Right down to the way it uses the word “organic,” the article aligns with my recent post about the importance of a work environment that encourages employees to craft their own “fun at work,” rather than simply having fun activities prescribed:
And the best cultural markers are those that aren’t imposed on employees—mandatory game night or spin classes!—but are those that are formulated by employees. These create a shared sense of continuity, which creates the foundations for trust and support and strengthens the bonds between people. Organizational culture is rooted in the ways companies encourage these organic interactions but also in how they support their employees themselves.
Viewed through the lens of job crafting, “Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction,” a classic in the annals of organizational studies, offers clues about how to foster real “fun at work” that can boost employee wellbeing and, with any luck, improve business results.
If you were absent the day they assignedBanana Timein Industrial Sociology class, I highly recommend this unique article. Sociologist Donald Roy’s story, embedding himself in a small group of die press operators, was published in 1959 and is unlike anything else you’ve read in a journal. At times it’s humorous, sarcastic, and self-deprecating. And it’s always empathetic.
Roy didn’t set out specifically to explore fun at work. He primarily was studying how laborers coped with tedious work. He also sought to “penetrate the mysteries of the small group,” recognizing there might be a relationship between surviving monotony — and it’s “twin brother,” fatigue — and the human relations that take place among co-workers.
Roy describes the isolation he and his small cadre of co-workers experienced:
…This was truly a situation of laissez-faire management. There was no interference from staff experts, no hounding by time-study engineers or personnel men hot on the scent of efficiency or good human relations. Nor were there any signs of industrial democracy in the form of safety, recreational, or production committees.
Roy cites forerunners who described humans’irrepressible impulse to engage in play, which can help “the worker findsomemeaning in any activity assigned to him.”
Short-Range Production Goals with Achievement Rewards
He shares his experience of this impulse, in the initial days before he interacted with the three other die press operators — “clicker operators,” as Roy called them — in his work area. Hecognitively craftedwhat he called “the game of work”:
‘As soon as I finish a thousand of the green ones, I’ll click some brown ones.’ And, with success in attaining the objective of working with brown materials, a new goal of ‘I’ll get to do the white ones’ might be set. Or the new goal might involve switching dies.
“Thus,” Roy writes, “the game of work might be described as a continuous sequence of short-range production goals with achievement rewards in the form of activity change.”
Ultimately, he acknowledges, “These games were not as interesting in the experiencing as they might seem to be from the telling.”
After his first week, however, Roy realizes that another game — one played daily by his co-workers — is taking place.
Looking Forward to Banana Time
First, he notices a regular pattern of horseplay and teasing. In one example, one of the clicker operators, Ike, would steal a banana from the lunchbox of another, Sammy:
Ike would gulp it down by himself after surreptitiously extracting it from Sammy’s lunch box, kept on a shelf behind Sammy’s work station. Each morning, after making the snatch, Ike would call out, “Banana time!” and proceed to down his prize while Sammy made futile protests and denunciations. The banana was one which Sammy brought for his own consumption at lunch time; he never did get to eat his banana, but kept bringing one for his lunch. At first this daily theft startled and amazed me. Then I grew to look forward to the daily seizure and the verbal interaction which followed.
Roy describes a variety of “time” activities the workers wove into their daily work routine. Many revolved around refreshments, such as peach time, a daily mid-morning ritual in which Sammy shared two peaches with the other press operators. There were also coffee time, Coke time, and many other “times,” including, of course, quitting time.
(SorryFamily Guyfans… No peanut butter and jelly time!)
Team Job Crafting
These playful activities, initiated organically (that is, intrinsically) within the group, are a form ofteam job crafting. They met specific employee needs like social support and relief from monotony, and were enjoyed by everyone whochoseto engage. Contrast organic, worker-crafted fun with activities planned by management or by a fun-at-work committee.
Roy observed other kinds of social interaction, as well, and the influence they all had on what we now call the employee experience:
The interaction was there, in constant flow. It captured attention and held interest to make the long day pass. The 12 hours of “click, —move die, click, — move die” became as easy to endure as 8 hours of varied activity. The “beast of boredom” was gentled to the harmlessness of a kitten.
Seven Lessons for Workplace Leaders
It may feel like a stretch, at first, to apply Roy’s 1959 die press operator experience to the modern workplace, but it suggests no less than seven insights relevant to most modern work situations:
Workers engage in playfulness to remain stimulated.
Fun delays or cloaks fatigue.
Workers use gamification to findmeaningin their work.
Playful rituals during the workday are used to mark time and support short-term intrinsic motivation.
Workplace fun often revolves around food and beverages.
Playing with others is more meaningful than playing alone.
Informal interaction between members of a work group is important for job satisfaction.
As for management goals, Roy posed one possibility: “Leavening the boredom of individualized work routines with a concurrent flow of group festivities had a negative effect on turnover.”
He observed that the more he played the less tired he felt, which may have positive implications for productivity, but Roy neither measured productivity nor speculated about it.
One of Roy’s most important observations, in my opinion, is that, given the opportunity,workers craft their own fun,especially via social interaction.
Job Crafting, Gamification, and Play
Arnold Bakker and Marianne van Woerkom, in last year’s article “Flow at Work: a Self-Determination Perspective,” posit that job crafting and “designing work to be playful” are two strategies workers use to satisfy basic needs, which leads to improved job performance. They cite (as Roy did) a well accepted theory that humans have a “natural tendency” for play. And they point to research suggesting that fun at work “leads to higher job satisfaction, morale, pride in work, creativity, service quality, as well as lower burnout and absenteeism.”
Echoing Roy’s experience of cognitive game-playingbeforehe discovered Banana Time (Remember? “As soon as I finish a thousand green ones, I’ll click some brown ones”), Bakker and van Woerkom share testimonials from people who gamified their work, such as one HR manager who said:
When I need to work on a boring, bureaucratic task, I gamify it by building additional tasks into the boring task. One option is to fill out the form using the fewest words possible yet covering all the content that must be addressed. This makes it a writing challenge and so, more interesting.
Bakker and van Woerkom conclude,
Proactively creating conditions at work that foster play – to which we will refer to as “playful work design” could therefore be an effective strategy to increase flow at work.
(Flowat work, the author’s explain, is “a short-term peak experience characterized by absorption, work enjoyment, and intrinsic work motivation.”)
Beyond “Fun” Activities at Work
Bakker and van Woerkom focus onindividualgamification, which Roy found to be “not as interesting in the experiencing as it might seem to be from the telling,” rather than socially interactive play. Nevertheless, their research affirms Roy’s finding 50 years ago:workers will find ways to craft fun into their work.And the authors encourage leaders to create conditions that encourage workers to do so.
For today’s manager, the lesson is clear: Ping-pong tables, office scooters, outings, office parades, and dress-up-as-whatever days in the office are all well-and-good, but more important is an environment that supports employeescrafting their ownfun. (The foremost benefit of social outings, office parties, and other gatherings — especially when accompanied by autonomy designed into the work — may be to provide opportunities to interact in ways that foster future fun and relational job crafting.)
When all is said and done, as we contemplate Roy’s insights, as well as the theories advanced by Bakker and van Woerkom, we may conclude that trying to provide funatwork needn’t be nearly as high a priority as enabling the funofwork.
Thank you to Dmitrijs Kravcenko and team, who introduced me to Donald Roy andBanana Timevia their remarkable podcast “Talking About Organizations.” Check it out. Start with the first episode, or jump right in withtheir discussion ofBanana Time.
It’s easy to imagine how a white collar employee like a project manager or a data scientist might engage in job crafting. But what about, say, a machine operator or a restaurant server? Do they have enough flexibility to refashion the tasks, relationships, and other building blocks of work to more effectively match their strengths and needs?
Crafting any job presents challenges. But it can be successful across the full spectrum of occupations. Research I’ve previously described, as a matter of fact, included a wide variety of jobs: Silicon Valley tech workers, teachers, hospital housekeepers, chemical plant workers, police officers, and nurses, to name a few.
Less Flexibility May Mean More Job Crafting
Job crafting pioneers Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski tell us — in Job Crafting and Meaningful Work — why it can be easier for employees in highly structured, lower-status jobs to engage in crafting compared to those with more flexibility:
Since their jobs included tasks that had clear means and ends established (e.g., “you should service this machine using the following steps,” or “you must enter these data in this way”), it was easier for them to see the “white space” in their jobs—i.e., where they could fit in new tasks or relationships or drop tasks and relationships that were not very important.
Berg and company go on to describe, in contrast, the challenges of crafting a flexible, typically white-collar, job:
Lack of structure, combined with the continuous pressure to pursue their end goals, seemed to make it more difficult for [“higher-rank employees”] to recognize opportunities to craft their jobs. In other words, to color outside the lines of a job, one needs lines there in the first place.
We talk a lot about the importance of autonomy for employee wellbeing — and for job crafting, specifically. But more autonomy or less, at either extreme, may be suboptimal. The sweet spot lies somewhere in between.
Oodles of studies that include workers with diverse jobs in various countries show that JD-R job crafting is an employee-forward way to improve person-job fit — a win-win for employees and employers. It leads to improved wellbeing, stronger work engagement, better adaptability to change, and more productive job performance.
But when it comes to pulling their job demands and resources into an ideal level of balance — ie. JD-R job crafting — workers often aren’t aware of the possibility, and some aren’t confident in their ability to do it. Then again, some employers haven’t yet come to appreciate job crafting or don’t know how to inspire it.
These are among the reasons we, especially those of us trained and experienced in operationalizing workplace wellbeing programs, want to know how to structure JD-R job crafting interventions and what kinds of interventions work.
In a previous post, I reported studies of what I dubbed “Job Crafting Classic,” the original model proposed by Wrzesniewski, Dutton, and Berg.
Here, let’s navigate the more rugged terrain of the JD-R job crafting landscape. The following are studies of JD-R job crafting interventions — almost every study I could find. Almost all are based on a “quasi-experimental” design, meaning that — consistent with most studies of workplace interventions — neither the participant group nor the control group was selected randomly. They’re mostly pre- and post-test study designs, meaning measurements — of things like job crafting behaviors, work engagement, levels of demands and resources, and job performance — were measured before the intervention and after.
This is a relatively detailed overview, with links to the original studies in case you want more detail. If you’re in a rush, there’s an abbreviated version on LinkedIn.
4-Week Job Crafting Intervention for Police District Employees
Van den Heuvel et al paved the way with phased intervention for employees of a police district. The first stage was a one-day workshop that taught participants about JD-R job crafting; had them assess the current state of their demands and resources; and raised their awareness of opportunities to find more meaning and satisfaction in their jobs via crafting. The workshop concluded with creation of a job crafting plan. This was followed by four weeks of independent work on their plan, which included two or three goals per week. At the end of the study period, a half-day “reflection session” was held.
The study included 39 employees in a Dutch police district and 47 employees in a control group.
Outcomes: Increased wellbeing; increased self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to effect their situation); greater access to developmental opportunities.(The same team recently published another study (in Dutch)of a similar intervention — with only one goal per week and more participant interaction between each other and with the trainers — with 83 civil servants. They found increases in job crafting behaviors, increases in access to job resources, and improved wellbeing, compared to controls).
The researchers found the findings of their police district study, generally, to be “not significant.” But they concluded,
The job crafting intervention seems to have potential to enable employees to proactively build a motivating work environment and to improve their own well‐being.
Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria CW Peeters. “The job crafting intervention: Effects on job resources, self‐efficacy, and affective well‐being.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 88.3 (2015): 511-532. This pilot intervention was originally described with additional detail in Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria Peeters. “Succesvol job craften door middel van een groepstraining.” Scherp in werk 5 (2012): 27-49. [Dutch], worth noting because it may be the first published study of a JD-R job crafting intervention.
Simplified Job Crafting Intervention for Medical Specialists and Nurses
Intervention: Gordon et al tested a fine-tuned version of the 4-week intervention (above). They explained: “As the eﬀects found by Van den Heuvel and colleagues were rather weak, we modiﬁed their intervention in several respects. Adjustments were made to the intervention to increase individuals’ understanding and application of job crafting behaviors into their daily work…”
The intervention started with a three-hour workshop in which participants learned about JD-R job crafting — seeking resources, seeking challenges, and reducing demands. It encouraged participants to learn from their own or others’ real–life experiences by sharing stories of how their proactive behavior changed their thoughts, feelings, or relationships at work. The workshops were customized to support the employer and its workers during a period of organizational change. At the end of the workshop, participants created individual job crafting plans to follow for next three weeks.
The team conducted one study with 119 medical specialists and another with 58 nurses. The interventions were customized for each group based on the needs of the organization and the employees during a period of organizational change.
Outcomes: Overall, the participants experienced increases in their job crafting behaviors, improved wellbeing, and better performance compared to controls. The medical specialists improved adaptive performance — that is, their ability to effectively modify behavior in response to changes at work. Consistent with other JD-R research, reducing demands did not clearly lead to positive outcomes — a dynamic that’s not yet fully understood.
The interventions led to “medium to large” increases in job crafting behavior and wellbeing.
The researchers concluded that the intervention was…
…a promising job redesign intervention strategy that individual employees can use to improve their well-being and job performance… Individual and organizational interests … can be integrated by adopting the theoretical framework of the ‘job demands-resources model.’
Blending The Job Crafting Exercise and JD-R Interventions for Healthcare Workers
Van Wingerden published several studies of job crafting interventions in recent years. She and her team published a relatively early study of a JD-R job crafting intervention, delivering a hybrid of the style of interventions described above and the Michigan Job Crafting Exercise™. The subjects were 67 healthcare workers who diagnose, identify, and treat hearing-impaired patients.
The intervention led to increased work engagement and improved job performance in the participants. Van Wingerden continued to use this “hybrid” (my word) intervention, weaving the JD-R model into the Job Crafting Exercise framework, in other studies.
Comparing Resource Interventions and Job Crafting Interventions for Special Education Teachers
Van Wingerden et al compared different interventions for primary school special education teachers at multiple sites: 26 participants took part in an intervention geared exclusively to increasing personal resources (specifically, psychological capital… hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience); 32 participated in a complete job crafting intervention; 26 participated in a combined personal resources and job crafting intervention. 18 study subjects were assigned to a control group.
The study found…
The personal resources intervention improved work engagement
Job crafting intervention can, in contrast to Van den Heuval’s study above, increase employees’ job crafting behavior.
An intervention combining personal resources and job crafting leads to improved performance, but not increased work engagement.
The researchers concluded that job crafters probably should focus on increasing resources if they seek to boost work engagement. They suggested that, in addition to interventions, senior managers could do more to support employees’ balance of demands and resources, especially by expanding available resources.
Van Wingerden took it a step further in a study of 75 teachers, in which she and her team evaluated the sustainability of outcomes one year after completion of a JD-R job crafting intervention, in addition to the measurements they took shortly after the intervention’s conclusion.
They found that
Participants exhibited significantly increased job crafting behaviors one week after the intervention was completed and 1 year later.
Feedback, professional development, and self-efficacy resources had increased at the conclusion and one year after the job crafting intervention.
Significant performance improvements weren’t found at the conclusion of the study, but were found one year after the intervention. The researchers explained this lag by suggesting that participants increased their challenge job demands during the intervention, which could result in a short-term suppression of performance improvement but long-term growth.
The job crafting intervention may be a promising tool to facilitate a resourceful work environment which enables employees to achieve their personal and organizational goals.
(This study, which focused on reducing hindering demands, did not lead to increased work engagement — a recurring finding in JD-R studies. A study Van Wingerden led and published in 2017, Fostering Employee Well-Being Via a Job Crafting Intervention, however, found that an intervention focused on increasing challenge demands did lead to increased work engagement.)
Broad Study on Effects of Job Crafting Opportunities
Finally, Van Wingerden and Poell published a study in 2017 that, based on questionnaire responses of 2,090 Dutch employees from various walks of life, supports the value of job crafting interventions: “Results indicated that individuals who experience a high level of opportunities to craft reported higher levels of job crafting behavior. In turn, perceived opportunities to craft and job crafting behavior related to higher levels of work engagement and subsequently performance.” [Emphasis added.] Interventions are one means of creating “opportunities” to craft jobs.
The research team advised:
Managers who positively influence employees’ perceived opportunities to craft before offering job crafting interventions, in the organization, can create optimal conditions that may in fact strengthen intervention effects.
“Awareness” Intervention in Chemical Plant Workers
Tims et al surveyed chemical plant workers regarding their levels of demands, resources, work engagement, job satisfaction, and burnout. Surveys were sent at the outset and at the conclusion of a 2-month study period, with another survey specific to job crafting sent midway. All participants received standardized feedback that scored their levels of job demands and resources, with examples illustrating how demands and resources can be crafted by employees. 288 workers completed all three surveys and were, therefore, included in the analysis.
(This study generally isn’t described as an intervention, but it obviously is one — more of an “awareness” campaign rather than a behavioral intervention, but an intervention all the same. In health promotion terms, it’s comparable to, say, assessing someone’s level of physical activity and, if it’s low, providing boilerplate feedback on the risk of sedentary lifestyle and strategies people use to add physical activity into their life. The fact we aren’t telling them what they have to do or that they have to do anything at all doesn’t mean it’s not an intervention. In fact, it would be a fairly typical health intervention.)
Access to different types of resources had increased for respondents who reported, at the midway point, that they craft resources. This was positively related to increased engagement and job satisfaction, and decreased burnout. Those who said they craft job demands did not necessarily experience a change in job demands, but crafting challenge demands was linked to increases in wellbeing. This is consistent with findings in other studies that suggest, perhaps counter-intuitively, that positive outcomes may be rooted in the empowerment to engage in job crafting, if not with actual changes in resources and, especially, demands.
These researchers offered this caution:
Our results do not suggest that employees should be held responsible for their work environment and well-being. Rather, they suggest that management interventions should focus more on the effects of job demands on employee well-being because employees seem to change their job demands less often than their job resources.
These results obviously suggest that employees can optimize their own well-being when allowed to. Therefore, organizations should not only facilitate employee well-being by providing sufficient job resources and an optimal level of job demands, but they should also offer opportunities for employee job crafting.
Harvard Meta-Analysis: Job Crafting is Associated Positively with Work Engagement, but Interventions…
Harvard’s Frederick and VanderWeele conducted a meta-analysis on job crafting. A pre-print of the study is available on a limited basis. The researchers searched for studies of various outcomes, but only found enough studies of sufficient quality to examine work engagement as an outcome.
Their analysis showed that job crafting is positively associated with work engagement, but they weren’t able to say the same thing about interventions, specifically.
Thestudies ofinterventions,rather than just jobcraftingbehaviors, thatwe did identifyfound no effect of the intervention (Van den Heuvel et al., 2015; Van Wingerden et al., 2015).
Presumably, they mean “no effect” on work engagement. Frederick and VanderWheele acknowledge that the intervention studies may not have had sufficiently large subject pools to demonstrate such an effect. Take note, however:
The authors don’t mention Van Wingerden’s 2016 and 2017 studies (above) — perhaps they were published after the meta-analysis was conducted — that did demonstrate increasedimprovements in work engagement.
The analysis didn’t include Tims et al’s “Impact of Job Crafting…”stealth intervention from 2012 (above), understandably since the authors didn’t describe it as an intervention. But it was an intervention and it did lead to greater work engagement.
If you’ve paid close attention, you may notice a few red flags about these studies: small populations (n), apparently homogenous demographics, limited number of studies, and a concentrated group of researchers. In a future post, I’ll offer my assessment of these studies — strictly from my perspective as an American employee-wellbeing practitioner — and (spoiler alert!) I’ll share why job crafting is, by far, the most exciting thing to happen to employee wellbeing in a long time.
We wellness professionals are aninterventionist lot.Once we see that job crafting “in the wild” enhances wellbeing, reduces burnout, boosts performance, and eases adaptation to change, we want to know how we can make it happen.
And if we’re going to offer job crafting programs… We want to know what what works, based on evidence..
Let’s look at interventions based on two branches of job crafting:
What I callJob Crafting Classic —as I described inI Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name is Job Crafting— in which workers modify the tasks of their job, the personal interactions they have, and their perception of the job in order to experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose, and to increase work engagement, satisfaction, resilience, and thriving.
In a controlled study at a large tech company, employees were happier and more effective in their jobs 6 weeks after completing the Job Crafting Exercise™. This quick video Job Crafting Classic intervention and some outcomes…
As far as I can tell, outcomes from this particular intervention, which was spearheaded by Amy Wrysznewksi, Jane Dutton, and Justin Berg, weren’t published in a peer-reviewed journal.
A Japanese studydelivered a variation of The Job Crafting Exercise to 54 manufacturing managers and 25 psychiatric hospital workers. The intervention led to improved levels of work engagement, reduced stress, and an increase injob crafting behavior.
Increasing job crafting behavior — Wrzesniewski et al describe a job-craftingmindset— is important. The intention of these programs is not to have participants modify their jobs at the intervention workshop and then go about their merry way; it’s to have them re-envision their jobs as malleable and to develop their skills and their sense of empowerment…so they can establish andcontinuouslyimprove their person-job fit.
Interventions and evidence forJD-RJob Crafting are a different story — one that will be told in Part II.
Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman’s classic 1984 book,Stress, Appraisal, and Coping, defineddifferent kinds of stressors: challenges and hindrances. Jeffery LePine and his team at University of Floridaexpanded on thisand found that challenge demands are linked to improved job performance; hindrance demands lead to impaired work engagement and performance.
Opportunities and Obstacles
We’ll get to some examples, but for now know that:
Challenge demandscost energy but are viewed by workers as opportunities to grow, improve, advance, achieve.
Hindrance demandscost energy and are perceived as unnecessary obstacles, thwarting personal growth, wellbeing, and achievement.
(By the way, there also are different types of resources — for example, job resources and personal resources. Job resources include things like performance feedback, training, and autonomy; personal resources include self-efficacy (confidence in your ability to have an effect) and optimism. For a more detailed and expert analysis of different types of demands and resources, see Maria Tims and Arnold Bakker’s article, “Job Crafting: Towards a New Model of Job Redesign.”)
Demands-Resources Job Crafting
In job crafting with the JD-R model, employees
Seek challenge demands
Reduce hindrance demands
Some of what researchers point to as resources — like performance feedback and training — are sometimes viewed by employees as hindrances. And occasionally there’s a fine line between a resource like autonomy and a hindrance demand like role ambiguity.
In previous posts about the transition from wellness to wellbeing, I neglected to address the studies of wellbeing — including many attempts to define it — that were done before corporate America appropriated the term.
As legendary occupational psychologist Sir Cary Cooper says, “Define wellbeing? We can’t even agree on how to spell it Hyphen or no hyphen?” (I’ve paraphrased Sir Cary.)
“Wellness programs focus on physical health while well-being addresses ‘all things that are stressors in an employee’s life.’”
So far, so good.
Then they wrote:
“ Improving employee health was the most frequently mentioned (82%) reason for offering well-being programs, followed by: decrease medical premiums and claim costs…”
If those two quotes don’t have you scratching your head, you’re reading too fast. Please back up and keep rereading until you’re appropriately distressed.)
Gallup’s Essential Elements of Wellbeing
In recent years, Gallup describes wellbeing, based on their massive surveys, as consisting of (these are verbatim):
Purpose*: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily
In 2010, Gallup’s Tom Rath and James Harter published “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.” The book served up the same five elements that Gallup advocates today, except the book used the label “Career,” whereas Gallup now calls the same element “Purpose.” Hmmm.
Gallup, with their partner Healthways (which eventually was acquired by Sharecare — creating the Gallup-Sharecare pair) argues that employers should address all five elements of wellbeing. For a price, they offer consulting services to help.
Employers faithfully adopted the five elements, depicting their wellbeing program goals with circles perfectly divided into equal parts — each representing one of the five elements — sometimes shoehorning in another element or two, like “emotional,” “environmental,” or “spiritual.”
But employers have not been well-served by their simplistic pie diagrams, which are used as virtual checklists to perfunctorily confirm that each element is addressed…
A fragmented effort to address what is in wellbeing, rather than a cohesive strategy to support what wellbeing is, may be one reason why, in practice, nothing but the name has changed.
Since his groundbreaking review, “Subjective Wellbeing,” first appeared in 1984, psychologist Ed Diener has probably published more wellbeing research than anyone. Though Diener evaluated the elements of what he calls “subjective wellbeing,” he defined it not by its elements but by the experience. To Diener, wellbeing is…
“…how people evaluate their lives — both at the moment and for longer periods… These evaluations include people’s emotional reactions to events, their moods, and judgments they form about their life satisfaction, fulfillment, and satisfaction with domains such as marriage and work. Thus, subjective wellbeing concerns the study of what lay people might call happiness or satisfaction.”
“Happiness or satisfaction.” Isn’t that what we always knew wellbeing to be, before we picked it apart?
I Feel Good!
With the various definitions of wellbeing circulating helter skelter, Uncle Sam (in the form of the CDC) played peacekeeper:
“There is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning. In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good.”
Rath and Harter’s description of wellbeing and other definitions of wellbeing emphasizes how you get there — the road to wellbeing. Diener and other psychologists emphasize how you are when you arrive.
Wellbeing and Burnout
Diener mentioned marriage and work, referring to domain-specific wellbeing. Here’s where that comes into play…
In job crafting research — as with a lot of organizational development research — “wellbeing” often is measured in the work domain only. Work wellbeing doesn’t just mean job satisfaction; it goes deeper to how employees are.
How do you measure how employees are at work?
For perspective, consider the symptoms of burnout:
A feeling of not making a difference
It’s not unreasonable to say that the opposite of burnout is work wellbeing — having energy, purpose, and optimism at work. This is why burnout metrics have, sometimes, been used to measure work wellbeing.
Focusing on work wellbeing — which, on the surface, seems to be just one domain — may be heresy to employee wellness leaders looking to check off their list each element of wellbeing.
But employee wellbeing programs risk getting in their own way if they try to do too much. Would it make sense to help employees thrive at work — the domain over which employers have most control — before trying to get them to thrive in, say, relationships, community, or even physical health?
On one hand, focusing on work wellbeing seems to contradict arguments against checking the elements off one-by-one. On the other hand, if the elements are interdependent, bolstering work wellbeing helps support the other elements. And if the others are supported at the appropriate time and place, work wellbeing will benefit.
To understand what job crafting has to do with employee health and wellbeing, it’s important to understanding the inner workings of job stress and motivation.
In a previous post — “I’ve Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing: It’s Name Is Job Crafting” — I explained how, in 2001, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton proposed that employees tweak their job tasks, workplace social connections, and perspective about their role to gain a greater sense of purpose and meaning, potentially leading to better job performance.
Around that same time, in the Netherlands, Evangelia Demerouti, Arnold Bakker, and othersintroduced their model of Job Demands-Resources(JD-R), which has since been fine-tuned and validated as relevant to a full range of occupations and outcomes in countless studies around the world.
If you’re familiar with job stress research, you know that job stress has causes, and shouldn’t be dismissed as a choice employees make.
Forget trendy notions that “stress is good.” It’s wishful thinking based on cherry-picked evidence. If stress is so great, why aren’t employees demanding more of it?
Forty years of research has shown thatharmful job stress is a result of jobs that have low levels of autonomy and high demands.
Job Demands and Autonomy Are Linked to Health Problems
Over the years, jobautonomy(or control) has been defined different ways, but can be broadly understood as limited flexibility (for example, with the tasks of the job) and limited decisional latitude, meaning the employee isn’t permitted or encouraged to make decisions in their work or about their work.
Jobdemandsoriginally meant the psychological intensity of work, but ultimately can be understood to include workload, time pressure, and physical demands.
Robert Karasekintroduced the theory of demands and control in 1979. He and others have shown that jobs in which workers consistently encounter high job demands with low job control — the combination of which is called jobstrain— are linked to a variety of health issues, especially high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, as well as depression, anxiety, burnout, and metabolic disorders. Reducing job strain can improve productivity.
Karasek later learned thatsocial support “buffers” the negative effects of high-strain jobs. Social support originally meant supervisors’ and co-workers’ support for performing job tasks, but can be understood in all of the many ways it’s been defined: Having a sense of “belongingness” at work; having co-workers who are empathetic and confidantes; having supervisors who take a genuine interest in the personal and professional lives of team members; and having a best friend at work.
In sum, high demands and low control are an unhealthy combo.(High demands andhighcontrol are not necessarily bad.)
Effort-Reward Imbalance Is Linked to Health Problems
Unhealthy job stress has been framed in other ways. Germany’sJohannes Siegrist foundthat work in which the required effortis disproportionately high compared to the jobrewards— effort-reward imbalance — leads to the same kinds of health problems that result from job strain. “Rewards,” here, doesn’t just mean financial compensation, but also career opportunities and level of esteem within the organization.
The effort-reward imbalance model reminds me of an encounter I once had with a business analyst who transferred to another department because she didn’t feel valued in the department she was hired into. When I asked her, “What would have made you feel more valued?” her answer was not “better pay” or “someone saying ‘good job’”…
“I just wanted someone to listen to my ideas,” she told me.
A worker who doesn’t feel valued (i.e. esteemed) by being “listened to” is likely to have a higher level of disengagement and health impairment. This offers a glimpse into how management style, job design, organizational culture, performance, turnover, health, and wellbeing are all interconnected.
Overtime, Job Insecurity, Injustice, and More…
Several other causes of job stress have been identified, and most of them can in some way fit into the demand-control and/or the effort-reward imbalance model:
• chronic overtime
• job insecurity
• work-life conflict
• role ambiguity (not being clear of what’s expected, receiving contradictory direction, duplication with other workers’ roles, or not understanding how the work fits into the overall organization — all of which are among the most common complaints I’ve heard from employees who report high job stress).
• organizational injustice (being treated unfairly, which at the extreme includes bullying and harassment)
• lower levels of status within the organization
• sustaining high levels of vigilance (e.g. first responders, air traffic controllers, etc.)
Back to Bakker
The overlaps between and the nuances of these job stress theories makes them difficult to understand and apply. That’s where Bakker and Demerouti’s Job Demands-Resources model comes in. While building on the existing theories and expanding upon them, it also provides a simpler way of making sense of job stress and motivation. I consider it a comprehensible and practical unifyingtheory.
JD-R posits that all job traits can be categorized as either demands or resources.
• Demandsrequire sustained effort from employees. They’re an expenditure of personal energy.
• Resourceshelp fuel progress toward work-related goals. They’re restorative, buffering the effects of job demands —and activating personal development.
I interpret JD-R to mean that Karasek’s “demands,” Siegrest’s “efforts,” as well as role ambiguity, job insecurity, injustice, tedium, and work-life conflict aredemands.
Job autonomy, social support, rewards, recognition, feedback, task variety, and training are examples ofresources.
Side note: If you’re familiar withEdward Deci and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory— popularized in the Daniel Pink bestseller,Drive— which tells us that motivation and flourishing depend onautonomy,competence, andrelatedness(i.e. social connection), you may recognize that job resources generally can be matched to the components of self-determination.
• Demandsregulate job stress.
• Resourcesregulate job motivation and engagement.
• And the two forces may act upon each other.
That’s enough theory for now. What I’ve come to appreciate about JD-R is how, according to research by Bakker and others, it serves as a foundation for a practical application: job crafting.
JD-R takes job crafting beyond meaning and purpose — which has received most of the public attention — and ties it directly into health and wellbeing.
I’ll spell this out further in a future post, and also draw the important distinction between positive and negative job demands. I’ll share what research shows about the effectiveness of job crafting interventions for improving employee wellbeing, work engagement, absenteeism, performance, and productivity. And I’ll offer evidence-based tips on how you can prime your organization for job crafting.
The foundation of employee wellbeing isn’t employee behavior — it’s workplace exposure. Exposure to things like…
the physical environment,
the psychosocial environment,
the policies of the organization,
the work itself.
Designing jobs to optimize these exposures is a direct path to creating healthier work.
The employer that values employee wellbeing will design jobs that offer
well defined roles,
plenty of personal and professional support.
As the business world crams countless sections into its wellbeing pie charts, it persistently omits the core: For a sustainable workforce, healthy work comes first.
What Is Job Crafting?
In job crafting, employees tweak any combination of…
their workplace interactions,
the way they view their jobs.
One of the most commonly cited examples comes from Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, who first coined the phrase job crafting in 2001. In their study of hospital housekeepers, some workers distinguished themselves by envisioning their role as part of the care team, taking the initiative to chip in where they could to make the environment more patient-friendly — adjusting a picture on the wall of a patient’s room, delivering a glass of water, or spending more time interacting with patients and visitors.
The researchers wrote,
When hospital cleaners integrate themselves into patient care functions, they are able to see their work as being about healing people and to see themselves as a key part of this process, thus enhancing work meaning and creating a more positive work identity.
A variety of workers studied, from machine operators to engineers to sales professionals, have been found to experience greater job satisfaction, better performance, less burnout, and enhanced wellbeing by bringing more meaning to their jobs via self-initiated or intervention-based job crafting.
I’ve come to see job crafting as the workforce sustainability intervention many of us have sought: An evidence-based, employee-centric methodology that can enhance employee wellbeing in a manner aligned with employers’ priorities.
Job crafting is not the solution, but it may be the keystone for employers that have their house in order. It’s one answer to the question, “Okay, we value autonomy, employee engagement, a supportive environment, and the rest… But what do we do about it?”
Job crafting is a tool — not a substitute — for good management.
If you may be interested in hosting a job-crafting beta workshop later in the coming year, touch base via the Jozito.com contact form.