Encyclopedia of Human Resource Management
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Encyclopedia of Human Resource Management

Edited by Adrian Wilkinson and Stewart Johnstone

The Encyclopedia of Human Resource Management is an authoritative and comprehensive reference resource with over 400 entries on core HR areas and key concepts. From age discrimination, to zero hours contracts, each entry reflects the views of an expert and authoritative author.
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Job enrichment

Sharon K. Parker and Joseph A. Carpini

Job enrichment is a type of job ‘redesign’ (see ‘Job design’ in this volume) initially derived from Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory. It refers to building into jobs ‘greater scope for personal achievement and its recognition, more challenging and responsible work, and more opportunity for individual advancement and growth’ (Paul et al., 1969, p. 234p.835). Job enrichment involves the vertical expansion of jobs and especially includes greater job autonomy, whereas job enlargement involves the horizontal expansion of jobs in which the range of tasks is broadened.

The Job Characteristics Model is the main theory that underpins job enrichment. This theory suggests that, by increasing skill variety, task identity and task significance, feelings of meaningfulness are fostered; while augmented perceptions of responsibility are achieved by increasing employee autonomy, and an increase in job-related feedback promotes employees’ knowledge of the results of work, thus increasing the motivational potential of the job.

Research on job enrichment as a form of job redesign was highly prevalent in the 1970s. Although there is meta-analytic evidence that enriching (or motivating) work characteristics such as autonomy positively predict many outcomes, mostly through enhancing meaningfulness, research is more mixed when it comes to demonstrating positive change as a result of job enrichment interventions. The evidence is most consistent for attitudes like job satisfaction and commitment and beliefs like self-efficacy (Parker, 1998), but is inconsistent when it comes to performance (Kelly, 1992; Yan et al., 2011).

In part, inconsistent outcomes might reflect the challenges involved in implementing work redesign (Locke et al., 1976). Performance effects might also depend on contingencies such as job incumbent personality (e.g., their growth need strength), task and job type, and organizational and national culture. For example, in a Chinese high-tech organization, job enrichment increased job satisfaction and task performance for knowledge workers but this was not so for manual workers (Yan et al., 2011). The authors argued that manual workers might perceive enrichment as an obstacle or additional stressor.

Time lags might also play a role in explaining mixed performance effects. In a study of fundraising callers, the amount of pledges earned more than doubled following a task significance intervention (see Grant et al., 2011); whereas the positive performance effects of a more multifaceted job enrichment initiative involving bank tellers were only evident after several months (Griffin, 1991).

Job enrichment can apply at the group level in the form of self-managed teams or autonomous work groups. As with individual job enrichment, organizational/occupational context can mitigate the effects. For example, the introduction of self-managed teams had a positive effect on performance, attitudes and behaviours in government administrative staff; however, these results were not fully replicated and in some cases were negative in a military sample (Langfred, 2000).

There is evidence that an optimal level of job enrichment exists. For example, Xie and Johns (1995) demonstrated that jobs can be ‘too rich’, with associated role overload and strain, while Fried and colleagues (2013) demonstrated that jobs that are both ‘not rich enough’ or ‘too rich’ increased obesity rates, which the authors argue is due to employee experiences of stress. Job enrichment can also support professional and skill development.

References and selected further readings

  • FriedY.G.A. LaurenceA. ShiromS. MelamedS. TokerS. Berliner and I. Shapira (2013) The relationship between job enrichment and abdominal obesity: a longitudinal field study of apparently healthy individualsJournal of Occupational Health Psychology18(4) pp. 458468.

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  • GrantA.M.Y. Fried and T. Juillerat (2011) Work matters: job design in classic and contemporary perspectives in S. Zedeck (ed.) APA Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology Vol. 1Washington, DC: American Psychological Association pp. 417453.

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  • GriffinR.W. (1991) Effects of work redesign on employee perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors: a long-term investigationThe Academy of Management Journal34(2) pp.425435.

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  • KellyJ. (1992) Does job re-design theory explain job re-design outcomes? Human Relations45(9) pp. 753774.

  • LangfredC.W. (2000) The paradox of self-management: individual and group autonomy in work groupsJournal of Organizational Behavior21(5) pp.563585.

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  • LockeE.A.D. Sirota and A.D. Wolfson (1976) An experimental case study of the successes and failures of job enrichment in a government agencyJournal of Applied Psychology61(6) pp.701711.

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  • ParkerS.K. (1998) Enhancing role breadth self-efficacy: the roles of job enrichment and other organizational interventionsJournal of Applied Psychology83(6) pp. 835852.

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  • PaulW.J.K.B. Robertson and F. Herzberg (1969) Job enrichment pays offHarvard Business Review47(2) pp. 6778.

  • XieJ.L. and G. Johns (1995) Job scope and stress: can job scope be too high? Academy of Management Journal38(5) pp.12881309.

  • YanM.K.Z. Peng and A.M. Francesco (2011) The differential effects of job design on knowledge workers and manual workers: a quasi-experimental field study in ChinaHuman Resource Management50(3) pp. 407424.

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