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Job’s Worth

Publishing Date : 18 June, 2019

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

“Is there no inspiration in labor? Must the man who works go on forever in a deadly routine, fall into the habit of mechanical nothingness, and reap the reward of only so much drudgery and so much pay? I think not. The times demand an industrial prophet who will lift industry off from its rusted, medieval hinges and put pure human interest, and simple, free-spirited life into modern workmanship” McChesney, 1917I

In the Journal of Applied Psychology’s  first edition, G. G. McChesney made this elegant call to more seriously design work that preserves human character. McChesney went on to argue that “every man should be more of a man, a better man, for having worked a day,” and that “deterioration of men deteriorates profits”. Thus, right from the very beginning we have been considering what type of work is best for organizations and those who work in them.

The interest in the question of what makes ‘good’ work, largely arose because of the specialized and simplified jobs that became prevalent during the Industrial Revolution, when machine-operated work in large factories replaced small, craft-based industries. Around mid 1700 the concept of division of labour emerged, something which Taylor took further with the precept of scientific management, in which tasks were broken down into simplified elements.

Time and motion study  complemented these simplification principles, with Henry Ford fully exploiting them by opening the first continuously moving automotive production line in 1913. The success of this mode of work organization was so great, that simplified or narrow and low autonomy jobs became the work design of choice in manufacturing and beyond. Simplified work designs still exist, as witnessed at contract manufacturer Foxconn, who have become (in)famous for the large-scale production of such products as the iPhone.

Years ago how we did our work was the decision of management and work design left to experts and OD specialists. As appreciation increases for the fact that most employees spend half their waking hours at work a and a lot of  see it as a struggle, or at least a bore, where looking forward to the weekend when they can do more meaningful things is their main motivation, there is understanding that we should harness peoples desires.  But what if employers could change that so that employees felt that the job itself was worthwhile? What if work was meaningful, left one satisfied, and through it, you felt that you were part of something bigger?

In my article last week, I reflected on what jobs had disappeared in the past few years but it isn’t just the jobs which are ceasing to exist but also how they are being changed. When I studied HR we learnt about job design and today this has an old fashioned ring to it as modern proactive employers look towards things like job crafting which allows employees to become involved in the design of work.

This is where job crafting comes in. Job crafting is about taking proactive steps and actions to redesign what we do at work, essentially changing tasks, relationships, and perceptions of our jobs (Berg et al., 2007). The main premise is that we can stay in the same role, getting more meaning out of our jobs simply by changing what we do and the ‘whole point’ behind it. It’s about creating or crafting a job that you can love. You still do your function but at the same time the work is more aligned with our strengths, motives, and passions. And the research shows that when this happens there is better performance, engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Crafting can take place in three ways - task crafting, relationship crafting, and/or cognitive crafting, referring to the ‘behaviours’ which employees can use to become ‘crafters’. Task crafting is about adding or dropping the responsibilities set out in your official job for instance, a chef may take it upon themselves to not just serve food but to create beautifully designed plates that enhance a customer’s dining experience. As another example, a bus driver might decide to give helpful sightseeing advice to tourists along his route.  In both instances, the purpose is to harness individual passions, knowledge and skills to give added value to the task – a win-win situation.

This type of crafting might also (or alternatively) involve changing the nature of certain responsibilities, or dedicating different amounts of time to what you currently do, while not affecting the quality or impact of what you’re hired to do – although probably improving it. Relationship crafting is how people reshape the type and nature of the interactions they have with others or changing up whom we work with on different tasks and communicate and engage with on a regular basis. A marketing manager might brainstorm with the firm’s app designer to talk and learn about the user interface, unlocking creativity benefits while crafting relationships, linking  departments and functions and increasing engagement for both.

Cognitive crafting is how people change their mindsets about the tasks they do. By changing perspectives on what we’re doing, we can find or create more meaning about what might otherwise be seen as ‘busy work’. Changing hotel bedsheets in this sense might be less about cleaning and more about making travellers’ journeys more comfortable and memorable. When you do this you may find an employee saying such things as “Technically, my job is putting in orders orders, but really I see it as providing our customers with an enjoyable experience, a positive service delivery, which is a lot more meaningful to me than entering numbers.

In my own work I went through a really busy period a few weeks back which saw me pushing 14 hour days and being under a lot of pressure.  At one stage my kids said to me sorry that you are having to work so hard, Dad, and stay at the office so late. I had to explain to them they must never feel sorry for me. I love what I do and I have such purpose in the job that I do that for me putting in the extra effort and dealing with the pressure is all part of it and I don’t mind it – for the most part I love it.

I guess I may be in the overall minority because I am in a wonderful opportunity to shape my environment and really make decisions about what I do and what I don’t do. The old  cliché of ‘find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’ is being transformed into ‘create the job you love’.  Through one, two, or all of the above, job crafting proponents argue that we can redefine, re-imagine, and get more meaning out of what we spend so much time doing.  In this way it really could become ‘a labour of love’.



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