The Hackman-Oldham Job Characteristics Model and Job Design


. In many organizations, one finds that job specialization is the rule. There are clearly many advantages to creating specialized jobs:
  • job are mastered quickly
  • jobs can be changed quickly and easily
  • training costs are minimized

However, there are also negative consequences to specialized jobs:

  • monotony of tasks causes worker alienation
  • employees may have to be paid extra because of the alienation created by monotonous jobs
  • monotony and boredom may result in poor quality workmanship
  • worker motivation is reduced
. Herzberg
. Frederick Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory addresses the issue of workplace motivation. According to Herzberg, motivation comes from job content. Therefore, it is important for managers to consider the nature of the jobs they ask their employees to do.

Herzberg's approach can be summarized by:

If you want people to do a good job for you, then you must give them a good job to do.

The implication of Herzberg's work is that practically everyone will respond to a job high in motivating factors. Experience, however, suggests that this is not nearly as universally true has Herzberg postulated.

Herzberg's view, when restricted to workers who earn a decent wage (those who have their lower order needs satisfied as per Maslow), appears to make sense.

However, it begs the question: "What is a 'good' job?"

What's A Good Job?
Whereas Herzberg advocated the creation of "good" jobs, Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham built on that concept by attempting to refine our understanding of what a "good job" actually looks like. In other words, what are the characteristics of motivating jobs. Further, they also suggested that different workers react differently to jobs (not quite the universal reaction posited by Herzberg).

Hackman and Oldham's research led them to conclude that five key characteristics could be used to describe the motivating potential of a job. These characteristics are:

  • skill variety,
  • task identity,
  • task significance,
  • autonomy, and
  • feedback.

They also found that  workers who possessed what Hackman and Oldham called "high growth needs" responded positively to high motivating potential jobs, but those with low growth needs did not.

Motivating Potential
Hackman and Oldham sought to "measure" the motivating potential of jobs. In other words, to measure the extent that a job exhibits the five characteristics listed above.

Their research found that jobs scoring high in terms of a combination of these five characteristics resulted in higher job satisfaction and productivity than jobs scoring low.

For a job to be intrinsically motivating, all five characteristics must be simultaneously present, to some extent.

Motivating Characteristics

Skill Variety:

Skill variety describes the degree to which a job requires the exercise of a number of different skills, abilities, or talents. Such activities must not merely be different, but they must be distinct enough to require different skills.

Task Identity:

Task identity defines the extent to which a job requires completion of a whole and identifiable piece of work.

Task Significance:

Task significance refers to the importance of the job; the degree to which the job has an impact on the lives of other people, the immediate organization or the external environment.


Autonomy is the degree to which the jobholder is free to schedule the pace of his or her work and determine the procedures to be used.


Feedback is the degree to which the individual doing a job obtains information about the effectiveness of the performance. Feedback does not only refer to supervisory feedback, but also the ability to observe the results of their work.

Calculating a Motivationg Potential Score (MPS)
. A motivating job (a high MPS score) shows evidence of all five core job characteristics. Skill variety, task identity, and task significance all serve to account for a sense of "meaningfulness". A job with autonomy serves to give the jobholder a sense of responsibility, while feedback satisfies the need for knowledge. (see figure below)

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. The MPS Equation
. The motivationg potential of a job is calculated using the equation below.

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. The score calculated using this equation is only a crude indication of a job's motivational potential. First, it is important to remember that different individuals may respond to the variables differently -- the values assigned to the 5 variables are a matter of the job incumbent's perception. Thus, two different people may produce a different MP Score for the same job.

The utility in this equation lies in its ability to pinpoint particular problems for a specific job. Then, having pinpointed the problem, the job can be "re-designed" to correct the shortcomings in one or more of the five critical components.


Last updated: 01/09/24