Work and Life Enrichment

A curious trait of most people is that we perform better when we enjoy what we do, and we get more enjoyment from activities (including work, but actually all activities) that entail variety, diversity, and meaning.

So it should be no surprise that you – and everyone around you – will feel better about what you are doing in your work and life when your activities are more fully organized and executed with this idea in mind.

The objective here is not so much to change the goals you’re reaching for. Instead, the objective is to “mix up” what you do and when you do it, in ways that keep you more interested, motivated, and satisfied than you may be now.

Greg R. Oldham and J. Richard Hackman are usually credited with developing the first theory and practice of enriching work. Their idea was to manipulate a handful of important characteristics that people generally care about. These include:

  • Increasing the variety of skills required by the activity.
  • Clustering assignments and responsibilities so an individual gets to start and finish a complete item of work, not just a portion of it.
  • Framing and positioning the work to be done so it carries a measure of importance in the grand scheme of things, or at least within the organization.
  • Allowing the individual to exercise a significant degree of control over how and when s/he performs the work.
  • Recognizing and making sure others are informed when the person delivers the work at a high degree of quality.

By adjusting these characteristics for any task, item of work, or project – including volunteer efforts and activities of daily living – you can help other people (and yourself) feel better about spending the required time and effort.

Here are some strategies to help enrich the efforts involved in work as well as in personal life:

Job Rotation

Working on an assembly line was initially thought to be a major step forward in efficiency. But we have learned that repetitive jobs requiring only one or two skills tend to dull the senses and degrade the worker’s initiative, creativity, and concern for quality.

By giving people opportunities to perform a variety of tasks, using different muscles, different skills, and different aspects of their overall competence, you greatly increase their overall productivity and level of performance.

What’s more, job rotation allows for cross-training among various disciplines and departments, and for cross-pollination of ideas. Both of these strategies tend to help the overall organization change, grow, and respond to difficulties and opportunities more effectively.

Job Combination

Combining separate-but-related or sequential tasks into a single “item of work” gives a person a more challenging and complex responsibility, whether on the job or in personal life.

The best way to do this is to allow a single person to see an operation through from beginning to end. Like Job Rotation, Job Combination creates a situation where the person can use many different skills and competencies instead of just a few. It also provides a greater sense of completion when the “item of work” is done.

Project-Based Assignments

Another strategy for enriching work is to allow people to take responsibility for a complete project, rather than only a portion of it. For example, many organizations normally divide something like new product development among several groups, including perhaps a design team, a manufacturing team, a marketing team, and a production team.

But the work of these same people could be enriched by giving one cross-functional group the whole product-development project.

A similar approach would be to involve one person or one group in all the efforts associated with a particular client, from the inception of a new project through shipment of that project’s final work products.

Autonomous Work Teams

Extending the idea of project-based assignments, you can even further enrich the work people do by allowing the project team to run itself “autonomously.” In other words, the team rather than management decides which members perform which tasks, what hours they work, how they sequence and schedule particular efforts, their criteria for evaluating performance, and so forth.

Note that the team need not operate the same way nor assign the same tasks to the same people on every project. The autonomous team can mix and match personnel, procedures, and assignments to keep individuals learning new things, facing new challenges, and meeting new responsibilities.

Management can also rotate people among several different teams, as appropriate or necessary. This way, people will need to regularly adjust to new situations and operating environments. The result is a supremely enriched work environment.

Not Just Work; Life

Most of this discussion contemplates job enrichment in an organizational setting. But the same principles apply very widely. For example, you can adapt many of these ideas and strategies to your own situation, even when you work alone or as part of a small group. You can also apply them to some or all of your personal life.

In general, the more opportunity a person has to control the details of their daily activities, the more they’ll enjoy those activities and strive to deliver the best results they possibly can.

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