Job crafting in organizations

What can it mean for your workplace?

Companies often espouse that people are their most important resource. Yet action doesn’t always match pronouncements. It is routine for managers to block their employees’ creativity, micromanage, and engage in other behaviors that can drain the life out of a worker’s initiative.

Enter the relatively new concept of job crafting, which dates back to the early years of the twenty-first century, initially to the research of Yale University School of Management professor Amy Wrzesniewski, and University of Michigan Ross School of Business professor Jane Dutton.

The concept is explained and analyzed in considerable detail in two recent articles: “The Job Crafting Intervention: Effects on Job Resources, Self-Efficacy, and Affective Well-Being,” by Machteld van den Heuvel, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria C. W. Peeters, in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (2015); and “The Impact of Personal Resources and Job Crafting Interventions on Work Engagement and Performance,” by Jessica Van Wingerden, Daantje Derks, and Arnold B. Bakker, in Human Resource Management (2015). All six of these authors are from the Netherlands: van den Heuvel (University of Amsterdam), Demerouti (University of Technology, Eindhoven); Peeters (University of Utrecht); Van Wingerden, Derks, and Bakker are all at Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

Citing a 2001 article by Wrzesniewski and Dutton, Van Wingerden et al. note that “job crafting  focuses on the process by which employees change elements of their jobs and relationships with others to redefine the meaning of their work and the social environment at work.” Although there have been more articles about it in both the scholarly and popular press, it remains a somewhat under-the-radar concept beyond academia and certain workplaces. (It probably received a boost from its inclusion in Give and Take, the best-selling 2013 book by Wharton School professor Adam Grant.) Van Wingerden says that the findings in her article with Derks and Bakker, based on their study of primary school teachers, “showed that job crafting is positively related to work engagement and performance and can be improved through interventions. The job crafting intervention offered participants more insights into and awareness of their job demands and resources and stimulates them to make adjustments in their work that helps them to improve their work environment. The job crafting intervention made participants aware that they have enough opportunities to make permanent changes in their job.”

Van den Heuvel says that, in work with employees of a Dutch police district described in her article with Demerouti and Peeters, she and her coauthors “developed a job crafting training to help employees build awareness of their work environment, in terms of aspects that are energizing for them as well as demanding aspects of their work and working conditions. From this we taught the principles of job crafting and participants would develop their own personal job crafting plan to take action in order to build a more energizing, resourceful work environment. We found the training effective in that employees reported more affective wellbeing, self-efficacy, more opportunities for development and a better working relationship with their supervisor after the training than before.”

With this new level of employee involvement, it raises the question of how much managerial and leadership participation there should be in job crafting, and whether or not individual employees or teams should embark on job crafting themselves. “When examining job crafting as a phenomenon,” van den Heuvel says, it is regarded as a behavior that is engaged in without formal discussions or approval of the manager. However, I always encourage participants to have a conversation with their manager. What we find is that a lot of participants do not ask for or receive sufficient feedback at work. As I see it, performance feedback conversations, whether formal or informal, hold a tremendous opportunity to motivate employees. First, by focusing on what is going well and expressing appreciation of good work done. Secondly, by focusing on areas for development and by discussing what support is required for the person to improve further. The interesting thing about job crafting is that people can now become more proactive in accessing this source of motivation by initiating these conversations bottom-up. Given the fact that the role of leaders is transitioning from “controller” to “coach” in most workplaces nowadays, it is essential that we help both leaders as well as employees to adjust to these new dynamics.

Because job crafting is a bottom-up approach, Van Wingerden says that proactive self-initiated changes employees make at work are key in job crafting. Although job crafting concerns employees’ self-initiated changes, job crafting behavior can be facilitated through interventions. The job crafting skills participants develop during the intervention can be used when there are changes in participants’ work environments or when their personal needs change. A structured approach is not necessary but can be useful for organizations that want to take advantage of job crafting. Leaders themselves can also actively stimulate employees’ job crafting behavior by their own leadership behavior. For example, the feedback employees receive on their job crafting behavior may either create more possibilities for job crafting or inhibit it in the future.

Still, many people perceive themselves to be in Dilbert-ized, dysfunctional workplaces, meaning there is a possibility that employees (and managers) could view job crafting with cynicism and skepticism. “As with any new concept,” van den Heuvel says, “there is a possibility that leaders and employees would be skeptical and cynical about job crafting, which may not always a bad thing, given all the new management constructs that are being introduced.” She also believes that “both employers and employees have a shared responsibility for employee well-being and engagement. The good thing that I see happening is that job crafting helps employees to be proactive in finding out more about the opportunities for learning and development they have within the company.”

Similarly, Van Wingerden says that in job crafting, “employees take responsibility for their own sustainable employability. This makes it interesting for both employees and organizations. If you could proactively shape your job in a way that will give you more satisfaction, make you feel engaged at work and help to perform well, wouldn’t that be great? The nice thing about job crafting is that you can have an impact upon that ‘dysfunctional workplace’ and may even be able to turn it into a great place to work when you start job crafting at the team level.”

About Dr. Jessica van Wingerden

Dr. Jessica van Wingerden has studied Labor, Organization and Management at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Jessica has been promoted to study the effect of positive interventions on psychological capital, work engagement and performance. Nowadays she works as Director of Research at Schouten Global. She is actively engaged in promoting engagement within the organization. In 2014 she was one of the authors of ‘Work engagement in Education’ with various scientists from Erasmus University Rotterdam and recently she released her own book “PEPtalk” (Passion, Energy and Performance).

This acticle was previously published by Schouten & Nelissen on 31-05-2017


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