How to Build Better Jobs

Using organizational research, job quality outcome maps guide smarter business decisions

Today’s labor market is tricky to navigate for many employers. Despite healthy job growth from month to month, people are still quitting their jobs at record levels, and many companies remain short-staffed. These firms are learning the hard way that if you can’t hire and retain enough staff, you can’t grow your revenue or bottom line.

Workers are realizing this — and they’re realizing their own worth at the same time. Workers don’t want to stay at companies that don’t value them, and they’re increasingly willing to make big changes to find the right balance between life and work.

As we’ve written before, we think the solution to the post-COVID labor crisis is a renewed focus on designing better jobs. Every single job that has ever existed has been designed by someone. The problem is that most companies do not design their jobs intentionally, in ways that maximize value for the worker and the firm. Instead, they tend to follow the market and imitate their peers.

What all this means is that the companies poised to be most successful in the post-pandemic economy are those that stand out from their competitors in the labor market. They don’t follow the crowd; instead, they design their jobs with the same creativity and entrepreneurship that they design their products and services.

But any company that is willing to make these changes may reasonably ask, how can we do that? How do we redesign work in a way that still ensures our business success?

Well today, we’re excited to introduce a practical tool for employers and workforce stakeholders that helps answer that very question.

The job quality outcome maps distill findings from over 3,000 rigorous academic research studies to show how redesigning jobs can improve business results. These maps illustrate the links between more than 30 job characteristics and five key indicators of organizational performance:

  • Reduced turnover intention
  • Increased commitment to the organization
  • Improved individual performance
  • Greater engagement at work
  • Lower burnout

Let’s take the first of these, turnover intention, to illustrate how the job quality outcome maps can outline actions that meet business goals or solve problems. Turnover intention refers to workers who are looking for a new job. In our current so-called “Great Resignation,” turnover rates are very high, and many workers are re-evaluating what they want from their workplace. If businesses want to retain their workers, they face an urgent need to change their workplace practices to reduce turnover intention.

According to the research, there are 13 job characteristics that are strongly associated with turnover intention and include the following:

  • autonomy and independence – how much control employees have over their own work, freedom from micromanagement, etc.
  • wages and benefits
  • opportunities to learn, develop new skills, and advance in the organization
  • having some form of worker representation
  • perceived support from your supervisor, coworkers, and/or the organization overall.

Employers can target one or more of these areas for improvement and be confident that they have a good chance of reducing turnover intention.

The job quality maps can help you narrow the field, but 13 job characteristics is still a lot. Thoughtful business leaders will want to know which job characteristic is the best one to focus on.

The answer? Ask your employees. Use the outcome maps to develop a survey or focus group interview guide and ask your workers what their priorities are. Listening to employees can avoid wasted efforts and give companies the best chance of success. Worker voice can be an essential guide to this process, as well as having value in and of itself.

Combining organizational research evidence with the voice and perspective of your workers is a powerful approach to make jobs better for business impact — and these job quality outcome maps can point the way.

The job quality outcome maps were developed for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions by Ellen G. Frank-Miller, PhD, and Sophia R. Fox-Dichter, MSW, at the Social Policy Institute of Washington University in St. Louis. The authors are currently affiliated with the Workforce and Organizational Research Center.


Tom Strong and Ellen G. Frank-Miller