By Tanya Tarr
If you’re feeling burnt out at work, you have the power to craft your job into one that works for you. Mitigate burnout by understanding which relationships and tasks you enjoy and which you don’t.
“[Job Crafting is] what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience and thriving.”
Amy Wrzesniewski, Organizational psychologist and professor at the Yale School of Management
Feeling burned out on job burnout? You’re not alone. The science of burnout is real. The concept, pioneered by Dr. Christina Maslach, identified core indicators associated with burnout on the job, including workload management, autonomy, positive feedback and many other factors that contribute to employee disengagement. It’s a palpable feeling that seems to be permeating the world. Articles abound on how workers are slogging through brain fog, wrung out with exhaustion and wanting to quit altogether. But instead of giving up, consider what might happen if you looked at your role with a fresh perspective. What if you could reinvent your job to make it more appealing? Disengagement at work doesn’t have to result in calling your favorite recruiter or scanning LinkedIn for the latest openings—but it could provide an opportunity to redefine yourself at work.
How does job crafting mitigate burnout?
Dr. Maslach considered autonomy at work to be job control, or the opposite of being micromanaged. Having the freedom to be creative and empowered to do your job can reduce burnout because it affirms your self-agency. The concept of job crafting embodies a type of autonomy. It is a term coined by Dr. AmyWrzesniewski (Yale University) and Dr. Jane Dutton (University of Michigan) in 2001. In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Wrzesniewski and Dr. Dutton point out three key aspects of job crafting: task crafting, relationship crafting and cognitive crafting. They define task crafting as changing the scope, process or types of tasks that make up your day-to-day work. Relationship crafting consists of changing whom you interact and collaborate with at work. Cognitive crafting is altering the larger context of your work and how you interpret the impact of what you do.
Job Crafting Helped Pivot This Nonprofit Professional’s View
Let’s consider the real-world examples of a nonprofit worker and a school bus driver. By being curious in their crafting of relationships, tasks and the cognitive framing of their jobs, each person found greater meaning and purpose in their role. The act of crafting helped affirm their autonomy and stabilize them against burnout.
Jane (not her real name), a student, was going through a cycle of burnout in her role as a data scientist at a large international nonprofit organization. Although she loved the group’s mission, she was becoming increasingly demotivated. She felt powerless and underappreciated. There were external and internal issues contributing to this that were beyond her control, and her superiors seemed to be oblivious about her job functions. They knew her work created benefits and cost savings for the organization, but the specifics of data science were outside the realm of their expertise.
Feeling disengaged and burned out, Jane considered accepting an offer from another organization that was trying to recruit her. After thinking it through, however, she decided instead to try to reshape how she worked. While the core mission of her job never changed, Jane found ways to inform and educate the leadership team on the tasks she performed. She also began communicating with staff in other departments to learn more about their functions and needs. This internal outreach proved key in boosting Jane’s sense of autonomy—it’s what Dr. Wrzesniewski and Dr. Dutton refer to as relationship crafting.
Through conversations with her colleagues, Jane discovered ways that data science could be used to create value for her organization beyond just digital fundraising. She listened to the challenges her colleagues faced and felt re-energized to continue working towards their shared goal. By doing so, Jane expanded the relevance of her skill set to fit the needs of the organization, while remaining aligned with the overall mission of eradicating malaria.
Jane also identified job tasks that were demotivating and found she could automate or delegate those tasks, which is a form of task crafting. Taking it a step further, she wrote a proposal to create an interdepartmental team, focused on fundraising and membership. Within three months, Jane was promoted to lead this new division within her organization.
How Job Crafting Expands a Bus Driving Role to Chief Encourager
Aside from being applied to desk jobs, job crafting can be suited to any profession. Consider the case of a Texas school bus driver. Jorge (not his real name) viewed his job as a partnership with classroom teachers. He considered himself the chief encourager and cheerleader for the students who rode his bus twice a day. This was a form of relationship crafting, both with students and educators on campus.
While Jorge couldn’t change certain tasks like driving specific routes at scheduled times, he did change the atmosphere of his bus, which is a form of task crafting. Wishing students happy birthday and decorating the bus to reflect seasons and holidays are some of the steps Jorge took to create a festive environment that students loved. Twice a day, his students had an opportunity to remember that life should be fun.
Jorge continued to expand the meaning of his job with cognitive crafting, appointing himself as protector of the students, both on and off the bus. Chasing off stray dogs and intervening in bullying situations became his responsibility in order to ensure the safe transport of his students. The students knew Jorge cared about them and that feeling was reciprocated. That standard of care and the way Jorge defined his role as a driver helped keep him motivated and avoid burnout, even in the midst of funding issues due to legislative cuts.
Your Job Crafting Journey: What Does it Look Like and Where Do I Start?
Job crafting can re-shape your role and provide relief from burnout. The key is to explore how you approach relationships, tasks and the cognitive framing, or meaning, of your work. Ready to start your own job crafting journey? Take the first step by considering the questions below:
Practical questions for job crafting as an employee:
- Relationships: Which co-workers do I enjoy collaborating and interacting with the most?
- Tasks: Which tasks do I love about my job? Which ones create a sense of momentum when I complete them? What demotivates me?
- Cognitive framing: How can I rethink or remix the role that I inhabit? How can I expand the notion of what I do?
If you feel burned out, exhausted or disengaged with work, you are not alone. Surviving the pandemic might have us craving change. It could mean a job or career shift, but it might also be found in crafting a new way forward at our current jobs and falling back in love with what we do.
Tanya Tarr is the founder of Cultivated Insights, a corporate learning and development company, and is also a senior contributor to Forbes where she writes about leadership and burnout. Trained as a behavioral scientist, Tanya worked for seventeen years in political and legislative campaigns across the United States and brings her perspective on how to support burnout recovery through her lens as a scientist, journalist, leadership strategist and woman of color.
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