Publication Date01 Feb 1973
AuthorS. Mills
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour
Review Article
Industrial sociologists and psychologists have often paid
little more than scant attention to the actual work of the
people they have been studying. The literature is full of
brief comments about the work situation which lack both
data and an analytical framework. This deficiency is
surprising. Work content has been shown to have a
significant impact on behaviour, morale, and productivity
in the workplace. The purpose of job design research is to
seek to understand this relationship more clearly and then
to use research-based insights to create jobs which are more
satisfying to perform, and more efficient in performance.
As such this body of knowledge should be a subject of
particular relevance for personnel specialists since job
content considerations should affect recruitment, training,
placement and effort-reward policies. However, although
job content has very wide repercussions for the personnel
job design is frequently left by default to the technical
and engineering specialists, who seek to make their work
system function effectively in production rather than
human terms.
One objective of this review article is to suggest that this
abdication of responsibility is unnecessary and misguided.
There are now a number of ways of designing jobs which
can be used to fit the work that people do more closely to
their demonstrable social and psychological needs as human
beings. The second objective of this review is to provide a
general backcloth for the other more specialized articles on
job design in this issue.
Our starting point will be the question 'What
job design?'
We will define it in terms of a four-level paradigm where
each level contributes its particular perspective to building
job designs. Job design schools have arisen around three of
those four levels. Davis and Taylor in their recent major
collection of writings on job design denoted these three
schools as follows: 'task and job rationalization', 'job
content design', and 'role content design' [1]. The work of
each of these schools will be surveyed. We will conclude by
making a number of general criticisms of current job design
What is Job Design?
To understand what job design is we have first to clarify the
components of a work system. These are as follows:
(a) People
those employed in an organization;
(b) Technology
buildings, machines, procedures;
(c) Materials
the physical substances or information
symbols on which a work system acts.
The way these three components are combined maps out
the required activities of the work system. Meissner [2]
categorized these required or non-discretionary activities
into a simple typology: they are either the conversion of
materials from one state to another or the transfer of these
materials from one place to another. These conversion or
transmission operations and activities are undertaken by
men or machines independently or else by man-machine
cooperation [3]. The possible job design alternatives in a
given situation are constrained by the available man or
man-machine operations. These designs may be more or less
advisable according to the criteria of the three schools
whose work will be reviewed later.
It is possible to construct a four-level paradigm for building
job designs. This has four levels which are not mutually
exclusive: the questions raised or the decisions made at one
level carry through to other levels. The first fundamental
level is that of man/machine allocation. This involves
choosing between the use of a man or a machine compo-
nent for each part of the work system. In his paper on

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