Whether specialized, enlarged, or enriched, workers still generally have specific jobs to do, and these jobs have required job descriptions and job analysis. In many firms today, however, jobs are becoming more amorphous (unorganized, vague) and more difficult to define. In other words, the trend is towards dejobbing. Dejobbing is “broadening the responsibilities of the company jobs, and encouraging employees not to limit themselves to what’s on their job descriptions.”
De jobbing is the result of several changes taking place in business today. Firms need to keep pace with a number of revolutionary forces- accelerating product and technological changes, global competition, deregulation, political instability, demographic changes, and a shift to a service oriented economy and the arrival of the information age. Forces like these have changed the playing field on which firms compete. This rapid change has increased the need for firms to be responsive, flexible, and generally more competitive and capable of competing in a global market place.
Flattening organizations, creating empowered teams, re-engineering and the like are the techniques which make firms highly responsive, flexible and competitive. Firms are slowly moving towards new configurations, ones built around jobs that are broad and that may change everyday. People in such situations no longer can take their cues from job descriptions or a supervisor’s instructions. Signals come from changing demands of work. Workers learn to focus on their individual effort and collective resources in such work that need doing. They change as the need of the hour changes.
Reasons for dejobbing the organization
The organizational methods managers use to accomplish the various changes have helped weaken the meaning of job as a well- defined and clearly delineated set of responsibilities. Here is a sampling of organizational factors that have contributed to this weakening and to encouraging workers not to limit themselves to narrowly defined jobs.
1. Flatter Organizations
Instead of traditional, pyramid-shaped organizations with seven or more management layers, flat organizations with just three or four levels are more prevalent. Most large firms have already cut their management layers from a dozen to six or fewer. Because the remaining managers have more people reporting to them, they can supervise them less, so the jobs of subordinates end up bigger in terms of both breadth and depth of responsibilities.
2. Work Teams
Managers increasingly organize tasks around teams and processes rather than around specialized functions. For example, at Chesebrough-Ponds USA, a subsidiary of Unilever, mangers replaced a traditional pyramidal organization with multi-skilled, cross functional, and self-directed teams; the latter now run the plant’s four product areas. Hourly employees make employee assignments, schedule overtime, establish production times and changeovers, and even handle cost control, requisitions, and work orders. They also are solely responsible for quality control under the plant’s continuous quality improvement program. In an organization like this, employee’s jobs change daily; there is thus an intentional effort to avoid having employees view their jobs as a specific, narrow set of responsibilities.
3. The Boundary-less Organization
In a boundary-less organization the widespread use of teams and cross-functional task forces reduces and makes more permeable the boundaries that typically separate departments (like sales and production) and hierarchical levels. The Boundary-less organization foster responsiveness by encouraging employees to rid themselves of that’s-not-my-job attitude that typically create walls between one employee area and another. Instead the focus is on defining the project or task at hand in terms of the overall best interests of the organization, thereby further reducing the idea of a job as a clearly defined set of duties.
Re-engineering is the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance such as cost, quality, service and speed. The principles that shaped the structure ad management of business for hundreds of years like highly specialized divisions of work should be retired. Instead, the firm should emphasize combining tasks into integrated, unspecialized processes (such as customer service) assigned to team of employees.
You can reengineer jobs in many ways. For example, you can combine several different specialized jobs into a few relatively enlarged and enriched ones. Typically, in reengineered situations workers tend to become collectively responsible for overall results rather than being individually responsible for just their own tasks. They share joint responsibility with their team members for performing the whole process, not just a small piece of it. They not only use a broader range of skills from day to day, they have to be thinking of a far greater picture. Most important, while not every members of the team will be doing exactly the same work the lines between the workers jobs blur, and jobs are thus very broadly defined.
The quantitative and qualitative aspects of dejobbing
In the quantitative sense, dejobbing is simply a game of numbers: the same work that used to require 100 workers a few years ago may be done by 50 today-and maybe by 10 tomorrow. This of course is old shoe as we have been turning manufacturing tasks over to machines for almost 200 years. In the 1950s, 33% of the US labor force was employed in manufacturing. By the 1990s, that number dropped to less than 17%. Advanced robotics and the introduction of smarter digital machines eventually will take over almost all the tasks on the assembly floor. Indeed, many manufacturers may need almost no manual workers within 20 years.
The service sector will be the most affected next. Already, much of the repetitive jobs done by clerical workers and secretaries are increasingly being done more cheaply and efficiently with information technologies. A case in point is the one of bank tellers vs. ATMs. An ATM can conduct 2,000 transactions a day, 168 hours a week compared with 200 transactions and about 40 hours for a teller. The ATM’s annual cost of about USD 22,000 is probably cheaper than a full-time employee with benefits!
It is obvious that not just blue-collar jobs are disappearing. White-collar jobs are disappearing even faster, and still more of them are at risk.
There is a qualitative shift going on too. It is not just that fewer of the old-style jobs are left. It is that the work situations encouraged by the new technological and economic realities are not jobs in the traditional sense; and a great deal of what is being done in today’s organizations is done by people who do not have “a real job.” The emergence of these new work practices that were mainly in the form of widespread use of outsourcing and the hiring of “independent contractors” and temporary workers resulted in the severe layoffs suffered by American factory workers in the 1980s, and white-collar office workers from the early 90s to this day.
Case- British Petroleum
British Petroleum [BP] felt the need for flatter and empowered employees inspired the management to replace job descriptions with matrices listing skills and skill levels. The senior management wanted to shift employees’ attention from job description [“that’s not my job” mentality] to one that would motivate employees to obtain the new skills they needed to accomplish their broader responsibilities. The solution was a skills matrix. Skills matrices were created for various jobs within two classes of employees, those on a management track and those whose aims lay elsewhere [such as those who stayed in engineering]. For each job or job family [such as the position of a drilling manager], a matrix was prepared.
(1) the basic skills needed for that job, and
(2) the minimum level of each skill required for that job or job family.
Such a matrix shifts employees’ focus. The focus is no longer on job description which lists specific job duties. Instead, the focus is on developing new skills needed for employees’ broader, empowered, and often relatively undefined responsibilities.
The skills matrix approach has prompted other HR changes in BP’s exploration division. For example, the matrices provide a constant reminder of the skills that employees must improve, and also the firm’s new skill based pay rewards based on skill improvement. Similarly, performance appraisals now focus more on employee skill, and every training programme emphasizes developing broad skills like leadership and planning- ones that are applicable across a wide range of responsibilities and jobs.
Broader HR issues are also involved when firms de-job. The de-jobbed company should find people who can work well without the cue system of job descriptions. This puts a premium on hiring people, as the people should be with the skills and values to handle empowered jobs.
There is also a shift from training to education, in other words from teaching employees the “how” of job to increasing their insight and understanding regarding its “why”. In a rapidly changing industrial environment, the demands for flexibility and responsiveness mean that it is impossible to hire people who already know everything. Here continuing education over the course of the employees’ organizational career becomes the norm.