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Lucy Cox

OE Cam

Business Psychologist Consultant

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What is job crafting and how can it create more meaningful work?

How can HR help shape the working lives of their people so they feel more meaningful.
Girl opening book full of objects

If you won millions in the lottery, would you give up work?

According to a Gallup survey nearly a decade ago, a surprising number of people said ‘no,’ reflecting the growing appreciation that work is an important source of purpose, connection, and wellbeing. For many people, however, our relationship with work has shifted post-Pandemic.

Some are happiest when solving a tricky problem; others when they’re connecting with colleagues or learning something new

More of us are questioning whether our jobs make us happy. Ask the lottery question today and we may find that more would quit their ‘job’ but find new ‘work.’

Lottery wins aside, you don’t have to change jobs to find more rewarding work. Instead, job crafting could support people to find more meaningful work.

Identify the right things to focus on

Some are happiest when solving a tricky problem; others when they’re connecting with colleagues or learning something new. If we all spent more time doing the things that energise us, we would experience much more meaning and satisfaction from work.

But how can HR make this a reality?

‘Job crafting’ involves altering aspects of a role to make it more meaningful for the individual. It could mean shifting what they do (task crafting), who they interact with and the quality of those interactions (relationship crafting), or how they perceive the impact of work (cognitive crafting) in order to feel happier.

Unlike work design, job crafting must be led by the individual. The benefits include better performance, higher engagement and a greater sense of meaning. But how can HR and leaders support individuals to craft their jobs? In practice, this might look like:

  • Suggesting they volunteer for projects they like the sound of (task crafting)
  • Encouraging them to build cross-department connections (relationship crafting)
  • Asking them to reflect on what motivates them and helping them find ways to consciously connect this to their work (cognitive crafting)

One of our recent coaching clients – a senior IT manager – enjoyed working in IT but felt drained by the project management demands of his role. He was getting feedback that he was only just meeting expectations and was irritable with colleagues. Through coaching, it became clear that his passion was strategic and creative thinking.

As a result, he worked with his organisation to re-craft his role; project management tasks were taken on by someone who enjoyed them and he took on more conceptual, strategic tasks. One year later, his performance rating improved to exceeding expectations, he was promoted and is now being considered a potential successor to the CTO.

How much value could you unlock if your people got to spend just 10% more of their time doing the things that energise and challenge them?

Focus on the right things deeply

“…your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention”

This wonderful quote from Burkeman makes the point that what we pay attention to is our experience of life. Once someone has identified the things that make their work feel meaningful, the next step is for them to focus more attention on them – which is easier said than done in an increasingly distracted world.

Most of us are familiar with the feeling of being completely absorbed in a task and losing track of time. Research suggests a couple of key conditions help us move into this ‘flow’ state. Firstly, we are stretched – the challenge should feel just about manageable. Secondly, we have clear goals with immediate feedback on progress.

Building on this is the idea of ‘deep work’ or “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.

In his book Deep Work, Newport argues that by spending lots of our time on ‘shallow work’ – like responding to emails – we experience work as more draining and trivial. Conversely, spending more time on deep work will associate our working lives with more meaning and satisfaction.

How much value could you unlock if your people got to spend just 10% more of their time doing the things that energise and challenge them and focus on them distraction-free?

How can organisations support these efforts?

While there is much an individual can do to shape their working lives, managers and HR teams play a vital role in ensuring they’re set up for success. By giving people more scope to shape what they focus on and how they focus on it, the organisation will feel the benefit.

Here are three practical ideas for making this happen:

1. Make it collaborative

Support people through regular, transparent conversations to identify changes that will benefit them, others and the organisation. What would they like to focus on more? What do they need to make this happen?

2. Help them feel empowered

What signals might they be receiving about how welcome they are to make these changes? How could you remove barriers, shift the narrative and encourage more individual-led changes to job design?

3. Cascade the strategy

Effectively communicating the strategy will enable your team to align any changes with the organisation’s broader goals for a win-win outcome.

We spend a significant amount of our lives working

Shaping our professional lives

We spend a significant amount of our lives working. Work is also an important source of meaning, connection and wellbeing. So how can we shape our working lives to feel more meaningful and how can organisations help?

By enabling regular, transparent conversations about the type of work people would like to do more of, and by addressing any barriers in their way, organisations can empower individuals to find more meaning in their work. By connecting the dots between the individual’s – and the organisation’s – goals, leaders can leverage the power of job crafting to create a win-win outcome.

Interested in this topic? Read Don’t let job titles dictate career paths.

Author Profile Picture
Lucy Cox

Business Psychologist Consultant

Read more from Lucy Cox
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