A recent study investigating differences in individual adoption and sustained usage of technology in the workplace concluded that age matters. Evidence suggests that age differences in information processing have an impact on older workers’ performance of technology-based tasks. 20 There is also significant evidence to suggest that the most critical belief underlying an individual’s attitude toward adopting a new technology in the workplace is that of their perceptions about the usefulness of the technology.
Younger workers tend to be more focused on job-related outcomes and extrinsic rewards, whilst there is overwhelming evidence that supports a positive correlation between age and overall job satisfaction. 22 The qualities of the young: at ease with technology, flexibility, embracing change and risk-taking, would suggest that they would seek a greater usage of new technology in their work. 23 However, not all of the 30-, 40- or 50-year-olds exhibit these qualities, perhaps due to changing cognitive structures or the process of life cycle orientation whereby job needs and preference change with age.
Therefore, the future workplace will, as a consequence of demographic pressure, concentrate on the older worker, seeking to utilise those who are able to embrace technology. 25 The fact remains, however, that not all will be seeking such an influence of technology, which mangers will have to ensure they factor for when designing jobs. Whilst changing demographics are having an immense impact upon what employees seek from their work, the organisational change during the last few decades, expounded by Handy et al, has resulted in contingent workers becoming a sizeable and essential part of the workforce all over the world.
In the US, temporary, contractual and part-time employees are estimated to account for between 4. 9% to 35% of the labour force. 26 The same management gurus who have encouraged this change believe that the core workers will be most successfully motivated intrinsically, whilst contingent workers are expected to respond better to extrinsic rewards such as money. However, in a recent paper published by Allan and Sienko, an alternative view of the perception and motivational properties present in contingent workers is advanced.
The basis for this was the application of the job characteristic model to a sample of workers in the US. According to Hackman and Oldham’s model, five core dimensions (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback) influence three critical psychological states (experienced meaningfulness of the work, experienced responsibility for the outcomes of the work, and knowledge of the actual results of work activities). These states, in turn, affect four outcome variables (high internal work motivation, high quality work performance, high satisfaction with the work, and low absenteeism and turnover).
Three factors moderate the relationship between core characteristics and outcomes; an individual’s growth needs strength, context satisfactions (with pay, job security, co-workers, and supervisors), and knowledge and skill. High growth need individuals are more likely (or better able) to experience the psychological states when their jobs are high on the core dimensions and will have more positive outcomes, than are individuals with low growth needs.
People with high growth need strength and are likely to derive greater satisfaction from jobs that rate high on the job characteristics model. Enriching or enlarging of a job will only have an effect for those people who ‘need’ job autonomy and responsibility. The problems experienced by IBM during the 1950s in the US with job rotation and enlargement programmes foundered when faced with a negative response from workers is an example. 27 Therefore, Hackman and Oldham’s work concluded that there are individual differences between people and what perceived rewards they seek from their work.
Whilst there were limitations created by the small sample size of the Allan and Sienko research, the paper concludes that, contrary to some misgivings about the motivation of contingents (because of their lack of job security and more tenuous employment relationship), they may well have growth needs to respond to positively, and be motivated by jobs that provide task identity and feedback. To tap contingents’ full motivation potential, employers should not be reluctant to give them work that assigns responsibility for a whole job, or substantial parts of one, and that offers feedback on how well they are doing.
This is especially true for professional and technical workers who can readily find jobs as contingents elsewhere. Also, management should not be content with merely filling contingent jobs with ‘warm’ bodies, but rather should recruit those who have high growth needs, that is, needs for personal growth and development, for worthwhile accomplishment; these are the people most likely to respond favourably to challenging work, which most probably will involve the employment of technology. 28 A final issue for job designers is that no longer does the ‘organisation man’ exist who signed on for life.
Workers are increasingly seeing themselves as a product to be marketed and positioned in any way and to anyone that benefits them. The old ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach to keeping employees in the fold no longer works, because, especially for the best workers, there is always a juicer carrot or shorter stick somewhere else. The social contract as organisations used to know are in terminal decline. New contracts are being based increasingly on the intrinsic, emotional needs of the worker; these are frequently being set in partnership with the employee and are no longer the primacy of the corporation.
This ability to change a way of thinking within organisations has its foundations embedded in the shift towards developing emotional intelligence amongst its workers. In doing so, a greater understanding of an individual’s needs are achieved permitting jobs to be designed based on intrinsic motivation and whilst retaining harmony with the goals of the organisation. This redressing of the power-relationship between organisations and its employees is a slow one. For centuries the organisation were at the epicentre. In the future the workers will hold this position.
In conclusion, the evidence would suggest the statement does not hold true, and that whilst managers would be wise to consider the model when designing a position, not all employees seek work that scores highly against Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristic model. Hackman and Oldham, at the time of designing their model, concluded that whilst some employees possess a high growth need, there were also individuals who did not seek job autonomy or responsibility, and would react negatively to any attempt to either enrich or enlarge their job with such attributes.
Whilst the statement is not true, the difficulty in the identifying workers who possess a high growth need, particularly in the field of technology, is further compounded by complex issues such as; the process of life cycle orientation whereby job needs and preferences change with an employee’s age and whether the individual is a core or contingent worker. Both of these factors can have a profound effect upon the individual worker’s needs from a job at a given time.
Managers can no longer assume that older workers do not want to use new technology in their jobs, although there remains considerable evidence that they are less able to adapt to new technology, without a fuller perception and understanding of its value to the task and them. Nor can managers dismiss a contingent worker as being one that is largely motivated by extrinsic rewards, for whom there is little or no intrinsic motivation contained within their work.
Given the need for organisations to be considerably smaller, more flexible and flatter, together with the continuing demographic pressures being experienced, there will be an increasing importance placed on the employment and retention of not only young workers, but also contingent and older workers. The continuing ‘war for talent is banishing a lot of rules’, which will progressively result in, where required, the wants and desires of the individual worker, as expressed by the Hackman and Oldham, shaping the content of their jobs within an organisation.