3 Ways Positive Leaders Make Work More Meaningful

05/18/2015 10:55 am ET | Updated May 18, 2016

Increasingly leaders are coming to understand that more than promotions, income or job security, people rank purpose in their work as their top priority. But can meaning really be found in any job? And what can you do as a leader to make work more meaningful for your employees?

Research suggests a growing number of leaders are finding the courage to allow employees to craft their own jobs resulting in positive improvements in engagement, performance and wellbeing.

"Job crafting allows people to change the boundaries of their tasks, of their interactions and relationships with others on the job, and how they think about their job in ways that give them a greater sense of meaning in their work," explained Professor Amy Wrzesniewski from Yale University when I interviewed her recently.

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"For example, someone on an IT help desk may be responsible for troubleshooting people's technology problems. This work can take on a new sense of purpose however when the employee starts to view themselves as a teacher who helps others discover how technology can then serve others. Technically this may be a deviation from their job description, but it's a deviation that allows them to enjoy more meaning in their work," she said.

While the thought of employees taking liberties with the design of their jobs to create these kinds of changes may make many leaders nervous, Amy suggests many employees are crafting their jobs without anyone's permission. By more mindfully shaping the tasks and interactions of their jobs to allow them to express their values, strengths and passions at work, employees are turning the jobs they have into the jobs they want.

Given her research suggests job crafting actually benefits both the employee and the organization, here are three ways Amy suggests you can encourage and enable job crafting as a leader in a chapter she recently contributed to How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact:

  • Boost Autonomy and Support: When employees sense that they are trusted and have some autonomy in how they execute their work, they are more likely to engage in job crafting. By emphasizing the ends for which employees are responsible while loosening up management of the means where possible, you will increase the likelihood that employees will begin crafting the tasks, relationships and ways they think about their job.

  • Build Job Crafting Into Development Plans: When you sit down with your employees to chart their goals for the next quarter or year, ask about the changes they might wish to make to the design of their jobs to support their growth, sense of purpose and wellbeing. You may find this conversation is helped with this simple job crafting exercise guide. Where appropriate try to help them realize these goals as part of their development plans with on-the-job opportunities, coaching or formal training if required.

  • Hold Job Crafting Swap Meets: One technology organization allows groups of employees to have conversations about how they might optimize the design of their jobs. This means that if one employee really likes doing client facing work and another employee would much rather do some of the technical writing that goes with the role, that they can explore ways to craft their jobs around their strengths and passions.

As a leader what are you doing to help your employees engage in job crafting?

For more tested, practical examples you can apply grab a copy of to How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact.