The skill of job design has always been part of the Occupational Psychologist’s portfolio but in recent years it’s been taken a step further with the notion of job crafting. In an article in the June 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review Professor Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues describe how job crafting enables people to re-energise and re-imagine their work life and provides them with a greater feeling of control at work.
At senior levels job crafting makes a great deal of sense. When we devote many years to developing our career we also develop a unique portfolio that’s the sum total of our skills, interests, experiences and workplace encounters. It’s that unique combination that makes us valuable in our jobs and literally irreplaceable to our employers.
Think about it. If you quit your job how long will it take to find someone else with your experience? I’m not talking simply about the academic qualifications you have and the professional training you’ve undertaken. I’m also thinking of the specialist knowledge you’ve developed at your workplace and your understanding of how to make things happen in your organisation. So, rather than lose talented women struggling with work life balance job crafting offers employers a way to retain them.
The HBR article focuses on assessing and altering three core aspects of work: the tasks, the relationships and our own perceptions of our work. On the Balanced Leader Programme we follow this outline to craft jobs that better support our needs while meeting our employers’ expectations.
We begin with the tasks – by clarifying the key things you’ve been hired to do; and the outcomes best suited to your skills. We then consider which tasks can be discarded so that you find the time and space to operate more strategically. In our VUCA business environments the nature of jobs can change pretty quickly. How often do we stop to ask ourselves: “what’s the best use of my time and skills? Where does my best value to my employer lie?” Once we’ve identified working priorities we can assess the potential for time and location flexibility within them. And so we create opportunities to combine work and caring responsibilities in more balanced ways.
Then we turn our focus to relationships and identify those stakeholders – both at work and at home – key to our success. And we develop strategies for managing those relationships effectively.
As we do this so our perceptions change. We no longer see ourselves as ambitious women constrained by corporate glass ceilings. Like our mothers and grandmothers before us we’ve become pioneers remodelling the workplace for our own benefit and that of future generations.
In their ground-breaking book “Why Women Don’t Ask” Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever identified the many ways social conditioning discourages women from negotiating; and the devastating impact this can have on a woman’s earning potential throughout her career.
When it comes to asking for flexible working arrangements, a further layer of barriers often comes into play:
- Working mothers are likely to fall foul of “stereotype threat” – the psychological theory that we have a tendency to play up to negative stereotypes about us. Thus widely held prejudices that women should choose between children and career makes us reluctant to be seen playing into the stereotype and hinders us in asking for support to manage both at once.
- We’ve bought into a corporate culture that devalues working mothers who – according to research – are widely held to be neither good parents (for abandoning their children to the care of others) nor good employees (for not focusing solely on work and career). And a culture that also frequently devalues less than full time working arrangements
Given these negative perceptions and their impact on self-esteem women often fail to recognise the leadership opportunities in stepping up and asking for more balanced working. All of this adds to the ‘glass ceiling’ and the continuing inability of women to progress to senior levels while juggling caring commitments.
But we’ve come this far in the last fifty years and I believe we’re at the point where we can complete the workplace revolution.
Excellent negotiation skills are an essential part of the Balanced Leader’s toolkit. It’s something we explore in detail over the course of the Balanced Leader Programme. And good negotiators know the importance of preparation. So, before making that request to work flexibly make sure you’ve covered the following points:
- First: be clear on the arrangement you want, how it will benefit you and your employer, any likely drawbacks; and how you plan to make it succeed. Consider the stakeholders involved both at home and at work and have a strategy for managing them.
- Second: be clear on the value you bring to your employer and how that will not only remain but could possibly even be enhanced if you work your new arrangement. Remember that while your employer may initially feel he’s making a concession in allowing you to work flexibly you are – in fact – benefitting him by offering a way to retain your skills that supports your wellbeing and avoids heavy replacement costs should you otherwise give up and leave.
- Finally, focus on the benefits and sell these to all concerned. If you suspect you’ll meet resistance identify the smallest first step you could ask for at this time. The one that will have the biggest impact for you. Once you’ve secured that concession you can move on to the next step – which won’t seem as hard.
See your efforts as an act of courageous leadership (and a way of growing your leadership muscle). At the root of the word courage is the French ‘coeur’ meaning heart. When we act courageously we’re taking heartfelt steps to make life better. Not just for ourselves but for those around us. Not just those we work with, but also our families and above all our children who will grow up with a model of balanced working to guide them.