Work Design in the Contemporary Era
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Work design refers to the roles, responsibilities, and work tasks that comprise an individual’s job and how they are structured and organized. Good work design is created by jobs high in characteristics such as autonomy, social support, and feedback, and moderate in job demands such as workload, role ambiguity, and role conflict. Established research shows good work design is associated with work outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, work safety, and job performance. Poor work design is characterized by roles that are low in job resources and/or overly high in job demands, and has been linked to poor health and well-being, absenteeism, and poor performance. Work design in the 20th century was characterized by traditional theories focusing on work motivation, well-being, and performance. Motivational and stress theories of work design were later integrated, and work characteristics were expanded to include a whole variety of task, knowledge, social, and work-context characteristics as well as demands, better reflecting contemporary jobs. In the early 21st century, relational theories flourished, focusing on the social and prosocial aspects of work. The role of work design on learning and cognition was also recognized, with benefits for creativity and performance.
Work design is affected by many factors, including individual traits, organizational factors, national factors, and global factors. Managers may impact employees’ work design “top-down” by changing policies and procedures, while individuals may change their own work design “bottom-up” through “job crafting.”
In the contemporary era, technology and societal factors play an important role in how work is changing. Information and communication technology has enabled remote working and collaboration across time and space, with positive implications for efficiency and flexibility, but potentially also increasing close monitoring and isolation. Automation has led to daily interaction with technologies like robots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, which can influence autonomy, job complexity, social interaction, and job demands in different ways, ultimately impacting how motivating jobs are.
Given the rapidly changing nature of work, it is critical that managers and organizations adopt a human-centered approach to designing work, with managers sensitive to the positive and negative implications of contemporary work on employees’ work design, well-being, and performance. Further research is needed to understand the multitude of multilevel factors influencing work design, how work can be redesigned to optimize technology and worker motivation, and the shorter- and longer-term processes linking work design to under-researched outcomes like identity, cognition, and learning. Overall, the aim is to create high-quality contemporary work in which all individuals can thrive.
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