Half of U.S. employees aren’t satisfied with their jobs, according to Gallup.com. They’re either actively looking for a new job or keeping an eye out for job openings. Why is this?
And do we really need to leave our jobs to find satisfaction, or could what we’re looking for exist in the job we already have?
When jobs and people are well aligned, job satisfaction results. Workers are happy and engaged. They feel fulfilled—that what they do matters. But organizations would be hard pressed to customize jobs to perfectly suit each individual’s talents and personality.
And yet we’ve all heard stories of truly engaged workers in seemingly menial jobs. Janitors who take great pride in polishing, hotel porters who seem delighted to serve. How have they found the seemingly elusive satisfaction?
Perhaps it’s a case of “job crafting.”
This term, coined by Amy Wrzesniewski in 2001, refers to the informal things “employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience and thriving.”
Her research and other subsequent studies show that for some employees, actively altering and shaping the tasks and relationships that make up their formal job enables them to craft their own work identity and give meaning to the work they do.
“An employee’s job is made up of a ‘set of task elements grouped together under one job title and designed to be performed by a single individual,’” explains Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, umich.edu. Within the constraints of those jobs, workers have latitude to “change elements of their jobs and relationships with others, i.e., to revise the meaning of the work and the social environment at work.”
As an example: One worker may see a way to perform some aspect of his or her job better by building a relationship with a key individual in another department. This person can provide them with insight and background to help them better understand certain ongoing elements of what they’re doing. They agree to meet monthly. Both individuals appreciate the interaction and it makes them feel inventive and connected. The employee is still performing all the required functions of the job, but has stretched the job and social environment—and created work that makes them feel more fulfilled … satisfied … happy.
These changes to work and interactions alter our work identities … and ultimately the evolution of a job over time. They are born out of an employee’s need for an element of control in their work, to create a positive self-image and to connect positively with others.
Not all employees need this job fulfillment, or have found it elsewhere in their lives or in the confines of the existing job. But for many, this crafting (and the autonomy and support to do so) helps them to create a better fit between the job and the individual.
Organizations want engaged, productive workers. But taking each individual’s abilities and needs into consideration and customizing jobs would be nearly impossible. Because job crafting is individualized and initiated by the employees themselves, this fit can be achieved within the job constraints.
Organizations can encourage job ownership by:
- Talking with employees about likes and dislikes of their jobs
- Allowing for more autonomy in how they do their jobs
- Communicating big-picture thinking and priorities
Consider how fixed your job responsibilities are. Could finding job satisfaction be as simple as taking a closer look at—and crafting—the tasks, relationships and the way you think about your work? By reframing and placing more emphasis on the job components that are most meaningful to you, you might already have the perfect job.