Job Crafting: A Powerful Motivational Tool

I remember a piece of advice I gave many times to my internal clients when I was an HR partner:

do not shape your organization around your people, but rather design an organization that will work and then hire the matching profiles for your roles.”

The intent of this approach was to avoid creating complex organizations that were not optimal and not easy to understand in terms of responsibilities. And when it came to someone leaving, it was much easier to fill a typical role than a highly tailored one that fits only one specific individual.

This came from a traditional view on organizational design and worked pretty well until this fixed top-down job description approach started to face the constant changing nature of work reality, as well as the evolving nature of employees’ interests and motivations.

  • The needs of the organization keep changing so fixed roles might be optimal today but not tomorrow
  • Employees’ development interests and needs evolve with their mastery levels and employability requirements

What is job crafting?

In my work design research, I found some interesting insights about the well-known concept of “job crafting”. It offers another perspective on work design – from the role incumbent angle. Job crafting is defined as:

“the changes to a job that workers make with the intention of improving the job for themselves”

(Bruning & Campion 2018)

This approach is self-targeted, mainly to the benefit of the individual, and positive impact is proven! Research has shown evidence of enhanced person job-fit and motivation with positive impact on commitment, satisfaction, and well-being. And like all engaging activities, this is a win-win as the organization also benefits from higher intention to stay as well as task and contextual performance!

So how does that work?

First, it does not mean that job descriptions disappear, but that on a given role, the incumbent can make intentional change without the need for explicit or formalized authorization processes.

Tangible versus cognitive crafting

Research from Tim et al. (2012) presented the “job demand – resources” perspective on job crafting with an objective to achieve “Personal-Job fit”. This is a search for balance between the job demands and resources on the one hand and the person’s abilities and needs on the other hand. Crafting options are either to:

  • Increase job demands (e.g., extra tasks, projects involvement)
  • Hinder job demands (e.g., less emotional challenges, toxic relationships)
  • Increase job resources (e.g., mentoring, network, learning opportunities)

Another way to understand these options is the “Approach-Avoidance Motivation theory” from Elliot (2006).

Imagine that you have two buttons that you can turn up or down if you want to feel more motivated. You can either enrich and expand what’s motivating by pressing “plus” or reduce or limit (when possible) what’s most draining by pressing “minus”. Hopefully you can press both.

These strategies are focussed on making tangible changes to a job (tasks, processes, relationships).

What if you could simply change perspective on your role?

Another way to craft a job was indeed described in the research from Wrzesniewski & Dutton (2001). They highlighted that the job changes can also be cognitive ones. The cognitive change influences work meaning, professional identity and emotions at work. Simply said, it is a change you make in how you SEE your tasks/role, in a way that provides more meaning or positive emotions. It is a reframe exercise. For example, if you work in a flower shop, you can see your job as a salesperson, or you can view it as someone who brings joy and beauty to this world!

Job crafting image

What’s most impactful?

A recent study from Zhang and parker (2018) compiled existing research on job crafting and assessed the outcomes. What they learned is that the most impactful strategies were the proactive intentional changes as opposed to the avoidance.

They found that these proactive behaviours to enrich and expand your role were the ones that enhanced most person-job fit and motivation. They impacted:

Engagement and retention

  • Higher satisfaction and work motivation
  • Increased employees’ commitment and intention to stay


  • Increased task and contextual performance


  • Reduced burnout, job boredom, physical complaints, and depression

Career fitness

  • Increased perceived employability, career competence and career satisfaction

BINGO! Sounds like a worthwhile topic to explore, don’t you think?

Written by Caroline Thomas, Partner Zest for Work


Design & Development Teamcreative