In 2001, organisational psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski and university professor Jane E. Dutton first published their research on a term they called ‘job crafting’, whereby employees tweak certain aspects of their day-to-day role in order to make a more radical overall change to how they feel about their career.
The term has been adopted and adapted by various individuals, employers and consultants since, such as Adam Grant, one of Dutton’s former students.
Grant used job crafting exercises to help Google employees customise their role. All of those who took part, says Grant, ‘were rated as happier and more effective by their managers and coworkers, just six weeks later’.
Rob Baker, founder and Chief Positive Deviant of HR consultancy, Tailored Thinking is another advocate of the job crafting philosophy, defining it as the process of ’making changes to how you act, interact and think about your job.’
The eventual aim of job crafting is to become a more fulfilled employee who attaches greater meaning to your work, in turn making greater contributions to the workplace.
Why job craft rather than look for a new role?
Of course, one obvious answer to feeling unhappy in a role is to find a new one. So why should we look to job craft instead? ‘Often people do have opportunities to develop their roles from within, rather than look outside for something better’ says Baker, ‘but they either haven’t thought to try, or they haven’t been allowed to, due to their team or the structure of their workplace.’
And if your aim is to move into a new role eventually, job crafting can be used as a way of helping you gain the skills you need to make that move. So, where do we start?
The job crafting categories
The process of job crafting follows a specific method, with the type of small changes to make falling under three categories:
- Task crafting: Altering the type of tasks in your day-to-day role
- Relational crafting: Altering whom you interact with, or how
- Cognitive crafting: Reframing how you view the tasks you’re doing
Baker adds a fourth category, which he calls ‘wellbeing crafting’.
‘That’s how we make our role healthier, from a physical and mental perspective,’ he says. ‘That could be trying to bring more activity into your role, to being mindful about how much you are working after hours.’
Job crafting in practice: Task crafting
Personalising the tasks you perform in your day-to-day role is one element of job crafting. ‘I encourage individuals to look at the key tasks they do in a day, plot them on a graph with energy on the x axis — moving from energy-draining to energy-giving — and time on the y axis,’ says Baker.
Through this exercise, he says, an individual can more clearly see what they enjoy doing and would like to do more of, and what could be removed or at least done in a different, more effective way.
Baker gives an example of an IT worker who had a passion for trying to crash software, and would spend many lunch hours trying to find bugs in various systems used at his workplace. As this was something he so enjoyed, and could be of use to colleagues who designed software, he discussed the potential of making it part of his everyday role. His manager was receptive, and what started as an out-of-hours hobby became one of his everyday tasks.
Job crafting in practice: Relational crafting
Who we interact with on a day-to-day basis, and how, has a huge impact on how we feel about our work. Relational crafting therefore looks at how to make small changes to amplify those personal connections.
Wrzesniewski and Dutton give the example of Rachel Heydlauff, an organisational change consultant who, after wanting to have deeper connections to her clients and colleagues, made a conscious effort to turn up early to every meeting, and get to know the people she interacts with, and their interests out of work.
Baker also suggests mentoring or shadowing colleagues as a way of creating more meaningful relationships at work, while explaining that relational crafting also refers to scrutinising challenging relationships you may have.
‘Often when people leave work it’s because they have frustrating relationships with other people,’ he says. ‘But with a bit of reflection it is possible to dial-down those relationships, or reframe how we think about them.’
Job crafting in practise: Cognitive crafting
Cognitive, or purpose crafting requires reframing how you think about elements of your work in order that the importance of what you do, and the impact you have, is more front-of-mind.
If you work in, for instance, cybersecurity this could mean finding out more about the people you are protecting. Hearing from someone or a company who has suffered the impact of a data breach would be one way of reminding yourself of the importance of your day-to-day tasks.
Baker also gives a personal example: ‘I really don’t like dealing with the accounts side of things, as it’s a very boring, admin-focused task. But, I care about my business and my colleagues, and I think of this particular task as a vital way of taking care of both of them.’ This element is perhaps the most difficult to achieve as it is a less tangible change to make. ‘This is not just a trick of the mind,’ says Baker. ’You have to believe it for it to work.’
How and when should you job craft?
Ideally, job crafting should be done with the input and support of a manager, to ensure the new way you would like to work doesn’t in any way conflict with the company’s aims. This approach also helps make sure you job craft in a sustainable way. ‘Often, when people craft without support they volunteer for more duties, and put too much on their plate,’ says Baker.
Lastly, start small. ’Make one deliberate change, approach it with curiosity, and see if it makes a difference,’ says Baker. ‘And view crafting as an invitation rather than an obligation. To work, it has to come from the individual.’