October 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Job Enrichment in Extension

For approximately five years, Ohio State University Extension has utilized "job enrichment" as one tool for motivating mid-career employees. The authors sought to determine if this personnel practice produced the benefits cited in the literature. A survey of ten participants demonstrates that "vertical job enrichment" can produce positive benefits for employees, but negative outcomes can occur without careful planning and provision for supportive resources.

Louis S. Fourman
District Director
Ohio State University Extension
Caldwell, Ohio
Internet Address: fourman.1@osu.edu

Jo Jones
Associate Director
Ohio State University Extension
Columbus, Ohio

In "Work and the Nature of Man," (Frederick Herzberg's defining study on motivation), Herzberg describes two factors that relate to job satisfaction/no satisfaction and job dissatisfaction/no dissatisfaction. These factors have been labeled as the hygiene factors and the motivation factors. Certainly, one of the key issues faced by all human resource professionals, including those in Extension, is motivating the 90's work force.

Herzberg (1996), Aebi (1972) and other theorists further describe how a concept entitled "vertical job enrichment" can support positive attitudes toward work by reinforcing these motivation factors. Vertical job enrichment adds more authority, accountability, degree of difficulty and specialization to an individual's work. By doing so, motivational factors such as responsibility, achievement, growth and learning, advancement and recognition are further developed. Vertical enrichment is compared to lateral, which only expands the job responsibilities without addressing motivational factors. Herzberg postulates that by enriching a job the individual increases his or her job satisfaction and thus positive motivation.

Ohio State University Extension added "job enrichment" to its repertoire of personnel practices approximately five years ago. Job enrichment was viewed as a way to assist mid-career employees who had reached a plateau by offering new challenges. Also, because of downsizing, it was felt this approach could allow some critical job functions to be performed on an ad-hoc basis until an appropriate decision could be made about staffing a position for the future. The organization believed certain employees would be recharged and newly motivated and that critical organizational needs could be addressed.

After five years, we were convinced that some organizational needs had been met by job enrichment. To assess whether or not employee motivation had been impacted positively, the authors decided to conduct an evaluative telephone survey of ten employees who had participated in these experiences. Had Herzberg's theory been proven in practice?

The survey participants, consisting of seven men and three women, were interviewed by the authors. Six of the individuals had participated in full time experiences lasting from six months to over one year. The other four interviewees had participated in part time (approximately 50 percent) experiences that also lasted from six months to one year. All of the participants were classified as mid-career, i.e., ten years or more experience with the organization, when they began their special assignment.

Three open-ended questions were asked of each participant. The questions were:

  1. Please describe the benefits/advantages of your job enrichment experience.
  2. Please explain the disadvantages/drawbacks of this experience.
  3. Did your job enrichment experience have any impact on your attitude/motivation when you returned to your regular assignment?

The questions were purposely left open-ended and did not attempt to lead the interviewee to comment on whether the experience benefitted the organization or the individual personally. Generally speaking, nine out of ten respondents indicated personal advantages, disadvantages and motivational issues rather than commenting on benefits or drawbacks to the organization.

The responses to the "BENEFITS/ADVANTAGE" question can best be summarized by three words: RENEWAL, EXPLORATION, and SPECIALIZATION.

RENEWAL includes a number of responses related to career plateauing: "routine and boredom, need to change, thinking about new career options or priorities, making new contacts and seeing the program from a different vantage point."

EXPLORATION includes such terms as "trying new skills, looking at new concepts, developing new relationships and networks, and testing management and administrative skills."

SPECIALIZATION refers to working in one specific subject matter area rather than as a generalist and includes such responses as "re-education, in-depth exploration, using special skills, meeting a need that was under-served, and renewing old skills."

When the interviewees were asked to identify those areas they considered DISADVANTAGES, the following three terms best summarized their collective comments: "BALANCE, CLARITY and ORIENTATION."

BALANCE was an especially important issue for those who did not have full time job enrichment experiences. They had to deal with their regular assignment as well as their new responsibilities. Indicators of this issue include such comments as "time allocation, tough decisions about work load, taking time away from regular assignments and balancing the work load."

CLARITY refers to lack of information needed to be successful in the job enrichment experience. "New relationships, new processes and procedures, lack of clear plans and goals, and guidance in using time" were some of the terms used by respondents.

ORIENTATION refers to a lack of structured introduction for the special assignment. There was some overlap with the CLARITY issue mentioned above. But responses such as "being introduced, taught new responsibilities, learning new networks, and lack of instructions" were underscored as "sink or swim" approaches that some experienced in their special assignment.

Interestingly, of the ten employees interviewed, half did not return to their normal assignment at the end of their job enrichment experience. Therefore, their responses regarding the motivation/attitude question were not useful in answering the study question directly. For the five remaining participants, two radically different terms summarized their attitude/motivation after the job enrichment experience. They were either rejuvenated or bored. For three of them, returning to work in their previous assignment became mundane and did not have the same excitement that the special assignment did. At the other extreme, two of the participants felt that they were challenged and ready to go back to their former job responsibilities with a renewed, positive attitude.

Comments related to career decision making were the overriding ATTITUDE/ MOTIVATION response for most of the participants. Fifty percent of the participants determined that management/administrative responsibilities were enjoyable, and they would like to pursue these experiences as a full time career opportunity while the other fifty percent determined that they did not want this type of work to be part of their future. Clearly, the most frequently mentioned response by all participants related to the career exploration aspects of the special assignment.

What can Extension human resource professionals learn from the feedback given by these employees? For job opportunities to be enriching, human resource professionals must successfully include the following as part of the experience:

    A strong orientation program A specific job description containing a definitive set of work objectives A "champion" or "legitimizer" who can make introductions, mentor the individual and help the person quickly establish credibility Advice in balancing new responsibilities with regular job and family life Human and financial resources that permit adequate support for maintaining the regular position as well as the job enriching responsibilities Counseling to help transition back into the original job with a positive attitude

A question that surfaced in the mind of the authors as a result of the survey related to the long term effects that a job enrichment opportunity has on employee motivation. The literature suggests the positive aspects. Our limited study suggests that there are potential negative impacts on morale, i.e., a demotivator for some employees who return full time to their regular assignment. We would encourage additional studies by other organizations using job enrichment opportunities.

Motivation of employees is a continual challenge in today's workplace. When properly implemented, job enrichment may be the motivational technique that can make a positive difference. Handled improperly, it can produce unexpected and unwanted results.


Herzberg, F. (1996), Work and the nature of man. Cleveland: World Publishing.

Herzberg, F. (1976), The managerial choice. Homewood, IL: Dow-Jones-Irwin.

Aebi, C. (1972), The application of Herzberg's motivation - hygiene theory to college educators as tested by two different methodologies. Dissertation Abstracts International 3979-A.

Miskel, C. G. (1982), Motivation in educational organizations. Educational Administration Quarterly 18 (3) 65-68.

Pinder, C.C. (1984), Work motivation. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.