Job Complexity

What is Job Complexity?

Studies have shown that complex works that require many sophisticated skills are generally thought to have positive motivational outcomes. Thus, in this entry we address job complexity.

Job complexity is defined as the extent to which the tasks on a job Opens in new window are multifaceted, mentally demanding and challenging to perform (Campion, 1988).

According to Avolio, Waldman and McDaniel (1990), older employees’ accumulated experience may be advantageous in terms of performance in highly complex jobs.

Furthermore, they posit that performance may decline more quickly in non-complex jobs, in which employees become bored (See boredom Opens in new window).

Similarly, a series of studies by Zacher et al. found that highly complex jobs can allow older workers to take advantage of age-related gains, such as increased experiential knowledge.

Specifically, job complexity has been shown to moderate the relationship between age and perceived opportunities at work; while age and perceived opportunities are generally negatively related, this relationship is diminished in high-complexity jobs (Zacher & Frese, 2009, 2011; Zacher et al., 2010).

Because work that involves complex tasks requires the use of numerous high-level skills and is more mentally demanding and challenging, it is likely to have positive motivational outcomes for workers performing it .

However, for workers entering mid and late careers, job complexity’s effect may be well associated with their use of SOC, strategies of Selection, Optimization, and Compensation (Freud & Baltes, 1998).

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Specifically, when dealing with complex jobs, they may optimize their learning experiences by selecting the skills and tasks that compensate for their weaknesses and emphasize their strengths.

These workers are typically in a better position in utilizing SOC strategies than their counterparts who are in early career stages, because they have accumulated more knowledge and skills over their career and probably have a more comprehensive perspective when facing complex jobs.

Therefore, for those who can successfully apply SOC strategies, high levels of job complexity may prove to be motivating. However, for those who cannot efficiently use SOC strategies, high levels of job complexity may turn out to be overwhelming and may diminish one’s self-efficacy Opens in new window for performing such jobs.