In this article, PrOPEL Hub Knowledge Exchange Fellow Nicola Murray shares the basic principles of Job Crafting and the benefits it can bring to any organisation.
What is Job Crafting?
We often think of job design as a top-down, one-way process with jobs being designed by organisations and the individuals employed to fill them expected to fit themselves in pre-made moulds. However, research suggests that this inflexible approach may not be the best way of promoting desirable outcomes such as engagement, performance and organisational commitment. In this article, we introduce a concept which has the potential to remedy the limitations of a purely top-down approach to job design; job crafting.
Job crafting is a bottom-up approach to job design that complements more traditional top-down approaches, it can be explained as a ‘semi-tailored approach to working. The basic design and structure of a job has been established but the final fit and how the job is undertaken is subtly shaped to reflect the strengths, passions and needs of the individual worker. The benefit of job crafting is that it enables people to create a closer fit between their work and their individual needs, motivations and circumstances.’ (Baker, 2020; 1244)
The PrOPEL Hub has put together a range of evidence-based exercises, tools/techniques and conversations guides that can help structure each of the steps in the job crafting process. If, after reading this article, you would like to find out more about job crafting and how it could work in your organisation please get in touch at email@example.com , we’d be delighted to work with you.
The origins of Job Crafting
Job Crafting was first popularised by American researchers, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton in 2001. They became interested in the concept while studying a cleaning crew in a hospital and discovered that the cleaners could be divided into two distinct groups. One group described their jobs very much in line with their job descriptions – they also talked about it being unsatisfying, low skilled and reported that they were there only for the benefits of the job (what they got in return). The second group on the other hand talked about their work in very different terms – they found their work deeply meaningful, thought it was highly skilled and enjoyable and they talked about different tasks to those in the first group.
The researchers expected there to be differences between the two groups in terms of the units they worked in, their shifts or the people they were in contact with however, there were no differences to be found. They explored this further and concluded that individuals in the second group were ‘crafting’ their jobs – in this instance, without the knowledge of their managers. In doing so, they found meaning in what they were doing and saw themselves as essential parts of the care system, taking an active role in helping patients get better.
The benefits of Job Crafting
In the years that followed, the concept of job crafting has been explored by an array of researchers and has also been put into practice in countless workplaces. It has been found to have benefits for both employees and the organisations they work for, see the diagram below for some examples (all associated with increases unless otherwise stated).
So, how does Job Crafting work in practice?
Simply put, job crafting is a voluntary process of job analysis undertaken by an employee where they consider their job and its various elements in conjunction with their own unique personality and circumstances. From this process an action plan can be drawn up and followed in order to make changes (which don’t need to be large in scale) in order to move to a way of working that is a better fit for the employee in question.
Although one of the important features of job crafting is that it is a bottom-up initiative which needs to be undertaken voluntarily, leaders and managers can play a guiding role in this process and also take the opportunity to ensure that any job crafting undertaken aligns with the objectives of the organisation as a whole.
The approach to conducting this analysis is explained and operationalised in a variety of ways by different researchers and practitioners, perhaps the best known of these being from its original advocates, Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001; 185) who split it into three components:
- Task Crafting (changing the number, scope and type of job tasks)
- Relationship Crafting (changing the quality and/or amount of interaction with others encountered in the job)
- Cognitive Crafting (changing the way of thinking about the job – sometimes referred to as Purpose Crafting)
In addition, Baker (2020; 1357-1359) put forward two extra components:
- Skills Crafting (making changes to skills and knowledge or the pursuit of learning opportunities at work for personal growth)
- Wellbeing crafting (actively shaping the way a job is carried out to improve overall levels of individual health and wellbeing)
There is also a stream of Job Crafting literature based on Job Demands-Resources Theory (JD-R Theory), the focus of this approach is on task and relationship crafting – more on this in a moment.
The diagram below shows the scope of these approaches:
Baker (2020; 2395) also makes the distinction between the different changes that people can seek to make within these components:
- Growth focus – ‘expanding elements of the job to incorporate new ways of working’
- Avoidance focus – ‘proactively protecting, limiting or moving away from negative aspects of work’
- Redesign focus – ‘actively changing, improving or adapting existing ways of working, thinking and interacting’
Job Demands-Resources Theory and Job Crafting
As mentioned above, one of the key approaches to job crafting is aligned with Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) Theory. This theory has been used researchers to build up a considerable evidence base on job characteristics that influence the motivation, health and wellbeing of employees.
According to Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) Theory:
- Job demands are aspects of the job which are taxing on the employee (physical, psychological, social and/or organisational)
- Job resources are aspects of the job (physical, psychological, social or organisational) which help the employee achieve work goals/reduce job demands/promote personal growth and learning
Two alternative pathways are associated with these. Job demands are linked to negative consequences such as burnout while job resources are linked to positive ones such as enhanced wellbeing and engagement.
Job demands are not inherently negative, their presence is important in terms of feeling challenged and engaged at work, problems arise however if there are a lack of job resources to support the employee to meet the demands they face. In addition, job resources are valuable in and of themselves (beyond their function of reducing/helping manage job demands).
It is therefore a case of finding a balance where individual employees are adequately challenged in their jobs while having the resources to support these challenges – the outcome of this being engagement and enhanced health and wellbeing. The diagram below shows the way these ideas map to and expand on the original components of Job Crafting:
Although the approaches set out above are often seen as being alternatives to one another, some researchers suggest that they needn’t have to operate independently of one another but rather elements of them can be combined to make an approach that works for the business in question.
Key Steps in Job Crafting
So, in essence, job crafting involves three overall steps:
- The employee analyses some or all of the following components of their job:
- the tasks they do (can be expanded to job demands in general)
- their relationships at work (can be expanded to job resources in general)
- the purpose/meaning of their jobs
- the skills they would like to develop
- the impact of work on their wellbeing
2. A plan is drawn up of changes they would like to make and how these could be actioned.
3. The plan is put into action and the employee begins to actively craft their job in order to improve its fit to them and the circumstances they face
Although job crafting can be done individually, it can also be undertaken with others and this can help ensure that any changes made are in alignment with the objectives of the team and organisation as a whole e.g. in one-to-ones with a line manager, with a colleague, as a team activity.
Job Crafting and COVID-19
Job crafting is valuable tool for businesses in normal circumstances however, it can be particularly useful in times of change. It is likely that given the level of disruption to working life most people are facing as a result of COVID-19, that many employees are job crafting independently – whether or not they are doing this consciously.
We believe there is value in leaders and managers stepping in to guide this process and ensure that outcomes work for both the employee and the organisation as a whole. It can also be a valuable approach in helping managers cope with the sudden change in levels of control and often reduced visibility of their workforce – instilling trust through conversations and activities to analyse and adapt to situations in order to best meet the needs of everyone involved.
Job crafting offers an inclusive and structured approach for managers to frame conversations with employees, prompting exploration of ways in which they could make small changes to help protect and promote wellbeing and productivity. For example, managers could explore the following with employees:
- the ways their roles have changed and how they have, or could, adapt to this
- the changes to the circumstances/location in which they work and the impact this is having
- the changes to the way they are managed (particularly if they are now working from home most or all of the time)
- the relationships they have with their colleagues and manager and how these could be enhanced
- the impact all of these changes are having on their wellbeing
Find out more
Although job crafting is a relatively simple idea, the insights it can bring and impact it has been shown to have can be profound. The PrOPEL Hub has put together a range of evidence-based exercises, tools/techniques and conversations guides that can help structure each of the steps in the job crafting process. If you would like to find out more about job crafting and how it could work in your organisation please get in touch, we’d be delighted to work with you firstname.lastname@example.org
Baker, R. (2020) Personalization at Work: How HR can use job crafting to drive performance, engagement and wellbeing. Kogan Page Limited, London, United Kingdom
Tims, M., Bakker, A. B., and Derks, D. (2012). Development and validation of the job crafting scale. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80, 173–186.
Wrzesniewski, A, and Dutton, J. E. (2001) “Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work.” Academy of Management Review 26.2: 179–201