Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics

Some jobs are no fun. As a business owner or manager, you might not want to readily admit that some of the positions you fill in your organization aren’t very attractive, but it’s true. So how do you get good people to fill these less-than-desirable positions? The key is to make them as rewarding as possible. Even a relatively boring job can be adjusted to provide the employee with an improved sense of motivation.

Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics

This is the line of thinking behind Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics model. This model looks at a variety of characteristics which apply to every job. Once these characteristics are viewed through the lens of a given position, the manager may then be able to use the model to devise ways in which the work could be more attractive.

To get started, we are going to look at the three important psychological states related to work, as identified by Hackman and Oldham.

Meaningfulness of Work

It stands to reason that work which has some meaning is going to be more motivating on a day to day basis than something that is meaningless to the individual. When people lack motivation on the job, it is usually because they see the job only as a way to receive a paycheck. To break free from that cycle, it is important to frame the work in a manner that makes it as meaningful as possible to each individual. This is harder to do with some jobs than others, but it is possible for nearly any position.


Micromanagement is one of the fastest ways to take motivation away from your employees. With that in mind, it makes sense that giving those same employees plenty of responsibility in their positions will help to motivate them as time goes by. They will feel better about coming to work each day, knowing they are trusted and knowing they are going to have the chance to determine their own destiny. Rather than just following orders, they will be making decisions and doing their best to succeed for the organization.

Knowledge of Outcomes

This is one which is often overlooked, but it is extremely important nonetheless. In some jobs, the employees never really get to see the fruits of their labors – which can be demoralizing over the long run. Is the work they are putting in leading to a good result? What do those results look like? Even if an employee is only performing one function within a much larger picture, that employee would still benefit from a motivational perspective if he or she was able to see the outcome of their work. They will be more emotionally invested in the work they do if they are able to see what becomes of that work when it reaches the customer. Also, this is a good way for an employee to see what may be going wrong and then make corrections to better the outcome for the business.

Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics

The Job Characteristics

So now that we have highlighted the three key psychological states, we can get a bit further into what it is about a job that is going to influence those states. The list below should help you gain a better understanding of this topic.

  • Characteristics influencing meaningfulness of work. One of the first points to consider here is the completeness of the task at hand. That means how much of a particular job one employee is responsible for completing. When an employee is able to handle a larger percentage of the work, they will tend to have more motivation toward the task. On the other hand, if an employee just puts one part on a large product, for example, they won’t feel much pride related to the finished item. Also, skill variety plays a role here, as being able to use a few different skills typically benefits motivation. However, asking one person to do too much can lead to diminishing returns, so it is best not to go too far.
  • Characteristics influencing responsibility. The word autonomy is the key one to keep in mind here. With the freedom to feel autonomous as they perform their daily duties, an employee is naturally going to feel more important and they will take more pride in what they do. It is hard to feel responsible for a task without having the freedom to perform that task in the manner that you see best fit.
  • Characteristics influencing knowledge of outcomes. The feedback cycle of the company is going to come into play here when trying to ensure that all employees have some knowledge of outcomes. Maybe it is as simple as a monthly meeting to update sales numbers with the staff, or maybe it is passing along feedback from customers who are experiencing the products or services. The exact design of the feedback cycle is going to depend on the type of business in question.

Designing a Better Work Environment

It would benefit any business to make sure that its employees were as happy and motivated as possible on a daily basis. Motivated employees are going to work harder, and they will stay longer – both of which are good things for a business trying to grow. By taking the insights which are offered by the Hackman and Oldham Job Characteristics model, you should be able to take even the most mundane job in your organization and improve it.

Every organization is driven by the people who work within it each day. If your employees are bored with their jobs, and they aren’t motivated to achieve within their positions, it is unlikely that your organization will march toward a bright future. To improve your outlook, think of each employee individually and make sure he or she has the right tools and opportunities to feel motivated on the job. This task can take time, but it will be made easier when the Hackman and Oldham model is used as a guide.

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