• Fraser Harper

Productivity…a task level view: work organisation and job design

“Gaining better understanding of the relationship between skills utilisation and skills development is important because skills development in the workplace is a worldwide phenomenon with a real impact on productivity.1

The skills development process is a continuous one covering the acquisition and initial practice of skills within a training setting and then their transfer to a workplace and their subsequent refinement with further, and repeated practice2. Knowing what skills a job holder possesses and uses is difficult to establish without making detailed observations and capturing the data in a real-time way. Fortunately, the US-developed O*NET dataset covers not just detailed occupation profiles but also listings of the very tasks performed. It is this task level data which is core to the job design process. An additional advantage of working with O*NET is the ability to link tasks with skills, knowledge, behaviour, and tools and equipment. It is, in short, a core input into any job design process and has data for over 1,000 occupations3.

There are numerous handbooks and manuals of how to undertake a job design and re-design project4 and better still, build the process into the everyday working of the organisation5. All of these manuals describe job design following a common set of principles6:

  1. Whole task: does the job seek to manage a complete task?

  2. Organisation: does the job contain enough organising tasks?

  3. Task duration/impact: are there enough non-short cycle tasks in the job?

  4. Task complexity: is there a balanced distribution of relatively easy to difficult tasks?

  5. Autonomy: does the job have enough autonomy (self-control)?

  6. Social dimension: does the job offer enough social contact?

  7. Information access: is there enough information available?

These principles can be applied to the main focuses of job design:

  1. job rotation (boredom reduction)

  2. job enrichment (responsibility growth)

  3. job enlargement (extend towards whole task completion and delivery)

  4. job simplification (reduce to small sub-parts).

Using O*NET data is an excellent way to accelerate the process by providing a comprehensive task list which can be modified to match with local circumstances. In addition, the O*NET task data are scaled and weighted as regards their significance, level and associated ‘learning requirement’. Taken together, this means the task data can be re-aggregated to develop a series of new, potentially hybrid roles better suited (and more effective) to managing a changing process with changing skills requirements.


  1. Russo, G. (2016) Job design and skill development in the workplace. IZA Discussion Paper No 10207. IZA, Bonn. 32 pages

  2. Sennett, R. (2008) The Craftsman. Penguin Allen Lane. 336 pagesHillage, J.; Cross, M. (2015) Exploring the value of an O*NET resource for the UK. Gatsby Foundation, London. 17 pages

  3. Dunphy, D.C. (no date) Participative Work Design. Employee Participation Training Series Module 5. Working Environment Branch, Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, Canberra, Australia. 450 pages; Dhondt, S.; Vaas, S. (2001) WEBA Analysis Manual. TNO Work and Employment, Hoofddorp; Lansbury, R.D.; Prideaux, G. J. (1980) Job Design. Human Relations Branch, Department of Productivity, Canberra, Australia.

  4. Cross, M. (1990) Changing Job Structures. Techniques for the design of new jobs and organisations. Heinemann Newnes. 355 pages; Grant, A.M., Fried, Y. and Juillerat, T. (2011) “Work matters: job design in classic and contemporary perspectives”, Chapter 13, 417-453, in Zedeck, S. (Ed) APA Handbooks in Psychology. APA Handbook of Industrial and Organisational Psychology. Volume 1. Building and Developing the Organisation. Washington, DC, USA: American Psychological Association

  5. Totterdill, P. (no date) Job Design. The UK’s Work and Organisation Network, Nottingham Trent University. 7 pages

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