It’s difficult to overstate the importance of employee engagement for organizations. Disengagement results in lost productivity that costs employers an estimated $500 million annually. According to Gallup research, over 65% of workers don’t consider themselves engaged and want their jobs and current roles to be more satisfying, meaningful, and fulfilling. These alarming revelations are consistent with a series of recent studies, which concluded that employees are switching off because their skills aren’t fully utilized; they’re not challenged or stimulated, and they feel that they lack flexibility and autonomy.
For managers, then, determining how to improve engagement and satisfaction is a mission-critical priority, particularly in a post-pandemic working world where uncertainty is rife. Job crafting is one approach being used to do so in the wake of COVID-19.
Job crafting is a proactive, often unsupervised, modern take on job redesign that empowers workers to transform the jobs they have into the jobs they want, by becoming design agents instead of passive recipients of job titles, responsibilities, and roles. Research on job crafting, which typically focuses on employees, already highlights considerable positive outcomes, including improvements in well-being, organizational commitment, perceptions of meaning and purpose of work, self and colleague ratings of performance, and adaptation to organizational change.
Given the significance of these findings, we recently interviewed 1,000 business leaders and 2,000 of their workers around the world (67.1% from North America, and 32.9% from the U.K. and Australia) to provide compelling evidence and guidance for managers who wish to encourage their team members to craft their roles. Our questions assessed each organization’s readiness for the practice to commence and identified the culture, process, and people factors that make or break good-natured efforts to implement job crafting successfully. Because it’s a bottom-up approach, job crafting can be fully successful only if it’s supported and encouraged by all levels of management. Where instances of such commitment existed, we found that job crafting did the following:
- Improved well-being: Ninety-two percent of our participants who engaged in job crafting post-pandemic experienced a more satisfying work life and increased personal satisfaction. This improved sense of well-being led to a 29% decrease in stress levels.
- Improved collaboration: Sixty-seven percent of our participants who job crafted felt inspired to stretch past their comfort zones and engaged in active cooperation with other colleagues, leading to a more connected workforce.
- Increased productivity: Seventy-seven percent of our participants who job crafted were highly productive at work compared with those who did not.
- Strengthened loyalty: Staff turnover within organizations using job crafting decreased by 29% because those seeking promotion looked internally before pursuing roles externally. Active crafters were more likely to stay put and adjust their roles rather than move elsewhere.
The real question is, given the obvious benefits discussed, how can you encourage employees to pursue job crafting?
It’s crucial that the practice is implemented and managed effectively; to do so, job crafting must align with both the employee’s and the company’s goals. That’s because there are three main forms that crafting adjustments can take.
The first relates to changing the job’s task boundaries and is referred to as task crafting. By choosing to do fewer, more, or different tasks than those prescribed in the formal job listing, employees create a different job. The second relates to changing the relational boundary of the job through either the quality or amount of interactions with others at work and is referred to as relational crafting. The third relates to changing the cognitive task boundaries of jobs and is known as cognitive crafting, because it’s about altering one’s perception of the meaning of work.
We found that most job crafting (76%) occurring post-pandemic has altered tasks rather than relationships or cognition. This is because home-based work and the subsequent videoconference fatigue that has ensued has destroyed traditional ways of interacting with others at work, such as engaging in watercooler and coffee bar chats. It’s also hard at the moment to alter one’s perceptions around the purpose and meaning of work, given that most people throughout the world are experiencing cognitive overload.
Managers, then, need to make special interventions to help. We recommend a four-step framework based on our research findings, which is also congruent with the work of Chloe Hodgkinson.
- Provide employees with a license to craft. It’s vital that employees have the autonomy and empowerment to adapt their job descriptions and responsibilities, thus creating work that is personally meaningful, engaging, and satisfying to them. This does not entail changing the job description or job role per se; rather, it involves having the freedom to choose the means to the end.
- Provide employees a psychologically safe domain to craft. In an environment where employees feel comfortable and are not ridiculed for sharing innovative ideas, they can experiment with new work methods and potentially even make mistakes without fear of judgment or criticism. To enhance the impact and implementation of employees’ ideas, managers should ask the right questions: What are your strengths that the team can count on you for? What are some of your strengths that are currently underutilized by the team? What’s a recent mistake that you made, but that you learned a lot from? What skills or areas of improvement are you trying to develop?
- Provide employees the tools they need to craft. Employees need autonomy, control, trust, and decision latitude over their workloads. Managers are often concerned that job crafting provides employees with an excuse to drop their primary tasks and responsibilities. They don’t realize that job crafting, if done well, aligns with employees’ strengths, motives, and values. For example, managers can allow for employee discretion in designing day-to-day work and task activities around the fulfillment of work goals; the key is striking a balance between alignment and empowerment so that managers become enablers rather than enforcers. We found that managers who remove impediments rather than create them through bureaucratic practices can ensure that employees do not misuse job crafting to drop their tasks and responsibilities but rather use it as an intervention in enhancing the achievement of their daily goals.
- Provide employees with sufficient freedom to craft. This includes ensuring that employees’ workloads are realistic, that they have clear role boundaries, and that they have protected time to job craft. For example, managers can allocate an hour or two, daily or weekly, for employees to think out of the box, thus creating more capacity to job craft. While this may create operational challenges, it enables opportunities to develop task, relational, and cognitive landscapes that bring meaning to work.
If managers hold the reins too tightly, employees may feel that they lack agency and meaning in their work and become disengaged. Employees can drive the solutions regarding their disengagement — but will managers give them the space to implement them post-pandemic? Given the compelling positive impact making thoughtful changes to the design of a job can have on both employees and managers, we certainly hope so. Particularly now, when the job structure for individual contributors is rapidly changing, it will benefit both managers and employees to place greater emphasis and responsibility on the individual to master the destiny of his or her work.
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This content was originally published by MIT Sloan Management Review. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By MIT Sloan Management Review