by Professor Ben Laker and Chloe Hodgkinson
Work four days a week, but get paid for five? It sounds too good to be true, but this debate is front and centre within numerous European economies. Will the idea emigrate from Europe to America? Unlikely – it seems the American dream is built on a five-day week for the foreseeable future.
Americans work more hours annually than any of their Western peers. The average worker spends about 1,700 hours on the job, while in Denmark and Norway they spend about 1,400 hours. In Sweden and Finland, the number is closer to 1,600 hours. Yet productivity levels between the four nations are similar. Simply put, American organisations work their people harder, for diminishing returns. It’s no surprise therefore that workers are quitting their jobs at the highest rate in 18 years. There are now more unfilled jobs in the United States than unemployed workers.
Reducing American working hours to levels similar to those in Norway and Denmark would amount to giving US workers more than an additional two months of vacation every year. Yet 83 per cent of American firms are not keen and won’t allow this to happen. Political administrations also remain unconvinced. Democratic Socialists of America and the Justice Democrats, two left-wing groups, have not backed the idea. None of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have embraced it either.
So what’s the answer to this problem?
British consulting firm Edgecumbe, led by Said Business School Associate Fellow Jon Cowell, may have one. Research designed and conducted by Chloe Hodgkinson, a consultant at Edgecumbe and the co-author of this article, suggests “job crafting” may be the answer. Job crafting describes the a process in which workers take proactive steps to redesign and personalise their roles. The central premise is that workers can stay in the same role but get more meaning out of their jobs, simply by changing aspects of what they do, the way they interact with others, and the way they think about their work.
Describes how workers take ownership of their roles and make changes to improve the fit between their jobs and their own strengths, values and passions. Essentially, it is a worker-driven practice that the modern workforce are using to make the jobs they have into the jobs they want.
Workers can job craft in three key domains:
• TASK: by changing the number, type or nature of tasks. This includes adopting tasks which play to peoples’ interests and strengths, such as using creative skills to design marketing collateral or playing to an interest in social media to manage the company’s social platforms.
• RELATIONAL: by changing the number or intensity of relationships with colleagues, or reframing the purpose of interactions with others. This could include offering to mentor an intern or asking to work on team-based projects.
• COGNITIVE: by changing their mindset regarding how they perceive the meaning and purpose of their job and the impact it has. For example, when asked “what do you do?”, one NASA cleaner famously replied, “I put astronauts on the moon”.
Job crafting is a win-win process – research consistently finds it positively impacts a host of outcomes beneficial to both workers and their organisations. These include increases in self-reported engagement, happiness, organisational commitment, job satisfaction, readiness to change, self-efficacy and colleague-rated performance, and that’s just to name a few.
Arguably, the most pertinent studies are those which have found that job crafting enables workers to cope with their stress levels, reduce exhaustion, improve wellbeing and resilience and minimise the likelihood of burnout. How? By using job crafting as a preventative mechanism workers can redesign their jobs in a way which ensures they have sufficient motivational challenges (such as time pressure or increased responsibility) and supportive resources (such as autonomy, feedback or colleague support) to cope with the demands of their jobs (interpersonal conflict or role ambiguity, say) without succumbing to stress and burnout.
In addition to helping workers manage their job resources and demands, and in turn their wellbeing, job crafting can be used to facilitate development. For example, tasks and relationships can be added to roles to broaden horizons and experience, and elements of the role can be reimagined to serve a different purpose. Crafting can also benefit those approaching their golden years, enabling pre-retirement workers to decrease the job demands which commonly cause individuals to want or need to retire.
Job crafting serves to support employees throughout their working lives, from development to retirement, making the process more sustainable by enabling them to protect their wellbeing and avoid burnout. So, how can we encourage workers to job craft? Insights from the research suggest there are four key ways to do so:
• Ensure workers know they have PERMISSION to craft. Communicate this explicitly and illustrate this implicitly through processes which embed crafting into the organisation, such as structured job-crafting conversations with managers.
• Create a culture of PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY. One where workers feel comfortable sharing their ideas, experimenting with new methods and potentially making mistakes without fear of scrutiny or criticism.
• Grant workers the CONTROL they need to craft. Provide them with autonomy, trust, decision latitude and control over their workload.
• Give workers the CAPACITY to craft. This includes ensuring that their workloads are realistic, that they have clear role boundaries and that they have protected time to craft.
On reflection, while reactive actions such as the four-day week put a band-aid on the issue, job crafting presents an opportunity to empower workers with a preventative mechanism they can use proactively to heal the productivity dilemma from the inside-out.
Edgecumbe is a leading authority on employeeship and job crafting, famed for its Primary Colours® Leadership Model, which is taught at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and adopted by high-performing organisations including Rolls-Royce, ICA Gruppen and BSI.
For more information on job crafting click here.