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Don’t Like Your Job? Customize It.

customize job

What if instead of changing jobs because you’re not happy, you could change your current job so it makes you happier?

Before you list the reasons why you can’t—you’re doing the work of three people, your boss is a control freak, your colleagues won’t support you—here’s some perspective.

To learn more about workers who did what sociologists call “dirty work” jobs, Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Jane Dutton, Robert L. Khan, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, interviewed people who cleaned hospital rooms. What they found surprised them. Even though the workers had the same job descriptions, and their managers believed they all did the exact same job, many added their own personal touches to their daily tasks.

The workers also described their jobs in very different ways. Those views—how they framed their jobs, in psychologist-speak–had a real impact on how the workers felt about their jobs.

Make Your Current Job Your Dream Job

The researchers called it job crafting and they’ve studied it in thousands of workers since. In brief, job crafting means redefining your current job to better suit your motives, strengths and passions. How? By adjusting the time and energy you put into specific tasks and relationships, as well as your perspective. “It’s not just adding tasks that you might enjoy, but how you shape the boundaries of a job,” says Wrzesniewski.

Instead of quitting your job to find one you consider more meaningful or enjoyable, job crafting helps you derive more meaning and purpose from whatever job you’re in. “We’ve heard from a number of people that they wouldn’t necessarily have left their former jobs had they done this,” says Wrzesniewski.

One of the best things about job crafting is that the process is driven by you, not your boss or company. That feeling of increased control is one reason it leads to increased job satisfaction. With the majority of workers saying they are disengaged from their jobs, taking the time to go through the process would seem to benefit both employees and companies. Across a wide range of jobs, the researchers have seen “positive effects on the happiness of employees as they report it and seen through the eyes of their colleagues,” says Wrzesniewski.

The Job Crafting Building Blocks

Think of the job crafting process as breaking down your current job into building blocks, then resizing, redecorating, and reconfiguring them into an ideal version of the job. You begin by making a diagram of your current tasks. After you evaluate your passions and strengths and consider how your tasks and relationships could better reflect them, you make another diagram of your ideal version of your job. (To get started, the Center for Positive Organizations has a job crafting exercise.)

The three key areas to consider:

Tasks. Determine which tasks you’d like to add or eliminate, which tasks to spend more or less time working on, and whether you can change how you do them to better suit you.

Relationships. Change how much you interact with people and the quality of those relationships.

Perception. Shift how you think about aspects of your job or the entire job. Often that entails looking at your work in the broader context of how it helps other people or society. Remember the hospital workers? When asked to describe their jobs, some stayed close to the official description, but others referred to themselves as ambassadors for the hospital, or healers.

Before you start making changes, it’s important to think about what challenges you might face and develop solutions. Wrzesniewski says most of the limitations people worry about during the process are self-imposed, such as believing they need buy-in from a boss or colleague.

Your current job tasks stills need to get done, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find new approaches that better align with what makes you happy. And when it comes to the biggest change–your attitude–that’s entirely up to you.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.