On the face of it, work should be straightforward. A manager gives team members duties in line with their job descriptions, and they just get on with it. But anybody who has spent any time in the world of work knows that this picture of employment is far too simplistic.
Employees don’t just passively accept the tasks and roles that managers outline for them. Instead, they personalise their work, subtly altering their jobs to fit in with their own ideas of purpose and meaning. They do this to improve their experiences of work and to forge workplace identities.
Job crafting theory examines how employees set about actively shaping their work to make it more meaningful to them.
Researchers such as Berg, Grant and Johnson (2010) and Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) consider people at work as having ‘unanswered callings’. Most are working in jobs that don’t fulfil all of their needs. To be fulfilled, there are many things these workers wish they had the opportunity to do. Therefore, they will try to change their jobs to incorporate aspects of these ‘unanswered callings’. This is the essence of job crafting.
A simple job crafting example
Here’s a simple example from the research literature of how bringing more meaning into a job through job crafting improves workplace wellbeing. Note also its capability to enhance organisational performance:
In 1997, Wrzesniewski and colleagues followed 28 hospital cleaners and looked at how engaged they were with their jobs. They found that, for some, work was just a job. They came in, did what was required, took the money and went home. Others, however, saw their job as a calling. They considered cleaning an important part of the overall care of patients, an essential that helped doctors and nurses do their jobs. Some cleaners expanded their roles to go the extra mile. They paid special attention to especially sick, worried or isolated patients. One cleaner even regularly changed the pictures in the room of a coma patient, in the hope this would help to reach her.
Five ways of job crafting
Let’s explore the concept of job crafting in more detail so we can better understand it. There are five broad ways in which someone can go about crafting their job. These are cognitive, task, relational, developmental and environmental. These five ways of job crafting are illustrated in the model below.
These five ways of job crafting can be broken down as follows.
- Cognitive – Changing the way a job is perceived, by thinking about how it benefits your life, your organisation or your community. For example, a worker on a production line might see their small task as vital to the finished product, which is itself vital to the organisation and is vital to the customer.
- Task – Altering the nature of an assigned task to incorporate aspects of an unanswered calling. For example, an artistic employee might spend extra time making a product more visually appealing.
- Relational – Changing the quantity or quality of relationships with colleagues, clients, superiors or subordinates. Better relationships at work make work more enjoyable and productive. For example, getting to know employees better, and spending social time with them out of the office, will improve relationships and work interactions.
- Environmental – Changing aspects of the workplace to make it more pleasant and conducive to work. For example, an introverted employee might desire a more private space allowing them to focus better.
- Developmental – Working out how to acquire more skills or resources to improve performance on the job. For example, a manager might spend time learning a new skill of how to organise a team. Some people might do developmental job crafting in their own time, and even at their own expense.
Why should managers encourage job crafting?
Do managers really want to give people more freedom to do what they want at work? The short answer is yes! As long as this fits with the objectives of your team or organisation.
Managers should be clear about team goals and allow individuals creativity in the ways in which they pursue them. Job crafting is beneficial for individuals and the organisation in three ways:
- Employees find better ways to do their jobs, improving productivity and client satisfaction.
- Employees gain more fulfilment from their jobs by utilising their strengths and unanswered callings.
- Employees experience improved wellbeing and motivation which leads to lower sickness absence, job turnover and presenteeism.
Perhaps the best thing of all about job crafting is that it is self-perpetuating. Identifying strengths and unanswered callings, and crafting jobs accordingly, leads to more productivity and job engagement (Tims, Bakker and Derks, 2012). This leads in turn to improved mental health and happiness (Berg, Grant and Johnson, 2010), which leads back to improved performance and job engagement, and mental wellbeing. It’s a virtuous circle.
Job crafting is something that can bring more meaning to working lives and consequently it can lead to greater workplace success.
Let’s look now at the ways in which managers can actively encourage job crafting.
How managers can help employees recraft their jobs
The first step for a manager is to sit down with his or her employees and start a conversation about their work roles and duties. Opening up a dialogue can be vitally important for low ranking employees. Berg and colleagues (2010) found that those lower in the hierarchy with low autonomy often felt like they need permission to stray away from their job description.
So a manager’s role is to initiate a dialogue. Working alongside team members to explore how they might modify tasks to meet their needs, while at the same time staying aligned with team objectives and organisational goals.
Higher ranking employees have different issues with job crafting. First, they worry about stepping on others’ shoes by doing other people’s duties and upsetting them. Again, this is a matter of communication and negotiation. Second, they feel there is not enough time to do all the extra tasks they want to do. Many end up working late at home as a result.
One solution is to see some of these problems of low-ranking and high-ranking employees as complementary. Higher-ranking employees fear not being able to cover all the tasks they want to do; lower-ranking employees lack the freedom to take on new tasks. Therefore, high-ranking employees could learn to delegate more and low-ranking employees to take on and shape these tasks to fit their needs.
Encourage skills development and lead by example
At the same time, it’s important for managers to encourage training and other kinds of developmental support. Amy Wrzesniewski and colleagues (2012) found that job crafting combined with skills development via training had more benefits than job crafting alone. Developmental job crafting in the shape of learning new skills on the job is one of the five ways of job crafting we saw above.
Perhaps most importantly of all, however, is the job crafting message that comes from the very top. The CEO, the board, and the senior management team must support and encourage moves by managers to help employees craft their jobs. Leaders must recognise the benefits of job recrafting and actively promote it.
Encourage employees to make their jobs a calling and they will bring something extra to work. This will be of benefit not only to them but to the organisation as a whole.