If you feel like you spend most of your time working, you’re probably right. The average Brit spends an astonishing 3,507 days at work over their lifetime, including 204 days of overtime — meaning more than 10% of our lives are spent on the job.
Despite spending so long at work, though, a significant number of people aren’t passionate about their jobs. According to a Gallup survey, only 15% of the world’s one billion full-time employees feel engaged at work.
Of course, even the happiest workers feel fed up from time to time. But constantly feeling dissatisfied or disengaged with your job — and spending every day wishing it was the weekend — can be exhausting, frustrating and have a serious impact on your health and mental wellbeing.
An obvious solution is to find a new position, but this can be easier said than done — particularly during an economic downturn. However, there may be another way to find meaning and job satisfaction without having to quit and start afresh: job crafting.
What is job crafting?
Job crafting is about taking proactive steps to redesign what we do at work, such as changing tasks, relationships and perceptions of our jobs. Essentially, it’s about staying in the same role but getting more out of it by changing certain elements.
The process tends to fall into three categories: task crafting, relational crafting and cognitive crafting. Task crafting means adding to or changing the tasks required of you in your job, whereas relational crafting involves changing who you interact with. Task crafting refers to changing how you think about your tasks and the meaning behind them.
In 2012, Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of organisational behaviour at the Yale School of Management, carried out a study at a US hospital to find out more about how workers made their jobs more meaningful.
As the researchers interviewed the cleaning staff at the hospital, they discovered a group of cleaners who didn’t see themselves as part of the janitorial staff. Instead, these individuals saw themselves as an integral part of the institution’s healing team. They found the job meaningful and rewarding, rather than work that simply pays the bills.
When Wrzesniewski and her colleagues asked this group about their work, they tended to expand the boundaries of their job description. As well as cleaning, they interacted with patients and visitors to help them. One cleaner would speak to patients who hadn’t had any visitors, and another would rearrange pictures on the walls of comatose patients, hoping it would have a positive impact on them.
Although these workers were technically doing the same job as other cleaners, Wrzesniewski found they had “crafted” their work to make it more meaningful and enjoyable.
What are the benefits of job crafting?
Having a sense of meaning in our roles at work is important. In fact, research has even suggested that some people place a greater value on purpose than they do on getting a bigger paycheck. Finding the meaning in what you do doesn’t just increase your motivation to get out of bed and head to work, it also plays a key role in your overall wellbeing too.
Contrary to popular belief, however, your career doesn’t have to be your passion in order for you to find meaning in it. Job crafting allows you to seek out enjoyable aspects of any work to make it more fulfilling.
And with the UK facing its deepest recession on record due to COVID-19 and many people having to find alternative employment, job crafting may be particularly relevant now.
“Creating opportunities for employees to tailor aspects of their work fulfils the current and future demand for a more personalised work experience,” the CIPD states. “This provides employees with the autonomy and opportunity to proactively shape elements of their core role or duties to reflect aspects of their individual talents, passions and interests.”
It sounds like a lot of effort to minimal gain, but studies suggest it doesn’t actually take very long to make positive changes to your job. A small CIPD study on the topic of “micro job crafting” found that more than 74% of the job crafting examples took employees less than 12 minutes a day.
These examples included volunteering for a new project, spending five minutes a day learning a new skill, and making time for a face-to-face conversation each day that would have previously been dealt with by email. Even taking regular breaks and trialling walking meetings had a positive impact on workers.
Crucially, job crafting doesn’t mean you’re not doing the work you’re contracted to do. It’s about finding additional elements of your job that you enjoy, which can make you happier, satisfied and ultimately, more productive. So it’s something positive for both employee and employer.