Job Crafting: An employee-led approach to job redesign?

Blog posts

27 Sep 2019

Stephen BevanStephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development

Most HR practitioners have heard of ‘Job Design’ but will only rarely have practiced it in anger. If anything, the discipline of job design is more likely to be something we learn about in training programmes or in textbooks than in workplace settings. There is an appealing logic to constructing or ‘deconstructing’ a job in a systematic way, thinking about the ways that its component tasks, accountabilities and skill demands are ordered so that the job is both productive for the employer and motivational and meaningful for the employee.

In theory at least, job design can help us optimise productivity and employee engagement, it can help managers respond positively to a request for flexible working and it can help to implement ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees with long-term health conditions or disabilities.

One of the challenges of traditional job design, however, is that it can be a very ‘top-down’ process where decisions about the precise configurations of jobs are taken by managers and HR professionals and then enshrined in formulaic and inflexible job descriptions and role profiles. In some ways, this is understandable. Jobs don’t exist in isolation and the boundaries between jobs also have to be taken into account when job design decisions are made. However, in recent years, researchers and practitioners have been looking for alternative approaches to job design which:

  1. Involve the job holder much more in shaping the job and its content;
  2. Are more dynamic, agile and flexible;
  3. Allow temporary and longer-term changes to be made to the scope of a job to increase its challenge, its variety and the levels of responsibility taken on without recourse to a major job re-evaluation exercise;
  4. Allow jobs where demands are sometimes too high (peaks in demand, big changes, deadlines converging etc) to be adjusted to allow the job holder to cope more effectively.

One such approach which is gaining support, and an evidence-base, is ‘Job Crafting’. Broadly, it ‘captures what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that can foster job satisfaction, as well as engagement, resilience and thriving at work’[1] or is where ‘employees independently modify aspects of their jobs to improve the fit between the characteristics of the job and their own needs, abilities, and preferences[2].

Putting the employee more explicitly at the centre of this approach is one of its differentiating characteristics. It recognises that, during organisational change, at times of high work intensity, in situations where opportunities for personal growth or job enrichment are not forthcoming or when personal wellbeing is a challenge, employee-led adjustments to a job can help to promote better morale, higher performance or improved coping.

There are several dimensions of ‘crafting’. ‘Task’ crafting may mean the employee changes some of the tasks in their job by increasing the amount of challenge they get to enhance their motivation and learning. Conversely, they may temporarily shift to some less challenging tasks to decrease demands in the job that hinder performance or wellbeing. ‘Relational’ crafting might involve changing the social resources available to an employee by securing more support, feedback or coaching or by securing more autonomy, responsibility and challenge in the job to operate more independently.

‘Cognitive’ crafting is somewhat akin to aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy in which employees are supported to revisit the purpose and scope of their roles to gain a refreshed perspective. For example, junior or ancillary employees in healthcare might benefit from a clearer understanding of how their jobs contribute directly or indirectly to improving patient care. Doing this in a way which improves their sense of ‘agency’ and aligns them more to the meaning and purpose of their role can, for some employees, help them to feel more engaged and empowered.

The number of academic publications and practical case study examples of job crafting have been growing in recent years, as have studies which are developing measures of job crafting and evaluating the outcomes of the main approaches. The early signs are positive, with some evidence emerging that engagement, motivation, change-readiness and psychological wellbeing can be improved if employees are trained and supported to adopt job crafting strategies.

It seems that, in certain circumstances, its individualised and employee-centred approach might be especially suitable where a phased return to work after illness needs to be managed, or where an employee at risk of long-term absence as a result of a mental health problem at work might be averted. At IES we are continuing to search for novel approaches which employers might use to promote psychosocial health at work and, among other tools, job crafting has caught our attention because of the dynamic way it empowers employees.

Of course, there may yet be practical challenges associated with implementing job crafting on a widespread basis. Would an employee who has crafted their role to take on more challenging tasks expect a pay rise or promotion? Are there equality, equal treatment and other inclusivity issues which might inadvertently occur? How long should someone be allowed to reduce their job demands and could there be issues of precedent, consistency and perceived fairness involved?

If these practical issues can be mitigated or overcome, it would be good to see some UK examples of job crafting being tested and assessed. Although its uses range from change management to employee engagement, my interest would initially be to see how well job crafting supported employee wellbeing and vocational rehabilitation. We’ll be taking a closer look at ‘job crafting’ in a couple of our projects on mental health at work in the coming months and hope to be able to be more definitive about its applicability and effectiveness.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.

[1] Berg J M, Dutton J E and Wrzseniewski A (2007), What is Job Crafting and Why Does it Matter? Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.

[2] Tims M, Bakker A and Derks D (2013), The Impact of Job Crafting on Job Demands, Job Resources, and Well-Being, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), pp230–240.