limited to material technology. The focus is on procedures and related knowledge,

Sociotechnical theory therefore is about joint optimization, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people’s work lives based on designing different kinds of organisation, ones in which the relationships between socio and technical elements lead to the emergence of productivity and wellbeing.

Depending on the organisations primary agenda, sociotechnical principles can be abused as merely instruments for achieving primarily economic objectives. If Humanistic objectives have no value in themselves they may be adopted if the achievement produces a better performance from employees leading to the fulfilment of the economic objectives.

For the OD practitioner, the main task of work design is to enhance the quality of working life and the job satisfaction of the employee. In turn the achievement of these objectives will enhance productivity and yield added value to the organization.