All jobs have highs and lows. We all have days where we wake up excited to work, and then there are days where we can barely will ourselves to get dressed; in those lows, it’s pretty tempting to think about jumping ship and finding a new role where you can always do the work you’re passionate about.
Before you start browsing open roles at other companies, there’s an easier way to find happiness at the job you already have: job crafting. The idea is that you can “craft,” or redefine, your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions and make the most out of the position you do have.
What is job crafting?
Job crafting was first uncovered in a 2001 study by Yale School of Management professor Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues. They focused on the work experiences of individuals on a cleaning crew at a university hospital. Of the 28 employees, some were mainly doing their jobs for the money and didn’t find the work especially satisfying; others, however, said they found their work highly meaningful. When describing their daily tasks, they listed things that weren’t included in the job description, like spending time with patients or walking visitors back to their cars.
The researchers realized there was a huge difference between how these two sets of employees viewed their work. They both did what was required of them, but the second group also found a way to add something new and exciting to their work, a concept that was named “job crafting.”
In later studies, Wrzesniewski and her team found that employees who engaged in job crafting were happier and performed better than their coworkers who didn’t go through that process.
How to start job crafting
Instead of waiting for your boss to assign you a new project or give you the chance to use a certain skill, be proactive and seek out those opportunities on your own.
Get started by sketching out a plan: what you like doing, what you’d like to be doing, and how you can do both.
As you start job crafting, here are three areas to focus on:
Start making adjustments to the kind of responsibilities you take on, like decreasing the time spent on less-rewarding tasks and working on more rewarding ones. Take care not to let these overshadow your core job responsibilities; instead, try brainstorming how to deliver the same results and outcomes via tasks that make you excited. Or, take on extra tasks once you’ve completed your main projects.
Don’t feel limited by your title! Think about what you like to do, or want to learn how to do better, and offer those skills up. If you want to start writing, ask to create some guest posts for your company blog; if you want to improve your animation skills, offer some GIFs to your social team.
Not only does this show initiative, but it also will give you hands-on experience in a role that you think you might want.
How can you change the nature of your interactions with your colleagues?
If you’re in a senior role, you can offer to mentor juniors or interns. If you don’t understand what another department’s working on, invite someone for coffee and learn about what they’re doing!
Getting involved in your company on a micro level might help you appreciate the bigger picture of your goals, mission, and even individual projects.
This is an opportunity to provide more value for yourself, as well as your team.
If you can’t change your tasks or relationships, you can always change your mindset. It can be easy to feel unhappy with unfulfilling work in the moment, but reframing your perception and thinking about long-term results can help you feel more positive.
For example, if you hate the more administrative aspects of your job, think about how learning to focus on details can help you in this role and in your overall career.
Finding the big Why behind your tasks will help you understand the value of your role, as well as realize your full potential.
3 tips for making job crafting easier
Depending on managers and team culture, some people will find it relatively easy to take on new projects outside of their normal scope; others, however, will see apprehension, or pushback.
If you’re having a hard time job crafting, here are three tips to set yourself up for success:
Focus on creating value for others
Try to find the sweet spot where you can use your strengths to make your job more enjoyable and create value for your manager or your team.
You can do this by getting in touch with colleagues in other departments to come up with cross-team projects, or by having a sit-down with your teammates to come up with new ways to strengthen your bond, communication, mission—or all of the above!
Work on building real value not just for yourself, but for your team.
Build trust with others
Focus on creating a trusting, transparent relationship with your manager before asking to do different work.
Think about it: if your manager knows you are a high performer and can deliver projects on time, they’ll be confident that you can also juggle new tasks. On the other hand, if you are a new hire and immediately ask to change your scope, that might be interpreted as unhappiness in your role—and instability in the future.
Find the right supporters
Focus your job crafting efforts on people who are most likely to support you.
For example, if you always work with a certain product manager, he or she will be much more open to your taking on new tasks. Or, if you and a colleague both have skills the other wants to learn, invest your time in cross-training rather than approaching a more senior person that you don’t know.
Re-energize your work
Your job isn’t a static list of duties; it’s dynamic, just like you are, and should adapt itself to your experience and personal, and professional, growth. But, you shouldn’t wait for new opportunities to fall into your lap.
Nobody, not even the best manager, can define what meaningful work means for you.
Luckily, with job crafting, you can experiment and learn new skills without having to bounce between jobs. You can fine-tune your work to infuse more energy, challenges, and skills. Ultimately, it lets you take control of your career and shape the job you want, rather than letting the job shape you.