Contribution by Professor Amber Dailey-Hebert
For years, around 1/3 of the US workforce feels engaged with their work. In other words, 2 out of 3 of your colleagues are not engaged in their work. This means they do not like their job at your company. This is not just a US problem, but a global one. The lowest level of engagement is consistently recorded among high qualified workers, those with a college degree. Engagement drives business outcomes. Engaged workers “feel connected to each other and their work“, they drive innovation.
What can companies do to increase worker’s engagement? Show employees how to modify their job to become engaged. This is called job crafting. Job crafting is about changing the job for it to become engaging. Jobs can be analyzed from two angels: The tasks and the people. Important is to not only focus on the formal tasks, those in the job description, and the formal lines of communication, those in the organizational chart. The tasks employees are involved in go (often) beyond their job description and informal lines of communication do not follow organizational charts.
To support job crafting, the focal employee, his/her tasks, and the colleagues with whom s/he is working with (superior(s), peers, subordinates) should be visualized. That will help to pinpoint where “energy is sucked out”.
Below is an example to illustrate my own job crafting analysis:
A couple of things to note: I’m the star in the center. The larger the square, the more I enjoy doing the task. The circles represent my colleagues with the color indicating how much I enjoy working with them. I have created links between tasks and colleagues, as it is important to not only consider the task and colleagues in isolation, but see how they are connected with each other. A boring task can become your favorite thing if you work with engaging colleagues.
Analyzing my tasks
Focusing first on the tasks, it is clear that I enjoy most of the activities I’m involved in: There are more larger squares than smaller ones. After paying closer attention to the smaller squares, you should notice that most of the small squares have a link to a colleague I find ok or I would rather avoid. This leads to the first question that needs to be addressed before crafting one’s job:
Question 1: Is it the task that you don’t like or the colleague? In other words, would you enjoy the task if you do it with somebody else and would you enjoy the colleague if you would do something else together?
While reflecting on this question, I’m wondering if my colleague thinks the same. Maybe we are both not ideal candidates for that task. If we are both lacking the expertise, we both dread working on the task. Companies need to make sure that their employees have the necessary expertise to do a task, and if not, support them to acquire the required skill set. However, if the task is outside the area of expertise of the focal employee and s/he has no intention of making it his/her expertise, s/he will never feel engaged when doing it. The focal employee will consider it a waste of their time (and your money), because it does not help him/her reach his/her career goals (if this is the case, HR and the supervisor should find out how the focal employee got assigned the task. Bad recruitment? Lack of employees?).
If an employee finds a task disengaging (but not the colleagues), think about ways it can become engaging. For example, for someone working in the university who does not like teaching, further analysis could be if it is teaching a certain group of students, or teaching in a specific format (online vs offline, lecture-based vs. case-based etc.) that creates the disconnect. The task of ‘teaching’ could be redesigned to make it engaging. Of course, when redesigning tasks, don’t forget that certain tasks need to get done, regardless if they are engaging or not.
If the problem is not the task, but the colleague, see what it is about the colleague. Is s/he disorganized? Or does that person like to micromanage and the focal employee can’t stand this (or the other way around)? Job crafting with regard to colleagues means to increase or decrease the contact with them. But this is a tough goal to achieve. The red dots also have an opinion and career goals. Creating a more engaging work for one employee should not make it less engaging for others.
So far, the focus was on task and colleagues that the focal employee does not like. Let’s switch to the positive side: The green dots and large squares. You should notice a green dot very close to me, the purple star. She is positioned very near to the purple star, because we do a lot of tasks together. I also get along with that colleague (which is good). Ideally, the figure should have many green dots, so question number 2 is:
Question 2: What is it about these colleagues that I like? Is it their work ethics? Is it that I can gossip with them? Is it that I think they are important for my career, because they are my mentors or because they give me access to other colleagues who have the power to promote me?
I focused for question two on the people-side, because I think the environment in which employees work, their colleagues and the culture at the company, can make tasks engaging (but of course, this is a double edged sword). By getting to know why the green dots are green, it is easier to find other colleagues with whom work will be engaging.
Lastly, the focal employee should look at tasks and people who are not in the figure. Taking the career goals as jumping board, what skills and knowledge does the focal employee need to acquire to reach his/her career goals. What tasks should s/he be doing and who in the company can help him/her to get the necessary knowledge and skills?
What this analysis can also reveal to companies is if there are tasks everybody finds disengaging or – even worse – if there are individuals in your company nobody likes to work with. Instead of redesigning many tasks and reassigning many employees, it may be sufficient to focus on the couple of rotten apples in your company.
In conclusion, job crafting is not just dropping the task and colleagues you do not find engaging. Let’s face it, the job needs to get done, and every one’s job description includes aspects we are not overly excited about. The goal is to have more tasks and colleagues you find engaging than disengaging. And achieving this is part of your responsibility.