When you’re burned out, all you want is move on. You daydream about a life far different from the one you have now. An event planner fantasizes about becoming a hermit. A plumber imagines hitting it big as a singer. Or maybe you’re so tired you don’t have a dream anymore, just a desire to lie down and rest for a bit, turn on the Netflix and zone.
But what if the answers to burnout were closer to home and grounded in reality? What if we could mine our current jobs for more purpose, revitalizing ourselves buying us time to consider other work options.
Organizational development scholars Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski have come up with an approach they call “job-crafting,” and suggest three ways to improve our work lives.
Often this is where our ideas for fixing our jobs begin and end. Can you do less of what you don’t like, and more of what you do? Some tasks are nonnegotiable, but the researchers point out that you may have control over the scope of your work, or be able to tweak your personal style. For example, a telephone solicitor who wants to be an actor could read his script in character, or an accountant could streamline her way of filing taxes.
How can you improve your relationships at work? You can think of ways to help your colleagues. A computer technician might offer to help coworkers to build goodwill on the job, the researchers write. You also can shift the way you work with customers or clients. For instance, a dentist could tailor his practice to help clients who are anxious about visiting his office.
The researchers also point to ways that you can expand your view of your own work to make it more meaningful. For instance, a hairstylist can view himself as a teacher if he gives tips on styling and caring for hair as he cuts. A hospital janitor can see herself as part of a health care team, providing services for people who desperately need them.
The key is to start to break down your job and analyze it for potential.
“A job crafting perspective implies that the tasks and interpersonal relationships that make up a job are a flexible set of building blocks that can be reorganized, restructured, and reframed to construct a customized job,” Berg, Dutton, and Wrzesniewski write.
The Case of Sheila
How might this play out in real life? Lets take a look at the entirely fictional “Sheila.” She’s been in HR for 15 years and can do her job in her sleep. She has hired some good teams and maintained morale through downsizing, but she’s bored. Bored, bored, bored! The only thing she’s interested in lately is knitting. She gets a rush from starting and finishing projects and has even designed a few pieces for herself.
How might Sheila job-craft her way to a better work life?
First, Sheila’s tasks often involve putting out proverbial fires. She spends a lot of time cooling down some notoriously hotheaded managers and squabbling workers. She decides to tackle employee relations in a more creative way and designs a company-wide scavenger hunt. Workers visit other departments and taking a quiz on what they do there. She gets some positive feedback.
Sheila connects with managers who are not in need of counseling through her scavenger hunt. They have more ideas for building morale, and she forms a committee to execute the ideas.
All of this work is on top of Sheila’s usual duties, and she realizes she doesn’t have to implement all her ideas herself. She enlists the help of a junior staff member who wants to practice her conflict resolution skills, and passes off some of her meetings with managers.
Meanwhile, Sheila continues to use knitting as a way to relax at night. She reads about the mindfulness benefits of the hobby and gets the idea one night to design a stress-relief training for workers that helps them reflect on their work. The training is a success, and Sheila designs a few more while getting advanced training in mindfulness. This eventually leads her to a new role as training program manager.
Of course, Sheila didn’t instantly get relief from her job woes, but by trying new things and following interests as they develop, she is able to beat burnout.
Take a moment to think of the resources that you use every day in your job.
Can you work with people in a different way, but still serve your department’s overall goals?
Could you try taking on a new project? Are you curious about a class or certification that might advance your career?
Do you have a side-hustle or passion that you could use as inspiration for your 9-5 job?
Sketch it out in a diagram, back of the napkin style, to brainstorm.