Job Design And Evaluation Research Paper

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Job evaluation is a method used to produce a hierarchy of jobs in an organization as the basis for determining relative pay levels. It seeks to measure the relative value of jobs, not that of the jobholders. Ideally, the performance of the individual should not enter into job evaluation although, in practice, it may be difficult to dissociate individuals from their jobs. Job evaluation is based on the assumption that components of work can be isolated and that these can be decomposed into elements considered worthy of remuneration.

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The main aim of job evaluation is to provide an acceptable rationale for determining the pay of existing hierarchies of jobs and for slotting in new ones. It may be implemented unilaterally or with varying degrees of participation by the workforce. Acceptability, consensus, and the maintenance of traditional hierarchical structures are normally the goals of such schemes.

Job evaluation schemes do not directly determine rates of pay. The rate for the job or the salary market for a job grade is influenced by a number of factors outside the scope of most schemes. Often, the pay determinants and indeed hierarchies are linked to external market pay rates, the relative bargaining strengths of the negotiating bodies, and traditional patterns of pay differentials between jobs. Job evaluation is concerned with relationships, not absolutes.

1. The Rise Of Job Evaluation

Job evaluation grew up in the first half of the twentieth century, in an era of large, bureaucratic organizations and increasing unionization. There was a shift toward more ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ methods of determining pay differentials. A major concern was to justify pay levels since many industrial disputes were concerned with wages. Collective bargaining, unilateral wage determination, or individual negotiations were seen as unsystematic compared to job evaluation. The rise of mass production and sometimes-militant industrial unionism was also important. As a result of new production methods introduced at the end of the 1930s and during World War Two, the number of varied yet unskilled occupations increased sharply. The clear line between mass production and traditional craft jobs had become blurred. Pay on the basis of job content, not personal attributes, complemented this system of industrial relations.

2. Main Emphases In Job Evaluation Research

For many years the main interest in job evaluation has come from scholars in the fields of industrial relations, labor economics, and industrial psychology.

During World War II some academic economists had been members of, or attached to, the US National War Labor Board, a body which encouraged the use of job evaluation. Subsequently, some of these scholars, notably Clark Kerr, wrote about the industrial relations aspects of the subject (Kerr and Fisher 1977). One of his conclusions was that the design of a scheme is of less practical importance than the context into which it is introduced and the way in which it is administered. Harold Northrup, another scholar with links to National War Labor Board, concluded that job evaluation was used by management ‘partly to deter or prevent unionization, partly to rationalize its wage scales prior to unionization … and partly to stabilize the wage structure and eliminate continuous bargaining over particular rates after unionization.’ (quoted in Hutner 1986, p. 25)

In the 1940s a very different strain of research was started by industrial psychologists interested in the design of rational, equitable pay systems and psychometric issues of reliability and validity. This early research generally concluded that trained individuals, familiar with the organization’s jobs and given detailed instructions on how to analyze them, could reach similar conclusions on overall job worth (see, for example, Ash 1947). Interest in sex discrimination in pay systems stimulated further research on the validity of different job evaluation methods in the 1980s. This produced results which were much less clear (Arvey 1986). Madigan (1985) concluded that, while the reliability of various methods tested was in the range from .70 to .90, the accuracy with which the predicted pay grade matched the actual grade was much lower.

The validity of job evaluation has been investigated by looking at the results of different methods, using predictive validity procedures, factor analysis techniques, and testing for potential sources of bias. Results have been contradictory, since some researchers have concluded that the results will be similar whatever the method used (for example, Robinson et al. 1974), whereas others have found significant differences (see Madigan and Hoover 1986). There is some consensus that the skills and knowledge dimension, present in nearly all methods, is an overriding predictor of job evaluation results (Rogers 1946, Madigan 1985). It has been argued that this means that job evaluation mainly measures abilities that a person brings to the job, rather than the job content (Rogers 1946). Another research finding is that where the evaluators know the job title this significantly influences the results (Smith et al. 1989). A review of the psychological literature has proposed, unsurprisingly, that ‘research models need to be expanded beyond focusing on the psychometric properties of job evaluation’ (Gerhart and Milkovich 1992).

Recent research has drawn upon organization theory to study how individual and group power may influence the outcomes of job evaluation. The coalition model of organizations suggests that negotiation, bargaining power, and politics are key determinants of decision behavior, particularly resource allocation decisions (Pfeffer and Salancik 1974). Using this approach Welbourne and Trevor (2000) examined whether power in a university affected job evaluation outcomes. They concluded that both departmental and individual positional power helped predict the results. Departmental power predicted the number of job grade allocations and reallocations achieved and positional power predicted the probability of favorable reallocation decisions. Powerful departments were more likely to approach the Human Resources Department with marginally acceptable requests and indulge in more extensive negotiations about the appropriateness of job descriptions and the proposed grade. The school’s dean was likely to intervene prior to an official submission, particularly for higher graded positions. Welbourne and Trevor conclude that a rational model of behavior to explain outcomes is inadequate and that job evaluation captures the dynamics of the job’s environment as well as its worth. Writing over sixty years earlier Viteles was less measured, claiming that ‘beneath the superficial orderliness of job evaluation techniques and findings, there is much that smacks of chaos’ (Viteles 1941, p. 165).

3. Equal Pay And Job Evaluation

In the 1960s equal pay legislation was introduced in many western economies. The concept of equal pay for equal work has been widened in many jurisdictions to include equal pay for work of equal value. In the European Union, where a dispute arises as to whether work is of equal value, a country is required to provide a process by which an assessment of value can be made. Such a process involves some form of comparison based on job evaluation or classification. Where job evaluation is used it must be shown not to discriminate against women. In some countries, particularly the US, equal pay for work of equal value, also known as comparable worth, has proved to be a highly contentious issue. Economists, labor lawyers, historians, and sociologists have joined the debates. The role of job evaluation in bringing about equal pay for work of equal value has been scrutinized and vigorously disputed.

Among economists there are many that dismiss the use of job evaluation as a remedy for pay discrimination against women. They believe that to attempt to compare the value of different jobs using job evaluation is like ‘comparing apples with oranges.’

The power dimension in job evaluation has been made more transparent by historical analyses of the way in which job evaluation has been used to maintain traditional male differentials, reflecting the prevailing values or relative power in society. Job evaluation, despite its rhetoric of fairness, does not necessarily lead to pay equity for women. During World War Two a US National War Labor Board case by the United Electrical Workers against General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse sought equal pay for work of equal value (Milkman 1987). The job evaluation system used for all GE jobs gave different pay rates for men and women. The company responded that these gender-based rate differentials were longstanding, accepted by the union during bargaining rounds, and in line with industry practices. They argued that to pay women more would put the firms at a competitive disadvantage and that the board should consider ‘sociological factors,’ including women’s different social and economic roles. Although the board decided in the union’s favor, the companies ignored the decision (Milkman 1987, pp. 80–1). Although explicit references to male and female rates disappeared gendered concepts, such as the distinction between ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ work, became the basis for unequal pay.

Until recently most job evaluation schemes continued to incorporate the gender bias of the early twentieth century (Treiman and Hartmann 1981). Common practices were: the separation of men and women into different job evaluation schemes; greater weight being given to the attributes of male-dominated occupations; and using different scales for men and women when converting job evaluated points to pay rates (Baker and True 1947).

4. The Law And Job Evaluation

Equal pay legislation has exposed job evaluation to sometimes rigorous analysis in the courtroom. Out of this are emerging principles that seek to ensure that job evaluation schemes are constructed and implemented transparently and without obvious bias. A distinction accepted in the European Court is between analytical and non-analytical methods. In analytical schemes jobs are broken down into their component elements for the purposes of comparison. In nonanalytical schemes the relative worth of the jobs may be based on a whole job comparison. More formal methods, particularly analytical schemes, have been judged to be more transparent and less susceptible to bias. However, it has been accepted that no scheme can ever be fully objective since the whole process is based on a series of judgments made about the facts presented to the evaluators. These judgments reflect each evaluator’s background, experience, and attitudes.

5. Future Directions

By the middle of the 1980s job evaluation was being used by about 75 percent of US firms (Beer et al. 1985). However, for the past two decades increased individualization of the employment relationship has been developing and unions in most western economies have been on the retreat. Employers have been exhorted to be more flexible and willing to consider fundamental changes in employment practices. Increasingly job evaluation has been portrayed as bureaucratic, inflexible, reinforcing hierarchy, and not in tune with the needs of the times. Lawler has argued that in a rapidly changing, highly competitive environment, particularly where companies depend on advanced technology and the knowledge of their employees, pay systems should emphasize growth, development, and performance (Lawler 1986, 1994). He claims that this is inhibited by job evaluation, which depersonalizes individuals by equating them with a set of duties, rather than concentrating on who they are or what they can do.

These views have been influential and there has developed a greater emphasis on paying people for their skills, knowledge, and performance. However, job evaluation, after becoming less fashionable in the 1980s and early 1990s, is in many countries more popular than ever. One reason for this is that the case against job evaluation has been overstated. Many of the problems associated with it can be overcome by redesigning schemes to fit the needs and values of modern organizations. A second reason is that there exists a flourishing job evaluation consultancy industry which has been quick to respond to some of the criticisms by modifying existing schemes and introducing new ones which incorporate more emphasis on skills, knowledge, competency, and performance. Broadbanding has introduced fewer, wider pay bands, thereby reducing hierarchical levels and the need for constant reevaluations.

A further influence has been that in many countries organizations have introduced job evaluation in order to be seen to be responding to legislative demands for pay equity between men and women. Job evaluation, carried out analytically, transparently, and with the participation of those concerned, normally provides a defence against potentially very expensive legal action.

Job evaluation will continue to change, but is unlikely to disappear. Employees expect equitable treatment. Even in an age of flexibility and individualism, it remains the most reliable means of achieving a pay structure that is perceived as both rational and fair by employees and their managers.


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