How to Create Positive Meaning in Your Work


Despite all of the efforts to the contrary, less than one-third of U.S. professionals are engaged at work.

This is a huge problem. Disengaged workers cost U.S. businesses as much as $350 billion in productivity losses each year.

Workers get disengaged for a variety of reasons. Maybe they hate their bosses. Maybe they hate their coworkers. Maybe the rules established by their employers simply don’t jive with the way they approach work. Maybe they’re not paid enough. The list goes on and on.

One of the main reasons employees become disengaged at work is due to the fact that they don’t value their jobs. Many employees find their work monotonous and pointless. They simply feel they are wasting their time in order to get a paycheck.

Studies have shown, on the other hand, that employees who find positive meaning in their work are more likely to be engaged when they show up each day.

That’s great and all, but how exactly can one find positive meaning in his or her work?

Glad you asked.

Understanding the notion of “job crafting” can help employees find meaning in their work. It can also help managers create a more engaged staff.

Quite simply, job crafting is the idea that workers can proactively sculpt their own job responsibilities instead of remaining passive and waiting for their managers to tell them what to do.

In classical, top-down organizations, managers create jobs, taking a one-size-fits-all approach to each position. A graphic designer is a graphic designer is a graphic designer—there’s no room for, or at least emphasis on, individuality.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how such organizational configurations fall short in today’s you-are-a-precious-snowflake-and-your-thoughts-matter-just-as-much-as-everyone-else’s society. But as we all know, no two graphic designers are the same; managers certainly shouldn’t treat them as if they are.

On the other hand, when organizations embrace job crafting and workers are able to build their own responsibilities—within reason, of course—it’s almost as if a position gets customized to the precise specifications of each employee.

Would you rather work at a job where your responsibilities were defined by someone else?

The benefits of job crafting

A recently published essay on job crafting revealed the following:

  • Job crafting applies to all kinds of jobs. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got that super sweet gig as a barista, you’re a product manager or you work on Wall Street: Any employee can sculpt their own job, so long as their bosses let them.
  • Job crafting helps psychological wellbeing. Chances are you’ve had a job you hated showing up to at some point in your life. Think back to your experience: Was that job one where someone told you what to do—constantly? When organizations embrace job crafting, employees become happier—which is nothing to scoff at, particularly since research shows happy employees are 12% more productive than their more miserable peers.
  • Job crafting provides a positive meaning of self. When managers allow their employees to sculpt their jobs, it’s a gesture that shows each member of the team is both trusted and valuable. This can’t be overlooked, as studies show a vast majority of workers feel like they aren’t valued by their employers.
  • Job crafting boosts employee engagement. Studies have also shown that job crafting increases employee loyalty and satisfaction. Beyond that, job crafting is linked to better performance—something customers will undoubtedly notice. This makes sense, because employees who have more control over what they do at work are more likely to invest their energies in tasks they love doing.

Employees do care about finding positive meaning in their jobs, if for no other reason than they spend so much time at the office. Don’t make discovering that meaning any more difficult than it needs to be.

The types of job crafting

Job crafters redefine the tasks they do, the people that they work with and the way they think about their jobs.

Here are some examples of how employees could craft their jobs:

  • Task crafting. A medical assistant is fed up with the fact that her coworker, who’s responsible for stocking each exam room, routinely drops the ball, making her job more difficult. Rather than getting angry or depressed, she volunteers to take up stocking responsibilities when her coworker goes on vacation. After she stocks the rooms, all of her colleagues are impressed by her attention to detail. They request that she continues doing it in the future. The medical assistant takes pride in the fact that not only is her job now easier (she doesn’t have to search for items that aren’t where they’re supposed to be), her coworkers recognize her efforts.
  • Relationship crafting. A copywriter has been working at an agency for about six months. Since she started, she’s had her eye on teaming up with the talented art department to produce some killer content. Instead of waiting for her manager to give her the opportunity, the copywriter takes up the initiative on her own. Before she realizes it, she’s working with the art department on a regular basis. They’re creating amazing content, and she’s better off because of it.
  • Cognitive crafting. A reporter for a small-town weekly newspaper hates his job. His hours are long, the topics are dry and the pay is lower than you can imagine. One day, he meets a reader who proceeds to tell him how great all of his stories are and how much value he provides the community. The reporter then changes the way he thinks about his job. He doesn’t mind it so much anymore.

Generally speaking, there are four sources where one can find meaning in his or her work:

  • Yourself. Think I love what I’m doing for a living!
  • Others. When your friends say Wow, I can’t believe this is what you do for a living!
  • Context. Think I work at Slack and make people’s lives easier by streamlining their professional communications or I make a shitton of money.
  • Spirituality. Think of the pastor who doesn’t make a ton of money but believes he is doing what he’s called to do.

So what does this all mean? Embrace job crafting.

Managers would be wise to let their employees begin sculpting their jobs. It won’t be long before significant returns are realized.

And for those who’ve not yet climbed the ladder? Spread the news of job crafting to your superiors and ask whether you can give it a whirl. You’ll be happy you did.

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