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Work in the 21st Century: Implications for Job Analysis

Karen E. May

Human Resource Solutions

I received a terrific response to last issue's call for your ideas and work in the area of job analysis for the changing world of work. Clearly, this is an area in which there is need for change in the way we practice I/O psychology, and many of you recognize new ways job analysis can provide value to organizations. In this column, I will address four questions that seem to capture new thinking about job analysis.

Do we need job analysis anymore?

The primary question related job analysis in this new world of work is whether job analysis is still relevant as a descriptive tool. Traditionally, job analysis provides detailed information regarding tasks and activities performed in a specific job. Often this information is used to document job boundaries and assign tasks and responsibilities. The resulting products, namely job descriptions and job specifications are then used to inform human resource functions such as selection and performance management. Job analysis captures the content of jobs as they are described at one point in time. What happens to the usefulness of this technique when the content of jobs changes, sometimes frequently?

The reality is, jobs can change rapidly and organizations need maximum flexibility. The more jobs change, the less value there is to gathering data that will need to be collected again in the near future. The shelf-life of job analysis results is only as long as the duration of the current job configurations. Thus, traditional job analysis practices are found lacking in light of changes in the nature of work, such as decreased specialization and shifting or shared work assignments (Morgan & Smith, 1996). Job analysis forces boundaries to be drawn, which creates a result that is inconsistent with new management practices, including cross-training assignments, job and task rotation, self-managed teams, and increased responsibility at all organizational levels (Carson & Stewart, 1996; Sanchez, 1994). Additionally, given the nature of business today, the assumptions upon which job analysis was built may no longer hold true (Sanchez, 1994).

The answer to the first question is a qualified yes. Job analysis will continue to be useful if: 1) organizations consist of jobs that are structured around specific tasks and are relatively stable, 2) organizations are collecting data for the purpose of legal compliance and defensibility, and 3) organizations can use modified approaches to job analysis to capture new forms of work, as described below.

Is the purpose of job analysis changing?

The purpose of job analysis, defined broadly, is to collect information about the work performed within an organization, and this purpose remains unchanged. The specific uses of job analysis information, however, are different today. Beyond the creation of job descriptions and job specifications, job analysis information will be used to identify future staffing needs (Morgan & Smith, 1996) and enable teams to maximize their work process efficiencies (Sanchez, 1994). In his work on job analysis for the future, Sanchez (1994) suggests a shift in name from job analysis to work analysis. Use of the term work analysis implies clearly the change in purpose of job analysis: the description of work regardless of how it is distributed across specific positions. Sanchez describes a number of ways in which work analysis can be useful in responding to emerging business trends, such as using work analysis to design skill-based pay programs, to facilitate organizational readiness for the future, and to identify task interdependencies and workflows.

Do our job analysis methods need to change?

Yes. The tools commonly employed in analyzing work (e.g., interviews, observations, questionnaires, SME workshops) will continue to provide us with the information we need, however, the way in which these tools are utilized is clearly changing. For example, one methodological enhancement to job analysis involves including different sources of information when gathering data about work. Whereas a traditional analyst would go to job incumbents and their supervisors, new style analysts will include customers, technical experts, and the people designing the work of the future in their analytical process.

New job analysis methods include techniques for describing the work that will be done in the future. Fogli, Goldberg, and Landis (under review) describe a method for learning about future work by understanding planned changes to jobs, working with the people planning the change, and working with people performing similar tasks now in order to identify the critical tasks and requisite KSAs of the future.

Another new approach focuses on the attributes required by the tasks and the organization rather than the tasks themselves. Morgan and Smith (1996) recommend using work analysis or the critical incident method to identify attributes that cut across tasks and specific job assignments, and are required by the broader organizational culture.

Still another approach shifts the focus from specific tasks performed to clusters of tasks called work functions (Shankster, Cawley, Olivero-Wolf, & Landy, 1995). Work functions are more likely to be long-standing units of work, even as the narrow tasks that make up those clusters change. In their work, Shankster et. al. start with a traditional work analysis questionnaire, then factor analyze responses to identify clusters of co-occurring tasks. These work functions are then grouped together to form jobs or to depict the flow of work through the department or organization.

We are also seeing new tools, such as flowcharting, utilized in the collection of work information (Sanchez, 1994). Flowcharting enables analysts to connect the work performed by multiple people, rather than limiting their scope to within the boundaries of a single job.

How can job analysis increase the effectiveness of organizations?

Job analysis (or work analysis) is useful when it provides information that informs organizational change and work effectiveness. Ironically, job analysis may be most useful in a work world that does not include jobs, because the information it provides may enable more effective design and management of work processes. Job analysis information is the raw material that is essential to build new work processes and create efficiencies that cannot emerge any other way. This much-maligned tool holds great promise for the future of organizations if we seize the opportunity that presents itself.

Now for some logistics. Given the publication cycle for TIP, some of you received you last issue shortly before the publication deadline for this issue. In order to increase the time available for you to contact me with your ideas and articles, I will begin listing the topics for the next two columns. In the next issue of TIP, this column will address issues related to managing performance in the changing workplace, the following issue will include a discussion of implications for compensation practices. Contact Karen May with your ideas and/or papers at Human Resource Solutions, 61-F Avenida de Orinda, Orinda, CA 94563, Phone (510) 253-0458, Fax (510) 253-9432, or E-Mail HRS2000@ix.netcom.com.


Carson, K.P., and Stewart, G.L. (1996). Job analysis and the sociotechnical approach to quality: A critical examination. Journal of Quality Management, 1, pp. 49-64.

Fogli, L., Goldberg, E., & Landis, R. (under review). Future-oriented job analysis: Bringing the I and the O together.

Morgan, R.B. & Smith, J.E. (1996). Staffing the new workplace: Selecting and promoting for quality improvement. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.

Sanchez, J.I., (1994). From documentation to innovation: Reshaping job analysis to meet emerging business needs. Human Resource Management Review, 4(1), pp. 51-74.

Shankster, L., Cawley, B., Olivero-Wolf, M., & Landy, F.J. (1995). US West Learning Systems: Organizational Re-Design Final Report.