Meaningful work via job crafting

January 10, 2018

As a legal recruitment consultant, I often meet high-profile candidates with seemingly bright futures at their current organizations that are still looking to move. When asked why they want to move, they respond that they are looking to do more meaningful work.

As the interview progresses, I realize they may be struggling at work, but no one in management or HR has picked up on it. Management may view them as star performers, but don’t realize these individuals feel stuck, demotivated, or disengaged. These star performers feel their professional life is lacking a sense of purpose.

If you’re in this situation but changing roles or employers is not feasible (due to economic downturn, or other reasons), what are your options? A growing body of researchers (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski) suggest an exercise called “job crafting” as a powerful tool for reenergizing and reimagining your work life. The process involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. The exercise prompts you to visualize your job, map its elements, and reorganize them to better suit you. Perhaps job crafting’s best feature is that it’s driven by you, not your supervisor or managing partner.

Job crafting is the strategy of turning the job you already have into the job you love. It’s a process of adjusting your job description to create a role that provides more meaning in your life and those who do it tend to be more satisfied and engaged in their work.

This exercise involves assessing and then altering one or more of three core aspects of work:

  • Tasks

You can change the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, expanding or diminishing their scope, or changing how they are performed. While not feasible for everyone, you may be able to do this once you’ve proven yourself and established trust, and have been granted some leeway from your manager. For example, an associate may be able to take up more research and writing duties, and reduce court appearances.

  • Relationships

You can change the nature or extent of your interactions with other people. This is the process of purposely creating or deepening relationships at work, and changing who you spend time with. You could spend time teaching new colleagues, or get to know colleagues in different departments that you don’t usually interact with. In a law firm setting, a partner might mentor junior associates and connect with those that represent the future of the law firm.

  • Perceptions

You can change the way think about your job. The way you approach and/or perceive your work may affect your level of job satisfaction and determine the meaning you find in employment. We feel our best when our work is linked to our core values and beliefs. Thinking differently about what you do and why it’s important can imbue your existing role with more meaning. For example, changing your title to reflect the most meaningful aspects of your role can help you think differently about how your work has an impact and why’s it’s important.

A corporate lawyer with a passion for teaching could start an intern program (task crafting), get their colleagues involved in the program (relational crafting), and mentally frame the program as an opportunity to fulfil and spread their passion for teaching (perception crafting).

To win support for your job crafting, focus on creating value for others, building trust, and identifying the people who will accommodate you.

Since you spend most of your day at work, it’s worth taking a step back and thinking about how you can improve the way your work makes you feel. With a little effort crafting your current job and a little luck finding a manager or senior partner who would appreciate these efforts, you can increase how meaningful your work feels by becoming more engaged, efficient, and productive. Job crafting has been shown to create a greater sense of autonomy, which tends to correlate with greater job satisfaction.

Job crafting adds meaningfulness to your work. It is a process of linking your work to your core values, beliefs, and sense of purpose, which often results in a sense of pride and achievement. As a result, you feel you are fulfilling your capabilities and perceive your work as creative, absorbing, and interesting. You are more motivated and engaged when you feel your work makes a positive difference in the life of others. Living a meaningful life is about connecting with and helping others, and contributing to something beyond ourselves.

Make sure you are shaping your job and not the other way around.

Chaaya R. Jugdeb, Recruitment Associate