Job enrichment: Against the tide of contingency hiring

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

THE first half of our family life is controlled by our parents, while the second half is controlled by our children. By the same token, our work life is controlled by 555 (contractual) people and regular workers who treat their jobs differently as they’re motivated by different reasons. You may not realize it but temps, also known as “endo” (end of contract) employees, appear to work harder than most job-secure regulars.

Even part-time student assistants receiving P60 an hour complain that the bulk of the tasks are dumped into their laps while permanent workers update their Facebook pages. How serious is this problem? Or, why is this happening, in the first place? I have yet to see an industry study on this.

But even without any academic research, the best management approach is to discover how you can do more with what you have in your organization. Pretty basic, isn’t it? But why do people managers appear trigger-happy when they hire contingent workers? Because it’s easy to do and they don’t cost much.

The moment a task becomes too difficult to handle or the work volume tends to disrupt our relationship with customers, we readily call for the help of a friendly service contractor, until the practice becomes a mindless cycle or until it reaches a point where temps outnumber the regulars.

Now, think and ask intelligent questions. Peter Drucker (1909-2005) said “the most common source of management mistakes is the emphasis on finding the right answer, instead of raising the right question.” In this context, the obvious answer is to hire temps and dispose of them at the right time. But why can’t people managers ask the basic questions like—how do we handle the task without hiring temps? Is there a better way?

Why can’t management first examine the work situation before giving in to the urge to hire disposable labor? In some ways, taking a hard, critical examination of your management practice is a straightforward and long-term approach of solving a problem. I mean, people managers need only to maximize their current manpower resources by coming up with a mutually acceptable job standard and timeline with regular workers.

To do just that, one solution that you can consider is by job enrichment.

It is a strategic method of expanding a job vertically by adding higher-skill activities (e.g. problem-solving) and delegating greater authority (e.g. decision-making) even to ordinary, regular workers. One good example of this is when you require the workers to inspect their own work for defects, order supplies from the next process, and monitor their work output.

Sometime ago, when I worked for a commercial bank, we came out with a position called the “universal processor”—a job description for someone who can perform a variety of related tasks like tellering, new accounts processing, customer relations, signature verification, among others.

If the tasks of our regular workers are enriched like the universal processor, then who cares about hiring temps? One caveat, however. Whatever savings you can get out of not hiring contingent workers, the regular workers must be paid above-industry pay and perks. More than the cost savings of not hiring temps, job enrichment is all about preparing regular workers to assume challenging work assignments in the future.

Looking at job enrichment is a natural way of identifying an often-ignored solution, because it takes time for management to understand everything, particularly if it’s blinded by proximity to the problems. If Toyota and other dynamic organizations are doing it, then why can’t you? Of course, I’m not saying that Toyota is not hiring temps.

The fact that job enrichment has been tried and tested elsewhere must help us rethink our position against the cyclical hiring of contractuals resulting in a highly irregular situation where regular workers become a fraction of the total workforce.

Such absurdity makes me think. Watching how employers and their people managers behave make me ask another intelligent question: Why can’t we do a low-cost, tangible solution like job enrichment as a matter of first recourse? I hate to think that some managers receive commissions from service contractors. But if true, I hope they are the few exceptions rather than the general rule.

The point of job enrichment is to have the employees secure decent jobs. That’s the best way to attract, nurture, and motivate the best and the brightest. There’s no other way.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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