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Do you wish you had more job control?

BY Michelle McQuaid

We all have certain tasks we dread at work. Unfortunately, doing well in our jobs often hinges on our ability to handle these mundane tasks as proficiently as the more interesting ones.

Despite our best efforts to make work more engaging, new international psychosocial standards note that low job control can make tasks more tedious than they need to be when:

  • We have repeatedly asked for more autonomy.
  • Our opportunities for learning and development are limited.
  • We have leaders who are highly directive and controlling of tasks.
  • There are fixed rosters or break schedules (without obvious business imperative) and no flexibility when requested.
  • There is a culture of mistrust.

Our research at The Leaders Lab has found that not having a sense of control over how we carry out the tasks we’re responsible for can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, demotivated, and at risk of burnout.

So, what can we do practically to improve low job control in our workplaces, even when our choices about the tasks we must complete are limited?

The good news is that at some point, you have probably changed an aspect of your job so that it better suited you. Whether you took a different approach to a task, altered the time, or place a task happened, changed an interaction pattern, or refined how you thought about your job in a more general sense, you were job crafting.

Dr Amy Wrzesniewski’s research has found people who job craft are more likely to feel engaged and satisfied with their work, achieve higher levels of performance in their organizations, and have greater personal resilience. Leaders and workplaces also have much to gain with studies suggesting higher levels of job control are associated with higher levels of motivation and commitment.

However, balancing our needs with the requirements of our role and organization can be challenging. This is why Dr Rob Baker suggests we make tiny (but mighty) changes through “micro-crafting.” By discovering the positive choice points about why, how, with whom, where, when we complete each task, we can improve our sense of job control.

For example, we recommend choosing a task you dread and seeing if you can adapt any of these factors:

  • What? – What strengths (the things you’re good at and enjoying doing) might you draw on to make this task more engaging?
  • Who? – Who might you do this task with to make it more energizing?
  • Why? – Why might doing this task make a positive difference for others? How might this be meaningful to you?
  • Where? – Where might doing this task make you more effective?
  • When? – When might doing this task maximize your energy?

Most importantly, be sure to job craft in ways that are good for you and good for others. Find win-win approaches and share what you’re learning with others so they can try to align future tasks with your strengths.

Of course, job crafting won’t turn all the tasks you hate into tasks you suddenly love. However, it can provide you with the freedom to make tiny changes in the ways you’re working that bring out the best in you.

Job crafting is also never “won-and-done.” So, be willing to continue exploring, experimenting, and adjusting as your contexts, needs, and capabilities keep changing. What worked well one day, may not be as satisfying the next.

For a podcast with practical examples of job crafting to help, click here.

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