Episode 142: How To Make Jobs More Satisfying and Motivating

Do you have a dull job? Wonder how it can be made more motivating? That’s the challenge – how can we make jobs that are typically not much fun (like an assembly line job) more interesting to do? There is a lot of research on this important topic (check out The Five Drivers of Happiness at Work from the Wall Street Journal).

And Dan Pink wrote a good deal about this in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (you can hear him talk about work motivation in this interview called Dan Pink on the Modus Operandi of Motivation). This is one of the challenges facing I/O psychologists and in this episode I discuss the Job Characteristics theory by Hackman and Oldham and apply it to assembly line jobs in China where your iPhone is made and where a record number of suicides have occurred over the past few years. Can we use job redesign to make such jobs more tolerable?

1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?

5 Characteristics of Jobs that Affect Motivation

  • Significance: do the workers feel that the work they do every day is important in the grander scheme of things? To some workers it’s clear that their daily work is important (say, nurses), while others (say, assembly line workers who put together cell phone components) may not feel that their work is important. However, you can help cell phone assembly line workers get a connection to the significance of their work by reminding them of how important cell phones are to the global connections they enable between people and the role cell phones play (through photos and messaging) in changing the world. Here’s an article on the important role that leaders play in helping their employees find meaning in their work.
  • Identity: as opposed to putting one tiny piece onto something that other people put tiny pieces onto, it’s important for workers to be able to identify a whole task that they themselves created. Is there a way to redesign a job so that workers can put their names on something and say with pride, “I created that”?

  • Variety: nothing kills motivation faster than monotony. How can you increase the variety of things that workers do? How can you let them tap into their skills or build new skills so that work can include some variety from day to day?
  • Feedback: employees need to know how well they’re doing their jobs. This helps with imparting a sense of pride as well. Feedback can come from a car that rolls off the assembly line and works perfectly (low defects) or it can come from a boss who tells the worker how well he/she is doing.
  • Autonomy: many employees benefit from having some say in how things are done. What aspects of the job can be supervised or redesigned based on input from employees? What decisions can they make on their own?