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What does it mean to Increase Job Resources?

Job resources are protective factors in and of themselves because they make work more positive and meaningful. Job resources are also important because they help people to cope with their work demands and other organisational stressors.1 In other words, job resources can buffer employees against the potentially damaging effects of excess work demands and protect employees from harm.

The SMART work design model, developed by Professor Sharon Parker at the Future of Work Institute, outlines five work design characteristics that drive positive individual and organisational outcomes. The characteristics for SMART work are Stimulating, Mastery, Agency, Relational, and Tolerable demands.

Key strategies

Organisations can build job resources into the design of a role by focusing on increasing:

  • stimulating job resources;
  • mastery job resources;
  • agency job resources; and
  • relational job resources.

This creates healthy work and buffers the effects of work demands and other organisational stressors. Reducing work demands such that they are tolerable will be described in the Reduce Job Demands building block.

Why is it important to Increase Job Resources?

There are two reasons that job resources are important.

First, job resources are positive for mental health in and of themselves. Studies have shown that jobs with sufficient resources are associated with fewer instances of absence and higher organisational commitment.2 The value of job resources to mental health at work is more obvious when they are low or missing.  Jobs that have low resources are a source of stress and have been linked to significantly higher rates of both physical illnesses and mental illness (including substance use, depression and anxiety).3 Consequently, they have also been linked to increased rates and costs of workers compensation claims and absenteeism.4-6 

The SMART model of work design addresses organisational stressors through increasing stimulating, mastery, agency, and relational resources and ensuring tolerable demands. Providing access to job resources is an important way that organisations can comply with Australian Work Health and Safety legislation, which highlights the provision of resources and supports as a core responsibility of employers in protecting employee mental health.

Second, job resources help to buffer against high job demands.7 That is, they can lower the damaging impact of work demands on employee mental health and well-being. Evidence shows that this buffering effect is particularly critical in situations of high demands.8

The buffering effect is important because it is not always possible to reduce all work demands to make them tolerable. Some demands can be an inherent part of the job and removing them would fundamentally change the role. In these situations, the work can be made more tolerable by ensuring employees have access to job resources.

Further reading

You can learn more about your organisation’s legislative requirements with respect to employee well-being on our resources page.

Further reading

There is a wealth of knowledge and research to support the use of good work design to Increase Resources and Supports. This report by Professor Sharon Parker summarises the principles and evidence for good work design.

Resource

The Centre for Transformative Work Design at the Future of Work Institute is staffed by world-leading academics with a vision to transform work through work design. Contact us for support in transforming work design.

Research-backed strategies to Increase Job Resources in the workplace

Provide employees with the necessary resources that will enable them to meet their work demands, buffer against the potentially damaging effects of work demands, and protect them from organisational stressors.

Evidence suggests that different resources can be useful for buffering the effects of different work demands.9 The specific job resources that might need to be changed in any particular workplace will depend on:

  • the needs of the individual employees;
  • the specific requirements of the role;
  • the organisation; and
  • the industry.

For instance, employees working in the mining sector will likely need different types of support compared to retail customer service employees.

Rather than relying on changing factors associated with the individual worker (e.g. increasing training), the strategies in this building block tend to be team- or organisational- level solutions that involve addressing work design. Work design is the term used to describe the way that tasks, relationships and responsibilities are organised in a job, team and organisation.10 It can involve making modifications to the individual’s role, the work environment, and conditions.

Fact

By adhering to the principles of good work design, organisations can build job resources into the role during the design process to create healthy work, address organisational stressors and to buffer the effects of work demands, and thereby Prevent Harm. 11

Stimulating job resources

Good work is an excellent opportunity for intellectual stimulation. Work can be made more stimulating by increasing task variety, or the degree to which a job involves a variety of activities and uses a number of different skills.12 Increasing variety in a job can improve the interest and challenge in a job, which enhances employees commitment and satisfaction.13 A job that lacks stimulating job resources will be narrow, repetitive, and monotonous. This offers little challenge and can lead to disengaged workers, wasted talent, and turnover. In highly physical work, narrow tasks can cause biomechanical or musculoskeletal strain.14

The optimum amount of task variety will differ from person to person and will depend on the level of the position, and the needs of the job.

Possible actions to increase task variety:

  • provide the opportunity to do tasks that make the work more meaningful;
  • combine tasks to form new and larger modules of work;
  • create and support small groups and teams to take on important, prominent assignments; and
  • provide opportunities for employees to be creative and to use and develop their skills.

Fact

A research study that examined the interplay between job demands and job resources in the workplace confirmed the important buffering effect of job resources. The study found high autonomy, good supervisor relationships, social support and performance feedback were all effective in buffering the effects of high workload on exhaustion. By contrast, the experience of high demands and low resources significantly predict the experience of burnout.15

Mastery job resources

Most people want to do their job effectively. To achieve mastery of one’s work and to reduce exposure to organisational stressors, people need to have clarity around their role, and get feedback and recognition for their work.

Role Clarity:

Role clarity means being clear around what one has to do. Increasing role clarity ensures that the employee, their co-workers and leaders are on the same page about the key objectives, core tasks and responsibilities in their role. This reduces anxiety and stress, and enables the employee and their leader to effectively manage their workload.

Possible actions to increase role clarity:

  • provide clear and regularly updated position descriptions;
  • provide all new employees with inductions that explains how their role fits within their team, and the broader organisation; and
  • have an organisational chart that is easily accessible to all employees and identifies clear reporting relationships.

Providing feedback, and rewarding and recognising:

Providing feedback, and rewarding and recognising employees’ work and contribution, communicates to an employee the organisation’s appreciation for their effort and dedication. Not only does recognition motivate employees to continue working hard, it also helps employees know they are on the right track and encourages them to continue.16

Possible actions to increase recognition and reward:

  • provide regular performance reviews and communicate what has been done well and constructive advice for future development;
  • use team meetings as a time to share and celebrate successes; and
  • ensure rewards are meaningfully linked to job performance.

Further reading

WorkSafe NSW has formulated a series of tip sheets addressing psychosocial risks – including one to assist organisations understand the consequences of poorly defined or conflicting roles and possible solutions.

Further reading

WorkSafe NSW has formulated a series of tip sheets addressing psychosocial risks – including one to assist organisations understand that rewarding workers’ efforts and recognising organisational contributions and achievements, are essential to minimising the risk of work-related stress.

Agency job resources

Agency, also known as autonomy or job control refers to an employee’s ability to control aspects of their work.17 Giving employees the opportunity to decide how and when they complete their tasks and the opportunity for input into decision making and can enable employees to address their job demands in the most effective and efficient way.18 On the other hand, unnecessary levels of supervision and surveillance, excessive responsibility but little authority or decision making power, and little or no say in how work is done may all lead to a stress response.

Possible actions to increase agency resources:

  • consult with employees before making changes to their job;
  • allow employees the opportunity to give input into how tasks are done, the pace and order in which they work (where possible); and
  • educate managers in processes of consultation and participative decision making.

Fact

Research has found that employees with low levels of control have 20-25% increased risk of mental health issues. In contrast, employees with high levels of job control have a 25% lower risk of mental health problems.19

Further reading

WorkSafe NSW has formulated a series of tip sheets addressing psychosocial risks – including one to assist organisations understand job control (agency job resources) and possible strategies to increase employee control.

Relational job resources

Support from supervisors and co-workers is critical in buffering the stress responses people might otherwise experience where their jobs are demanding and they feel that they are not in control. Adequate relational support can be achieved by providing both practical and emotional support where necessary.20

Possible actions to ensure supervisor and co-worker support:

  • Hold regular team meetings or debrief sessions where employees can share concerns and engage in collaborative problem solving;
  • Train leaders and employees about signs and symptoms of work stress and how to provide support; and
  • Conduct regular performance reviews, including open and constructive feedback.

Workplace relationships can be a major source of support at work but can also be a significant source of stress. It is likely that wherever groups of people work together, some conflict will arise from time to time. This is normal and in some cases can provide positive impetus for innovation and growth. Conflict becomes a risk factor however, where it remains unresolved or becomes particularly intense. Ongoing workplace conflict, bullying and harassment can be damaging to employee mental health and should be addressed to prevent psychological harm. 22

Possible actions to improve relationships at work:

  • ensure all leaders and employees are aware of the organisation’s bullying and harassment policies and that these are enforced;
  • encourage respectful, honest and open communication throughout the workplace; and
  • provide systems for conflict resolution and ensure all employees are aware of them.

Fact

Studies have reported 24-44% increased risk of mental health problems for employees with poor supervisor or co-worker support.21

Further reading

WorkSafe NSW has formulated a series of tip sheets addressing psychosocial risks – including one to assist organisations understand the role leaders and co-workers can play in supporting colleagues through stress.

Further reading

WorkSafe NSW has formulated a series of tip sheets addressing psychosocial risks – including one to assist organisations understand that relationships and / or conflict with bosses, peers and subordinates can positively or negatively affect the way a worker feels at work.

Resource

Bullying and harassment is unlawful and a leading cause of work related stress. There are a multitude of useful resources to guide your organisation in this area.

References

  1. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Euwema, M. C. (2005). Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 170-180.
  2. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., de Boer, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2003). Job demands and job resources as predictors of absence duration and frequency. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 62(2), 341-356.
  3. Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. Workplace strategies for mental health – Considering the Costs.
  4. LaMontagne, A. D., Martin, A., Page, K. M., Reavley, N. J., Noblet, A. J., Milner, A. , … & Smith, P. M. (2014). Workplace mental health: Developing an integrated intervention approach. BMC Psychiatry, 14(1), 131.
  5. SafeWork Australia. (2012). The Australian workplace barometer: Report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia.
  6. WorkCover Queensland. (2018). Mental Health at Work Action Plan.
  7. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Euwema, M. C. (2005). Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 170-180.
  8. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Euwema, M. C. (2005). Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 170-180.
  9. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., de Boer, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2003). Job demands and job resources as predictors of absence duration and frequency. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 62(2), 341-356.
  10. Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661-691.
  11. Parker, S. K., (2015). Does the evidence and theory support the ‘Good Work Design Principles’: An educational resource. Safe Work Australia.
  12. Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661-691.
  13. Parker, S. K., Bindl, U. K., & Strauss, K. (2010). Making things happen: A model of proactive motivation. Journal of Management, 36(4), 827-856.
  14. Parker, S. K., (2015). Does the evidence and theory support the ‘Good Work Design Principles’: An educational resource. Safe Work Australia.
  15. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Euwema, M. C. (2005). Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 170-180.
  16. Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661-691.
  17. Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661-691.
  18. Parker, S. K., Williams, H. M., & Turner, N. (2006). Modeling the antecedents of proactive behavior at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(3), 636.
  19. SafeWork NSW. (2017). Review of evidence of psychosocial risks for mental ill-health in the workplace.
  20. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. The Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  21. SafeWork NSW. (2017). Review of evidence of psychosocial risks for mental ill-health in the workplace.
  22. Parker, S. K., (2015). Does the evidence and theory support the ‘Good Work Design Principles’: An educational resource. Safe Work Australia.
Next step

Reduce Job Demands

Leaders and employees need to be able to identify, eliminate, reduce or manage excessive and unnecessary demands in the workplace.