Job crafting

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job crafting
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Job crafting gives employees control over their role and responsibilities, leading to greater engagement, productivity and retention. By Angela Tufvesson

The pandemic has changed  a lot about managing Australian workplaces, even if you’re a dental practice owner who can’t work from home in a tracksuit. There’s the increased focus on employee wellbeing during a time of great global upheaval and the need to make sure people feel connected to the workplace and able to maintain productivity. 

And then there’s the pressure to hold onto staff during what’s been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’, a phenomenon where workers around the world are leaving or planning to leave their jobs in record numbers, owing in large part to an almost existential focus on the meaning and purpose of work.

Enter an innovative concept called ‘job crafting’ as a potential solution to these challenges. Employees tailor their job to align with their strengths, passions and goals, which boosts engagement and performance, and aids retention.

Making it your own

Job crafting gives employees licence to make proactive, self-directed changes to a role so it’s more in line with their unique needs, preferences and interests, explains Dr Gavin Slemp from the Centre for Wellbeing Science at the University of Melbourne. “People still do their job, but they do it in a way that’s better and more aligned with them as people.” 

Giving employees some control and autonomy over their role is central to job crafting, which typically falls into three main categories: changing the boundaries of a role by taking on different tasks, altering the nature of interactions with colleagues, and reframing how the job itself is perceived. 

In a practice setting, Brad Wright, a practitioner and dental consultant at Dentelligence, says dental therapists and hygienists could tweak their role to improve the delivery of service to patients. “For example, they could screen for a whole range of conditions, manage preventive issues and conduct outreach into the community,” he says. “It could be as simple as allowing people to rewrite their job description and expanding on it as you go.”

An employee with a knack for photography might manage the practice’s social media accounts. Someone who likes children might focus on this group of patients. A receptionist might devise strategies to improve the efficiency of administrative processes. The options are virtually limitless. 

When you have a job crafting arrangement, it means that you’re letting someone decide, or at least nominate, what their job should be and could be.

Brad Wright, Dentelligence

Dr Slemp says working to deepen social connections with colleagues is another simple strategy to put job crafting into practice. And for employees working in routine-oriented roles or those with strict protocols and less flexibility, focusing on how the work is improving patients’ dental health can be an effective approach. 

Driving engagement and retention

The benefits of job crafting for both employees and dental practices are intrinsically linked. Evidence shows employees who have freedom to adapt their role often feel they have more purpose, and thus are happier and more productive. Recent research by the University of SA found 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. 

Dr Slemp says engagement is one of the most significant advantages. “Giving people a heightened sense of perceived control over their work is very important to having a more intrinsic motivation for what we’re doing, instead of feeling controlled by the job or doing what we feel we ought to be doing. We’re doing what we want to be doing in the job.”

Job crafting can also give practice owners access to a broader skill set and generate growth, says business consultant Amanda Rose. “This is very powerful for the small business owner as they will also now have employees who can do more for the business,” she says. “Small business owners are essentially on their own in many ways, so to build a culture and encourage people to take the initiative and develop their role will add substantial value to a small business, which results in a competitive advantage.”

Ultimately, says Brad Wright, happy and engaged employees who feel their job suits their skills and interests will stick around for longer. “When staff members have agency, responsibility and input, they are more likely to enjoy their work and more likely to be retained.”

Letting it go

Implementing job crafting is less about formal policies—which Wright says are usually “collected from external agencies and die a natural death in the bottom of a cupboard”—and more about consultation. “Business owners can have weekly meetings and encourage staff to look at ways they can develop their role,” Rose says. 

Cultivating an environment where people feel like they have genuine autonomy to practise job crafting is also key. “Try to encourage people to take risks rather than penalise or stop them from doing it, because when they don’t have the autonomy, they’re less likely to do job crafting,” Dr Slemp says. 

Perhaps most importantly for practice owners used to taking the lead, Wright says leaders “must be prepared to let go. When you have a job crafting arrangement, it means that you’re letting someone decide, or at least nominate, what their job should be and could be,” he says.  

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