The Six Criteria

These are the six intrinsic motivators or psychological criteria that are needed for productive work. The six criteria exercise also forms an early part of Participative Design Workshops (PDW) but can also stand alone as an exercise in groups.

These six criteria have been developed and tested over the last forty years by Australian management theorists, Drs Fred & Merrelyn Emery.

The intention is that the six criteria should be run as an exercise with a group and not as an exercise for the individual. The group discuss together the six criteria, learning about what leads to their position on these criteria building understanding of each others point of view.

The criteria can be added to, but not reduced. They are the basic core elements for building satisfying jobs and empowering people. They are key factors that determine the level of employee engagement.


    1. Elbow Room – autonomy in decision making

    1. Continual learning on the Job consisting of,


        • Setting Goals

        • Getting Feedback 

    1. Variety

    1. Mutual Support and Respect 

    1. Meaningfulness


        • (a) Socially Useful

        • (b) See Whole Product Desirable Future

    1. Desirable Future

A more detailed description of each of the six criteria follows. 

Criteria 1 to 3 are optimised for personal needs. Optimised meaning you can have both too little and too much of these, you are looking for a balance in the middle – what is right for you.

1. Elbow Room (autonomy in decision making) 


    • Make decisions about how you will do work. 

    • Do things so that it suits your needs. 

    • Elbow room varies tremendously amongst individuals.

2. Continual learning on the Job 

This criteria has two parts to it: 

(a) Setting Goals


    • A good job challenges you. 

    • You must be able to set challenges or goals for yourself, rather than someone setting them for you. 

    • For example, the boss says, “I want this work finished by Friday afternoon” when you know you could finish it by Wednesday. 

    • You must be able to set your own goals so that an optimal level of challenge is provided. 

(b) Getting Feedback 


    • You have to get accurate feedback on time. 

    • There is no point in getting feedback three months later if you are not involved with that job again. 

    • The feedback has got to be there when you need it (and be accurate) because there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. 

    • People learn from their mistakes, but if you continue making them and no one tells you that you are doing things incorrectly, then you won’t learn from it. 

    • Also, if you don’t get feedback on time there can be no experimentation to find better ways of working and goal achievement is simply a matter of luck.

3. Variety 


    • Some people like a lot of variety, while others prefer to do routine work. 

    • Workers need to plan their work so that no one gets too much of the routine work and no-one is stressed by doing too many demanding tasks. 

In criteria 1 to 3, people can have too much or too little. When designing work you have to make sure people can get as close to the optimal as possible. 

The next three criteria are to do with the climate of the workplace itself – the workplace atmosphere. The criteria below (4 to 6) are maximal because you can never have enough. 

4. Mutual Support and Respect 


    • A crucial feature of the design of self-managing groups is that it only supports cooperative efforts, not competitive work goals.

    • If you are having a bad day you know someone will help you out, and if a workmate has a bad day then you’ll help him/her. 

5. Meaningfulness 

This criterion has two parts to it: 

(a) Socially Useful 


    • You must be doing a job that you know, and others know, is socially useful or worthwhile. 

    • Many jobs in the workplace are not meaningful. Some people can say: “If I didn’t do this work then it wouldn’t really matter – no-one will notice if the work is not done. My job doesn’t really need doing at all.” 

(b) See Whole Product 


    • People must know how their job is contributing to the whole product/service. 

    • It’s no good sitting on an assembly line doing a repetitive job if you don’t know what is coming off at the end of your section and what the quality is like. 

    • In self-managing work groups, there is no room for donkey jobs. 

6. Desirable Future 


    • Not a dead-end job, but opportunities exist to learn new skills 

    • The levels of aspiration will be raised when people discover how easily they can master new skills and how well they can contribute to the management of their group. 

    • A career path within a self-managing team would prepare a person well for managerial levels in a democratic learning organisation. 

“If you don’t get these criteria right then there will not be the human interest to see the job through.”

Prof Fred Emery

The following diagram ‘How to Measure the Six Basic Human Needs of Work’ is a useful matrix for teams to use when they want to determine how motivating work is for team members. 

This is not an individual exercise. Team members need to discuss together how they each feel about the six criteria. 

To do this the team listens to each persons score on a particular criteria and then they discuss score relativities. For instance, “why is Jane’s elbow room –3 and Peter’s is –1 when you both do the same work?” 

It’s important that the team works on particular criteria at a time. Don’t get an individual to rattle off all their scores in one team address. 

The team should thoroughly discuss each criteria in turn. Team dialogue is important in this session in order to surface any issues that may be impeding team performance.

Attribution – Peter Aughton Amerin INTRINSIC MOTIVATORS May 2007 

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