How to Design Jobs That Drive Motivation

How to Design Jobs That Drive Motivation

According to Crabtree (2013, para. 2), “the bulk of employees worldwide, i.e., 63% are not engaged, and 24% are actively disengaged, which translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers” because of insufficient motivation.  Some people may assume the most powerful motivators at work are external factors (e.g., health benefits package, salary, retirement package).  Indeed, external motivators attract and drive an employee, but internal motives, per Crabtree’s report and Peng et al. (2015), maintain employee motivation, job satisfaction, and job commitment.  Based on the cognitive dissonance theory, coined by Festinger (1957), individuals who have unfulfilled internal motives will experience a feeling of distress that may alter their attitude (i.e., cognition, emotion, and behavior) in the workplace (Maio &Haddock, 2015; McKimmie, 2015; Vandeveer & Menefee, 2010).  Therefore, when an employee is displeased with the job, he/she may produce either one or both of the following reactions: passive or active, constructive or destructive (Vandeveer & Menefee, 2010).  For example, a passive and constructive behavior is when an employee stays faithful to the organization, regardless of the low level of job satisfaction, opposed to an employee who acts passively and destructively.  A passive and destructive behavior, the employee would neglect the job by doing the minimum.  Finally, an employee who has an active but destructive behavior would leave the organization (Vandeveer & Menefee, 2010).

So, what could organizational leaders do to improve intrinsic motivation?  Since job satisfaction is not easy to measure, organizational leaders could support and maintain intrinsic drives and the quality of work motivation by properly designing jobs that are engaging, satisfying, and promoting to workers’ psychological needs (Barrick, Mount, & Li, 2013; Maio & Haddock, 2015; Trépanier, Forest, Fernet, & Austin, 2015; Vandeveer & Menefee, 2010).  Barrick et al. (2013) and Trépanier et al. (2015) both integrated the job characteristics model, advocated by Hackman and Oldham (1976), as one of the most instrumental components in designing jobs that increase intrinsic motivational properties (i.e., reward cues or incentive stimuli) (Jeffrey & Shaffer, 2007; Meyer, Cogan, & Robinson, 2014).  The job characteristics model incorporates five core job dimensions (i.e., skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback) leading to three significant psychological states (i.e., meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge of results), which lead to work-related outcomes (increased satisfaction, increased performance, increased productivity, improved intrinsic motivation, and lower absenteeism) (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).  The model identifies the conditions under which an employee will be intrinsically motivated to complete the job successfully. For example, if skill variety, task identity, and task significance dimensions are high, there is a strong possibility the employee will experience meaningfulness of his/her work, resulting in high intrinsic work-related motivation.  Also, when the job provides a degree of autonomy or independence to the employee in determining task procedure, there will be an increase in dependability, resulting in growth satisfaction and job satisfaction.  Finally, pivotal feedback from managers regarding an employee’s work performance will not only improve his/her job performance but boost his/her self-esteem, resulting in high work effectiveness. 

Hackman and Oldham (1976) asserted the connection between the job characteristics and psychological states depends on the person’s growth needs.  Likewise, the association between psychological states and work-related outcomes depends on the person’s growth needs (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).  Peng et al. (2015) and Thory (2016) mentioned the psychological state “meaningfulness” is essential to the job designing process as well as influential on employees’ attitudes, behaviors, and organizational consequences.  Besides, attitudes are critical factors that stimulate an employees’ actions.  Although it is important for leaders to design jobs which strengthen an employee's psychological states, they should not overlook the five core dimensions that make up a job.  Last, organizational leaders should understand changes to the job design may not motivate all employees, but may change their perceptions about the job.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How can I/O psychologists design jobs that drive motivation?
  • How are all five core job characteristics tangible features of a job?



Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Li, N. (2013). The theory of purposeful work behavior: The role of personality, higher-order goals, and job characteristics. Academy of Management Review, 38(1), 132-153. doi:10.5465/amr.2010.0479

Crabtree, S. (2013). Worldwide, 13% of employees are engaged at work. Retrieved from

Hackman, J. R, & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through design of work – Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 250-279. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(76)90016-7

Jeffrey, S. A., & Shaffer, V. (2007). The motivational properties of tangible incentives. Compensation and Benefits Review, 39(3), 44-50. doi:10.1177/0886368707302528

Peng, A. C., Lin, H., Schaubroeck, J., McDonough, E. F., Hu, B., & Zhang, A. (2015). CEO intellectual stimulation and employee work meaningfulness. Group & Organization Management, 41(2), 203-231. doi:10.1177/1059601115592982

Maio, G., & Haddock, G. (2015). The Psychology of attitudes and attitude change (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

McKimmie, B. M. (2015). Cognitive dissonance in groups. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(4), 202-212. doi:10.1111/spc3.12167

Meyer, P. J., Cogan, E. S., & Robinson, T. E. (2014). The form of a conditioned stimulus can influence the degree to which it acquires incentive motivational properties. PLoS One, 9(6), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098163

Thory, K. (2016). Developing meaningfulness at work through emotional intelligence training. International Journal of Training & Development, 20(1), 58-77. doi:10.1111/ijtd.12069

Trépanier, S., Forest, J., Fernet, C., & Austin, S. (2015). On the psychological and motivational processes linking job characteristics to employee functioning: Insights from self-determination theory. Work & Stress, 29(3), 286-305. doi:10.1080/02678373.2015.1074957

Vandeveer, R. C., & Menefee, M. L. (2010). Human behavior in organizations (2nd ed.). Upper  Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


Dorothy Williams's picture Dorothy Williams | July 7, 2017 7:03 pm MST
I am the founder and Senior Consultant for Life Foundation Consulting Firm. For many years, I have used the survey of personal values model to design motivation for an employer-employee relationship. Understanding personal values help the I-O practitioner find out what is important by taking a Personal Values Assessment. Who you are, what you hold dear, what upsets you, and what underlies your decisions, are all connected to your values. Values reflect what is important to you. They are a shorthand way of describing your motivations. Together with your beliefs, they are the causal factors that drive your decision-making. According to McCarthy & Shrun (2000), theory and research indicate that values constitute a core dimension of human functioning, they play an influential role in interpersonal situations, and they may affect an individual’s behaviors without his or her awareness of their impact. Therefore, genetic counselors bring their values into genetic counseling sessions at least to some degree. Although values are neither intrinsically right nor wrong, they may have unintended consequences if not acknowledged by genetic counselors. As an I-O practitioner, I believe in personal values to help motivation.
McCarty, J. A., & Shrum, L. J. (2000). The measurement of personal values in survey research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64(3), 271-298. doi./10.1086/317989


Simona Parker's picture Simona Parker | July 16, 2017 8:49 am MST

Based on personal experience, many employers do not offer enough support for their subordinates.  Instead, leaders micromanange and impose the lean organizational structure on their subordinate employees who often do not have proper job training or preparation for the new positions assigned to them.  My current employer, for example, started my group with three days of training.  Day one consisted of completing the needed paperwork, i.e. tax forms, payroll, legal disclosures, and miscelleneous papers to allow us ownership of company properties.  During day two, we reviewed various short films: sexual harrassment, company policies, and other informational videos.  We ended day two by reviewing the first paragraph of a script with five minutes of role play.  By day three, we were expected to work with no support or training.  We were expected to approach clients with no knowledge of the product we offered.  To date, we are expected to perform above average with no job training or face termination.  To that end, employees have been leaving the company after only two days of employment.  I had similar experiences with employers before my current organization.  I do realize there are employers who do offer job training, however, my research supported the lack of job training across the United States.  As I reflect on my experiences in the workforce, I believe the best way to design jobs that drive motivation is to start with the subordinate employees.  Allow the employees an opportunity to share their thoughts whether it is upfront or annonymously, and they will respond favorably based on past observations.  A lack of job training can lead to boredom and boredom is one of the biggest reasons employees become disengaged.  The five core job characteristics mean nothing if employees are unprepared and feel unable to approach their leaders.  Knowing what to expect and how I can fulfill my employer's expectations will keep me engaged, especially if I know I can rely on support from my leader or manager when needed.  If employers could somehow incorporate the five job core characteristics with the needed training and support employees need, then motivation would probably not be a concern.    

Imena R. Johnson's picture Imena R. Johnson | July 19, 2017 1:03 pm MST


Hi Simona,

Thank you for showing interest in my article.

It sounds like you are experiencing an organizational germ of inadequate training, which could create future problems for the organization.  When there is insufficient training, employees like you may not understand how to perform their jobs efficiently.  Inadequate training could lead to little confidence among employees, which results in a reduction of extrinsic motivation and an increase in workers turnover.  I attended a conference last week and one interesting topic discussed was on the common obstacles that paralyze people (employees) growth.  I learned there are five common obstacles:

1.    Pathing issues;

2.    Nonparticipation from the managers/employees;

3.    Employees don’t score their day-to-day work as progress in their growth;

4.    Employees not getting pivotal feedback; and

5.    Employees lack the relationship with good organizational role models/mentors.

I think the organization you work for should start creating a learning culture where employees become more proactive, in turn, contributing more to the organization.



Dorothy Williams's picture Dorothy Williams | July 19, 2017 8:54 pm MST

Imena asked, "How are all five core job characteristics tangible features of a job?" "The job characteristics model incorporates five core job dimensions (i.e., skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback) leading to three significant psychological states (i.e., meaningfulness, responsibility, and knowledge of results), which lead to work-related outcomes (increased satisfaction, increased performance, increased productivity, improved intrinsic, and lower absenteeism) (Hackman & Oldham, 1976)."  

I believe that to the degree to which the job holder experiences the work is intrinsically meaningful. The five core job characteristics tangible features can present job dimensions and add value to employees or the external environment. The degree to which the worker feels he or she is accountable and responsible for the results of the work is relevant. The extent to which the job holder knows how well he or she is performing is essential to job enrichment. 


Hackman, J. R, & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through design of work – Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 250-279. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(76)90016-7

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Imena Johnson

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Imena R. Johnson
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