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Tweaking a role to make it more meaningful and engaging is a win-win for practice staff and managers. This is the magic of job crafting. By Angela Tufvesson
Keeping staff happy, engaged and performing at their best is the goal of most successful practice owners—but, of course, it’s not always easy. According to a large body of research, an effective strategy lies in giving away two things employers often prefer to retain: control and autonomy.
It’s all thanks to a concept known as ‘job crafting’, where employees tailor their job to align with their strengths, passions and goals. When people have some control over their role and autonomy to execute their responsibilities, they not only enjoy their jobs more, but can also be more productive.
License for change
Job crafting is a bit like renovating a home, but in the workplace. Instead of looking for a new home (read: job), people spend a bit of time sprucing up their existing locale, making it comfortable for a longer stay.
“It’s really about making positive changes to your job by optimising the demands of your work so it’s a lot more enjoyable, challenging and satisfying,” says Dr Silvia Pignata from the Centre for Workplace Excellence at the University of South Australia.
Staff might adapt their role to include more tasks they enjoy—talking to clients, keeping the books in order or spending more time with the animals—and the opportunity to work with different clients, staff members or suppliers.
Job crafting also allows for replacing tasks that are less enjoyable with more efficient work practices. “You might schedule meetings only on certain days or at certain times so that you free up all those other days at work,” says Dr Pignata. “If your staff are spending a lot of time doing admin tasks, you might look for software to take on some of the load.”
Gary Turnbull, a veterinary surgeon and managing director of the Lincoln Institute, which delivers leadership training for veterinary professionals, says redefining the traditional split between people-oriented consulting work and task-oriented diagnostic and surgical work is a practical way to implement job crafting in a practice environment.
“Some people’s strengths lie in rapport building and finding solutions working with people, while others would much rather be out the back knocking over surgical cases or diagnostic procedures,” he says.
“Rather than doing equal amounts of these tasks, if we recognise that people are naturally oriented in a certain way, increasing the amount of work or the hours that we do towards that strength makes perfect sense.”
Exploring employees’ side interests can also uncover potential for job crafting. “Particularly with small organisations, people are employed to do a certain core role like being a receptionist on the front desk—but they may also have an interest or a capability to do social media, for example, or they love taking photographs,” says people and culture expert Sarah Bass.
Exploring the benefits
Evidence shows employees who have freedom to adapt their role often feel they have more purpose, and as a result are happier, more engaged and more productive. Indeed, Dr Pignata’s recent research shows that when people are given more autonomy over their work, they also assume more responsibility for their performance and are more inclined to take on new challenges and push themselves to learn new things.
“By tapping into what they enjoy and what their purpose is, job crafting really gives people a sense of being able to bring their whole self to work and allows them to see the difference that they make, which therefore keeps them engaged and helps them to perform better,” Bass says.
Plus, says Dr Pignata, “there’s a lot of links between job crafting and reduced levels of stress and burnout”.
Turnbull says tapping into job crafting is especially important for practices given the “severe shortage” of veterinary professionals in Australia. “There’s lots and lots of research that demonstrates engagement will be driven by having some control and some say in the work that we do and how we do it,” he says.
“Job crafting plays very much to driving workplace engagement, which means we retain our talent, which could never be more important for the veterinary industry than at this point in time.”
Job crafting in practice
“Anyone can do job crafting”, says Dr Pignata, but it’s important to establish a solid foundation first. Bass recommends being clear about the purpose and mission of your practice before exploring job crafting. “You need to know where you’re heading and what you want to achieve so people can tap into that,” she says. “If you don’t have that in place, that’s when you can have people going off on tangents and doing things that don’t help you deliver what it is that you’re wanting to achieve.”
Trust is another key ingredient. “There has to be a level of trust between you and your staff, and between your staff, because job crafting isn’t about people shirking their responsibilities and getting out of the work they don’t like,” Bass says. “That’s why it’s really important staff can trust each other to be balanced about their approach, and approach it for the good of all.”
And, perhaps most importantly, she says, “people need to have a growth mindset” and a desire to look for new opportunities.
Turnbull recommends a consultive process with the whole team to nut out the finer details of who does what—because, after all, input is the essence of job crafting. “Get the collective intellect of the team on the table and tap into that diversity of thought and creativity.”
Moving forward, he says doing away with cookie-cutter approaches to recruitment and retention will help job crafting become a core element of how your practice works rather than a passing fad. “If every veterinarian, nurse or technician’s position description is a copy-and-paste, in effect we’re not job crafting. Position descriptions and expectations of staff need to be dynamic, fluid and evolving.”