Is job design the root of employee disengagement?

Is job design the root of employee disengagement?

I’ve learned a lot from Ted talks over the years and after a gap of a few months I’m back into my #TedTalkEveryday routine. Last week I stumbled upon an interesting talk about job design which really got me thinking:

Is poor job design the root of employee disengagement?

As you’d expect I spend a lot of my time with my colleagues thinking and doing things about employee engagement. When I’m not working on employee communications and employee recognition at Reward Gateway,  I’m talking to and listening to leading employers discuss their employee communications, engagement issues and opportunities, or I’m speaking at some event on the things that can be done to help.

But if I’m honest I haven’t thought enough about the root cause of one of they key issues that causes disengagement and that is one of job design.

When we think about bad job design we often think of jobs that we wouldn’t want to do ourselves. So we might think of jobs that are dirty, hard work, have unsociable hours or even have an element of danger about them. But actually many people in those jobs can be highly engaged and can love what they do.

Dangerous jobs can be very exciting. High pressured jobs can be very rewarding. So what is it about a job that makes it a bad job? How do you know you have a problem with job design?

Are there attributes of job design that create disengaged employees?

Psychologist Barry Schwartz thinks so. In his nine-minute Ted talk called “The way we think about work is broken” (yes you have got time to watch it – go on)  he discusses how job design is the root of employee disengagement.

He asks the fundamental question, “Why do we work?” – and we know it’s not just for the money. For many of the people I meet in HR and wider business, we do work that is challenging, engaging, stimulating and meaningful or even sometimes important. We know we wouldn’t work if we didn’t get paid but that’s not the big deal, it’s not the real reason that we work. Fundamentally we know that material rewards are not the only reason that we work.

If that is obvious to us, why have we allowed a system to exist where for many people the job design we give them has none of the characteristics of our work that get us up and out of bed each day?

We’ve created factory, call centre and dispatch centre jobs that force people to do soulless, monotonous work that has no benefit other than the amount someone is paid. Barry suggests that the godfathers of our modern economy, including Adam Smith, are to blame for creating a factory system where all of the none-material satisfactions that might come from work were eliminated.

It’s a fascinating talk – go on, give it 9 minutes.

Written by 

Glenn is an employee engagement and tech entrepreneur. He founded Reward Gateway, the HR technology company in 2006 and continues to lead it as CEO today.

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One thought on “Is job design the root of employee disengagement?

  1. Sebastian Aspland

    Actually I think that job design is only a part of the issue. If you read Fish! then you’ll find a great example of how it’s not the job you do but the way you perceive it. The bigger issue may be the way those workers are viewed and treated and much less the tasks involved in their job.

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