Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.
~ Aristotle, about 2,500 years ago.
But let’s be honest here: a lot of work does not feel like a vocation.
Is there a way to find more meaning in your work?
To feel that you use your talents every day and that doing so makes a difference in the world?
Yes! It’s called job-crafting. This comprehensive article from the Harvard Business Review archive goes over what it is, and two examples of how it has worked in two different industries; plus it was written by the researchers who pioneered the concept.
The concept of job-crafting is so simple, it’s brilliant. Job-crafting was created by researchers Jane Dutton, Amy Wrzesniewski, and Justin Berg. In this video you can hear Dr. Wrzesniewski describe a janitor in a hospital who had “crafted her job,” in terms of how she thought of her work, into something much more important, ambitious, and kind-hearted than what we typically think of when we hear “janitor.”
Now, of course, keeping things clean is important, and nowhere more so than in a place full of sick people, many of whom may have compromised or overtaxed immune systems. Keeping a hospital clean saves lives. And it can also be considered as a menial job which requires few skills. You can think of a janitor as the person who sweeps things up, or as the person who ensures a clean and organized environment.
In this video, Dr. Wrzesniewski tells a story about a hospital janitor who thinks of herself as an ambassador for the hospital. She believes her job is all about helping people get well, and so she goes far beyond the duties of a typical janitor. She sits with patients during her time off to keep them company. She escorts visitors through the labyrinthine hallways so they can get out of the hospital without frustration, thus ensuring they are more likely to feel comfortable there and want to come back – either for another visit to a loved one or even as a patient (assuming they have other hospitals they can choose).
This particular woman has engaged in cognitive job crafting. She took what many believe to be a menial job and – likely automatically, instinctually, with no prompting from the outside world –thought of it differently. I’m guessing her purpose in life is to be of service to others, and so thinking of her work as a way to help people get well and feel comfortable in a place most people hate was a simple thing for her to do.
For most of us, job crafting is nothing like that. It won’t be automatic, and it will – or should – involve our managers. Cognitive job crafting sounds simple and may be an individual activity: self-reflection to rethink how you view your job. Other types of job crafting will benefit from talking to other folks, especially whoever may supervise you.
Relational job crafting is about changing our ways of, or amount of time spent, interacting with others. This could involve working more closely with some members of our team, or seeking a mentoring relationship, or in a matrixed environment seeking out opportunities to work more with the people who energize us than the people who drain us.
Task crafting might be the type of job crafting that would be most beneficial in concert with a supervisor, because it means actually changing the tasks of your job. Working with a manager to figure out a better mix, for you personally, of the number, type, and nature of tasks can go a long way toward helping you feel more engaged in and satisfied with your work. Your work needs to continue to be beneficial for your company and management, of course, but often there are ways to find flexibility in task lists. This is especially true in a team environment, or in an environment where people recognize that higher levels of employee engagement means employees will be more productive. When we work from our strengths and interests, we achieve more; and task-based job crafting is all about helping people concentrate on those tasks most aligned with their strengths and interests.
Here at Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation, we’re creating a job purpose training that involves helping people explore job crafting. Ask us about it. Or, you can go straight to the Center for Positive Organizations, founded by Dr. Dutton who first pioneered the idea of job crafting with Dr. Wrzesniewski, and order a copy of their booklet yourself – or even order enough for your whole team.
So what does this modern idea of job crafting have to do with that Aristotle quotation? Consider where your talents best meet the needs of your organization – and work with a mentor or your manager to figure out the best ways to use your strengths at work. That’s where you’ll feel best professionally.