The balancing act between job demands and resources

Teemu Jäntti, September 3, 2018

Everyone of us acting as leaders, supervisors, experts or workers should understand and operationalize in our own daily lives the dynamics of the Job Demands and Resources model. This holistic approach takes into account both the organizational and individual aspects of everyday demands and resources at work. Applying this approach leads to increased work engagement, higher job satisfaction and improved well-being.

What is the Job Demands – Resources (JD-R) model?

JD-R has been extensively conceptualized and researched since the early 2000s. Focus in the early days was mainly around understanding and preventing burnout or other depression symptoms. Later, more focus has been put into positive work engagement. In this article the focus is on the positive sides of JD-R model.

Job Demands refer to those physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job that require sustained physical and/or psychological effort and are therefore associated with related costs for sustaining these. Good examples are high workload, computer problems, high work pressure or emotionally demanding interactions with customers or other stakeholders.

Job resources refer to those physical, psychological, social or organizational aspects of the job that are: 1) functional in achieving work goals, 2) reduce job demands and the associated costs and 3) stimulate personal growth, learning and development. Hence, job resources are needed to deal with demands, but they are also very important in their own right. Good examples are autonomy, coaching, support, time control or feedback.

Interesting and important extension to the JD-R model is the inclusion of personal resources. Personal resources are positive self-evaluations that are linked to resilience and individual’s ability – or sense of it – to control and impact upon their environment. It has been shown that these predict goal setting, motivation, job performance and more generally life satisfaction.

For example, is has been studied that personal resources (e.g. self-efficacy, optimism and organizational based self-esteem) predict both positive work engagement and hopefully avoidable exhaustion. According to the research, job resources, work engagement and personal resources can create a positive intermediating cycle between each other.

Job crafting enables personal and job development

Job Crafting refers to having the possibility and capabilities to make changes into job demands and resources (i.e.goals, expectations and tasks) based on individual learning and development preferences. We should also include job crafting into the JD-R model, since it plays and important role in both the positive and negative outcomes (see picture below).

Job crafting can take four different forms; 1) Increasing structural job resources, 2) increasing social job resources, 3) increasing challenging (=positive) job demands and 4) Decreasing hindrance (=negative) job demands. According to research, job crafting correlates positively with (colleague- and self-rated) work engagement, employability and performance. Job crafting will be covered in more detail in our future insights.

JD-R is a dynamic model

The JD-R triggers two fairly independent processes, namely 1) health impairment and 2) motivational processes. Job demands are generally the most important predictors of such outcomes as exhaustion, psychosomatic health complaints, and repetitive strain injury (RSI). Job resources are generally the most important predictors of work enjoyment, motivation, and engagement.

The reasons for these unique effects are that job demands basically cost effort and consume energy resources. Job resources fulfil basic psychological needs, like the needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Research shows that it is a dynamic model enacting as an enabler, hindrance and mediator between the job demand and resources.

Practical implications

According to extensive research, there are four ways to intervene (i.e. develop) and make changes in the daily life and routines of employees. You can intervene on individual or organizational level to increase job or personal resources and decrease the job demands.

First, jobs can be redesigned. Job redesign is usually a top-down process. This means bigger organizational and job/task changes and often also rethinking the processes. One excellent approach is to understand the value created to the customer and redesigning jobs accordingly. This value stream mapping enables employees to focus on customers.

Second, you need to allow and support your employees in job crafting. It is known that other persons take influence on the others, and thus create a positive cycle on job crafting initiatives.

Third, you need to ensure proper training (coaching, change management, problem solving, technical knowledge, etc) for the daily jobs/tasks, but also to the constant change we all face no matter where or in which position we work.

Fourth, you could manage strength-based intervention. Work engagement is dependent on the match between individual strengths and job demands. The more employees get to use their own strengths, higher the self-efficacy will be. Supervisors and HR need to be creative in acknowledging these strengths and finding ways for employees to enhance them and use for the benefit of the company.

One additional practical implication is to avoid the negative spiral of too high job demands:

Higher the Job Demands → Higher the Burn-out risk → Higher Job Demands 

When person starts to have burnout symptoms, the job demands may feel overwhelming and thus lead to a worse situation. This applies to job crafting similarly. When you don’t have the resources to change your job/tasks to better, it is difficult to find a way out of the negative spiral. The way out, is to increase both job and personal resources and normally you need the support and coaching from either from your supervisor and/or colleagues & HR.

Key takeaways to improve your organization’s performance

  1. Allow and train your employees to do job crafting. This increases job and personal resources and decreases job demands.

  2. Job crafting spills from one person to another.

  3. Job Demand and Resources is a dynamic model. We all should understand and operationalize these dynamics in our daily routines. This would increase our work engagement and thus leading to positive outcomes in wellbeing and job performance.

  4. Increasing Job Demands creates high burn-out risk, and thus let’s be compassionate with our demands. When a person starts to feel the symptoms, the more demanding the job feels. This creates negative spiral between Job Demands and burn-out.

  5. There is (sometimes) a need to redesign jobs top-down to increase personal and job resources, and decrease the job demands.

Background

Research outlines the building blocks of the job demands–resources (JD-R) theory, a theory that has been inspired by job design and job stress theories. Whereas job design theories have often ignored the role of job stressors or demands, job stress models have largely ignored the motivating potential of job resources. JD-R theory combines the two research traditions, and explains how job demands and (job and personal) resources have unique and multiplicative effects on job stress and motivation. In addition, JD-R theory proposes reversed causal effects: whereas burned-out employees may create more job demands over time for themselves, engaged workers mobilize their own job resources to stay engaged. The research closes with a discussion of possible JD-R interventions.

Sources

Bakker, Arnold & Demerouti, Evangelia. (2014). Job Demands-Resources Theory. Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide. 3. 37-64. 10.1002/9781118539415.wbwell019.

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