Most people assume that their only options if they dislike their jobs are to leave and find a “better” opportunity within their field or to change careers entirely.
But there’s a thread of academic research around a third option. It’s called job crafting, and it’s the practice of making the most of the job you have.
Pioneered by a team of psychology researchers and management experts, the concept aims to help employees make subtle yet significant changes to the scope of their work and readjust their mindset to focus more on meaning and purpose.
Most people consider their job responsibilities to be fixed. But in many cases, our jobs are more malleable than we tend to assume, especially as we rise in the ranks or log years at a company. No employer wants to lose a good employee because of boredom or burnout.
Another reason that your employer may embrace job crafting is that it’s almost entirely employee-driven. It gets away from the idea that managers have to be intimately involved, which is a good thing, since they often lack the bandwidth to directly coach their teams.
Instead, employees act as “job entrepreneurs,” taking the initiative to identify where changes or adjustments within their job description are feasible, desirable, and potentially rewarding.
As you start the process of job crafting, there are three areas where you can focus:
Tasks: You can make adjustments to the parameters of your responsibilities, increasing your engagement in areas of interest while decreasing your focus on less rewarding tasks. If, for instance, you excel at coordinating projects, but your job mostly keeps you working as an individual contributor, you may want to explore projects that allow you to work more collaboratively and cross-functionally.
Relationships: You can seek out ways to have better quality relationships with the people around you. For instance, you could suggest taking an active role in your company’s mentorship program. This change allows you to gain experience in a leadership role and potentially increase productivity across your department.
Purpose: Even if you don’t have the flexibility to significantly reshape your job, you can still change how you view your overall purpose at work. If you view the administrative aspects of your job as tedious or mind-numbing, reframe your perceptions. Are you honing important mindfulness skills as a result of learning to focus on details, for example?
Successful job crafting relies on your ability to mine information from your previous experiences in the workplace. Try these strategies as you begin to consider how you can love your job more.
The group of researchers who study “job crafting” describe a diagramming exercise as a way to conceptualize the different aspects of a job and unearth potential improvements.
Here’s how it works: First you create a “before” diagram. This is a depiction of your current job activities. Then, make a list of your motives, strengths, and passions. The last step is to redraw the diagram. This “after” diagram aims to highlight gaps between the current components of your job versus what you enjoy and are best at. It can serve as a blueprint guide for creatively thinking about how to better align your strengths with your daily tasks—or at the very least, help you conceptualize your request before approaching leadership about adjusting your role.
As you consider ways to shift the balance of your workload, make sure you think about how it will affect others. You shouldn’t let this stop you from proposing changes (after all, your peers may be doing some job crafting of their own!). But you should be mindful of whether you are stepping into another team member’s responsibilities, or suggesting a change that will have the ripple effect of adding more tedious work to someone else’s day. You may discover that your co-worker has polar opposite strengths to yours and that tasks can be rearranged for your mutual benefit. Ultimately, job crafting is most successful when it presents a win-win situation that brings you more happiness and drives results for your company and team as well. And with strategic job crafting, a positive outcome isn’t usually far off.
Melody Wilding is a high-performance coach, writer, and speaker.