Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re thinking about your next career move. While finding a new job is often a great option, a frequently unexplored but equally strong option in many cases is building the job you want at your current employer.
If you decide you want to stick it out and try to make your current company work, that doesn’t mean you have to settle. Instead, I suggest you job-craft: stay with your current employer in your current job, while coming up with a process or a strategy to shape that job into a job that’s getting closer and closer to what you want, over time.
But how? There are four approaches that I advocate, and have seen work with my mentees, those I’ve coached, and my own friends and colleagues.
Job-Craft Strategy #1: Make Your Impact More Visible. In 2001, two professors roamed the country in search of people with menial jobs, who loved their work. What they found was that in a commonly devalued profession, janitorial work, a percentage of people found joy in their work by connecting their day-to-day responsibilities with making other people’s lives better. Their findings were so profound that they coined the term “job-crafting” to mean reframing your job in terms of its broader societal impact, in order to feel more joy and purpose in it.
In the context, of your day-to-day job, one way to get more out of the work you do every day is to engineer ways to get closer to the people who your work touches and hear first-hand the difference you are making – and to take steps every day to increase that impact. Whether it’s by talking to real customers, or colleagues in a neighboring department who you support, getting closer to your impact and magnifying it unlocks more happiness with the work you do every day.
Job-Craft Strategy #2: Stop Doing Things That Don’t Add Value. If you don’t love the work you do every day, one reason may be that you’ve collected legacy projects that don’t add value, cost time, and prevent you from doing work you really enjoy. In that case, one great job-crafting strategy is to audit the work you do for these “barnacles” and find a way to get them off your plate.
Ideally, the best way to handle barnacles is to remove them, by negotiating these tasks with your manager. The key to doing this well is have a clear sense of the opportunity cost – what new tasks you are unable to pursue because of these current lower-value tasks. If removing them is not possible, a second strategy is to streamline or automate these tasks – find ways to make them as efficient and painless as possible. Either way, if you seek to mitigate the barnacles, you’ll be spending less time on tasks you hate, and more on tasks that matter.
Job-Crafting Strategy #3: Pursue a Side Project That Let’s You Prove Your Skill in a New Area.
If there is a bucket of work you want to pursue that’s out of the scope of your current job, but a felt need in your company, another strategy that almost always works is asking to take on the task you want on top of your existing work before it’s a formal piece of your job.
This “burning the midnight oil” isn’t forever – it’s just until you have a track record that you can bring to your manager to negotiate adding these responsibilities to your role in a more formal way. Once you’ve gotten results, you should have a conversation with your manager requesting that you make space in your current role to pursue this bucket of work indefinitely – and what might need to be deprioritized to make that happen.
Job-Crafting Strategy #4: Up-level Your Work-Life.
A final strategy that can make a huge difference in your ability to love your job is getting clear on the specific working arrangements and perks that allow you to thrive. For some people, even a slight shift like working earlier hours or from home one day a week can make a real difference in their quality of life. For others, having a dedicated large professional development fund they can use to gain new skills puts them on cloud 9. For others, work-life happiness can be as simple as a long lunch once a month to get a haircut, a newer work computer, or putting firmer boundaries on your out-of-work time.
If you’re delivering the goods on the job, there’s no reason you can’t ask for special perks that will make you even happier, if there are one or two that really matter to you. To do this, you’ll need to do some soul-searching to think about what you could change about how you work that would make a real difference – and then negotiate for those terms with your boss. The key here is not to ask too often, to have solid reasons to undergird your requests, and plans to address any reservations your manager raises. Being smart about work-life happiness can make a real difference in the joy and fit you feel with your job.
A Skill Worth Learning
Even if you decide now’s the time to jump ship, learning to consistently craft your job into a better and better fit for your skills and passions is a skill worth learning.
Most of us spend nearly 15 continuous years of our lives at work. By job-crafting, we’ll spend those years in roles that are progressively a better and better fit for us and allow us to deliver the best value we can in the world.
Melanie Duppins is the Founder of Breaker28 – an organization that helps professionals, and especially women of color, take their place in history and accelerate their careers. Learn more about her at www.imabreaker.com