Have you designed boring jobs no one wants to do?

Employee satisfaction and empowerment are part of the social side of sustainability. According to this Harvard Business Review article, many managers tend to simplify jobs which makes them even more tedious.


In my career, too often managers would want to send people to training to fix them when the problem was their own management style and horrible job design. They go together. If the manager’s view of the job is to oversee the work and tell people what to do, then simple, narrowly focused jobs are easier to supervise. Instead, if the manager’s job is to develop employees and coach them to take more and more responsibility, then empowered (what we used to call self-directed teams) are the way to go. And over 50 years of experience has proved these empowering workplaces get better performance and yield more employee satisfaction. These two worldviews are what I used to refer to as Managers as Parents or Managers as Partners.

Some important principles of job design:

Fit—Satisfaction comes from having a job that leverages your talents, allows you to develop into increasingly difficult/complex work, and being acknowledged for your contribution. You’re employee may be able to do many things, but what does she enjoy? What skills does he want to develop?

Variety—People are not machines. It’s bad for their brain and their body to do the same thing over and over again. Rotate people through different tasks and cross train them so they understand how they affect other steps in the process.

Control—To the degree possible, let the employees figure out the best way to do the work. Involve them in discussions about how to improve quality and customer satisfaction. If you have a cross trained team, let them figure out their schedules and adjust to one another’s strengths and preferences.

Feedback—In today’s world, the manager may be an inadequate source of feedback. The manager may never have done the job and may not be in the work area all the time. Instead provide opportunities for teams to get feedback from their customers and peers. It helps if the team does a ‘whole piece of work.’ Organize around cross-functional teams that together produce an identifiable product or service.

To learn more, you can refer to my latest book, Great Work or the now out of print, The Work Redesign Team Handbook.