“Job crafting” refers to the growing phenomenon of employees taking their roles and responsibilities into their own hands, “crafting” the career they want while staying in their current jobs.
To employers, this might sound like a dream come true – or set off alarm bells.
On the one hand, employees becoming more engaged and proactive can be great for productivity and morale. On the other, you don’t want employees “crafting” their way to a totally new set of tasks that’s at odds with your organizational goals.
Is there a role for HR management in job crafting that can enable employees and organizations to thrive? We believe there is – and in this blog, we tell you how to do it.
The term “job crafting” was coined by psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E. Dutton in 2001. It refers to a bottom-up employee effort to “craft” or reframe their current role to be more comfortable and fulfilling without moving to another job.
With job crafting, a role’s required tasks and key social relationships constitute the “raw materials” that employees use to build more fulfilling jobs.
Think of it like ordering a pizza: You start with a specialty recipe that the restaurant offers, but by removing the toppings you hate and adding ones you love, it can fit your needs and personality perfectly.
Most pizzerias would be supportive of your choice to optimize your own pie, but others might give you a hard time or may even prevent it at all. That’s not a restaurant you’d want to eat at, right?
Talented job candidates may feel similar about an employer that doesn’t allow for job crafting. Why limit your talent pool when there are ways to make it work for everyone?
In their original job crafting model, Wrzesniewski and Dutton outlined three main types of job crafting. The first is “task crafting.” This refers to employees influencing the tasks they take on in two key ways:
Adding to or subtracting tasks from the list given in their job descriptions. They might pass on a task they hate to another team member, or “go above and beyond” to take on extra tasks they find fulfilling.
Re-prioritizing tasks so that they spend most of their time on work that satisfies them.
The second is relationship crafting, also known as relational crafting. If task crafting is changing what you do, relationship crafting is changing who you do it with.
This might mean changing which team members they communicate with the most or forging new relationships with people in other teams to better understand their role in the wider business.
Third, there is cognitive crafting, also known as “purpose crafting.” This refers to employees shifting how they view their own jobs – for example, shifting their focus from the specific tasks they do to the positive impact their role makes on their customers or community.
More types of crafting have been identified as the literature has expanded. Some of the most relevant are:
Optimizing demands: Simplifying or optimizing processes to make work more efficient
Developmental crafting: Employees seeking out or creating development opportunities for themselves
Leisure or wellbeing crafting: Pursuing personal development outside of work to compensate for shortcomings in their role, thereby increasing their overall work-life balance and making work a more positive experience
Most people probably engage in some form of job crafting without even realizing it, such as task crafting or optimizing demands. However, a more intentional approach to job crafting usually uses numerous methods at once.
Take the case of Candace, a housekeeper at a university hospital who was examined by the Harvard Business Review. Candace engaged in many forms of job crafting:
Type of job crafting
She reframed her work from simply cleaning to being part of the overall healing process: She wasn’t just wiping down the wards, she was facilitating patient care.
Candace paid extra attention to tasks that would help people recover and leave the hospital more quickly.
She spent more time cleaning bathrooms in winter to ensure patient safety and anticipated what supplies they needed to feel comfortable.
Candace also formed relationships with patients. She altered who she spent time with based on who she thought needed the most comfort.
If Candace engaged in other types of job crafting too, this scenario would also invite job crafting through:
Optimizing demands by making suggestions for when rooms might be cleaned to be the fastest and most convenient for patients
Developmental crafting by seeking out training on supporting patients with special needs
Wellbeing crafting by organizing self-care activities for days off or after a patient dies
Job crafting is commonly confused with job design, but there is a key difference. Job crafting is the bottom-up work of the employee and often doesn’t require any direct intervention from an employer – but employer involvement is highly beneficial.
By contrast, job design is top-down, with employers making decisions about how different roles should work. This usually happens without consulting the employee. This determines the default state of the role before it is “crafted” by employees.
Who does it?
What is its purpose?
To make the role more fulfilling and customized to the employee
To fulfill the business’s organizational goals
A marketing manager developing a passion for social media and taking on more work related to that field
An employer recognizing the need for a bigger social media presence and creating a role for a social media manager
If an employer finds that an employee has low work engagement, they may be incentivized to perform a “job redesign” by repeating the job design process. However, that would most likely be swapping out one non-personalized job for another.
A 2007 study found that there were four main motivations behind job crafting:
Deriving meaning from one’s work and fostering a positive self-image
Having meaningful interactions with the people who benefit from your work
Fulfilling a passion, even if it’s not directly related to one’s role
Coping with adversity
Although many years have passed since this research, 2023 research by Pew Research Center shows that job satisfaction varies widely between different aspects of roles, with control and fulfillment remaining top priorities for workers.
Slightly more than half of workers are satisfied with the tasks that they do at work, but only 44% are happy with the opportunities for development they are offered.
In fact, a lack of learning and development opportunities was the number one reason workers left their roles in 2019.
Not only that, but fewer employees have clarity on what is expected of them in 2022 than in 2021, 38% compared to 48%.
It’s clear why employees would turn to job crafting to seize control of their workload and pursue better development opportunities in hopes of avoiding resignation.
Indeed, job crafting methods can be used by workers to counteract many of the issues that cause them to quit, including a lack of meaningful work or a negative work environment.
It might already be clear to you what the potential upsides of job crafting are for employers, given the employee needs that job crafting addresses.
But here’s some hard evidence to back up your hunch:
Firstly, job crafting gives employees greater autonomy over their work, which is linked to higher levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction.
This has a direct impact on your business performance. One study by Glassdoor found that every one-star improvement in a company’s employee satisfaction score corresponded to a 1.3-point improvement out of 100 in customer satisfaction – a not-insignificant figure!
This may be partly because employee engagement helps productivity. Research shows that companies that score in the top quartile for employee engagement are 23% more profitable than those in the bottom.
However, there are also risks to high engagement – more on these later.
It stands to reason that employees who proactively manage their own career growth are more likely to be aware – and take advantage – of the upskilling and reskilling opportunities you provide.
Research supports this: In a study of law enforcement, the job crafters among them reported having more development opportunities and were more inspired to take advantage of them.
If concerns about your return on investment are holding you back from upskilling your workforce, job crafting could lead to positive outcomes – and stop you from missing out on the benefits of employee development.
These can be massive. A study by McKinsey found that organizations that matched their HR processes with the skills needs of their workforce boosted engagement by 50%, halved their training costs, and increased productivity by 40%.
It’s only logical that disengaged teams experience more frequent turnover than highly-engaged ones – 18 to 43% higher, to be exact.
The benefits that job crafting can bring for engagement can reduce this figure and increase retention, particularly when supported by upskilling initiatives.
A whopping 93% of chief executive officers see increased productivity, an improvement in talent acquisition and retention, and a more resilient workforce after introducing upskilling programs.
Relationship crafting, particularly when encouraged by employers like mentoring initiatives or peer-to-peer support, can help to break down the divides that spring up between teams.
In a survey, more than half of the companies had a significant separation between functions, and three-quarters of executives saw these functions as competing rather than collaborating.[12,13]
This leads to talent hoarding, with managers conserving important knowledge within their own team and blocking avenues for collaboration across the business. This not only stands in the way of efficiency, but also creativity and innovation.
Further reading: How job crafting benefits your organization and employees
The above benefits can all bring significant gains to businesses.
But what are the risks of unsupervised job crafting?
As we mentioned above, many employers’ chief concern about job crafting is that it encourages employees to shirk the important responsibilities they were hired to fulfill and waste time on less important tasks.
This can certainly be true when job crafting is not guided by an employer.
Although employer guidance can mitigate the risks of job crafting going off-course, it should not be applied indiscriminately.
The fact is that many roles – often lower-paid ones – have much less leeway when it comes to their core tasks and responsibilities. A factory worker on a production line has less freedom to influence their tasks and relationships than an office worker in a small startup.
Indeed, research shows that higher-rank employees see their expectations of themselves as the main challenge of job crafting; for lower-rank employees, the challenge lies in their prescribed role and what others expect of them.
Promoting job crafting among these employees may therefore come across as pressure to take on more responsibility for the same compensation, stoking resentment in your workforce.
Job crafting can quickly lead to burnout if it’s done without tangible support from employers.
This may be especially true for low-autonomy workers. Take the example of a call center operator using cognitive crafting to emotionally connect with customers. In the short term, they would be highly engaged, and their work would benefit.
However, without their employer allowing them the flexibility to rest and recharge after difficult interactions, they might quickly burn out and quit.
This type of unsupported job crafting could lead to a “churn and burn” culture because passionate employees experience more frustration when their needs aren’t met.
Research shows that highly-engaged employees who are passionate about their work are even more susceptible to burnout due to stress and frustration from unsupportive environments.
The costs of burnout to businesses are massive: They encompass 8% of national healthcare outlays.
Don’t make this worse by encouraging job crafting without the right support in place.
Now, let’s take a look at what this support might actually look like.
It is possible to access the benefits of job crafting without falling prey to the risks.
Here, we’ve outlined eight job crafting exercises for employers to guide their workers towards happier, more fulfilling, and more productive working lives.
Already seeing job crafting examples among your workforce and want to keep them on the right track? Here’s the short version.
8 ways employers can support job crafting
Use skills testing to map the skills in your organization
Test all employees for leadership skills to spot candidates for mentorship
Measure job crafting in your organization with a Job Crafting Questionnaire
Ask all employees not just how they’re crafting their jobs, but why they do it
Input this combined data into an internal talent marketplace
Include notes on employee career goals in their skills profile to spot overlap with your growth strategy
Think flexibly about how employees’ roles work and embrace cross-functional teams
Consider jobs as part of a career “portfolio” rather than a “ladder”
Craft development plans for each employee
Set employee expectations on how much job crafting is possible in their role
Offer every employee a professional development budget to aid in guided job crafting
Assign each employee a training budget of 3% of their annual salary
Lead workshops on “team crafting”
Use post-its to visually redistribute tasks between team members
Create strong feedback mechanisms to reduce friction
Train managers to resolve conflicts using non-violent communication
The foundation for any successful job crafting exercise is understanding your workforce. Use skills testing to assess your employees’ skills and spot strengths that can be put to work outside the core requirements of their position – for example, leadership or project management.
You can then compare these results against employees’ self-described career goals and use this information for many job crafting exercises, for instance:
Matching employees with leaders for 1:1 coaching and mentoring
Negotiating responsibilities as part of task crafting
Tracking their progress through training by re-testing their skills and comparing results
To understand the potential impact of job crafting on your talent strategy, you need to work out how much job crafting is already happening in your organization.
For this, you might administer the Job Crafting Questionnaire (JCQ), a scale developed by researchers at the University of Melbourne to measure employee participation in job crafting.
When implementing the JCQ to aid with career pathing, be sure to ask employees not only what they’re doing to customize their roles but why they’re doing it. What purpose do they ultimately hope to find in their work, and which areas of their role are most fulfilling for them?
This helps you deploy the information strategically because even if you cannot cater to their immediate requests – for instance, dropping a specific task – you might be able to find a compromise that serves their deeper purpose.
So far, you’ve collected data on your employees’:
Participation in job crafting
Now, you need to match this against your organizational goals. To do this, collate the data using an internal talent marketplace: a piece of software or a spreadsheet that shows skills data for your entire workforce. You can then use this data to make strategic decisions.
For example, let’s say you’re planning to expand your social media presence into video marketing next year. You could use your internal talent marketplace to identify employees with either social media or video editing skills who also have an interest in analytics or marketing strategy.
In the next six months, you might match these employees with relevant mentors and provide upskilling or reskilling opportunities to enhance their skills. In this way, job crafting can lay the foundation for long-term promotion.
This is a good way to prepare your workforce for changes in the business landscape. Business leaders in 2020 predicted around 40 percent of their workforce would require reskilling in the near future.
It also promotes internal mobility, which is linked to better employee satisfaction. Did you know that workers who move into new jobs internally are three times as likely to be engaged than those who don’t?
Here’s the harsh truth: Any efforts to get involved in job crafting will ultimately fail if you are too attached to rigid job descriptions.
To succeed, you must look beyond the job, identifying the overlap between different roles and how you might take advantage of this.
One way to shift your thinking is to consider your employees’ current positions as part of their career “portfolio” rather than a step on a career ladder. A portfolio can be interpreted in many ways, whereas a ladder is just a straight path.
This helps you when considering individuals for potential redeployment opportunities, assembling cross-functional teams, and identifying promotion opportunities, because you can think creatively about where employees’ skills might apply.
This is especially powerful when combined with good upskilling initiatives. In fact, the Harvard Business Review recommends upskilling as a direct tactic to improve agility.
With all of the above data and research in mind, create professional development plans for your employees – making sure to refer to their skills profile in your internal talent marketplace as you do so.
You should start this process when they enter your organization and revisit the plan at key intervals throughout their employment.
Not only does this demonstrate your commitment to their growth and enable you to anticipate their training needs, but it also helps to manage employee expectations for how much they can craft their roles.
This long-term attention to skills pays off. Research by Deloitte has shown that skills-based organizations are almost twice as likely as competitors to retain high performers and more than twice as likely to innovate.
With employees’ expectations and targets set, it’s time to provide them with the resources to pursue upskilling.
At TestGorilla, we do this by giving each employee their own professional development budget at 3% of their salary; all they need is their manager’s sign-off to pursue their desired training. This enables employees to hold onto the autonomy that job crafting provides.
You might even go further. At Google, engineers are permitted to spend 20% of their time pursuing projects related to their own passion or purpose.
These kinds of initiatives can be a great way to introduce job crafting – specifically, development crafting – to members of your workforce for whom task crafting is less accessible.
In combination with strong internal mobility initiatives, this promotes awareness that there are diverse pathways through your organization.
Of course, most employers understand that there are limitations to individual job crafting. You can’t just “craft” away key responsibilities without someone else having to pick them up.
This is where team crafting comes in. Team crafting applies the principles of job crafting to wider teams, exploring how tasks might be redistributed to support each employee’s preferences as well as the team’s overall cohesion and goals.
This ensures that tasks aren’t missed and that resentment doesn’t build between team members, ultimately enabling teams to excel. Indeed, team crafting has been linked to better overall job performance.
Running a job crafting workshop with your team is a great way to facilitate communication and make this a team effort, for instance, writing key tasks on post-its and assigning them to different team members to visualize the redistribution.
Finally, there’s no denying that some employees use job crafting to avoid accountability or having difficult conversations with their colleagues and employers.
For instance, some employees might be tempted to use relationship crafting to avoid people they dislike or exclude individuals who don’t “fit in” with the group.
To avoid this impacting your company culture, create strong feedback mechanisms within your teams. You might do this by:
Implementing anonymous forms to raise issues about workload and capacity
Training all managers to resolve conflicts using non-violent communication
Putting in place an open-door policy within the HR team
Assigning neutral parties to review complaints, such as settling disputes about workload
This ensures that job crafting doesn’t lead to communication breakdown and a psychologically unsafe working environment.
In a time where the lines between different roles and career paths are getting fuzzier, it’s easy to see why employees are turning to job crafting. It brings a greater sense of autonomy to their work, as well as a feeling of purpose and fulfillment.
With the right interventions, employers can also access the benefits of job crafting, including increased retention, better collaboration, and greater agility thanks to participation in upskilling.
To learn more about adapting your employees to the changing world of work, read our best practices to reskill and upskill employees.
To better understand how focusing on skills benefits institutional learning, read our blog about why skills-based hiring and employee development go hand-in-hand.
Finally, to identify your first candidates for job crafting, use our Big 5 personality test to understand your employees.
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