Job crafting: Turning the job you have into the job you want

By Katharine Brooks 

In my previous blog post, I presented Dr Amy Wrzesniewski‘s research on work orientation and the distinctions between viewing your employment as a job, career or calling. Wrzesniewski notes that individuals who have a calling orientation are more likely to engage in what she calls ‘ job crafting,’ the notion that individuals alter their jobs in such a way as to better suit their skills and interests thereby increasing their job satisfaction.

By doing this, they are more committed to their work and to their employer. But job crafting doesn’t have to be limited to just those with a calling orientation. Anyone who would like to improve their job satisfaction and go home from work more energized can apply new ideas and techniques. Job crafting can be a particularly valuable skill to develop when the economy or other factors prevent you from leaving your current job. 

One simple way to begin the process of job crafting is to pay attention to your emotions throughout the day. Note the tasks/activities you are doing and your feelings about them. Try analyzing a few days at your workplace: what are your typical patterns at work? How much interaction do you have with co-workers, clients, customers, or supervisors? Is it enough, too much or too little? What are your strengths, motives, and passion?

After you’ve analyzed what you do and how you feel about it, begin to look for ways you could improve the areas where you are currently unsatisfied. For instance, if you often feel isolated because you spend lots of time reading documents or reports, is there a way to read those documents in a more public setting where people are nearby? Would background music help? What about breaking your reading into chunks of time and balancing those chunks with more social activities?

An exercise I have used in various management settings is to ask my staff to identify their ‘energy gainers’ and ‘energy drainers.’ (I first learned these terms from an excellent book by Ann McGee-Cooper called You Don’t Have to Go Home from Work Exhausted) In other words, what activities do you perform which you look forward to and regularly find energizing, and what activities do you avoid? Why? What skills or talents are you using—or not using?

When done in a group setting, this exercise can be very enlightening. It gives workers permission to admit they don’t enjoy every aspect of their job, allows for mutual sharing and support around required tasks, but even more, it can open up discussions about possible shifting of responsibilities. Perhaps the staff person who gains energy from talking to customers or clients but hates paperwork could take over more direct contact duties, while another worker who finds people interaction tiring could take on more of the paperwork duties. Workers who like to write can develop assignments that allow more opportunities to write; workers who like giving presentations can do more of those. There are always some duties that no one particularly likes and a discussion like this can help divide up those duties more equally.

In their book First Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman identified 12 questions which directly relate to an organization’s ability to reward, motivate, and retain talented employees. The questions focus on such factors as whether your opinions count, whether the mission of your company makes you feel your job is important, whether you have a best friend at work, and whether you have opportunities to learn and grow. Asking yourself these questions can provide valuable ideas for crafting your work. Are there ways you can develop better friendships or connections at work? Is your supervisor open to input or suggestions? If not, is there a way to work with that? Could you team up with colleagues to develop creative new ideas?

Can you set up your own learning/growing plans for your job? For instance, is there a new software package or creative website tool you could learn and then apply to your job? I’ve used PowerPoint for many years, but recently started experimenting with Prezi and Sliderocket to create more interesting presentations. No one told me to do this—it’s just fun and makes creating presentations more challenging and interesting.

Not all organizations support job crafting, of course, but even subtle changes you make on your own can enhance your satisfaction with your job. You might not be able to change your basic responsibilities or day-to-day activities, but you might be able to meet with friends for lunch every day, thereby enhancing your time at work.

 This article first appeared in Psychology Today.