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Not long ago, Kate Tolo took a walk with her co-worker during their lunch break. “I’m going to quit,” she confided in her colleague. “I hate this and I can’t do it anymore.” Tolo was working for a luxury denim company in Brooklyn, and while her job title was impressive — assistant technical designer — she wasn’t happy with her daily tasks, measuring and pinning jeans for quality assurance. But she didn’t really want to quit; she liked the company and its CEO, and she was wary of starting over somewhere else. She wanted the best of both worlds: to stay at her current job and do something she thoroughly enjoyed.
Yale researcher and professor Amy Wrzesniewski would call what Tolo did “job crafting,” her term for what happens when employees redesign their current job in a more satisfying way. Tolo changed her tasks to make the job more meaningful, but job crafting doesn’t have to be that direct. You can craft your job by simply changing the way you think about it, Wrzesniewski says, which can affect your experience.“One of the things I find exciting about job crafting is it’s not just about getting people to think about their work differently. It’s behavioral,” she told me. “Changing the way you think about a job cognitively changes the way you approach your tasks, then changes how those tasks would then unfold.”
To understand how job crafting works, exactly, it helps to break it down into three distinct approaches. First, there’s task crafting, in which employes change the “number, type, or nature of tasks they do.” There’s also cognitive crafting, where employees change how they perceive their tasks and the meaning behind those tasks. Finally, relational crafting happens when employees change the “number, type, or intensity of relationships.” In other words, they change the style of interactions they have in their current role.
Wrzesniewski and her colleagues, including Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan and Justin Berg at Stanford University, have conducted field experiments in which they invite subjects to craft their own jobs, then compare their experiences with other workers in the same role. According to Wrzesniewski, the research suggests job crafting includes a number of benefits for both the employee and the employer, including increased happiness, better performance, and commitment to the work.
Wrzesniewski has outlined a few ways employers can encourage job crafting in the workplace. They can use performance reviews as a chance to allow employees to make changes to the job, for example. “However, the most important step is just getting comfortable with the idea that it’s okay,” Wrzesniewski said. “Some managers feel uneasy because they’re giving up control. The fact of the matter is, the horse has already left barn. Employees are doing this anyway: deviating from the job description to find meaning in the work.” Employers also worry that giving their workers more control over their jobs will lead those workers to evade their responsibilities entirely. “When we studied this, that wasn’t at all what we found,” Wrzesniewski said.
But there are solutions for workers, too. “I would think you have to be curious about what your organization needs,” said Dara Blaine, a career counselor and coach in Los Angeles. “You have to have some sense of commitment and initiative to your job. You would need a really good understanding of your organization’s mission to be able to then align that with your personal mission.”