- Work occupies a considerable amount of time in most peoples’ lives and can be a source of great pleasure or a source of pain. To enhance peoples’ experience at work, we must first understand how to measure and improve the design of work. This research sought to do just that, to understand how to design good work, meaningful work that is beneficial to the physical, psychological, and social conditions of the employees performing the work.
This dissertation documents three investigations. The first investigation used a qualitative methodology to identify the characteristics or dimensions that comprise good work from employee’s perspectives and compare their definitions to extant work characteristics. Data, collected from in-person interviews, revealed that the three most important characteristics of good work are: positive interactions with people, work that provides social value, and control over work. This study adds to extant quantitative studies of work design characteristics by providing workers’ spontaneous yet coherent perspectives and demonstrating wherein those agreed or not with prior findings.
The second investigation sought to systematically identify and classify Work Improvement Actions (WIAs) with respect to work characteristics developed in the first investigation. The resulting database of WIAs can be used to facilitate work design practices by providing a collated and coded set of previously implemented actions, which may be directly applied to a workforce, or can be used as the seed for initiating a brainstorming session with a work design team. The database can be sorted by characteristics, or by industry to facilitate its use.
The third and most significant investigation combined the findings from the first two investigations and contained two parts, an applied component, and a theoretical component. The applied component used a mixed-methods approach and implemented a work improvement process at three participating organizations. The application was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2019-2020; however, it nonetheless provided insight into improving the design of work. By evaluating mismatches between the current design of work and the preferred design of work, meaningful improvements were identified and implemented by each of the organizations. While complete post-WIA data could not be collected, managers reported that the WIA appeared to be working. Many factors affected the ability of organizations to implement actions, which included the amount of bureaucracy, the hierarchical structure, and the availability of liquid assets.
The theoretical component of the third investigation applied statistical analyses to questionnaire data to develop a deeper understanding of the workers’ attitudes about work as captured by the Good Work Questionnaire (GWQ). The GWQ proved to be reliable, and many significant associations were identified, such as management’s impact on burnout and work characteristics’ impact on employee loyalty.
When viewed as a whole, this research suggests that it is not only possible to improve the design of work to better employees’ experience at work, but it is also possible to confirm theoretical findings about extant relationships in work design variables. This research adds to the corpus of work design research by validating a method to improve the design of work in a continuous effort to create good work.