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Job characteristics model: A key to employee motivation


How many people do you know that are bored and unfulfilled by their jobs? Chances are, you’ll know at least one who is always complaining about their role and how unmotivated they feel. 

This lack of motivation has a big impact. A demotivated employee not only tends to produce less work, but their work is more sloppy and error-prone. It can also affect the overall team, creating a negative atmosphere. Demotivated staff are usually absent or late more often, which can cause resentment among other workers when they end up doing more work to make up for it.

What’s the solution? 

Although there’s no one quick fix for this, it’s worth looking at the job characteristics model to see if there are ways to improve and enrich a job role so that employees feel more stretched and fulfilled in it. 

In this article, we’ll look at signs of employee demotivation and how the Hackman and Oldham job characteristics model can be the key to unlocking fresh motivation. We’ll also show you how our innovative Motivation test can help you discover well-motivated candidates.

Lack of employee motivation: Reasons and warning signs

What are the reasons your employees become demotivated? There are some situations that employers have no control over, such as problems in their personal lives, but it pays to be aware of the reasons for unmotivated employees so you can offer assistance

These include:

  • Boredom

  • Lack of confidence in management

  • Heavy workload

  • Unsuitable working environment

  • Lack of career progression

  • Feeling under-appreciated

  • Personal issues, such as family illness, bereavement, or financial worries

How can you tell if employees are suffering from a lack of motivation? There are a few tell-tale signs, including:

  • Often arriving late to work or taking more time to start work

  • Changes in mood towards colleagues

  • Increased absence

  • Lack of focus

  • Inappropriate or negative comments

  • Stops contributing to team meetings

  • Increasing reluctance to do more than the bare minimum of work

What is the job characteristics theory?

The job characteristics model is based on Hackman and Oldham’s theory that enriching jobs in different ways would boost employee motivation. A boring, monotonous job with few challenges has a negative effect on staff motivation, so Hackman and Oldham decided to research ways to change this through work redesign.

The job characteristics model specifies five characteristics that will positively impact an employee’s psychological state and job results. In a nutshell, this model specifies the conditions under which workers will be internally motivated to do their jobs well.

Hackman and Oldham job characteristics model

The job characteristics model was verified when Hackman and Oldham tested it on a wide range of employees working in varied jobs in different businesses or organizations. The results of their study were found to be reliable and conclusive, which is why this model is still highly regarded today, despite other job design theories being introduced.

The five core job characteristics

According to Hackman and Oldham, there are five job dimensions or characteristics.

1. Skill variety

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and it’s no different at work. 

This area looks at the number of skills and talents the job requires. Is the role monotonous and repetitive, or does the worker get to do a number of different tasks or actions?

For example, let’s say that job X is undemanding, with the tasks being done in a routine and repetitive manner. It does not require much skill or ability from the employee. On the other hand, Job Y is more complex, requiring the worker to have several different skills to do it effectively. Which of the two workers will have a greater chance of being fulfilled and happy in their jobs?

If you guessed the one working on job Y, congratulations! The wider variety of skills needed for job Y means that the employee is more engaged.

2. Task identity

Is there a beginning, middle, and end to a task? Does it have a visible outcome? Workers often find more job satisfaction when they can clearly define and work on an entire process instead of doing just parts of it. 

Say that you have two employees involved in the same work process. Worker A is responsible for the first phase of the work, which is a small part. Worker B has, however, worked on the entire process from start to finish.

Worker B will probably enjoy and find their job fulfilling because they feel more involved in completing the project and have produced a clear outcome. Worker A doesn’t have much skin in the game and may not even be aware that the project has been finished as they focused only on their assigned stage of the process. 

3. Task significance

This area looks at a task or job’s impact on the entire company or the customers.  Jobs with higher task significance often have a broader reach. The task or job is considered significant if it can have an effect on other people’s lives – even those outside the organization.

For many, a job is considered more meaningful if it can help improve the well-being of others. That could be physically, psychologically, or emotionally. When employees know that their job (and how well they do it) has the capacity to have an impact on others, it often motivates them further.

4. Autonomy

How much independence does a particular job have? Does a manager oversee every detail, or is the employee given a good level of trust to complete tasks themselves? More task autonomy gives staff a feeling of ownership and responsibility, while lower levels of autonomy can lead to feeling micromanaged and not being trusted to do a good job.

Autonomy is often seen in manager and supervisor roles. These jobs tend to become more meaningful to the employee because they feel a more personal responsibility for their own actions at work.

However, it’s not limited to people in managerial positions. Even entry-level workers can have a strong sense of personal responsibility if they are left to do their jobs using their own efforts, initiatives, and decision-making capabilities.

They will definitely feel less autonomy if they are made instead to closely follow the instructions of a supervisor, or strictly follow a job procedures manual. This doesn’t help them to take ownership of their role and can lead to frustration. 

5. Feedback

Feedback is an important way of letting workers know how well they perform their roles and how they can improve. In fact, 75% of employees state that feedback is extremely useful, but only 30% actually receive regular feedback. Feedback can come from channels such as manager feedback and customer satisfaction surveys. Or, it can come as a natural result of the work done. 

For example, part of a cleaner’s job is to sweep and mop the floor. All they need to do is look at their finished work to know how well they did it, but someone who works on a manufacturing line probably doesn’t realize if they are doing a good job until someone else checks their work. 

Most employees like being told how well they are doing their jobs through feedback. This not only keeps them aware of their progress but is also a way to boost their self-esteem

If they are told by their supervisors or managers that they are doing a good job, they are more likely to feel motivated to continue working in the same manner. In contrast, if they are told that they are not performing as well as expected, they will (hopefully) respond accordingly and improve their performance.

Psychological states and work outcomes

Don’t worry, we’re not going to get overly scientific here; it’s just a quick explainer of the three psychological states as described by the Hackman and Oldham job characteristics model and how that affects work outcomes.

Experienced meaningfulness 

When an employee feels that they have accomplished something of value, meaningfulness is the result. They should feel that their work is meaningful and that what they do in the role is generally worthwhile or of value

Experienced responsibility for outcomes

If you give an employee more autonomy over their tasks, they feel more ownership over their work. Depending on the decisions made by the worker, they are the ones responsible for the results, whether it is a success or a failure.

Knowledge of the actual results

In larger companies or siloed organizations, employees often find it difficult to see the results and clear outcomes of their work. With good task identity and feedback, an employee can see their impact on the organization as a whole.

Work outcomes

This area looks at the positive outcomes of applying the Hackman and Oldham job characteristics model to roles:

Internal work motivation 

Employees whose jobs have been optimized under the job characteristics model tend to feel responsible for their work and find it more meaningful. This means their internal motivation to do the job increases.

Job satisfaction

Job satisfaction increases when workers experience autonomy, receive meaningful and timely performance feedback, and feel that their work matters. This, in turn, leads to improved work performance.

Work performance

This outcome focuses on the overall quality of how well the work was performed. Good performance means the work was high-quality, effective, efficient, and hit the desired targets. Evaluating and optimizing jobs for each category helps to improve performance. 

Low absenteeism rate and turnover 

This one is probably an obvious outcome of having motivated and happy employees. They are more likely to turn up for work each day and much less likely to look for another job. Low staff turnover also improves an organization’s bottom line and boosts your team’s morale.

Quality and quantity of work

Applying the job characteristic model to your organization can increase both the quality and quantity of work produced, as well as employee satisfaction.

How to put the job characteristics model into practice

Theories like the job characteristics model sound great on paper, but how do you put them into practice in the real world? 

It all depends on the size and scope of your organization, but we have a few questions you can ask yourself about revamping job roles and tasks to keep motivation high:

  • Can tasks be combined to give variety?

  • Are there tasks that can be separated and divided among employees?

  • Are your employees siloed? Is it working? Or could an increase in variety, autonomy, and task significance be better for your team instead of working solely on one thing? 

  • Are there employee growth opportunities? If not, what tasks can you add to increase skills?

  • Are you providing regular feedback? 

How to evaluate candidates with our Motivation test

Hopefully, our explainer of the job characteristics model has increased your understanding of employee motivation (or lack of) and how important it is to have happy, fulfilled employees. 

Skills can often be taught, but motivation is an innate characteristic and tends not to change very much over time. That’s why it’s important to check that candidates’ preferences and overall motivators fit well with what the role has to offer.

With this in mind, we had a subject-matter expert create our Motivation test. This test is based on the Hackman and Oldham job characteristics model, and it measures the extent to which your candidates’ expectations align with the job you are offering, its benefits, and key elements of the workplace. This is done by using a customized survey that you and the candidate both fill out.

This pre-employment screening test profiles key job characteristics, moderators, extrinsic factors, and job activities that are known to have an impact on motivation. However, we all have different motivators, so this test also takes individual candidate preferences into account.

The Motivation test asks you to answer a series of questions related to the crucial elements that impact job motivation. 

Candidates receive a survey that asks them what they are looking for in a job and what activities they enjoy most at work. The candidates’ answers are then mapped against your specifications so you can identify how strongly their preferences match the characteristics of the role.

It’s a good idea to combine the Motivation test with up to four other skills tests to create a broader assessment of your candidates. This assessment works best when used at the very start of the hiring process, as it enables you to skip the CV-reading stage. 

You can find a wide variety of tests in our test library, arranged into different categories:

The additional tests you choose from our test library will depend on the job you are hiring for, but it’s good to have a mix of technical and soft skills in an assessment.

A range of tests will give you a deeper insight into candidates, and the results can help shape your interview questions.

For an in-depth look at the best way to build a skills assessment, you might like to read our comprehensive guide to creating an assessment

Take the next steps with TestGorilla

We really hope that our explainer on the job characteristics model was helpful to you and that it gave you insight into the signs of, and reasons behind, demotivated employees. 

By using the Motivation test, you can find those candidates whose expectations and preferences align strongly with the job role. Taking this action can save you time, money, and frustration in the long run because you’ll hopefully have few problems with employee motivation and staff turnover.

Interested? Sign up for TestGorilla’s free plan and get started on building your first assessment. If you want more information or to see how our products work first-hand, book a free 30-minute live demo with our sales team, who will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


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