Understanding organizational theory may help leaders respond to business challenges more proactively and effectively. Theory informs research and research, ideally, informs business practices. Theory and Practice focuses on different organizational theories and how those theories may help leaders striving to empower and engage employees.
Job Demands – Resource Theory
The job demands – resource (JD-R) theory provides a framework for understanding how characteristics of a job may result in Burnout or Engagement for employees. Much of the research literature on burnout and engagement is based upon the JD-R theory. Briefly here are the primary tenants of the JD-R theory. For more detailed information, see Bakker & Demerouti, 2017.
- Job characteristics fall into one of two categories: job demands or job resources. Job demands are aspects of a job that require physical and or psychological effort or skill. While not all negative, job demands have the potential to evolve into job stressors. Job resources are the physical, social, or organizational aspects of a job that (a) help the employee meet work related goals, (b) decrease job demands, and (c) cultivate personal growth and development. Examples of each are provided below.
- Job demands or resources may evoke two psychologically independent processes. One process is related to health impairment, Burnout. The other process is related to motivation and employee well-being, Engagement. The model below illustrates how both processes may affect job performance.
- Job resources may offset effects of job demands.
- Job resources effect motivation when job demands are high.
- Personal resources may offset job demands.
- Motivation positively impacts performance while job strain has a negative impact upon performance.
- Motivated employees may use job crafting strategies to increase job and personal resources and increase motivation in a spiraling effect.
- Stressed employees may use undermining behaviors that increase job demands and stress.
Having a practical understanding of the JD-R theory can help leaders respond to work place challenges in a proactive manner, one more likely to support the motivational processes leading to engagement. Following are examples of job demands and job resources.
|Job Demands||Job Resources|
|Role Conflict||Feedback or Coaching|
|Work Pressure||Job Control|
|Ambiguity||Opportunities for Professional Development|
Responding to Job Demands
Typically, we do not intentionally create excessive job demands. Job stressors or demands are part of the normal course of the work environment. It is important to recognize when ‘normal’ has transitioned to create a job demand.
Workload – Similar to scope creep in project management, workload can creep due to unmanaged change in the workplace. While periods of increased workload may occur for a time due to modifications in the business flow, sustained increases in workload should be acknowledged and resolved.
Proactive Response – Review positions descriptions annually to ensure job tasks are accurately reflected. When adding task to a position description, be sure to also eliminate tasks of similar difficulty/time requirements which may no longer be necessary. If a position has substantively changed, complete a comprehensive job analysis upon which to build a new position description. Consider completing a time in motion study to assess headcount needs.
Role Conflict – This occurs when employees are provided with competing demands or goals which make success or goal attainment difficult if not impossible. For example, setting sales quotas which conflict with required service standards or compliance oversight.
Proactive Response – Reevaluate requirements. Provide clarity to employees as to priorities. Ensure communications from leadership are consistent with priorities.
Work Pressure – Similar to workload, business needs may result in increased work pressure at times. Sustained increases in work pressure should be examined to determine underlying causes. For example, work pressure may arise from employees coping with incivility in the work place such as a bullying coworker or abusive supervisor.
Proactive Response – Address issues when they first arise. Dismissing or ignoring underlying causes to work pressure may result in increased turnover of your best employees. Those that remain despite sustained work pressures may suffer from exhaustion and diminished job performance.
Ambiguity – Uncertainty in times of change is common. Ambiguity may also arise due to a lack of documented processes or procedures.
Proactive Response – Leaders know about and have time to process change usually before others in the organization. It is important to provide information to employees on the underlying reasons for the change, the scope of the change, and the strategic impact of the change. It is equally important to provide employees with time to process the information, ask questions, and accept the change is happening. Ideally, this should occur prior to implementing the change.
Alicia Jones, an HR leader with plenty of experience leading change initiatives, recommends following the 7X7 rule of communication. When talking with employees about an upcoming change, communicate 7 times using 7 different communication methods.
Promoting or Implementing Job Resources
Equally important to mitigating job demands is the need to promote or implement job resources. As indicated in the primary tenants of the JD-R theory above, job resources may offset job demands and effect motivation in times of higher than normal job demands.
Autonomy – Provide opportunities for employees to have independent discretion in their roles. Put in place guidelines or expectations and offer insight into what excellence looks like. Then let employees bring their own creativity into how the work is performed.
Feedback or Coaching – Feedback and coaching should go well beyond “good job” or “thanks”. Concrete feedback is a necessity for employees to grow and develop. Monica Bailey, Chief People Office at GoDaddy, indicated it was particularly important for women to be provided specific feedback that supports their professional growth and development.
Job Control – Similar to autonomy, job control provides employees with some say or influence over how they perform their day to day work. Not many jobs require strict compliance to the manner in which the work is performed. Whenever possible, provide employees with some flexibility to determine how the workday is structure or the work is completed.
Opportunities for Professional Development – Professional development activities take many forms. These may include internal training programs or external conferences. Professional development also includes opportunities for job enlargement. Providing employees with an opportunity to chair a new committee, lead a new initiative or project, or contribute to a company blog may all be professional developmental activities.
To provide developmental activities that truly are job resources, it is important to know the employee as an individual. Only by identifying activities that align with the individual’s professional goals or aspirations will the opportunity be viewed as a job resource and not an added work task.
The Role of Personal Resources
It is also important to understand the role of personal resources. Employees with similar same job demands and job resources may respond with different psychologically processes based upon personal resources. The employee caring for an aging parent or coping with a chronic illness has demands upon personal resources that other employees may not.
Ensuring employees have access to resources such as wellness programs or employee assistance programs can help when personal resources are strained. Life happens to everyone. If we are able to work with an employee through life challenges, they are often more engaged and committed employees upon resolution of those issues.
For more information about cultivating job resources, mitigating job demands, or engagement, contact Engaged CTC.