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In his classic Working, Studs Terkel went around the United States in the 1970s interviewing workers from all walks of life. Over and over again he found — not surprisingly — that work is central to our lives and that we derive a significant part of our self-image from our relationship with work. I find the volume that Terkel produced to be a timeless reflection on work that still resonates with me today.
We don’t need to consult anything other than our own experiences to see how central work is to our lives. It may not be an exaggeration to say that work is the ordering principle par excellence of our lives. Perhaps for some, there is the exception of religion or maybe even politics. Still, I think that in general we so often schedule our lives around work and not work around our lives. Outside of time spent with family, we spend the most time at and doing work. Even our entertainment often focuses on work. Just think of all the TV shows that are workplace centered and driven. One of the biggest hits of the past decades was called The Office after all.
Given work is so central, how might we go about working better? Not in the sense of necessarily being more productive. Instead, how can we have as positive an experience as possible with work?
To do this, I want to highlight and introduce you to job crafting, which is one description of work that I find quite interesting and convincing. In doing so, I want to focus on how we go about working and how the ways in which we go about working (job crafting) can be buttressed by incorporating the LLP framework. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have our dream job, but more other than not I fear that that isn’t the case. Regardless of if you have your dream job or not, I hope that the following will still be applicable.
We all have job descriptions, instructions, and guides on what and how we ought to do our work. We can think of the smallest part of our work as individual tasks. For example, stocking shelves, writing a contract, or measuring a patient’s vitals. Sometimes our task instructions are extremely well-specified. Other times they may be quite vague. Some instructions may not even be written but are more or less part of the workplace custom.
Even with the most well-specified and exact workplace, there are many degrees of freedom with how we actually go about doing our work and individual tasks. It is within those degrees of freedom that we find our ability to craft our jobs. There is an enormous variety of ways in which the same work is done differently. This difference no doubt reflects our own human variety.
In 2001, Wrzesniewski and Dutton formalized these observations into what they called job crafting. Wrzesniewski and Dutton described three ways in which we craft our jobs: situational, personal, and cognitive.
Situational crafting describes how we go about changing the physical ways in which we do our work.
We’ve seen enormous amounts of situational crafting over the past several months as whole sectors of the economy have moved to remote work. Some sectors are even transitioning into ‘remote-first’ going forward. Situational crafting need not be this drastic. It could be as little as doing (or not doing) additional tasks. This sort of crafting may include adding, emphasizing, or redesigning tasks.
For example, an HR recruiter with an interest in technology might add the task of using social media to attract and communicate with recruits. Adding this task would bring the application or development of new, desirable skills into the job and allow the recruiter to more easily track how her or his efforts are influencing recruiting results over time. The depth that these changes bring to the tasks of the job would likely spark feelings of deeper meaningfulness at work.
Personal (or interpersonal) crafting describes how we relate to our coworkers, clients, and others while at work. Do we take note of our fellow workers’ lives? Or do we keep strict boundaries up? In general, personal crafting may involve building, reframing, and adapting relationships.
An example that Wrzesniewski and Dutton gave is of hospital cleaners who took the time to get to know patients and the patients’ families and to offer support. This is obviously not in their job description, yet expanding the relational scope helped the cleaners to create a much greater sense of meaning.
Cognitive (or mental or meaning) crafting describes how we see our job, ourselves, and the relationship between the two. Cognitive crafting also describes how we see the individual parts of work (i.e., specific tasks) to the whole of our work. If we are working on a small piece of a much larger product or system, we can reframe our thinking from seeing just the single small piece to seeing how the work that we do is contributing to a much bigger whole. In general, cognitive crafting may involve expanding, focusing, and/or linking perceptions.
For example, a movie ticket vendor may reorient their thinking so as to see that they are an essential part of the experience. They may start to see themselves as a key first point of contact for consumers. They may realize that they are often the first contact of the entertainment experience and seek to set the tone of the overall experience. Maybe this could be something as simple as a positive comment about the film or friendly question to the customer. This reframing may even then bring about situational and personal crafting.
What good is increased job crafting related to?
Many researchers, building on the original insights, have shown significant positive relationships between job crafting and a variety of outcomes such as well-being and job satisfaction. In my own research, via a meta-analysis, which is a research technique that combines many prior studies, we showed that job crafting is indeed positively associated with increased work engagement. Work engagement is defined as the “active, positive work-related state that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.”
From all of this, it appears that job crafting is not only something that we naturally do but that it is also effective at promoting the sort of positive associations that we would hope that it did. It appears that the more job crafting that we do the better these other outcomes are. This seems to make sense across a variety of frameworks that sees humans’ ability to control their environments and create meaning associated with positive outcomes. There is also evidence that job crafting can be taught and increased. If so, then we could imagine by increasing our own job crafting and helping others to do likewise, we would all be better off. A question, then, is how might we best do this, which brings us to my final point.
How might the LLP framework help us job craft?
In reflecting on this research, I’ve always been struck by the possible connections between the three areas of job crafting and the LLP framework and how applying the LLP framework might help us increase our own job crafting.
Wrzesniewski and Dutton originally described job crafting as fulfilling several essential elements for people. We craft our jobs because we desire control, a positive self-image, significant connections with our fellow humans, and meaning.
The intuition underlying UEF’s LLP framework is that all humans are driven (or pulled) to engage in three fundamental activities and relationships. We are meant to love, to learn, and to play.
If LLP is something that we tend to do naturally — or want to do — and if job crafting is likewise something that we engage in naturally, what might be the connections?
We engage in job crafting in order to prevent alienation from work, or in the language of LLP, we do this to try to — as much as possible — transform our work into play. Now, this isn’t always possible and we have to acknowledge that. But even then, as Studs Terkel shows in his work, we can find people transforming their work. We can also see this in more recent reality TV such as Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs.
It’s not only in the motivations to craft our work but also in the ways that we go about doing it that we can likewise find expressions (or manifestations) of job crafting. If we choose to job craft, we might do so with the LLP framework in mind. We can see how each part of LLP could help us with job crafting.
We can bring love to our work in a variety of ways. When we do our work we can stop and realize the reason that we do it. It may be because we find our particular work to be our calling. Or — and no less equal — we may see our work as a means of taking care of our families. In either — or other — case, we can reorient our thoughts from the particular tasks at hand to a higher realization of what we are doing. This is cognitive crafting but one done with a higher insight from LLP.
We can also bring love to our interpersonal relationships (especially in these times). We can even bring love to even situational crafting. Recall the hospital cleaner example from above. These people — no doubt through love — reached well beyond the rigid boundaries of their jobs. These workers obviously engaged in relationship crafting. But, I also imagine that in so doing they were likely to have also engaged in situational crafting. They might have altered the order of cleaning of rooms and floors so as to accommodate families or to make sure that they would be able to bump into certain people
As with love, we can bring our desire for learning to our work with job crafting as well. No matter how many times we have done the same job, we can step back and consider if there is something new that we could learn. Can we do the job in a new way (situational), or can we help a coworker or client in a new way (interpersonal), or can we learn something new about how we relate to our work or one piece of our work (a task) to the greater whole of our work (mental)?
Finally, perhaps play may seem to be the most unnatural of LLP to think about in terms of work. After all, we often contrast play and work as extreme opposites of each other. Still, when we are able to exercise control via crafting over our jobs we might be able to begin to craft them in such a way so as to introduce an aspect of play. In other words, we might be able to transform tasks that were rigid, routine, and unsatisfying into ones that allow an aspect of play. Think back to the example of the HR recruiter above. He or she through that situational crafting may be able to create tasks (and work) that start to feel more like play.
What does all this mean?
Beyond being an interesting observation, it may also help us to better exercise (or manifest) LLP in our daily lives by rising to the level of our consciousness what we already attempt to do at work — namely job craft.
If you are interested in learning and practicing job crafting, there are a number of online resources.
Information about job crafting as well as the Job Crafting™ Exercise (JCE) can be found at
https://jobcrafting.com/. The exercise is also available at https://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/cpo-tools/job-crafting-exercise/
I have, in partnership with The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University (https://hfh.fas.harvard.edu/), created a web app to help promote flourishing through self-directed activities. We have a job crafting activity as one of the activities (https://flourishing.app/about/activities/job-crafting).
Another fantastic tool for helping with work is the Optimal Work (https://www.optimalwork.com/) framework developed by Dr. Kevin Majeres of Harvard University.
If you would like to read more about job crafting, the following are two good places to begin:
 While work is all around us and much of it is not particularly chosen, there is still a lot that is chosen. The ethics around this are complicated and not the subject of this particular article. There have been libraries written about the ethics surrounding work. What I don’t mean to imply in this post is that we ought to just accept our conditions of work. But that conversation is for another time.
 There is even some evidence that work may have a sort of therapeutic effort by helping to restore meaning https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/human-flourishing/201910/work-instead-welfare-flourishing-how-far-does-it-go
 For example, see Chris Herd’s repeated prognostications about the future of work. https://twitter.com/chris_herd
 Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job crafting and meaningful work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81–104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. https://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/Job-Crafting-and-Meaningful-Work.pdf
 Bakker, A. B., Albrecht, S. L., & Leiter, M. P. (2011). Key questions regarding work engagement. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 20(1), 4–28. 10.1080/1359432X.2010.485352
 See, for example, intervention studies cited in Frederick and VanderWeele, 2020. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311908.2020.1746733