Organizational Wellness

How the Job Characteristics Model Can Shape Your Organization

Jul 25, 2023
Last Updated May 24, 2024

As an HR leader, you know that employee engagement and satisfaction are the keys to success for your organization. But with employees having different skills, interests, and values, it can be challenging to ensure that everyone is happy and fulfilled in their jobs — especially if they feel like their roles are getting a bit monotonous or mundane.

Enter the job characteristics model. This model, developed by organizational psychologists, emphasizes giving employees the autonomy to customize their roles to better fit their individual needs and preferences. It can help provide employees with more of a challenge, while ensuring that your company has the skills needed to match every role.

Keep reading to explore how the job characteristics model can benefit organizations and how to implement it effectively.


What is the Job Characteristics Model?

The Job Characteristics Model (JCM) is a widely accepted framework of job design introduced by J. Richard Hackman and Greg R. Oldham in the 1970s. The model encapsulates five core job characteristics (Skill Variety, Task Identity, Task Significance, Autonomy, and Feedback) which interact to influence three psychological states, ultimately impacting work outcomes. The primary purpose of JCM is to identify how job tasks can be structured to improve the quality of work and, in turn, enhance employee satisfaction and productivity. 

According to the model, jobs that are high in the five core characteristics stimulate three critical psychological states in employees: experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility for work outcomes, and knowledge of the results of their work. These psychological states lead to positive work outcomes for both employees and the organization, such as job satisfaction and low employee absenteeism rates

When it’s applied effectively, the JCM emphasizes the pivotal role of job design in creating meaningful and satisfying work, leading to enhanced performance and development for teams and individuals.

Five Core Job Characteristics

The Job Characteristics Model (JCM) identifies five critical job characteristics that can significantly influence an employee's motivation, satisfaction, and performance. Here's a closer look at these characteristics:

  1. Skill Variety

This refers to the range and complexity of skills and talents required to perform a job. Jobs that demand a wide array of skills tend to be more satisfying and stimulating. Encouraging skill variety can also prevent job monotony and keep employees engaged and challenged.

  1. Task Identity

This characteristic pertains to the degree to which a job requires completion of an entire piece of work, rather than one small piece of it. When employees can identify with a task from beginning to end and see the tangible results of their work, it enhances their sense of accomplishment and pride.

  1. Task Significance 

Task significance denotes the extent to which the job impacts the lives of others, within or outside the organization. Jobs with high task significance tend to give employees a sense of purpose and meaning, thereby improving job satisfaction and motivation.

  1. Autonomy

This implies the degree of freedom, independence, and discretion an employee has in scheduling work and determining procedures. Higher autonomy often leads to employees feeling more in control and responsible for their work outcomes, fostering intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction.

  1. Feedback

This characteristic reflects how much employees are informed about their performance. Regular and constructive feedback helps employees understand how effectively they're working and areas that require improvement. Feedback is crucial for continuous learning, improvement, and a sense of achievement.

Benefits of the Job Characteristics Model

Utilizing the Job Characteristics Model (JCM) can yield numerous advantages for organizations across various industries. Some of the key benefits include:

Enhanced Employee Motivation

By focusing on the core job characteristics, organizations can create jobs that stimulate intrinsic motivation. Employees find their work meaningful and interesting, leading to increased motivation and job satisfaction.

Improved Job Satisfaction

The JCM provides guidelines to design jobs in a way that enhances employees' sense of accomplishment and impact. When employees find their work significant and identify with their tasks, it leads to greater job satisfaction.

Increased Productivity

High levels of motivation and satisfaction often result in increased productivity. Employees engaged in jobs that have a high degree of skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback are likely to be more productive.

Reduced Absenteeism and Turnover

By improving job satisfaction and motivation, the JCM can help organizations reduce absenteeism and turnover rates. Satisfied and motivated employees are less likely to leave the organization, thereby reducing recruitment and training costs.

Improved Quality of Work

With higher levels of autonomy and regular feedback, employees can continually learn and improve. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement, leading to better quality of work and customer satisfaction.

Greater Organizational Agility

Companies implementing the principles of the JCM are better equipped to respond to change. With jobs designed for skill variety and autonomy, organizations can adapt more swiftly to evolving business environments.

Drawbacks of the Job Characteristics Model

While the Job Characteristics Model (JCM) offers numerous advantages, it's essential to be mindful of its potential limitations. Here are some of the more notable drawbacks:

Individual Differences

Employees' personality traits, cultural backgrounds, and personal preferences can significantly influence their perceptions and reactions to job characteristics. But not all employees may be equally motivated by job characteristics.

Difficulty in application

Implementing the model's recommendations can be challenging. For instance, granting autonomy or incorporating skill variety may not always be feasible or appropriate, particularly in highly structured or regulated industries.

Potential for job overload

Increasing skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback could inadvertently lead to job overload. In turn, you might risk raising employees' stress levels and potentially harming their wellbeing.

How is the Job Characteristics Model Applied?

To apply the JCM at your own organization, you usually begin with a comprehensive analysis of job tasks and roles. One commonly used method for this is the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS). The JDS is a questionnaire designed by Hackman and Oldham that measures the five core job characteristics, the three critical psychological states, and personal and work outcomes. This survey aids in identifying the current state of jobs within an organization, facilitating an understanding of which characteristics may need enhancement.

Typically, each characteristic is scored based on responses to the JDS, and these scores are then used to calculate a Motivating Potential Score (MPS). The MPS provides an index of the job’s potential to foster intrinsic motivation. The formula for MPS is:

MPS = [(Skill Variety + Task Identity + Task Significance) / 3] Autonomy Feedback

Once the assessment is done, human resources leaders and managers can start to redesign jobs to enhance the core job characteristics. This might involve enriching jobs by increasing task variety, autonomy, or feedback mechanisms, depending on the assessment results. It's important to remember, however, that changes should be aligned with both the organizational goals and the needs and abilities of the individual employees, in order to support career development and growth as well.

Going Beyond Job Characteristics to Improve Employee Wellness

Applying the job characteristics model often helps increase flexibility and variety for your workforce, which is why it’s associated with things like higher employee engagement and lower absenteeism rates. But the structure of their roles isn’t the only thing that keeps employees motivated and engaged. Often, they’re looking for support from employers outside of the workplace, too — like when it comes to their health and wellbeing.

In fact, companies who invest in wellbeing strategies are nearly 11 times as likely to see reduced absenteeism rates, six times as likely to recruit new talent, and more than three times as likely to keep their teams engaged. Wellness makes a difference to employees, just as much — and perhaps more than — their job characteristics do.

By designing a robust and rewarding wellness program for your employees, you can help support them in all areas of their health and fitness. Whether it’s a new gym membership, a nutrition or meditation class, or financial wellness tips, there are lots of ways to provide your team with wellness resources. Learn more by speaking to one of our Wellbeing Specialists!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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