“Just do what you want!” How to turn your employees into job designers

Employees are much more satisfied with their jobs if they can shape them themselves. Many will actually leave a company because they don’t feel their job is fulfilling and are simply bored. The solution: Job design.

A guest commentary by Robert Kötter and Marius Kursawe – 


Peter M. is a good example: He is 42 and has been with the same company for ten years. No one there has any idea that he is frustrated by his work there. His boss agrees his duties and goals with him each year during his performance review. But when he chats with his friends after work, he paints a very different picture. “I can’t do what I really want. I feel I’m not challenged enough, but why should I do more? I don’t see any real prospects, but I’m too frightened to quit.” He would actually like to apply his passion for social media and blogging, but that’s not his department’s line of work.


Peter M.’s situation is typical. Employees are stagnating in their jobs, with very little momentum or change once they have started on a certain career path. The annual Gallup poll clearly shows how many employees are frustrated and have already inwardly quit.


Harvard University has examined the differences between motivated and unmotivated employees. In a hospital, for example, people who in particular had actively redefined their job descriptions, were performing their tasks differently and had integrated their own personal values into their work were happier and more satisfied. The researchers refer to this method as Job Crafting. According to Prof. Amy Wrzesniewski: “It involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. You can put personal touches on how you see and do your job, and you’ll gain a greater sense of control at work.”


Employees who practice Job Crafting are more efficient and more successful. The problem is that they haven’t actually done what they are supposed to at work. They have manipulated their job description and (re-)designed their job of their own accord. A horror scenario for many HR managers. This would constitute grounds for dismissal in both Germany and the USA. Job Crafting actually has elements of a guerrilla-style approach. At the same time, it can represent a huge opportunity. After all, who doesn’t want their employees to be more satisfied and help shape things themselves?


From our own work with individuals and companies, we know that many good employees leave if they feel they can’t contribute anything. It’s important for them to have creative freedom. And they want to do a job they believe is meaningful. Job Crafting turns such employees into job designers who learn to actively shape their own job – with the full support of their employer.


To empower employees to hack their own job, managers and HR managers need new skills. They are the enablers! We repeatedly see how employees and managers flourish as a result and discover completely new perspectives if they are given the freedom to help shape their job and therefore their company.


The situation with Peter M. was very similar. His line manager invited him to take part in a job design process. This process revealed that he really likes some aspects of his job, while clearly not being so keen on others. It also showed that his passion for blogging is actually a skill which is in demand within the company. During the workshops and because colleagues from the social media department were also there, it was possible to find a solution which offered Peter a more fluid job description that spans departmental boundaries.


About the authors:

Robert Kötter and Marius Kursawe are the founders of Work-Life-Romance. As experts in life design and Job Crafting, they advise companies on issues relating to the future of work and job satisfaction: www.workliferomance.de

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