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The Importance of Work Design

We all know that there is a strong link between how we feel about our job and how we think about the organization we work for. Our job is a source of social identity and, as such, making it meaningful and linked to a brooder purpose (eg organisational strategy and goals) can be a key source of motivation. When that is missing, disillusionment and disengagement follows.

Work design is an often neglected managerial task that can make or break organisations. This may involve visualising the various tasks that need to be performed by a given individual or team and how they fit together. Our brains need structure and predictability, not uncertainty and confusion.

Another dimension of work design relates to regulating the volume of work handled and the resource support needed. Doing this the right way can avert burnout. There is no more frustrating juggling act than to try to move forward on a number of critical tasks, without proper plans or structures and not enough resources or people to do them. Burnout can be demoralising and can activate a vicious cycle of negativity and crisis management.

For those of us who have managed large knowledge-driven organisations, the realisation sets in (sooner or later) that workers respond best—and most effectively—not when they are tightly controlled in narrowly defined jobs, but when they are shown trust through broader responsibilities, active encouragement to contribute, and seeing a link between their job and a broader purpose. And the purposeful application of certain principles is a two-way street. "Job crafting" as it is referred to in the literature is often most effective when the employee actively participates in (or even drives) the re-design process

So, work design is important and managers as well as employees need to acquire the knowledge skills to do it properly. They can't just "wing it". The organisation's success depends on it.

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