Job Crafting: What It Is and Why It’s the Response to Automation

Technological unemployment is threatening our place in companies.

But what if getting rid of jobs was actually a good thing?

Jobs are fixed ways to assign tasks and contract with people. They force us to accomplish specific duties and responsibilities, without considering our overall skill set.

Employers and employees alike are desperately looking for more fulfilling and flexible work arrangements.

Here’s why jobs fail to meet the challenges of automation, and how other forms of work can better do that.

What is job crafting?

When Amy Wrzeniewski and Jane Dutton studied the working routines of 29 hospital janitors, they made a surprising discovery. They found that the work experience dramatically varied from one cleaner to another.

While half disliked their job and complained about toxic working conditions, the other half enjoyed their job and found it meaningful. What was the reason for such a difference in perception?

The negative-minded half was doing everything according to their job description. They kept the hospital clean and complied with every working guideline.

Meanwhile, the positive-minded half also performed the duties management was asking them to do. But they undertake duties that were out of their job description as well.

They talked with patients, watched over them, and took care of them when cleaning their rooms. In other words, they sought to make a difference in the life of the patients and found fulfillment in this responsibility. They crafted the job in a way that enable them to uncover new meaning and satisfaction.

This job strategy is common among low-skills and high-skilled workers alike. It can take different forms :

  • Task crafting: redesigning the way we do our job-related tasks, or adding new tasks to our job description.
  • Relational crafting: building connections with people out of the scope of our current job description.
  • Cognitive crafting: changing the way we perceive and interpret the work we’re undertaking.

Many studies have already stressed the benefits of these types of behavior. They increase job satisfaction and helps workers generate more value from their job.

It also helps them promote their human touch in an increasingly automated workplace. As automation is forcing organizations to redesign jobs, the best way is to grow a flexible and value-added mindset.

Let’s see how job crafting can help workers adapt to the work transformations brought by automation.

Why automated workers need job crafting

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Let’s get back to hospitals, but now to focus on another profession: nurses.

Nurses are one of the most high-demand and essential professions to make public health service possible. As they carry many responsibilities on their shoulders, they are also very susceptible to many automation opportunities. There are two kinds of nursing tasks with different automation potentials.

The first kind of task is repetitive. Checking for the patient’s health status, documenting their medical record, and scheduling their work routines are all predictable outputs. The second kind of task is variable. These include advising patients in complex treatment decisions, training them to care for themselves after discharge, or carrying out complex medical procedures.

From this perspective, the tasks that are the easiest to automate are repetitive, as they can easily be handled by computers and AI-driven solutions.

But that’s only an incomplete view of the situation. What is even more interesting is to deconstruct these tasks depending on how human workers can contribute to them. To assess the human value at work, consultants Jesuthasan and Bourdeau have invented a metric they called the Return of Improved Performance (ROIP). The ROIP defines the benefit we can get from improving the performance of a task.

For example, low-return tasks don’t add a lot of value when improved. In the case of nurses, scheduling work time and checking patient health status can be described as low-return tasks.

Better scheduling will help to allocate nurses more efficiently and conveniently, but it won’t help more than that. Similarly, better assessing a patient’s temperature might help detect worrying conditions sooner, but it won’t deliver noticeable benefits when improved further.

Meanwhile, when you increase your performance on high-return tasks, you can deliver incrementally better value. Getting back to nurses, advising, and caring for patients can be considered high-return tasks.

The more nurses understand their patient’s needs and worries, the more they connect with them and reassure them, and the more value they generate. The human touch makes it possible to always find new ways to generate value. It is a continuously positive process.

Considering these differences, it’s not hard to see why there are huge incentives to automate low-return tasks. And that’s what hospitals are already doing: automated scheduling software is determining the most optimal work shifts to ensure productivity and satisfy workers’ preferences. Electronic devices are checking temperature and blood pressure with unseen measurement accuracy.

Meanwhile, high-return tasks need to be kept in the hands of professional nurses. They know more than anyone how to create a better patient experience. But they also need to be able to manage these ever-evolving technological systems. They have to adopt and switch between these new automation tools to empower their capabilities.

How can they have enough flexible mindset to adapt to all these changes?

Job crafting is the answer, as it enables them to continuously redesign their job function. By rethinking their tasks, their work relationships, and the way they’re considering their role, they can always find new meaning in their job.

This becomes for them a key capability to stay relevant in an increasingly automated health service sector.

Job crafting beyond jobs

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Let’s imagine now that hospitals are facing a significant labor shortage. To maintain their operations, these health organizations now seek new kinds of work operating systems.

By relying on the task deconstruction analysis described above, they can make a first assessment of their labor needs. They can see that the nurses’ work can be broken down into several categories of tasks.

They might even realize that low-return tasks can be handled by automated systems, while nurses get more time to excel in high-return tasks.

But these new work configurations can also be made with new kinds of talent pools. The hospital’s HR team can source new talents from work arrangements outside of employment.

For example, they can :

  • Hire independent or traveling nurses.
  • Access internal talents that can handle some of the nurses’ workloads.
  • Exchange talent with other health organizations to ensure a continuous flow of skilled talent.
  • Use health students, beginners, or career-transitioning workers to take on some nurses’ tasks.
  • Find unexpected nurse-able workers among underserved populations and different socioeconomic groups.
  • Engage technical professionals to implement new automation systems in their working processes.

These working strategies can ultimately rely on an in-house work marketplace. This would help grow talents internally and build enterprise-wide staffing strategies.

They can all be called job crafting, as it involves redefining the boundaries of a work description. Should every nurse’s tasks be done by nurses? Not necessarily.

Doctors can perform complex treatments, janitors can care for patients, nurse students can monitor their health conditions, and independent, retired, and externally-sourced nurses can help face unexpected events like COVID-19.

In this sense, job crafting is changing the perspective employee and employers can have on their job. It’s all about thinking above and beyond the fixed definition of a job.

It’s about freeing the human potential from unnecessary bureaucracy and making it flow beyond the boundaries of a job.

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