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Crafting your dream job

When we aren’t inspired by the space where we live, we look to redesign it to be more in line with our personality and style. When we are bored with the way we look, we seek help from a stylist to get a makeover. What happens when we are demotivated or frustrated with our job? In this article we explore how altering our behaviour and taking proactive steps can help us find fulfilment in our current job that’s not currently motivating us.

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So you hate your job? Maybe hate is a strong word, but for sure you are not totally happy. Your job might not be fully aligned with your current knowledge and skills, it does not give you the opportunity to grow, or seem pointless and has no meaningful function for society. Whatever it may be the underlying issue is that in some way the job and you don’t fully match. This might sound that you should seek to be in a job that feels like the perfect relationship. I wouldn’t go that far, but if you view your job as an activity that’s aligned with your values and/or short-term or long-term goals, it is easier to get out of bed and go to work.


The challenges with Surface Acting

When what you would like to do in your job and what you actually have to do conflict with each other, you can experience discomfort due to “surface acting”. Surface acting is when you have to display certain emotion or behave in a certain way in accordance to the rules and expectation of the current situation (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). This is emotionally exhausting, reduces your engagement and can lead to burn-out (Hülsheger & Schewe, 2011). One solution to this internal conflict is to have autonomy to be yourself. For example, customer service representatives are told to be happy and always considerate to clients.

However, this is emotionally exhausting as they have to engage in “surface acting” and cannot be themselves. This cost of surface acting leads to emotional exhaustion and disengagement. One way to feel autonomy is proactively helping a colleague the way you would like to be of value. By giving help you regain some autonomy and freedom (Uy et al., 2016). Part of the real you can come to the surface by helping your colleagues which in turn helps yourself. Finally, you can be you, without a fake smile.

Now, not everyone experiences emotional exhaustion at work due to not expressing their emotion or values. But the idea remains that freedom can help you deal with the discomfort you feel when your knowledge and skills and career aspirations aren’t met by your employer. Your job description tells you what you need to be doing when working. The job description is written for you, or in other words, what you need to do at work is a top-down process. Your voice isn’t heard or included. Job crafting tries to correct this by giving you space to design your work in a way that feels more like you, your current-you or your future-you. Job crafting results in greater person-job fit (Lu et al., 2014), leading to individuals experiencing their work as more meaningful (Rosso et al., 2010). Job crafting is described as a bottom-up process. This means individual employees engage in activities that lead to changes in their job description. This requires that employees are proactive. However, it also requires that employees have the autonomy to change part of their job. Consequently, your organisational rank plays a role.

Job crafting is a personal activity, you as an employee decide to engage in. This is the first step in the job crafting process. Job crafting doesn’t have to be big changes. It can be small steps and initiatives you take at work to keep yourself motivated and excited. For example, a friend of mine made a proposal to how to change the onboarding process of new clients and was subsequently asked to help implement it. This was not part of her original job description. Another example is when you reduce the number of tasks you do not want to work on by sharing the load with someone else. Jane E Dutton and Amy Wrzesniewski share several other examples of job crafting.

Engaging in job crafting is not easy. It requires you to have autonomy to do so. This freedom is granted to you through your manager, the political capital you have built within the company or the company culture. At the end of the day you cannot simply stop doing tasks, because you find them boring or too demanding. However, you can initiate a conversation with your manager or within the company about how you can alter these mundane or stressful tasks to something that’s enjoyable while delivering the expected results. Simply by starting a conversation and suggesting changes you would like to make to enhance your productivity you are displaying skills like creative thinking, being proactive and taking ownership. Of course, this suggestion assumes managers who care and are willing to listen to you.

It might sound that job crafting is only for high ranking employees, those in leadership positions. But even if you are part of the leadership team, you can’t just change the content of your job at your free will. As a leader you have responsibilities. You can’t just taker over tasks you find interesting or give all your boring tasks to your subordinates. So if you are in a leadership position and you engage in job crafting, give your employees the same freedom.

Job crafting: Redesign your work.

Job crafting is the physical or cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries to their work (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). Job crafting can take three forms-

Task crafting is about considering the tasks that are part of your job and then thinking about what to include or leave out. For example, if administration is part of your job, but you really hate it, you can look to see if there is a way to offload the task. Another solution is to take on other work to showcase your skills in areas outside of your current role. Perhaps you could support the new marketing campaign that needs extra hands or develop a new skill like marketing analytics or social media management.

2. Relational crafting is reflecting with whom you work and do not work. It is about changing the people with whom you interact at work. This can be the colleagues with whom you have to collaborate, but also those from whom you get feedback or advice. If your only source of feedback is your manager, with whom you do not have the best relationship, go to a peer to ask for advice. If you feel that you do not know many people in your company, be intentional and start conversation with other people.

3. Cognitive crafting is a mental form of job crafting. When you think about what the purpose of your job is, you engage in cognitive job crafting. This can be a strategy to deal with an unpleasant job, or if you do not have the freedom to engage in task or relational job crafting. This brings me to a tactic Tania (my co-founder) used when she dealt with a toxic work environment with a horrible boss. She would tell herself she is playing a role in a movie like The Devil Wears Prada and make this negative experience mentally entertaining instead of exhausting.

Job crafting is also related to the Job Demand and Resource theory (JD-R) proposed by Bakker & Demerouti (2014). According to this theory, individuals can change the job resources that are available to them. These are aspects that help people do their job: technology, peers, autonomy, feedback, learning opportunities. On the other hand, individuals can also change the demands that the job posed on them. For example, change the number of challenging tasks, or emotionally exhaustive tasks (Tims, Bakker, & Derks, 2012). Challenging tasks is viewed by the authors as something positive as it stretches your skills. Challenging tasks put you outside your comfort zone and pushes you to learn new skills and knowledge. Learning and demonstrating what you have learned is important if you want to successfully engage in task crafting.

Brain Work

Think about what aspect of your job you would love to change?

What is missing in your current job? Is it creativity? Challenge? Or Freedom? Or something else?

Which of the above forms of job crafting would be the easiest for you to do in your current job?


How to redesign your work?

Redesigning your job is a bottom-up activity. It is up to you to think how to change your job so that it better suits your knowledge or skills. But regardless of your position in the company, you’ll have to work within the goal of your employer and the people around you. For example, a study has shown that higher ranked employees felt limited in their job crafting as they didn’t want to step on other people’s toes, while lower-level employees thought they didn’t have the autonomy to change their duties.

A nice illustration of how job crafting works is a study on how cleaning staff in hospitals view and perform their job. Imagine your task is to mop the floors in your local hospital. You are pretty much at the bottom of the hierarchy. No degree, no qualifications. How would you view your job? A meaningless task with limited appreciation by others? Kind of an invisible person in the hospital with patients, visitors and health staff paying little attention to you? If this is your view, chances are your motivation is low and you are not engaged with your work.

But what about if you changed your perspective. As a cleaner you enter patients’ rooms and can observe emotions on people’s faces. You can see stressed out nurses, lonely patients, or distraught visitors. You can decide to relay this information to health staff or start a conversation with patients or visitors, even if this is not part of your job duties. As a cleaner you can act as a fly on the wall, as most people do not expect you to interact with health staff.

While job crafting gives you the potential to design your job in a way that suits you, how successful you’ll be depends on your autonomy and power. But even if, on first sight, it looks like you can’t change anything in your job, there are solutions (Berg, Wrzesniewski, Dutton, 2010).

1. Adjust your expectations for redesigning your job. Don’t expect that you can make big changes in one go. Work slowly, talk with others, collect examples and stories from others.

2. Think about how you can fulfil your potential outside of work through volunteering or side projects. Your work isn’t the only place in which you can develop and grow.

3. Build trust with others and gather support for your redesign. The goal is to have proof that you can execute on the changes you are proposing. This can be done through your past work, showcasing that you are able to deliver. Another solution is to get your peers on your side to demonstrate that these job changes have been well thought through and others, who do the same task, agree with them.

Tiny tips

1.Think about what you could do at your current job that would challenge your current skills and knowledge and put you in new situations

2. Write down your job description and highlight the aspects you liked and disliked. Discuss this with your manager and see how it can be changed.

3. List the people from whom you get feedback right now. This can be formally (e.g., performance assessment) or informally, when you seek out somebody. See from whom you could get less feedback and from whom you’d like to have more feedback.

4. If you don’t have the freedom to discuss your job description, see if you can change your framework of what your job means, just like the hospital cleaners did.

5. If changing your framework about what your job is does not lead to any emotional changes, then describe your ideal job role and look for it.


Ashforth, B. E., & Humphrey, R. H. (1993). Emotional labor in service roles: The influence of identity. Academy of Management Review, 18: 80–115.

Bakker, A.B. & Demerouti, E. (2014). Job demands–resources theory. Well-being, 3, pp. 1-28

Berg, J. M., Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2010). Perceiving and responding to challenges in job crafting at different ranks: When proactivity requires adaptivity. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(2–3), 158–186. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.645

Hülsheger, U.R.,& Schewe, A.F. (2011).On the costs and benefits of emotional labor: A meta-analysis of three decades of research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16: 361–389.

Lu, C., Wang, H. , Du, L., & Bakker, A.B. (2014). Does work engagement increase person–job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 84 (2014), pp. 142-152

Rosso, B.D., Dekas, K.H. & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review Research in Organizational Behavior, 30 (2010), pp. 91-127

Tims, M. , Bakker,A.B. & Derks, D. (2012) Development and validation of the job crafting scale Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80 (2012), pp. 173-186

Uy, M. A., Lin, K. J., & Ilies, R. (2016). Is it Better to Give or Receive? The Role of Help in Buffering the Depleting Effects of Surface Acting. Academy of Management Journal, 60(4), 1442–1461. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2015.0611 Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179–201.

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