Does multiskilling in service management lead to improved job satisfaction?

Multiskilling of employees is an effective way for facility management companies to organize jobs in way that improves profitability, flexibility and quality of service. But does multi-skilling also create a better workplace and enhance job satisfaction?

First of all, what does multiskilling exactly mean? In a simple sense, multi-skilling is the design of jobs to enable people to perform two or more traditionally separate job functions.

Not to be mistaken with multitasking that simply relates to performing many different tasks at the same time -- if a job function requires multiskiling, a degree of training will be necessary to enable the employee to carry out the job.

Three dimensions of multiskilling

Multiskilling can be considered in terms of the following three dimensions:

  1. Vertical Multiskilling – where the employee takes on supervisory or administrative tasks such as overseeing or leading a self-managed team. This has the potential of empowering an employee with managerial aspirations and demonstrates a greater level of trust in the individual.
  2. Horizontal Multiskilling – this is where the employee takes on another task (service) at the same level of his or her original task.
  3. Depth Multiskilling – is where a set of complex skills are acquired within the same job function in order to offer a better overall service to the customer.


The benefits and drawbacks of multiskilled job design

Multiskilled jobs have many implications for the service provider, the employee and the customer. The graphic below presents an overview of both the benefits and drawbacks for all parties involved:

Benefits and Drawback of Multiskilled Job design

The main benefits from a service provider perspective are lower costs and increased flexibility. Also, the overall personnel costs are reduced through layoffs due to better utilization of existing personnel, lower recruitment costs as well as increased flexibility and improved productivity. One of the main downsides of multiskilling is that training costs likely are to increase as well as a rising concern that multiskilling may create jacks-of-all-trades out of employees who formerly mastered one specialized job. Not being careful with multiskilling of former specialized employees may therefore impair service quality, safety and also effectiveness.

Better use of skills, increased job variety, higher pay and job motivation are often the main benefits of multiskilling from an employee perspective, while the customer will benefit through cheaper cost of service, better quality of service and faster response time.

The fact that service employees can stand in for each other means that the client will experience significantly fewer disruptions to the overall service.

The connection between multiskilling and job satisfaction

In theory, multiskilling has been seen as a driver of job satisfaction as it provides significant tangible and intangible benefits for the service provider, this holds true for both the employee as well as the customer.

Multiskilling can improve job satisfaction due to its impact on job characteristics and on the employee’s personal value perception. From the employee perspective, multiskilling can improve task significance because the worker is adding more value to the customer as well as improve the overall skills sets of the employee in particular, which often leads to higher salary and job variety.

However, these assumptions are fairly theoretical. To find out whether these assumptions also are true in practice, we conducted a two-phase survey among ISS employees.

In the first phase, a questionnaire was used to measure job satisfaction among multiskilled employees and single-skilled employees. The other phase consisted of an interview survey in which our analysis of responses was guided by the results in the questionnaire-based survey.

The two main conclusions were:

  1. At an overall level, multiskilled workers and single-skilled workers have the same job satisfaction. Looking at the individual workplaces there are no differences as the distribution of the most satisfied and the least satisfied is the same.
  2. Multiskilled workers form two distinct groups; one with very high job satisfaction and one with low job satisfaction. For some employees, multiskilling results in a very high level of job satisfaction while for others it has the opposite effect. The spread in overall job satisfaction is much higher among multiskilled employees than among single-skilled employees.


Other interesting aspects of the difference between single-skilled and multiskilled work, were:

  • Single-skilled workers have lower job satisfaction the higher their level of educational level. The reverse is true for multiskilled workers. The reason for this may be that multiskilled workers have more complex tasks, more autonomy and are using more skills.
  • Multiskilled workers score lower on satisfaction with pay than single-skilled workers. The reason for this may be that multiskilled workers do not receive significantly higher pay than single-skilled workers – but feel they should.
  • Multiskilled workers are more satisfied with their promotion prospects than their single-skilled colleagues.

Overall, and despite many interesting conclusions, the overall conclusion is that multiskilling significantly increase job satisfaction for only about half of the employees asked in our survey.  To make multiskilling a success, employees must feel that they are up-skilled, acquiring new competencies rather than have the feeling of just getting more and more work. Therefore, properly developed job designs, processes and future career plans must be in place before multiskilling can be a true success. In doing so, the multiskilled employees will be able to make sense of their work and see their jobs in a continuously developing long-term perspective.

Eager to learn more about the components of Multiskilling and how it correlates with Job Satisfaction? Download our White Paper: Multiskilling and job satisfaction in service outsourcing.

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