Why are jobs designed the way they are?

Jobs, Training, and Worker Well-being

ISBN: 978-1-84950-766-0, eISBN: 978-1-84950-767-7

ISSN: 0147-9121

Publication date: 21 April 2010


In this chapter we study job design. Do organizations plan precisely how the job is to be done ex ante, or ask workers to determine the process as they go? We first model this decision and predict complementarity among these following job attributes: multitasking, discretion, skills, and interdependence of tasks. We argue that characteristics of the firm and industry (e.g., product and technology, organizational change) can explain observed patterns and trends in job design. We then use novel data on these job attributes to examine these issues. As predicted, job designs tend to be “coherent” across these attributes within the same job. Job designs also tend to follow similar patterns across jobs in the same firm, and especially in the same establishment: when one job is optimized ex ante, others are more likely to be also. There is evidence that firms segregate different types of job designs across different establishments. At the industry level, both computer usage and R&D spending are related to job design decisions.


Gibbs, M., Levenson, A. and Zoghi, C. (2010), "Why are jobs designed the way they are?", Polachek, S.W. and Tatsiramos, K. (Ed.) Jobs, Training, and Worker Well-being (Research in Labor Economics, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 107-154. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0147-9121(2010)0000030007

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