Job enlargement is arguably one of the best-known ways to increase variety in a job. In this article, we will explain what job enlargement is, review its benefits and drawbacks, and end with a few examples of job enlargement in the digital age showing its relevance in today’s dynamic world.
What is Job enlargement? A definition
The definition of job enlargement is adding additional activities within the same level to an existing role. This means that a person will do more, different activities in their current job. For example, an employee who will now also manage her own planning where this was formerly done by her manager.
Job enlargement is often confused with job enrichment. However, there is a distinct difference. Job enlargement aims at broadening one’s job in order to make the job more motivating. Job enrichment is the process of adding motivators to existing jobs. This means that job enlargement is a way to do job enrichment but not all job enrichment activities are also considered job enlargement. We will explain this in more depth later.
One of the key characteristics of enlargement is that it broadens the scope of the job horizontally. It is for that reason also referred to as horizontal expansion and is the opposite of specialization. In specialization, a division of labor is created where individuals execute specialized tasks. The thinking here is that the individual will be highly effective in executing these tasks. Job enlargement does the opposite. This brings us to the benefits and drawbacks of job enlargement.
Job enlargement advantages
Job enlargement was popularized in the ’60s and ’70s. During that time there was an increase in attention on factors that made a job motivational as people realized that the traditional mass production assembly lines were boring and deeply dissatisfying to work at.
Enlarging highly specialized jobs leads to a number of advantages.
- Creating a wider range of activities. In essence, job enlargement is about adding responsibilities to existing roles. This makes the job more varied, creating a wider range of activities.
- Reduces monotony. As a result of the wider range of activities, monotony decreases. People don’t do the same, highly specialized task 30 times an hour for 9 hours straight. Instead, they are more involved from end-to-end, taking a single product through multiple production phases, or even managing an automated assembly belt.
- Teaches a variety of skills and helping career growth. Additional job responsibilities require training and help in building additional experience. This teaches employees additional skills and is helpful in terms of career growth.
- Earn a higher wage. Adding responsibilities to a role often results in better compensation. Higher wages are a specific benefit for the employee.
- Gives more autonomy, accountability, and responsibility. The additional responsibilities lead to a number of motivational factors. Because the person is now responsible for multiple related activities, the person has more freedom over how they do their work leading to more autonomy. In addition, they are more accountable for mistakes and product quality as they experience more ownership and responsibility as they have more interaction with a single product or service (compared to when they were specialized).
To wrap this up, job enlargement can create more variety for the individual employee, more ownership over their work, and it can make work a more rewarding experience
Job enlargement drawbacks
Job enlargement also has a number of drawbacks. There are good reasons why in the early 1900s a wave of specialization made jobs boring and monotonous – the most important one being an increase in output and profit.
One of the most famous examples is the Ford Motor Company. Because of the highly specialized assembly line created at its factories, the company was a leader in the marketplace. As a result, the company was able to offer workers a much higher minimum wage and give them more time off.
- Lower efficiency. Job enlargement leads to less specialization, resulting in lower specialization. Put simply, when you do one activity all day, every day, you get pretty good and fast at doing it. Job enlargement, therefore, leads to lower efficiency.
- Lower quality. In line with the previous, enlargement could also decrease quality. However, this is not undisputed. Doing the same thing all day, every day can also lead to boredom. Also, if you’re only responsible for a small part of the product, you don’t experience responsibility for the whole product. Employees don’t have a whole product concept, leading to a lack of ownership and willingness to improve.
- Job creep. Job creep is a continuous increase in workload as more and more tasks are added to a role. This can result in the job becoming unrealistic and overwhelming. Job creep happens when a job is continuously enlarged, potentially leading to stress and burnout.
- Increased training levels and costs. Because job enlargement involves the adding of tasks and responsibilities that the employee didn’t have before, it often requires an increase in training levels and training costs. In addition, the employee will require some time before reaching the optimum productivity level.
The conclusion here is that job enlargement has both advantages and disadvantages. Cases should therefore individually be assessed on whether or not enlargement makes sense. This will depend on the unique circumstances of the job. It is therefore advisable to have specialists like an HR business partner or an organizational development specialist consult with managers about whether or not job enlargement (or any other form of job enrichment) makes sense for an employee.
Job enlargement example
Let’s end this article with two examples of job enlargement in practice.
With the increase in robotization, an increasing amount of surgeries are done by robots controlled by the surgeon through a console, usually located in the corner of the operating room. When a major US hospital implemented this, they found that having the surgeon in a different part of the room and not at the operating table, hindered communication.
Traditionally, the surgeon dictated the procedure and gave instructions. However, because the surgeon is now physically removed from the operating table, they lack a full overview on what is happening on and around the operating table. This means that part of their role needs to be replaced by one of the operating assistants.
As a result, this assistant had to be trained in communication skills with the rest of the team and in the execution of different activities that would otherwise be performed by the surgeon. This is a great example of how automation and robotization can lead to job enlargement.
Another example comes from the corporate communications team in a large multinational FMCG company. This firm had specialized communication advisors to manage communication around the implementation of new digital tools.
One of the problems this company ran into was that the adaption of tools remained low. After looking into this, they found that corporate communication did not always align with the purpose of the tool and its functionality. After further research, it was discovered that the communication team was not always fully informed.
This was resolved by enlarging the jobs of the communications team. The team would be included in the initial conversations and research around the purpose and main functionalities of the tools, as well as user interviews and drafting design criteria. The expertise of the communications team proved helpful in this stage and it enabled them to draft a communication strategy earlier that connected with the problems of the users that the new software tool was solving.
On a final note
Although job enlargement was popularized in a time when people were fed up with boring work at highly specialized assembly lines, the above examples show that in today’s digital world enlargement is still an important topic. With an increasing number of tasks being automated or digitized, roles will naturally shrink and become more specialized. Job enlargement is a good way to enrich these jobs, making them more varied by adding additional tasks.
The definition of job enlargement is adding additional activities within the same level to an existing role. This means that a person will do more, different activities in their current job.
Enlarging highly specialized jobs leads to a number of advantages: it creates a wider range of activities, it reduces monotony, it teaches a variety of skills and helps career growth, it earns a higher wage and it gives more autonomy, accountability, and responsibility.
Job enlargement has a number of drawbacks: lower efficiency, lower quality, job creep, and increased training levels and costs.
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