As a career changer, I am frequently asked about my decision to leave my law practice and start a business doing something completely different. When I talk about my experience burning out at work, a lot of people confess the same thing; yet, I find that very few people actually want to leave their law practice (despite stories about packing up and moving to a warm island). The realities of life in combination with the fact that many lawyers like at least certain aspects of their work make them reluctant to want to pick up and move.
As I continue to search for, create, and teach busy lawyers methods to better manage their stress at work and stay engaged and motivated, the technique of job crafting is one that I’m teaching with more and more frequency. I call job crafting “Spanx™ for work” because it involves reshaping parts of your career to fit you better.
How Job Crafting Works
The concept of job redesign is not new, but Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski and Dr. Jane Dutton are credited with coining the term “job crafting” in 2001. They proposed that workers could change the boundaries of their jobs in three different ways:1
Paula Davis-Laack, Marquette 2002, MAPP, is the founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm focused on enhancing resilience, well-being, and engagement in the legal profession. She is the author of the e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.
1) Expanding or diminishing the scope of the tasks they perform by changing the form, scope, or number of work activities;
2) Altering the way they interact with people at work; and
3) Thinking about work in a different way by reframing the way they see their work.
Newer research defines job crafting as, “the changes that employees make to balance their job demands and job resources with their personal abilities and needs.”2 The balance between job demands and job resources is important because too many of the wrong types of job demands can make burnout and disengagement more likely. Job demands are those aspects of work that take sustained effort and energy and can be classified as either a “challenge” or a “hindrance.” Challenge demands are perceived by a lawyer as stressful, but they can promote mastery, personal growth, or future gains. Conversely, hindrance demands are perceived to have the potential to impede growth, learning, and goal attainment. Job resources are the motivational aspects of a job that are energy-giving.3
To maintain the proper balance between job demands and resources, lawyers can craft their jobs to:
1) Increase their job resources;
2) Increase their challenging job demands; or
3) Reduce their hindrance job demands.
Research consistently shows that employees realize better outcomes when they focus job crafting efforts on either increasing their job resources or increasing those job demands perceived as challenges.4
While job crafting is a tool for individual lawyers, professional development leaders and managers of law firms and organizations employing lawyers would be wise to encourage the practice. Law firms (and the legal profession in general) are facing continuous and emotionally demanding change that requires innovation, flexibility, and adaptability. Organizational change can disrupt work routines and can trigger feelings of uncertainty and distrust.
The balance between job demands and job resources is important because
too many of the wrong types of job demands can make burnout and
disengagement more likely.
As a result, empowering lawyers to craft their jobs to meet the changing needs of the organization becomes more important. Allowing lawyers to reshape their work can help them cope with the uncertainty that emerges from continuous change.5 While the research is preliminary, job crafting has been positively associated with job satisfaction, commitment, and effectiveness and negatively associated with absenteeism.6 These outcomes have bottom line, quantifiable results for firms.
Job crafting can seem like a daunting task, particularly when you feel stuck in your job. Lawyers with a proactive personality and a high sense of self-efficacy are more likely to job craft on their own. In addition, lawyers who have a sense of autonomy (having the ability to make decisions about their day and the types of projects or work they accept or decline) are more likely to job craft.7
Job Crafting Methods
Here are a few job crafting tips:
Assess Strengths. Take one of the many strengths assessments to get an idea of what you do well at work. Two strengths assessments I use frequently are the VIA (Values in Action) strengths survey8 and the Gallup Strengths Finder.9 With the information you obtain, pick two or three strengths you can start incorporating more fully into your daily work. This was an eye-opening exercise for me as I reflected on my time practicing law – I realized that I was often leaving the best of who I was at home.
List Job Demands and Resources. Make a list of your job demands (aspects of your job that take consistent effort and energy) and job resources (the motivational, energy-giving aspects of your job). Examples of job demands are high workload, lack of high-quality connections with colleagues, answering emails, billing clients, meetings, and rainmaking. Examples of job resources are having a sense of meaning at work and seeing where you fit into the big picture, regular feedback, partner support, and high-quality relationships with colleagues. Once you have created your list, do you have enough job resources? If no, what do you need to do to create or seek out more of them? What hindrance job demands (like firm politics, red tape, and hassles) are standing in your way?
Make a Plan. Create a personal crafting plan with crafting actions to be implemented over a four-week period, keeping daily reports about which crafting activities worked and which didn’t and then reflecting about the experience.10 In addition, you can purchase a job crafting kit from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, which will help you craft your own personal plan.11
Burnout, change, stress, and adversity have real consequences for lawyers and law firms. Job crafting is a simple, effective, and inexpensive tool that can help lawyers build job satisfaction and engagement at work.
1 Justin M. Berg, Jane E. Dutton & Amy Wrzesniewski, What is Job Crafting and Why Does It Matter? Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, University of Michigan Ross School of Business (2010).
2 Pascale M. LeBlanc, Evangelia Demerouti & Arnold Bakker, How Can I Shape My Job To Suit Me Better? Job Crafting for Sustainable Employees and Organizations: An International Perspective (2017).
3 Eean R. Crawford, Jeffery A. Pine & Bruce Louis Rich, Linking Job Demands and Resources to Employee Engagement and Burnout, 95(5) J. of Applied Psychol. 834-48.
4 Paraskevas Petrou, Evangelia Demerouti & Wilmar B. Schaufeli, Job Crafting in Changing Organizations: Antecedents and Implications for Exhaustion and Performance, 20(4) J. Occupational Health Psychol. 1-11 (2015).
6 Praskevas Petrou, et al., Crafting a Job on a Daily Basis: Contextual Correlates and the Link to Work Engagement, 33 J. of Org. Behav. 1120-41 (2012).
7 Maria Tims & Arnold B. Bakker, Job Crafting: Toward a New Model of Individual Job Redesign, 36(2) SA J. of Indus. Psychol., Article #841 (2010).
8 You can access the free VIA Strengths Assessment at www.viacharacter.org.
9 To learn more, visit www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/.
10 Supra note 6.
11 You can purchase the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Job Crafting Plan at http://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/cpo-tools/job-crafting-exercise/.