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Job crafting: How to help employees build their dream job with you

Jobs mean different things to different people. One person’s boring daily grind is another’s reason for getting up in the morning. But this goes beyond superficial points of view, and deep into how each of those hypothetical employees approach their roles. That’s why we’ve decided to break down exactly how to help employees with career development through job crafting.

So, what is job crafting anyway?

The term “job crafting” is fairly self-explanatory. It’s the practice of someone personalizing their role by focusing on the areas that engage them most. Sometimes, it means going outside of their job description altogether. In some cases, this can even involve employees skirting or outright ignoring workplace rules for some higher benefit or sense of accomplishment.

Job crafting is something that some employers are starting to lean into and actively encouraging. But in many cases, it happens without managers, HR or employers ever picking up on it. Broadly speaking, there are three different forms of job crafting to consider:

Task crafting

Job crafting on the task level means changing something about the responsibilities you take on. That could be the number of tasks, their type, scope, or any other way you might approach them. Take a specialist in your business, for example.

Their formal job description might simply be to support and collaborate with project managers to assure success. But a task crafter in this situation might go the extra mile by hosting informal workshops to educate other employees. This would make staff as a whole more capable of productivity. It also provides a sense of career development via skills training.

Relational crafting

Relational crafting is the act of changing who you interact with, or how you interact with them in your role. The knowledge specialist we just talked about would exemplify this. But another example would be a care home worker who just sees their job as changing bedpans, giving sponge-baths and collecting pay-checks.

That employee could relationally craft their role by changing how they interact with residents by taking the time to talk with them and support their emotional wellbeing. They could also make a change by interacting with people outside of their management chain. In this way, they could bring resident requests directly to the attention of senior management on a regular basis.

Cognitive crafting

Finally, there’s cognitive crafting. This means redefining how you think about your role. For people who are stuck in a rut, or feel like their contributions don’t matter, cognitive crafting could be a vital lifeline.

Take the example of a hospital janitor who feels like their work is menial compared to the doctors around them. Cognitively reframing their role could help them to see that they’re actually essential.

It’s their job to prevent infections and reduce the likelihood of malpractice suits. In fact, it's solely because of custodial staff that doctors have safe conditions to work in at all. Thinking about work in these terms makes it much easier for employees to be proud of what they do.

Why is job crafting important for employers to consider?

These days, the concept of a flexible approach to work has been enjoying its day in the sun. But job crafting specifically is a relatively new idea. In a time of high stress, low engagement and rising turnover, figuring out how to help employees with career development has never been more important.

So, let’s look at some of the reasons why job crafting shouldn’t be overlooked:

Job crafting can vastly improve workplace satisfaction

In her seminar on job crafting, Amy Wrzesniewski highlighted the difference it can make. She compared two groups of cleaning crew at a university hospital about their daily working lives and feelings.

‘We found first a group of cleaners who talked about it in exactly the way that you would expect […] They didn’t talk about it as being particularly satisfying.’ These employees’ accounts generally matched the job description, and they were more likely to be motivated by extrinsic benefits.'

She compares them to the second group, who found the work deeply meaningful and thought of it as highly skilled. When asked about their roles, this group talked about their work. But they also described ‘paying attention to which patients seemed to be upset, on the verge of tears...’ so they could interact with them and give them an outlet.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, employees are job crafting anyway

We mentioned earlier that job crafters sometimes go against workplace rules. If you’re a manager or HR professional, you probably felt a chill reading that. So, let’s turn back to Amy Wrzesniewski for clarification.

In her example of hospital cleaners, she points out that they did things like ‘...walking the elderly visitors of patients all the way back […] to their cars, which was an offense for which they could be fired, so that the visitors would not get lost, thus worrying the patient...’

While technically against the rules, this sort of job crafting does undeniable good. Employers supporting job crafting at work is important so that employers don’t have to bend the rules to help people.

Job crafting is discretionary effort and strengths-based management in one

Job crafting is the ideal solution for how to help employees with career development. That's because it epitomizes employees going the extra mile.

Discretionary effort stems from high engagement, and it’s something you can’t force out of people. But job-crafting employees often find ways of contributing that go beyond their allotted responsibilities.

And job crafting usually results in employees playing to their strengths or passions. Research by Gallup has previously shown that strengths-based management can increase engagement by up to 15%, and profitability by up to 29%.

How to support job crafting in your organization

So, as it stands, job crafting might be your best bet for how to help employees with career development. Now, let’s look at how you can support it in your company:

Use check-ins and 1:1s to build a dialogue

Regular check-ins are essential for supporting employees in the workplace and tracking their sentiment over time. 1:1s are important for that personal touch, while also giving you an opportunity to discuss things in detail.

These conversations are vital for establishing what people want to change about their roles. Making job crafting a core part of feedback and performance management means employees won’t feel pushed to make changes without telling you. That way, they won't potentially cause problems or feel the need to break rules.

Emphasize employee autonomy

There’s a world of difference between asking someone to do something, and giving them a step-by-step guide. Giving driven employees the room to choose their own approach opens up more opportunities for discretionary effort. And these are opportunities that you won’t miss until they’re gone. Employees are also way more likely to think positively about their role if they have a say in how it's done.

Secondments are great for both task and relational crafting

Don’t underestimate the value of a good secondment. Aside from expanding someone’s basic skillset, secondments can expose them to new ways of working that they never considered. But what’s just as important is that it gets them interacting with new people. Colleagues can make or break the employee experience. Getting the right networking opportunity at the right time can make all the difference.

Your team can craft their roles together

A lot of job crafting comes down to an individual's decisions. But one of the best methods for how to help employees with career development is by discussing their roles as a group. Perhaps one person is an expert on something someone else wants to learn. Or maybe one person’s most hated workplace chore is someone else’s point of satisfaction. Sometimes, job crafting is just rebalancing responsibilities so that everyone is working on what actually interests them.

Update: The relevance of job crafting in 2022

Amy Wrzesniewski made her remarks back in 2014. The professional landscape is changed a lot in eight years, so you might be wondering if job crafting still has a role to play. Well, back in April last year, Rob Baker gave a talk on the topic for TEDx at Newcastle University.

Rob opens with the grim statistic that UK professionals spend 84,000 hours in work, equating to a third of their adult lives. But he also provides various examples of job crafting in action. He even outlines an exercise for identifying the things about your job you want to change. Definitely more than we have the space to get into. But near the end, he gives this simple, practical advice we'd like to leave you with:

'The secret to job crafting is to start small. Find the tiniest, most positive change you can make to your job, and then just go for it. And there never has been a better, more important time to job craft than now. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we need to make every second, every minute, every hour count.'

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