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How to Sculpt Your Dream Job

Job crafting allows you to make changes to your job that promote well-being.

Source: Riteshphotography/Pixabay

Do you jump out of bed on Monday morning excited about work? While drinking your first cup of coffee, are you enthusiastic about getting the workday started—or more eager to get it over with?

Although some people argue that the best jobs are those that are uninspiring but stable, most of us would prefer to have jobs that are engaging, motivating, and allow us to feel like we’re making a difference. Unfortunately, not all jobs are like that. But with a little bit of effort, you may be able to nudge your job further in that direction by engaging in job crafting.

Job crafting is a concept developed by business professors Amy Wrzesniewski from Yale University and Jane Dutton from the University of Michigan. Essentially, job crafting occurs when employees take the initiative to change various features of their jobs. But which features? Wrzesniewski and Dutton suggest that there are three forms of job crafting that influence three different aspects of work: task crafting, relational crafting, and cognitive crafting.

Task crafting involves changing the specific work tasks you engage in. So, for example, you can volunteer to take on extra assignments because they appeal to you. You can negotiate to reassign tasks to others that you are not particularly skilled at or don’t like. You can change how much time you devote to the different components of your job. To the extent that you can change these things and continue to accomplish your objectives, task crafting allows you to tailor work to your interests and aptitudes.

Relational crafting pertains to changes you make to the network of relationships you have at work and the quality of those relationships. If you invite colleagues from other departments to lunch so you can better learn about how your work feeds into theirs, you’re engaged in relational crafting. You can also make a point of interacting with people you particularly like, and spending less time with people you don’t by, for example, resigning from social committees made up of people who pursue petty politics. Relational crafting allows you to change the nature and strength of the relationships you have at work to better match your desires.

Cognitive crafting involves changing the way you think about your work. By altering the way you perceive your job you can influence the value and meaning of the work you do. For example, imagine a housekeeper at a hotel who doesn’t particularly enjoy the work he does and always dreamed of being a nurse caring for others. By psychologically reframing his role from “cleaning up after others” to “caring for the experience of guests” he may find that the job better suits his interests, fostering more enjoyment and engagement. Cognitive crafting allows you to shape the way you see your job and role to better suit your preferred work identity.

Research has shown that job crafting is associated with employees’ job satisfaction, positive emotions, work engagement, commitment, and job performance. In an interesting study, Justin Berg from the University of Pennsylvania and his associates examined how employees transformed the jobs they had by crafting them into jobs that better reflected what they believed to be their true, but unanswered, callings. The employees did this by adding tasks that incorporated pieces of their unanswered callings into their existing jobs and changing the way they thought about their work to establish a connection with the unanswered callings. Employees were thereby able to craft their existing jobs into jobs that better reflected their interests, promoted enjoyment, and allowed them to find more meaning in their work.

I should note that some of the participants in Berg’s study also experienced negative outcomes such as regret and stress as a result of highlighting for themselves how their current jobs failed to fully realize their true callings. It might be best to undertake job crafting only if you believe that the effort will be adequately effective.

You may not currently have the job of your dreams, but you may be able to change your job by crafting it in such a way that it better reflects your interests, values, and ambitions. Doing so may not cause you to jump out of bed on Monday mornings, but it may lead you to order that first cup of coffee with a wider smile on your face.

An earlier version of this piece appeared in Your Workplace magazine.

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