Job satisfaction is something we all strive for but by no means all attain. There are various reasons for us to slip into feelings of apathy around our work. We may feel that we are being overlooked and that our skillsets are not being put to good use; we may feel that we are overworked and burnt out or maybe overwhelmed with stress; perhaps a lack of proper work-life balance is impacting our relationship with our friends and family; maybe we don’t fit in with our colleagues or are not contributing as effectively as those around us; or perhaps we even feel that we followed the wrong career path altogether – that the rung of the ladder is less of the issue than the ladder itself. Dissatisfaction is likely to come to all workers at some point. Oftentimes it passes, proving itself to be no more than a tough project or bad day at the office. But if the problem is consistent and/or stifling, action may need to be taken. For those who don’t think the job itself is the problem so much as how they’re handling it, a potential solution is work crafting.
What is work crafting?
Tims et al. (2012)1 define crafting as “the changes employees may make to balance their job demands and job resources with their personal abilities and needs.” The ultimate aim of doing this is to inject work with greater meaning and make it more engaging2. Essentially, without changing our job in any tangible sense – title, deliverables etc. – we ‘craft’ a new, more personalised version of our existing role to make it one that we can better love and thrive in, one “where we still can satisfy and excel in our functions, but which is simultaneously more aligned with our strengths, motives, and passions.”3
Employers may be reading that and biting their nails, but fear not, job crafting is not a license for employees to entirely reconstruct their role, ignoring the aspects of their job they find tedious and unrewarding and replacing them with exclusively grand and shiny tasks that provoke feelings of fulfilment. While management of tasks does factor into work crafting, the more important aspect is based around meaning. As argued by Berg et al. (2008)4, “job crafting theory does not devalue the importance of job designs assigned by managers; it simply values the opportunities employees have to change them.”
Job crafting vs Job design
The CIPD define job design as, “the process of establishing employees’ roles and responsibilities and the systems and procedures that they should use or follow.”5 Its purpose revolves around optimising processes in the workplace to create value and maximise performance. So far, so similar to job crafting. The key difference between the two lies in who is doing the decision-making.
In job design, an employer will be setting boundaries and assigning tasks based on their best understanding of their employees, making a conscious effort to give them work that will reward them and suit their skillsets. In job crafting, it is employees taking the reins. Workers are proactive, and the approach places their wellbeing front and centre. Again, that may be ground that employers are nervous to cede, but job crafting has been linked to better performance, motivation, and employee engagement6.
The three key forms of job crafting
There are various (and varying) approaches to job crafting, but three approaches are most common.
- Task crafting
This is the aspect we have focused on so far, with employees taking a more hands-on approach to their workloads. That could refer to work location (opting to work from home or on a hybrid basis, for example), time management (choosing hours that better suit their life commitments or generally working outside of a traditional 9-5 timeframe), or the tasks themselves (adding or removing tasks from their workload).
The examples around location and working hours are increasingly uncontroversial, especially in the wake of the pandemic. It is the third (employees selecting which tasks they wish to take on) that is the most divisive. Though it should be noted that generally task crafting involves taking on additional tasks rather than removing others. For example, a chef may take it upon themselves to not just serve food but to create aesthetically pleasing plates that enhance a customer’s dining experience. Or a bus driver might decide to give helpful sightseeing advice to tourists along his route7. Potentially an employee working in an administrative capacity may wish to become more engaged with the business, so learn a new software or sales technique, or become more actively involved with clients.
- Relationship crafting
Relationship crafting, unsurprisingly, is all about relationships. Primarily, relationships in the workplace. Having poor interpersonal relationships with colleagues has been found to be a significant contributor to workplace stress8. Conversely, positive work relationships are shown to increase job satisfaction, as well as general mood. By taking a more enthusiastic approach to workplace relationships, whether in or out of office hours, employees are thought to become more engaged with the company and feel more fulfilled in their role.
- Cognitive crafting
Cognitive crafting is all about how we frame the work we do. By assigning meaning to tasks that were conceivably uninspiring or outright deflating before, we can reshape our outlook, instilling our work and lives with a greater sense of purpose, and thus fulfilment. For example, a maid reframing the idea of changing a hotel guest’s bedsheets from a chore to a way to improve someone else’s holiday. Or a customer service worker approaching their clients’ problems like they were a therapist, looking to genuinely make their life better. Framing work tasks in a more positive manner can make work a far more enriching experience, and, unsurprisingly, removing any self-made narratives that what we’re doing is pointless improves mood no end.
The overarching benefit of crafting is the autonomy it affords employees. By giving workers control over how they spend and approach their time, they are able to feel a sense of achievement that might otherwise be lacking. And achievement breeds motivation for more, not to mention the added confidence and sense of worth it affords. A study by Steelcase9 found that when people have greater control over their experiences in the workplace, they become more engaged, which naturally results in greater performance.
Tellingly, studies on the happiness of women in the workplace10 found that there was no difference in mood across participants who worked full-time, part-time or didn’t work at all. Instead, the correlation between the women who were happiest was that they were the ones able to choose their work hours and professions. People have no problem committing to hard work, so long as it’s of their own volition, or offering them a benefit in return, even or especially if that benefit is solely personal fulfilment. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Barbara Ehrenreich, in her book Nickel and Dimed11, found that workers who had little control over the schedules found it disempowering and disabling.
Work-life balance is oft-discussed, and understandably so. We want to be able to enjoy our lives outside of work. This is arguably more important (and harder) now than ever as the lines continue to blur between our homes and workplaces, and our personal and professional devices. Less discussed is how we imbue our work lives with value. A healthy work-life balance should not entail misery during work hours and blissful respite when free. Rather, we should take steps to ensure that our professional days are filled with rewarding moments, whether that be because we’re performing tasks we want to be performing, framing our actions in a healthy, self-loving way, or performing those tasks with people that make it all worthwhile.
Crafting, whether of the task, relationship, or cognitive variety, offers us a way to feel more engaged and fulfilled, to improve our performance, and to take strides towards achieving professional goals we want to conquer. Lost for meaning in your professional life? Give crafting a try.
1 Tims, M., Bakker, A., and Derks, D. (2012). Development and validation of the job crafting scale. J. Vocat. Behav. 80, 173–186. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2011.05.009
3 Wrzesniewski, A., Berg, J. M., & Dutton, J. E. (2010). Turn the job you have into the job you
want. Harvard Business Review, June, 114-117.
4 Berg, Justin M., et al. “What Is Job Crafting and Why Does It Matter.” Retrieved Form the Website of Positive Organizational Scholarship on April, vol. 15, 2008, p. 2011.
11 APA. Ehrenreich, B. (2010). Nickel and dimed. Granta Books.