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The motivational approach to work design.

Lt. Col. Dave Bair, a native of Washington D.C...
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Work design is concerned with creating jobs and workgroups to generate high levels of employee fulfillment and productivity. It can be a standalone change program or part of a larger program. Three approaches to work design include: the engineering approach which focuses on efficiency and simplification; sociotechnical approach, which balances the social and the technical dimensions of work and is the most recent form; the motivational approach which seeks to enrich work experiences based on creating jobs with high levels of meaning, discretion and knowledge of results.

A well-developed model of job attributes has made the motivational approach methodologically sound. Based on motivational theory, the motivational method has goals of providing people with opportunities for autonomy, responsibility, completeness and performance feedback. It’s a an approach that is well known in the US. In the work of Herzburg, Hackman and Oldham, attributes are broken into two categories: motivators and hygiene. Motivators are those that enhance satisfaction while hygiene factors seek to prevent dissatisfaction. Although intuitively appealing, this model is difficult to operationalize it has been superseded by a theory of job enrichment.

In Hackman and Oldham’s theory of job enrichment there are five core job dimensions: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback. The first three influence the extent to which work is perceived as meaningful. Autonomy represents independence freedom and discretion while feedback represents information workers receive about their results.

10 years ago in my experience, the Army was exploring the motivational approach much more than the blended sociotechnical approach. I attribute this to the fact that we were coming out of a decade of ill-defined missions in limited overseas engagements on a grand scale. With the beginning of operation Iraqi freedom, however as more and more of the Army has become committed to the current fight, the emphasis on technical expertise has come to the forefront. I see it now using a balanced approach that looks more like the sociotechnical approach than the motivational theory. Some argue that the motivational approach is a luxury that we can only afford in times of peace, but it’s clear that we continue to emphasize this in a balanced way.

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