To be Happier at Work: Craft Your Job, as this Son of Desert does

The Harvard Business Review released an article entitled ‘To Find Meaning in Your Work, Change How You Think about it’ to end the year of 2017. Written by John Coleman, the article suggests some steps on finding work meaning. Those steps are to connect work to service, to craft your work – make work a craft, to invest in positive relationship, and to remember why you work.

I am interested to discuss more about craft your work (job), as I did this discussion for one of my assignment and found out that the other steps mentioned by Coleman are actually part of job crafting process (refer to cognitive crafting below). Aside of that, in my recent trip to Morocco, I met a tour guide named Yosef (yep, almost similar to mine) and learned a lot about how he crafts his job at the Sahara Desert.

In one of their article (released in 2011) Wrzesniewski and Dutton defined job crafting as individuals’ proactive behavior in changing their physical and/or cognitive aspects of the task or relational boundaries of the job to modify meaning of the work and its identity. By meaning of the work, it relates to our understanding of the purpose of work or what we believe is achieved in work. By work identity, it means how we define ourselves in work.

It is believed that employees are not passive jobs recipients but actively redesigned their jobs from what have been given by the organizations. We will try to see how this could be done.

This job crafting activities have 3 types, namely task crafting, relational crafting, and cognitive crafting. Task crafting talks about an activity when employees adding or dropping tasks, modifying efforts in various tasks, as well as redesigning how a task could be done. Relational crafting happened when employees change their intensity or quality of interactions with other people in their work. Lastly, the cognitive crafting comprises the moments when employees modify their cognitive boundaries to ascribe meaning and tasks and relationship purpose of their work.

We might choose the type of crafting based on our personal and situational boundaries. Here, boundaries refer to limits around “physical, temporal, emotional, cognitive, and/or relational” aspects. Other scholars described that boundaries might be in physical, social, and psychological forms.

The way we deal with boundaries and crafting the jobs reflect our values, motivation, and preferences. Yet, we might also be influenced by structural constraint such as cultural, social, and economic environment where we are working. It is possible that some factors might trigger stronger influence than the others in the way we craft our jobs. As an example, those who have less work experiences might not be able to do much on task crafting, and prefer to occupy cognitive crafting. Those who in the mid-level might apply relational crafting for being able to ‘stay longer’ in an organization. Yet those in senior level with low social skills might occupy task crafting then relational one.

So, back to Yosef, the son of desert that I met in Sahara. On the night after we enjoyed our dinner in the tent, we sat around the camp fire and shared our personal stories. A visitor from Netherland started to ask Yosef about his daily routine. The questions then continued to whether he enjoys his job and whether Yosef is willing to go abroad or not.

Yosef, our guide in the Sahara Desert

Yosef confidently told us that he enjoys his job in the desert. As for your information, he meets the tourists from the assembly point outside the desert, and guides them for 90 minutes’ camel ride into the tent inside the desert in afternoon. Arriving at the tent, he would help other team to cook and serve the dinner for tourist, play music around the camp fire, and sit and talk with the guests until everybody sleeps. The next day, he guides all the tourist to ride the camels out of the desert, started at 6 am. Everyday.

It is lovely to hear his statements that through his job, he meets people from around the world, listens to their stories, and learns many languages and histories. He also mentioned that although he is in the desert, his imagination goes beyond the tent through the stories from different people he meets every day. Sounds like happiness takes place in his job!

Nevertheless, when we pushed him to answer our question about willingness to go abroad, he started list some of boundaries he has such as: needs of visa and amount of money needed. We stop our questions on that issue, as it might turn him down, and we came back to questions about what are the most memorable things he found from the tourists he guided, etc.

During the conversation, I imagined if I were Yosef and whether I would deliver the same response for such questions. I was impressed by the way Yosef ‘craft his job’, on this case that I observed the most were cognitive crafting (by thinking the other side, that he doesn’t need to go abroad because people from around the world coming to him), relations crafting (by sitting around camp fire until everybody sleeps to talk with different people every-night), and by task crafting (by walking outside the tent with some of us to enjoy the stars on the sky).

I reflected and contemplated during my way back to Manchester: we might not be able to abolish all the boundaries we have or we face in the workplace. Yet we indeed have the ability to ‘play’ or ‘to modify’ things we have – started from how we think about it (cognitively). Before deciding to resign or to quit for something, try to be happier with your job or responsibilities by crafting your job. Push until the limit. When you find no more happiness even after you craft your job, then you might consider to continue your journey with other kind of adventure 😉

Good luck!


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