Job challenge can be described as the extent to which a job is stimulating and interesting. Challenging jobs provide an opportunity to strengthen, develop, and learn skills applicable to the work world. A common theme in the research literature is that employees desire work experiences that include challenging jobs and that such jobs increase employee and organizational effectiveness.
Job challenge highlights the importance of considering job factors or job characteristics in understanding many aspects of organizational life. A focus on job factors enables organizations to develop and design practices and programs that will enhance employee performance. Job factors include a number of dimensions, some of which (such as a high level of variety and substantial autonomy on the job) combine to produce job challenge. Job challenge is a powerful characteristic that is closely linked to career development, intrinsic job satisfaction, organizational commitment, motivation, empowerment, and personal goal achievement.
The career-development programs of some organizations include recruiting college student interns who upon graduation become employed by the organization. For both parties to benefit from the work relationship, organizations need to design jobs that allow interns to develop, strengthen, learn, and apply new skills. Job challenge is among the key variables that have contributed to successful work experiences among undergraduate college interns. In fact, interns who are given challenging jobs report higher organizational commitment when they join their respective organizations upon graduation and continue with challenging assignments. Researchers suggest that the confirmation of the interns’ preentry expectations contributes to their commitment and loyalty to the organizations within the first six months of their employment.
Newcomers into an organization, especially recent college graduates, desire challenging jobs. One study of how recent graduates view their jobs revealed that the graduates’ highest initial expectations were for on-the-job challenge and diversity, as well as opportunities for technical or managerial career advancement. Job challenge has long been established as particularly important for employees at the early stages of their careers. Organizations should be cognizant of the fact that providing employees with challenging jobs at the early career stage can be critical to achieving later career success.
It is also important to recognize that recent trends such as globalization and advances in information technology have contributed to an uncertain and mobile labor market, wherein employees may experience several entry stages into various organizations during their work lives. In the current work environment, individuals bear the primary responsibility for managing their careers and seeking challenging jobs during their entry into different organizations. Some organizations’ career-development programs reflect this changing work landscape by focusing on activities that allow employees to continually add to their skills, abilities, and knowledge. Hence, career-development responsibilities of organizations include providing employees with opportunities to acquire new, interesting, and professionally challenging work experiences.
Job design has contributed to our understanding of motivation. Job design directs attention to the job itself, matching job factors with employees’ skills and interests. Studies have found that incorporating varying degrees of five core job dimensions—skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback— into employees’ work will enhance the achievement of personal and organizational outcomes. Creating jobs that require employees to use a wider variety of skills will result in more challenging work assignments that subsequently serve to motivate employees.
The way jobs are structured contributes to employees’ intrinsic motivation and creative performance at work. Employees are more likely to break cognitive mind-sets and develop creative responses to job demands if they have challenging work. Research has found that individuals who perceive their jobs as challenging are intrinsically satisfied with their jobs, work harder and smarter, and enhance their performance on the job.
Job challenge has been studied both by itself and in combination with other job factors. For example, job challenge and job significance are major factors in producing job satisfaction and in motivating an individual to learn on the job. In a similar vein, research-and-development professionals who have challenging jobs and freedom to determine how to do their work have been found to increase their creativity.
Practices that promote job challenge have been linked to employee empowerment and the achievement of personal goals. When organizations incorporate or adopt policies that increase job challenge, employees build self-confidence as they learn and utilize new skills to accomplish a task, choose among alternative ways of accomplishing the task, and alleviate feelings of helplessness. Possessing challenging jobs and receiving training to perform them successfully empower employees toward satisfying both individual needs and organizational goals. Having empowered employees can translate into multiple benefits for both parties.
In light of recent developments in the work of work (e.g., globalization, information technology, reorganization, transition to a knowledge economy), a focus on work experience is becoming inevitable. This has increased interest in job factors such as job challenge, which has recently been considered to be a dimension of an organization’s culture. Moreover, for organizations to fulfill their career-development responsibilities to employees in the changing work world (e.g., encouraging self-reliance and continuous learning), a focus on employees’ work assignments and job experience is essential.
We should note that although job challenge is rarely studied in isolation, research suggests that challenging jobs or work experiences are fundamental to achieving a number of positive individual and organizational outcomes. We also need to acknowledge that individuals may differ in their responses to challenging jobs (that is, not every employee thrives on challenging work) and to be aware of individual differences in discussing the benefits of a challenging job.
- Blum, T. C. 2000. “Matching Creativity Requirements and the Work Environment: Effects on Satisfaction and Intention to Leave.” Academy of Management Journal 43:215-223.
- Dixon, M. A., Cunningham, G. B., Sagas, M., Turner, B. A. and Kent, A. 2005. “Challenge Is Key: An Investigation of Affective Commitment in Undergraduate Interns.” Journal of Education for Business 80:172-180.
- Kirchmeyer, C. 1995. “Demographic Similarity to the Work Group: A Longitudinal Study of Managers at the Early Career Stage.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 16:67-83.
- Kirk-Brown, A. and Wallace, D. 2004. “Predicting Burnout and Job Satisfaction in Workplace Counselors: The Influence of Role Stressors, Job Challenge, and Organizational Knowledge.” Journal of Employment Counseling 41:29-36.
- Morrison, R. F. and Brantner, T. M. 1992. “What Enhances or Inhibits Learning a New Job? A Basic Career Issue.” Journal of Applied Psychology 77:926-941.
- Robbins, S. P. 2005. Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice.
- Shalley, C. A., Gilson, L. L. and Blum, T. C. 2000. “Matching Creativity Requirements and the Work Environment: Effects on Satisfaction and Intention to Leave.” Academy of Management Journal 43:215-223.