Good Work: Getting Real About Job Characteristics, Job Design, and Job Crafting at “Impairment Without Disability” 2021

in industrial organizational psychology, job crafting, job design, Uncategorized, Wellbeing
Impairment Without Disability logo

I’m honored to be among the distinguished slate of speakers presenting at Impairment Without Disability 2021, where I’ll discuss the science behind “Designing Jobs People Want To Do.”

IWD 2021 promises “No fluff, no fodder.” YES! We need more conference hosts that respect our work — and the employees we serve — enough not to waste our time with celebrities, motivational speakers, athletes, and new-age wonks who have no idea what we do. Those speakers may give attendees a lift during the hour of their presentation, but the growth that comes from information, case studies, and idea-sharing can last a lifetime and facilitate results that spread exponentially.

If you’re interested in supporting the wellbeing of sick or injured workers, join us at this year’s all-virtual IWD Conference 2021, November 18. Register here.

Check out conference organizer Jason Parker’s LinkedIn post, below, for more info.

Meaning and Purpose at Work — Recommended Reading

in industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Nietzche quote: He who has a Why to live can bare almost any How.Meaning and purpose at work go far beyond the simplistic “Find your why” self-help trend that’s made millions for certain marketing gurus (though it would be more properly attributed to Nietzsche) or the appropriation of ikigai that’s the latest buzz.

There are no simple answers to meaning, only explorations. I suggest seekers take a look at Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and, for contrast, Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Then bring it into the modern work context with Job Crafting and Cultivating Positive Meaning and Identity in Work, by Amy Wrzesniewski et al.

Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

pizza[Originally published on LinkedIn 2018-03-15]

“It’s the damnedest thing, hahaha” my father-in-law would say, his thick Irish brogue muscling its way forward through his baritone laugh. “I hate tomato sauce and cheese, and I don’t like bread, but I like pizza. Hahahahah!”

As a Brooklynite weaned on pizza, this really was the damndest thing I’d ever heard. But the corporate world’s newfound adoration of “wellbeing” gives me insight into my father-in-law’s pizza predilections. And vice versa.
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Make Change Happen with Rob Baker’s “Personalization at Work: How HR Can Use Job Crafting, to Drive Performance, Engagement and Wellbeing”

in job crafting, job design

Book cover: Personalization at Work — How HR Can Use Job Crafting to Drive Performance, Engagement And WellbeingI may not know the future of coronavirus or the future of the economy (see my previous post with 10 non-predictions about COVID, wellness, and the future of work), but one thing I feel certain about is that the future of work will be personalized. Business demands will require it. As such, I’m proud to offer an unpaid and wholehearted endorsement of the just published book Personalization at Work: How HR Can Use Job Crafting, to Drive Performance, Engagement and Wellbeing, by my friend and colleague Rob Baker. I just finished the book and it has already changed the way I work.

As Adam Grant said,

Job crafting is a skill every employee needs and every manager should value. This is the first book to bring research and practice together in an engaging way for HR professionals.,

The Play’s the Thing: Two Brilliant Articles from Different Generations Shed Light on Fun and Work

in job crafting

worker with a banana

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 assigned Banana Time in 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 find some meaning 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. He cognitively crafted what 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.

(Sorry Family Guy fans… No peanut butter and jelly time!)

Team Job Crafting

These playful activities, initiated organically (that is, intrinsically) within the group, are a form of team job crafting. They met specific employee needs like social support and relief from monotony, and were enjoyed by everyone who chose to engage. Contrast organic, worker-crafted fun with activities planned by management or by a fun-at-work committee.

Banana Time and the other “times” are examples of relational (social) crafting. (For an overview of job crafting, including relational, cognitive, and task crafting, see my previous post: I Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name Is Job Crafting.)

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:

  1. Workers engage in playfulness to remain stimulated.
  2. Fun delays or cloaks fatigue.
  3. Workers use gamification to find meaning in their work.
  4. Playful rituals during the workday are used to mark time and support short-term intrinsic motivation.
  5. Workplace fun often revolves around food and beverages.
  6. Playing with others is more meaningful than playing alone.
  7. 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-playing before he 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.

(Flow at 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 on individual gamification, 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 employees crafting their own fun. (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 fun at work needn’t be nearly as high a priority as enabling the fun of work.

______

Thank you to Dmitrijs Kravcenko and team, who introduced me to Donald Roy and Banana Time via their remarkable podcast “Talking About Organizations.” Check it out. Start with the first episode, or jump right in with their discussion of Banana Time.

Coloring Outside the Lines of Job Design

in job crafting, job design

coloring book

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.

Gauged: Job Crafting Intervention for Meaning and Purpose, Part I

in job crafting

Desktop measurement instruments

We wellness professionals are an interventionist 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 call Job Crafting Classic — as I described in I 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.
  • What I call Job Demands-Resources Job Crafting — as described in my article The Good, the Bad, and the Crafty: Challenges and Hindrances in JD-R Job Crafting — in which workers seek resources, seek challenges, and ratchet down “hindering” demands in order to achieve much of what’s achieved in Job Crafting Classic, but with more emphasis on well-being and, theoretically, health.

Job Crafting Classic

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…

Desktop measurement instruments

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 study delivered 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 in job crafting behavior.

Increasing job crafting behavior — Wrzesniewski et al describe a job-crafting mindset — 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 and continuously improve their person-job fit.

Interventions and evidence for JD-R Job Crafting are a different story — one that will be told in Part II.

Job Crafting: Challenges, Hindrances, and Resources

in job crafting

Job crafting worksheet

Job demands cost energy and affect job stress and health. Job resources affect motivation and performance and can buffer the negative affects of demands.

All job characteristics can be thought of as either demands or resources. This is the foremost proposition of the Job Demands-Resources theory of job stress and motivation, which I described in Stay Woke About Work: Job Demands and Resources Shed Light on Stress and Motivation.

Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman’s classic 1984 book, Stress, Appraisal, and Coping, defined different kinds of stressors: challenges and hindrances. Jeffery LePine and his team at University of Florida expanded on this and 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 demands cost energy but are viewed by workers as opportunities to grow, improve, advance, achieve.
  • Hindrance demands cost 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

  1. Seek resources
  2. Seek challenge demands
  3. 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.

For clarification, it’s helpful to see what experts consider demands and resources. Below are examples adapted from a book chapter called “A Critical Review of the Job Demands-Resources Model: Implications for Improving Work and Health,” by Wilmar Schaufeli and Toon Taris.

Job Demands

  • Cognitive demands
  • Computer problems
  • Downsizing
  • Emotional demands
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Job insecurity
  • Work-family conflict
  • Difficult customers
  • Physical demands
  • Reorganization
  • Inadequate rewards
  • Role ambiguity
  • Harassment
  • Unfavorable shift work schedule
  • Unfavorable work conditions
  • Work pressure
  • Work-home conflict
  • Work overload

Job Resources

  •  Advancement
  • Appreciation
  • Autonomy
  • Rewards
  • Goal clarity
  • Information
  • Innovative climate
  • Leadership
  • Professional development
  • Participation in decision making
  • Performance feedback
  • Procedural fairness
  • Positive customer interactions
  • Quality of the relationship with the supervisor
  • Safety climate
  • Social support
  • Skill utilization
  • Strategic planning
  • Task variety
  • Team harmony
  • Trust in management
  • Values

Personal Resources

  • Emotional and mental competencies
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Self-determination
  • Optimism
  • Organization-based self-esteem
  • Resilience
  • Self-efficacy
  • Values

Job Demands-Resources: Untangling Stress and Motivation

in job crafting, Stress

Still shot from Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" illustrating high demands, low resources, no social support on an assembly line.

High demands, low resources. No social support.

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 others introduced 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 that harmful 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, job autonomy (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.

Job demands originally meant the psychological intensity of work, but ultimately can be understood to include workload, time pressure, and physical demands.

Job strain illustration shows relationship of demands, control, social support, and health.

Job strain

Robert Karasek introduced 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 job strain — 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 that social 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 and high control are not necessarily bad.)

Effort-Reward Imbalance Is Linked to Health Problems

Unhealthy job stress has been framed in other ways. Germany’s Johannes Siegrist found that work in which the required effort is disproportionately high compared to the job rewards— 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  unifying theory.

JD-R posits that all job traits can be categorized as either demands or resources. 

      • • Demands require sustained effort from employees. They’re an expenditure of personal energy.
      • • Resources help 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 are demands.

Job autonomy, social support, rewards, recognition, feedback, task variety, and training are examples of resources.

Side note: If you’re familiar with Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory — popularized in the Daniel Pink bestseller, Drive — which tells us that motivation and flourishing depend on autonomy, competence, and relatedness (i.e. social connection), you may recognize that job resources generally can be matched to the components of self-determination.

So…

      • • Demands regulate job stress. 
      • • Resources regulate job motivation and engagement. 
      • • And the two forces may act upon each other.

Looking Forward…

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.

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For an excellent overview, see Bakker and Demerouti’s 2016 article: Job Demands-Resources Theory: Taking Stock and Looking Forward