Job Design

July 19, 2006
Build employee loyalty and enthusiasm by rebuilding the work process.

Everyone is badgered constantly about finding ways to increase productivity and minimize the labor content that gets tied up in what our companies provide to the marketplace. The old maxim about not being able to save your way into prosperity is absolutely true. On the other hand, redesigning the way we work—streamlining the process—is a viable way to make progress on efficiency and profitability. Join me on a dive into the sticky morass we call the Web in search of solid content that supports this month’s focus on job design.

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Sliding through the academic viewpoint

Janet Drez at the Department of Psychology at Southern Illinois University posts a PowerPoint presentation that forms the basis for a class lecture. Hop on over to  and zero in on slides 11 through 15. If you enjoyed that small bit of the college level course, you can get 17 related PowerPoint presentations at

At the University of Western Ontario, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, there is a course called “Production Management for Engineers.” The school posts a slide show of the notes for a lecture about human resources in operations management. Click your way over to  to get a flavor of what’s in store for someone in academe studying job design. The lecture notes covers just the high points, without details.

Temasek Engineering School, Singapore, offers an Advanced Diploma in Engineering Management. One course for this degree is called Management of Change. It concerns itself, in part, with the idea of job design. The school was kind enough to post what apparently serves as the basis for course lecture notes. The information is good, but unfortunately it, too, is presented in the form of those dreaded, slow-loading slides. But, this information is relevant, it’s free, it does not require you to register your identity. In short, it has all the characteristics of what this column is about. We search the Web so you don’t have to. With that said, all you need to do now is make a beeline for to get a sense of the philosophy behind the idea of job design. Sure, it’s a pain to scroll through slides, but you won’t be disappointed when they finally materialize on the screen.

One can also learn about job design at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, by taking a course on production and operations management identified as MFET 4590. Class notes for “Work Design and Human Resource Management” are found at

Old versus new concepts

According to PHF Services Inc., a human factors and ergonomics consultancy in Almonte, Ont., job design means organizing activities to create the optimum level of performance. On the surface, this sounds like the teachings of Frederick W. Taylor, who in the early 1900s published his theories about getting the most from workers. Taylor’s approach, if followed to a logical extreme, produced some negative results. It minimized the job’s intellectual content and fostered mechanization, routinization and simplification of tasks. It relied on coercion over consent. In short, it reduced the worker to the status of a preprogrammed automaton, a two-legged PLC. Space does not allow a full explanation of Taylor’s approach, but you can visit  for more information.

Modern conceptions of job design are different in that they attempt to make work meaningful to both the employee and the employer. You can find the five basic approaches to modern job design at The idea of benefits being derived from improved job design is not new. The year 1975 saw the establishment of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Article 2 of the organization’s charter specifically mentions job design as an area of concern. You can see the document, in English, at

According to Gary Baker of the Iowa Valley Community College District, job design means structuring the task responsibilities on the basis of technology, strategy and structure. One either fits the people to the job or fits the job to the people. You can read more about this approach to increased productivity at

Robert Jacobs, Professor of Operations Management at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind. delves into job design at To some extent, his ideas mirror those of Deming. Pay particular attention to slides three and four, which clearly delineate the differences from Taylor’s approach to profitability.

Theory X and Theory Y

Back in 1960, Douglas McGregor proposed the idea of Theory X and Theory Y management philosophies. You remember, I am sure, that Theory X managers are said to be somewhat autocratic and Theory Y managers are said to be more sensitive and people oriented. There is a connection between management style, especially Theory Y, and job design. Engaging the employee’s free will contribution to the economic betterment of the company is possible when the employee has the opportunity to affect the way a job is structured. Read more about it at

Oh, my aching back

The May, 2000 edition of this column covered ergonomics resources to be found on the Web. You can access that article on the Plant Services Web site at {hyphen btwn RKRZ and 4UULHA]. How’s that for a URL? You can eliminate the possibility of typos by going to our site, scrolling down in the left frame to “Kratowicz on the Internet” and then scrolling down the right frame and clicking on the article title. How’s that for an ergonomic solution?

Just as ergonomics is a small part of this larger concept called job design, building a workplace that responds to the needs of the disabled is another aspect that also ought to be considered. Forward thinking companies already accommodate handicapped workers through job design. The rest have no choice but to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But we know all too well the difficulty in making sense out of what our hired hands in Washington publish. Let’s go across the border to The University of Toronto, which publishes comprehensible guidelines for accommodating disabled workers at This document could be a good model for a similar program in the industrial world.

A one-page piece on job design from Penington’s Human Factors Services Inc., Almonte, Ont, found at  gives a quick summary of the job design issues surrounding office workers. While we are on the subject of offices, about all that gets done there is typing on a keyboard, an activity that can lead to repetitive stress injuries. And nobody wants that to occur. CTD Resource Network, Inc. Los Banos, CA hosts Typing Injury FAQ at This is eight pages of solid information that focuses on one small source of workplace injury. Reading it may cause you to abandon entirely the idea of using a keyboard.

Tie it all together

Kelli Burns at the University of Missouri—St. Louis has a Web document that pulls this material together. Visit  for a five-page piece that Burns uses to teach efficiency, empowerment and quality in work design. The document gives suitable background about job enrichment and enlargement approaches and then provides a brief questionnaire about a particular mindless, repetitive job. The students then deconstruct the job and rebuild it into a better version that offers some improvement, such as efficiency or profitability.

Without comment

A Comparative Analysis of Job Satisfaction Among Public and Private Sector Professionals is found at

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