“Job Enrichment is just a Fancy Name for Employee Exploitation”- Is it a Correct Statement?

Job enrichment is operationalised with job descriptions and job specifications.  Badly written job descriptions and job specifications restrict management’s freedom to make changes in job tasks, duties and responsibilities; and assign work to employees.  Claims of employee exploitation will usually come from trade unions.  To avoid industrial disputes with trade unions, it is critical that job descriptions and job specifications be clear, concise and understandable.  This is particularly so with jobs that have A,B,C, classifications.  Such jobs must be carefully distinguished by job title and clearly involve different job content and job requirements.  Where ABC type classifications have developed for ‘historical’ reasons it is essential that a thorough job analysis be conducted to ensure that more than one level of the job actually exits.  If this is not done, claims for “higher duties” payments or upgrade to a higher classification are likely to be an ongoing source of grievances.  Precise job descriptions cannot overcome incompetent management or inadequate wage and salary administration but they do help.

Job analysts or HR Managers preparing job descriptions subject to award or contract negotiation can minimise risk of disputes by paying attention to the following;

  • Job descriptions and job specifications for higher level jobs should include only job content and job requirements which reflect the highest level of difficulty encountered by job holders on a regular and consistent basis.
  • Job descriptions and job specifications for jobs at each level should only use terms and definitions which have the complete agreement and common understanding of employees, union representatives, supervisors and managers.
  • Job description language should be kept clear and simple to avoid the union argument that the job sounds “difficult to do”.
  • Job descriptions should be concise.  Long job descriptions allow the union to argue “if the employee has to do ALL this…”

Job enrichment involves making basic changes in job content and level of responsibility.  Through vertical loading the employee is given the opportunity to experience greater achievement, recognition, responsibility and personal growth and through horizontal loading the complexity of work is increased to promote interest.  Job enrichment thus builds motivating factors into the job content by

  • Combining tasks – factionalised tasks are combined to increase skill variety and task identity.
  • Creating natural work units – the job is changed so that the employee is responsible for or “owns” an identifiable body of work so that he will view his work as important and meaningful rather than irrelevant and boring.
  • Establishing client relationships – wherever possible a direct relationship is established between the employee and her client (ie. the user of the product or service that the employee produces).
  • Expanding jobs vertically – vertical loading gives employees responsibilities and control formerly reserved for higher level positions.  It seeks to close the gap between the “doing” and the “controlling” aspects of the job and thus increase employee autonomy.

The above elements of job enrichment all sound like they are giving the worker more to do, without any commensurate increase in remuneration.  This can lead to claims of exploitation.

Job enrichment clearly is not for everyone.  To avoid claims of exploitation, and to minimise the risk of industrial disputation arising from the implementation of job enrichment, management should consider the following:

  • The existing level of  discontentment among employees.
  • The economic and technical feasibility of job enrichment.
  • Whether there is a natural unit of work.
  • Whether the employee can be given control over the job.
  • The employees’ perceptions about the meaningfulness of the job to society.
  • Whether there is a reward to the employee for assuming increased responsibility.
  • If performance feedback can be given.
  • If  there is some form of consumer identification.
  • Whether management style is compatible with job enrichment.
  • If the employees want enriched jobs.
  • If  there is union opposition to job enrichment.
  • If the jobs are easy to enrich.
  • Whether motivation is central to the problem.
  • If the compensation benefits and working conditions are satisfactory.

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