How to re-engage when your job in the public sector is getting less interesting

How to re-engage when your job in the public sector is getting less interesting

By Sandra Naranjo Bautista

Most public servants join the public sector to make an impact, to change lives. In the process, you might get trapped in the bureaucracy and disengage. If the job you have is not the job you want, it’s time for a change… This blog talks about job crafting, and how to turn your current job into something that makes you feel happier, more productive, and motivated.

How job crafting came about

In 2001, Professors Jane Dutton, from the University of Michigan, and Amy Wrzesniewski, from Yale University, began to study how people cope when working on what could be categorized as an “undervalued job”. They started with hospital janitors. Their findings changed their careers paths. 

To their surprise, they found out there were two groups of people.

The first group described their job just as the hospital role descriptions. They did what they were told to, and weren’t particularly motivated nor happy with their jobs.

The second group had a completely different perspective despite having the same roles as the first group. They described their jobs as meaningful and important. One woman, for example, saw her role as a healer because her work ensured the full recovery of patients.

How could two people have completely different perspectives of the same role?

Janitors in this second group were altering the boundaries of their job descriptions to make it more significant to them. This went from talking to the families of the patients, adding extra water in the rooms or even rearranging pictures in the walls of comatose patients hoping a change in the environment would help with their recovery. 

The researchers started looking at all types of jobs, from cooks to engineers to cleaners. For the past 20 years, they have been studying what they call job crafting.


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What is job crafting

Job crafting is what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways to foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience and thriving. From the research it seems to happen everywhere and it changes the meaning and purpose of work.  

Job crafting influences what, how, when and with whom the work is done. It impacts not only the individual but also the dynamics in the organization. Just imagine what an opportunity this could be to do things differently.

Types of job crafting

According to Dutton and Wrzesniewski there are three types of job crafting.

Task crafting is when you change the boundaries of your job by altering the number, type and nature of tasks you perform. You can take more or fewer tasks, expand or diminish their scope, or change how they are performed. Like Mr. Gaspar, a teacher in Peru that during COVID-19 lockdown walked on average 10 Km. a day with a blackboard to teach his students without internet.

Relational crafting is when you change the nature or extent of your interactions with other people. An example of this would be someone from the legal department, or procurement team, in an organization looking to engage with people in other areas to understand their needs and guide them better in the procurement requirements.

Cognitive crafting has to do with the perceived tasks and their meaning. In other words, is the difference between the formal description of your job and what you do. Going back to the example of the janitors in the hospital. Some of them saw their job as a way to support the full recovery of the patients and being their support system, which included supporting their families while they were in recovery.

How job crafting works

Job crafting is not a one-time action. It happens over time. Think of your job as a set of building blocks that you can rearrange to increase the engagement and fulfillment of your experience at work.

Turn the job you have into the job you want

If you are currently frustrated with your job, there is a structured way in which you could ‘craft’ your job to make it more aligned with your motives, strengths and passions. This is a step-by-step process if you want to try:

  1. Identify the tasks you do and time allocated for each task
  2. Identify your motives, strengths and passions to identify the aspects of your job that will keep you engaged and motivated.
  3. Reallocate your tasks and time. Try to increase those activities that are more attuned with your motives, strengths and passions.
  4. Identify the challenges that could inhibit you to make your new job configuration a reality.

To win support for your job crafting, focus on creating value for others, building trust, and identifying the people who will accommodate you. You can find a detailed example if you are looking for inspiration here.

Helping your team craft their job

According to Wrzesniewski incentivizing job crafting at the organizational level can be an excellent strategy to increase satisfaction, commitment and attachment to the job. At the organizational level, there are 4 ways to do it:

  • Boost autonomy and support, basically create the space for those interested in doing it.
  • Build development plans as part of the annual evaluation of the employees so that it’s more structured.
  • Communicate the strategic goals of the organization and allow employees to reshape their job based on these goals. She suggests this could be an excellent way to engage people towards results.
  • Hold job crafting swap meets. In this sessions both parties discuss how this could look like and make a decision on the new role.

Is job crafting possible in the public sector?

I’ve always believed that you do with your job what you want, and that no matter where you are there are always ways to make your job more inspiring. In fact, with the current pandemic we all have been forced, in one way or another, to craft our jobs to adjust to the current circumstances.

What I didn’t realize before is that there is a whole field of study on this topic and that many people were doing the same thing.

Job crafting is an opportunity for ourselves and our teams to regain our motivation at work. It would help create a more positive environment in the public sector by tapping into the intrinsic motivations and abilities of our most valuable talent, our people.

*Sandra Naranjo Bautista created Better Govs, for public servants and development practitioners.

*This article first appeared on the bettergovs.org website

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