Ideas with Impact
UNB Faculty of Management

Personal job design: different ways of customizing the jobs we work

Author: Ideas with Impact

Posted on Dec 12, 2017

Category: Faculty

After starting a new position, have you ever found yourself tweaking and refining aspects of your job in order to make it better? Perhaps you added an activity into your normal work routine that was quite fun, or found a way to avoid a task that is not? If you have, you are like most of us and you’ve been engaging in “job crafting.” Curiously, although job crafting is a very common Dr. Patrick Bruning researches how employees customize the jobs they work in.workplace behavior, it is only recently that industrial/organizational psychologists and HR specialists across the world have begun to study this practice in detail. One of the recent contributors to this study is Dr. Patrick Bruning, an assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick’s faculty of business administration.

Bruning began investigating the topic of job crafting and its impact on the workplace as part of his PhD thesis at Purdue University; this past year he had an article on the topic accepted by the Academy of Management Journal. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Michael A. Campion, Patrick’s dissertation advisor and an established expert on the HR function of job design. Job crafting is the process of making changes that workers engage in to improve the job for themselves. It can involve adding, reducing, or otherwise changing aspects of the job.

As part of his PhD thesis on the topic, Bruning looked at the types of changes people tend to make to their jobs, and interviewed both employees and their employers to learn about the outcomes of these various practices. In his study, he discovered that some of the changes that people make are structural in that they related to physical and procedural aspects of the job. Other changes were more cognitive in that they involved changes in how one would think instead of changes in how one would behave. Analyses of the interviews and a follow-up survey suggested there could be positive outcomes for the organization, such as increased efficiency, improved teamwork and more innovation in the workplace. There were other positive outcomes for the employees themselves, such as, higher levels of satisfaction, more meaningful work, and higher levels of engagement. Employees also experienced some negative withdrawal outcomes of job crafting, such as, distancing themselves from the workplace, and bored behavior.

Bruning’s interest in job crafting began while he was completing a master’s degree.  When he first encountered a paper on the topic, he could remember back to positions he held in the past and recalled customizing aspects of his jobs to be more productive and to make the position more meaningful. Hence, the dissertation topic came quite naturally. “I’m a serial job crafter,” he said, “In fact, most people are job crafters.”

This project did take a considerable amount of time, as he states, “A large portion of my adult life so far is captured in the pages of my dissertation.” However, the study of job crafting has been a satisfying experience. “So much of what you hear about and study in graduate school is theoretical and detached from your reality ... The subject of job crafting was so real to me, it was such a dominant part of what I had experienced.” Of course, he also states, “once you can visualize the reality of the topic the theory becomes much more intriguing.”

Bruning joined the faculty in 2014 and teaches courses in leadership, motivation, and organizational behaviour. His research covers the general topics of job crafting, social influence, cross-cultural studies, motivation and leadership. He shares his discoveries about job crafting with students in many of his courses; additionally, he conducts workshops on the subject with MBA students. Last April, his article “A role-resource approach-avoidance model of job crafting: A multi-method integration and extension of job crafting theory,” was accepted for publication by the Academy of Management Journal, which is on the list of 50 journals that the Financial Times uses to rank the research productivity of business schools worldwide.

When he and Dr. Campion first submitted their study, the reviewers asked them to complete a second study to see if it would verify the results discovered in the first study. The results of this study both confirmed the types of job crafting found in the initial study and extended the original findings by revealing unique new outcomes. For someone relatively new to an academic career, being published in this journal is very rewarding.

This year the faculty of business administration recognized Patrick’s accomplishments with the Faculty Annual Research Award. In closing, Bruning would suggest the following for managers: “Your employees will probably always be crafting their jobs in some way. So, try to find ways to help them do it better both for your organization and for these employees, as they will not continue something that does not work for them.” For these employees he has different advice, “Craft your job in a smart way that helps you work better, so that the changes you make and the benefits you gain can be sustainable.”

For more information, contact Liz Lemon-Mitchell with the faculty of business administration.

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