Job crafting does not involve scissors, glue, or finger paint, but it is nevertheless a kind of craft: employees can ‘mould’ their job so that it aligns better with their talents and interests. Researchers at KU Leuven are developing a tool to teach job crafting.
When people go to their office or factory in the morning, they want to return home again with a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. Research in various countries shows that forty percent of employees do not find their work meaningful.
American research among the custodial staff of a hospital demonstrated that some cleaners did tasks that were not in their job description, such as chatting to patients with difficulties or helping older visitors find their way. These unofficial tasks were clearly very important to their job satisfaction. Using the results of this study by Amy Wrzesnieuwski and Jane Dutton, the concept of job crafting was introduced.
There are numerous ways to make your job align more with your skills and preferences, says Lorenz Verelst, who is pursuing a doctorate about job crafting at the Work and Organisation Studies research unit at the Antwerp Campus. In many cases, it is about changing tasks and relationships. For example, you can add a task to your range of professional responsibilities. “Or perhaps you want to adapt the content or reject the task completely. You can strengthen or weaken your relationship with a colleague, or build new relationships.”
And it is not always about tasks or relationships, but also about a mindset. In cognitive job crafting, you change your perception of your job, Verelst explains. “For example, I supervise Master’s students and I think this contributes to shaping higher education. I could also just look at it as a way to make a living, but now I feel as though my job is important.”
If you are barely able to decide what you do yourself, job crafting seems almost impossible. But little things can make a world of difference.
If you are barely able to decide what you do yourself, job crafting seems almost impossible. Think, for example, of pizza deliverers who have to follow detailed instructions on an app. But little things can make a world of difference. “Some pizza deliverers say: I can’t change my job, I just do this to make money. Others do apply a light form of job crafting: they make their work enjoyable by playing music, they feel responsible for feeding people, or they start Facebook groups for pizza deliverers.”
Whether the situation allows for it or not, people will consciously or unconsciously attempt to apply some form of job crafting if they feel as though there is something lacking in their job. “Job crafting primarily has positive effects. It leads to higher job satisfaction and more involvement in the organization. And when employees feel as though their job is meaningful, they are more energetic, both at work and in their private life.”
How should employers approach job crafting? “An employee cannot, of course, simply reject tasks or relationships if their colleagues do not agree to take them on instead, or if the boss tells them otherwise. Without the support of colleagues and supervisors, certain forms of job crafting are very difficult. But given the positive effects of job crafting, it is better for bosses to embrace it and call in helplines where necessary.”
Job crafting is therefore intentionally being stimulated more and more. “Management can redefine jobs, but that is a top-down approach that will not necessarily be welcomed by employees. Job crafting is bottom-up. Moreover, the future will demand more job crafting from us. Technology is making our work increasingly complex, and telework is becoming more prevalent. Employees are being given more autonomy and responsibility.”
When employees feel as though their job is meaningful, they are more energetic, both at work and in their private life.
Job crafting can be stimulated, for example, by organizing workshops during which a coach helps a small group of employees to map out their job and teaches them how they can be crafted. But this approach incurs costs for the organization and it takes time; time that we often don’t have in our busy working lives. And it is also possible to lower the threshold, Verelst says. With a number of colleagues, he is developing an online job crafting tool.
They are devising a self-guided job crafting trajectory, which outlines a personal mission for the employee step by step. The tool not only teaches you about the usual methods to mould your job, but also how to set concrete goals and achieve them. There is no intensive contact with a guide or coach and you can decide yourself when to use it.
Verelst’s research shows that this is a promising approach. One person who contributed to the research reacted that the tool made him realize that the job was not suitable at all and is applying elsewhere. But the majority of the participants indicate that they want to continue job crafting: “Working on your work makes you realize that you have more control than you think, it leads to a better work-life balance and it gives you more energy. So it is a win-win situation for everyone.” And surely that is the dream of every boss?