Over the past several years, we’ve spoken with hundreds of people, in a variety of industries and occupations, who are feeling stuck in the jobs they have. According to a recent survey of 5,000 U.S. households by The Conference Board, only 45% of those polled say they are satisfied with their jobs—down from about 60% in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted.
If you’re in this situation, and changing roles or companies is unrealistic given the tough economy, what can you do? A growing body of research suggests that an exercise we call “job crafting” can be a powerful tool for reenergizing and reimagining your work life. It involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. The exercise prompts you to visualize the job, map its elements, and reorganize them to better suit you. In this way, you can put personal touches on how you see and do your job, and you’ll gain a greater sense of control at work—which is especially critical at a time when you’re probably working longer and harder and expecting to retire later. Perhaps job crafting’s best feature is that it’s driven by you, not your supervisor.
This exercise involves assessing and then altering one or more of the following core aspects of work.
You can change the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, expanding or diminishing their scope, or changing how they are performed. A sales manager, for instance, might take on additional event planning because he likes the challenge of organizing people and logistics.
You can change the nature or extent of your interactions with other people. A managing director, for example, might create mentoring relationships with young associates as a way to connect with and teach those who represent the future of the firm.
You can change how you think about the purpose of certain aspects of your job; or you can reframe the job as a whole. The director of a nonprofit institution, for instance, might choose to think of his job as two separate parts, one not particularly enjoyable (the pursuit of contributions and grants) and one very meaningful (creating opportunities for emerging artists). Or the leader of an R&D unit might come to see her work as a way of advancing the science in her field rather than simply managing projects.