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
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
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
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
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
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