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FOWI Guide

An introduction to the SMART Work Design Model

Work design refers to the “content and organisation of one’s work tasks, activities, relationships and responsibilities”.1

Work design applies to the physical, biomechanical, cognitive, and psychosocial characteristics of the job.

The way our work is designed affects how we feel about our job and can influence whether we feel motivated, engaged, bored, or stressed at work.2

Work design can also impact an organisation’s outcomes, with well-designed work contributing to increased productivity, financial growth, and lower rates of accidents and incidents.3

Further reading

Professor Sharon Parker from the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University has authored a work design guide.

Resource

Prefer a video? Watch the Future of Work Institute’s Doctor Sharon Parker walk through an introduction to work design.

Further reading

SafeWork Australia also has a comprehensive guide on the principles of good work design.

What is the SMART Work Design Model?

The SMART Work Design model, developed by Professor Sharon Parker at the Centre for Transformative Work Design, can be used by employees and employers when considering the psychosocial aspects of work, including addressing psychosocial risks.

Based on empirical research, the SMART model identifies five themes of work characteristics for positive outcomes.

  • Stimulating work involves having varied, interesting, and meaningful tasks in a job.
  • Mastery at work comes from knowing what your role is, knowing how you are going on your tasks, and understanding how your work fits into the bigger picture.
  • Agency in a job means having a sense of autonomy and control over when and how you do your tasks, as well as being able to make decisions about your job. Agency is also supported when you are asked for input into departmental decisions, and consulted about change.
  • Relational work design recognises that people need connection and support at work. Example aspects of relational work include being part of a team, having support from your peers and supervisor, and knowing how your work impacts’ on others’ lives.
  • Tolerable demands at work means the things you are expected to do at work are not overwhelming. Tolerable demands can mean, for example, having reasonable work hours, not being tightly monitored, and having reasonable and consistent expectations for performance.

The SMART model can be used as a tool to optimise employees’ work design.

Ask yourself: can the job characteristics that sit within each SMART theme be used to describe the work in your organisation?

Consult with your employees to ask if there are tasks or responsibilities that could be added, removed, or restructured to make their work smarter.

Using the themes of the SMART Work Design model to guide work redesign can help you ensure that the work at your organisation is motivating and not too stressful, which will enhance positive outcomes for your organisation and your employees.

Resource

Is your work SMART?

The Centre for Transformative Work Design in FOWI has developed a short survey where you can evaluate your own work design based on the SMART Work Design model. You can find out which work characteristics are present or lacking in your job. If your organisation would like to do the SMART Work Survey for all employees, please contact us.

Further reading

Learn more about SMART

Resources about SMART, including videos about what SMART work is and how to implement SMART work, have been developed by researchers at the Centre for Transformative Work Design. The Centre for Transformative Work Design website is regularly updated with the latest work design research by world-leading experts. Further information on the SMART work design model can also be found here. From the website, you can contact the Centre for Transformative Work Design for assistance with exploring your work design options.

What are the benefits of good work design?

We know from decades of research that well-designed work has positive impacts on individuals, teams, and the organisation. Three of the most noteworthy ways that good work design produces positive outcomes is through harm minimisation, enhanced well-being, and increased productivity.

Harm minimisation through addressing psychosocial risks

All employees are entitled to work that protects them from harm. Good work design protects from harm by eliminating or minimising the risk of physical and psychological harm before it occurs. By designing work in a way that addresses hazards before they arise, work design offers a high level of protection against work-related harm. Applying work design that addresses the physical and psychological needs of the employee is a fundamental component of complying with Workplace Health and Safety legislation.

When work is badly designed from a psychological perspective, this means it has “psychosocial risks”. A psychosocial risk is an aspect of work design that research has demonstrated can be particularly damaging to psychological health if not controlled. Psychosocial risks include, for example, excessive demands that are not tolerable (e.g., very long work hours), a lack of control, poor social support, a lack of role clarity, or negative relationships.

Evidence shows that poorly designed work, or work with psychosocial risks, can result in stress and mental ill health, such as anxiety and depression.4

Well-designed work can also help to mitigate against the psychosocial risks associated with organisational changes such as downsizing5 and lean production6.

You can address psychosocial risks in a positive way by focusing on designing SMART work. See below for an overview of how SMART addresses the psychosocial risks.

For further information and guidance, see the Prevent Harm pillar of the Thrive at Work Framework.

Resource

If you are curious about psychosocial risks, the Future of Work Institute has put together a summary of useful resources for organisations seeking guidance on designing work that prevents psychological harm.

Enhance health and well-being

Not only does well-designed work protect against risks of physical and psychological ill health, it can also enhance physical and mental health. Having positive work design characteristics, such as those in the SMART model, can lead to employee well-being, which extends beyond the absence mental ill health and is typified by states of happiness, positive feelings, and life satisfaction.7

Employees who experience these positive states of mental well-being have been found to be:

  • more committed to their organisation;8
  • more creative;9
  • more engaged;10
  • higher performing;11 and
  • more innovative.12

When work is optimally designed it creates conditions for connection13 14, high performance, and growth15, which allow employees to flourish and thrive. Such outcomes are addressed in the Promote Thriving pillar of the Thrive at Work Framework.

Examples of strategies that enhance health and well-being include:

  • designing SMART work (see above);
  • introducing flexible work practices that allow employees to decide when and where they work;
  • creating a diverse and inclusive work environment so that all employees feel valued, safe and respected; and
  • creating conditions for employees to pursue their professional development goals.

Resource

The Future of Work Institute has put together a page of information on flexible work design.

Resource

The Future of Work Institute has put together a page of information on diversity and inclusion.

Cost savings and productivity improvements

Good work design can save costs and enhance productivity, which has significant financial benefits to organisations.

Well-designed work is often more efficient, as well as conducive to higher quality and more innovative service and products. Good work design, such as that designed using SMART principles, creates conditions for support and connection, performance and growth is associated with increased employee and organisational performance, greater commitment to the organisation, higher engagement, creativity, innovation, and productivity.16-20 Thus, organisations who create well designed work for their employees can gain a competitive advantage.

For example, well-designed work:

  • increases employees’ confidence and self-efficacy, which in turn enhances their performance21
  • increases employees’ proactive work behaviour, such as their efforts to ‘make things happen’22, as well as increases their entrepreneurial behaviour within organisations23
  • enhances commitment to safety and hence makes work safer24

In addition, poorly designed work is associated with significantly higher risk of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. If not addressed or treated, these illnesses can have a substantial financial impact on organisations. For example, employees with only mild cases of depression take twice as many sick days than healthy employees.25

The financial consequences of mental ill health due to poor job design can arise from higher rates of: absenteeism, presenteeism, workers compensation, and turnover of employees with mental illness. Organisations that want to reduce these financial burdens of mental ill health can focus on the strategies in the Mitigate Illness and Prevent Harm pillars of the Thrive at Work Framework.

Example strategies include:

  • use work design-based injury management and Return to Work programs;
  • ensure tolerable job demands by designing the work to reduce stressful time, cognitive, emotional and physical demands; and
  • build SMART work by increasing employee access to job resources and supports, such as enhancing employee agency and control, fostering positive relationships, and valuing and recognising good work performance.

Case Study

How 5 minutes a day could save Perth hospitals millions of dollars

A recent research study evaluated the use of multi-disciplinary surgical briefings in Perth hospitals26. Five minutes before the beginning of a surgery, the team come together to introduce themselves and to discuss the upcoming procedures and any areas of concern. The practice is designed to ensure that all members of team understand the planned procedures, are clear about the role they will be taking within the team, and feel part of a team.

Results indicated a number of positive outcomes. There was found to be an increase in efficiency which led to a 50% reduction in surgical delays. The state wide potential savings as a result of reduced delays in association with these briefings is estimated to be $3,257,375.84 annually. In addition, surgical teams acknowledged that the briefings resulted in increased engagement, better communication within teams, and improved patient safety outcomes.

The case demonstrates the positive impact that even small work design changes can make to individual and organisational outcomes.

What does it mean to redesign work?

Redesigning work means making changes to the tasks, activities, relationships and responsibilities of employees. Redesigning work can mean changing the physical, biomechanical, cognitive, and/or psychosocial characteristics of the job.

Sometimes work redesign is part of a large-scale organisational restructure. But redesigning work doesn’t necessarily require drastic or organisation-wide changes to the way things are done. In fact, small tweaks to the way tasks are done or the way employees interact at work can have significant positive outcomes for employees and the organisation alike.

If you are planning to redesign work for an employee or team, it is important to engage in a process of consultation before doing so. Making changes without collaborating with the individual or team performing the work can be stressful, confusing and inefficient. Involving employees in the redesign process ensures they feel a sense of control over their work, enhancing the “Agency” aspect of SMART work, and will help you come up with realistic, achievable improvements to the job. For optimal results in redesigning work, we recommend that you consider the key themes of the SMART Work Design model described above to guide you in the redesign process. This will help you ensure that work is meaningful and stimulating for your employees.

Job crafting

Work redesign is not always initiated by the employer or manager. Job crafting is the term used to refer to the process by which an employee proactively makes changes to the characteristics of their job. Crafting might involve adding or removing tasks and demands, or seeking out social resources (e.g. support or feedback form co-workers or supervisors), so that the job aligns more closely with the employee’s needs or preferences. Job crafting has been associated with a number of positive outcomes including improved job satisfaction, engagement, well-being, and performance27 28

Some ways that organisations can support employee job crafting include:

  • Providing training to employees and leaders on the concepts of job crafting and strategies to proactively craft their work.
  • Openly communicating with employees about their needs and preferences at work, and encouraging them to find ways for the job to better fit.
  • Allow flexibility in the way employees carry out their tasks.

Resource

In Australia, there are legislative requirements requiring employers to consult with employees about changes to work design. SafeWork Australia has produced a guide to support organisation thorugh the consultation process.

Case Study

Redesigning the midwifery work design model

Traditionally, midwives are assigned one part of the prenatal-birth-postnatal patient care process. This model means that each midwife is only present for a small portion of the patient’s journey. Recent research29 has investigated the benefits of introducing a caseload work design – in which midwives follow a mother through her whole prenatal to postnatal journey. The new model meant that midwives were likely to experience greater task identity (involvement in a whole piece of work from beginning to end). Task identity is associated with people experiencing their work as more meaningful as they can more easily see the impact and outcomes of their effort.

This trial introduction of a caseload work design for midwives resulted in a number of positive outcomes for the midwives, hospital and patients. This redesigned work was associated with:

  • shorter postnatal hospital stays;
  • less blood loss during birth;
  • on average $566 cost savings per birth;
  • significantly more likely to be breastfeeding at discharge, 6 week and 6 month follow-ups than standard care mothers;
  • midwives had more opportunity to use a variety of skills, and experienced more meaningfulness and autonomy in their work; and
  • midwives also experienced higher job satisfaction and lower intention to quit.

References

  1. Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661–691
  2. Parker, S. K., Morgeson, F., Johns, G. (2017). One hundred years of work design research: looking back and looking forward. Invited article, Special Centennial Issue, Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(3), 403-420.
  3. Andrei, D., & Parker, S. K., (2018). Work design for performance: Expanding the Criterion Domain. In Anderson, N., Viswesvaran, & HK Sinangil (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Industrial, Work, and Organizational Psychology (2nd Ed) (Vol. 2, 2 ed., pp 357-377). Los Angeles: SAGE
  4. Parker, S.K., Turner, N., & Griffin, M.A., (2003). Designing healthy work. In D.A. Hofmann and L.E. Tetrick (Eds). Health and safety in organizations: A multi-level perspective. (pp. 91-130). Jossey-Bass: California.
  5. Parker, S. K., Chmiel, N., & Wall, T.D. (1997). Work characteristics and employee well-being with a context of strategic downsizing. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2(4), 289-303
  6. Parker, S. K., (2003). Longitudinal effects of lean production on employee outcomes and the mediating role of work characteristics. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(4), 620-634.
  7. LaMontagne, A. D., Martin, A., Page, K. M., Reavley, N. J., Noblet, A. J., Milner, A. J., Keegel, T. & Smith, P. M. (2014). Workplace mental health. Developing an integrated intervention approach. BMC Psychiatry, 14, 131.
  8. Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Gevers, J. M. P. (2015). Job crafting and extra-role behaviour: The role of work engagement and flourishing. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 91, 87-96.
  9. Bakker, A. B., Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., Taris, T. W. (2008). Work engagement: An emerging concept in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress, 22(3), 187-200.
  10. Luthans, F., Norman, S. M., Avolio, B. J., & Avey, J. B. (2008). The mediating role of psychological capital in the supportive organizational climate-employee performance relationship. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 219-238.
  11. Huhtala, H. & Parzefall, M. J. (2007). A review of employee well-being and innovativeness: An opportunity for a mutual benefit. Creativity and Innovation Management, 16(3), 299-306.
  12. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). Redesigning work design theories: The rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3: 317-375.
  13. Parker, S. K., Johnson, A., Collins, C., & Nguyen, H. (2013). Making the most of structural support: Moderating influence of employees’ clarity and negative affect. Academy of Management Journal, 56(3), 867-892
  14. Parker, S. K., (2017) The Work Design Growth Model: How work characteristics promote learning and development. In J. E. Ellingson and R. A. Noe (Eds.). Autonomous Learning in the Workplace. Chapter 8 (pp. 137-162). SIOP Organizational Frontiers Book Series. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group: London/ New York
  15. Safe Work Australia (2012). The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1702/the-australian-workplace-barometer-report.pdf
  16. Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Gevers, J. M. P. (2015). Job crafting and extra-role behaviour: The role of work engagement and flourishing. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 91, 87-96.
  17. Huhtala, H. & Parzefall, M. J. (2007). A review of employee well-being and innovativeness: An opportunity for a mutual benefit. Creativity and Innovation Management, 16(3), 299-306.
  18. Combs, J., Liu, Y., Hall, A., & Ketchen, D. (2006). How much do high-performance work practices matter? A meta-analysis of their effects on organizational performance. Personnel Psychology, 59(3), 501-528.
  19. Bakker. A. & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13(3), 209-223.
  20. Parker, S. K. (1998) Role breadth self-efficacy: Relationship with work enrichment and other organizational practices. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(6), 835-852.
  21. Parker, S. K., Williams, H., & Turner, N. (2006). Modelling the antecedents of proactive behavior at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(3), 636-652.
  22. De Jong, JPJ., Parker, S. K., Wennekers, S., and Wu, C. (2015). Entrepreneurial behavior in organizations: Does job design matter? Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 39 (4), 981-995
  23. Parker, S. K., & Axtell, C., and Turner, N. A (2001). Designing a safer workplace: Importance of job autonomy, communication quality, and supportive supervisors. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(3), 211–228.
  24. Safe Work Australia (2012). The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia. Retrieve from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1702/the-australian-workplace-barometer-report.pdf
  25. Parker, S. K., Rammohan, A., Griffin, M., Flemming, A. F. S., Hamdorf, J., Leung, Y., … Yam, C. (2018). Success in the operating theatre: Multidisciplinary pre-operative briefings for efficiency, patient safety, and staff engagement. Australia.
  26. Zhang, F., & Parker, S. K. (2018). Reorienting job crafting research: A hierarchical structure of job crafting concepts and integrative review. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 40(2).
  27. Rudolph, C. W., Katz, I. M., Lavigne, K.N., & Zacher, H. (2017). Job crafting: A meta-analysis of relationships with individual differences, job characteristics, and work outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 102, 112-138.
  28. Tracy, S. K., Hartz, D. L., Tracy, M. B., Allen, J., Forti, A., Hall, B., … Bisits, A. (2013). Caseload midwifery care versus standard maternity care for women of any risk: M@ NGO, a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 382(9906), 1723-1732.