How to Customize a Job to Fit Your Life

There are ways to customize your job to better suit your life, so you don't have to settle for stress and misery.

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By Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Engaged employees use more than the skills their job descriptions detail to get work done. They take the list of responsibilities that define their roles and filter those through their characters-enabling them to dig into that work and make it their own.

Tweaking a role to suit your skills and personality, once you’ve lived in that job and you understand its nuances, is both a survival skill and a self-management initiative. Professors Jane Dutton and Amy Wrzesniewski coined the term “job crafting” to describe how employees use their personalities to reshape their roles and earn themselves a better fit in their work. Dutton, Wrzesniewski and their colleague Justin Berg point out that job crafting is “what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement, job satisfaction, resilience and thriving.”

When crafting your role, you use your skills, character and connections to enact your work in ways that honor the individual you are. This makes your job more suited to you, and thus more meaningful. If you’re not already job crafting, here’s what you need to know.

Finesse your role

Job crafting is about being engaged, alert, mindful and proactive. You’re not waiting around to be noticed. You’re using the opportunity you have to find fulfillment in your work.

In every job description, there’s a range of responsibilities and expectations; some are major parts of the role, some are minor responsibilities. As you work your way into your position, you are inclined to developed tricks, short cuts and collaborations that help you enact your duties effectively.

As you systemize your workflow, you may find yourself with room to explore the less-prominent responsibilities associated with your job. Grow these. Further develop a project that is at the edge of your scope of responsibilities. Dutton, Wrzesniewski and Berg point out: “Your job comprises a set of building blocks that you can reconfigure to create more engaging and fulfilling experiences at work.”

Perhaps, for example, you have a marginal role entering data for your team. In your conversations with the database manager, you’ve learned about a new mode of reporting that you think could help your unit. You have the time and expertise to take it on. Talk with your manager. See if you can stretch into this. It would enhance what you produce for your team, and it would be exciting to dig deeper into the database component of your role.

Expand your skill set

In the same way, you may have a skill that you’re eager to further develop in your daily work. Let’s say, for example, that writing is a minor part of your role. If you love to write, and you can streamline your other operations, you earn yourself more time to volunteer for new responsibilities that are aligned with your interest. Make it your goal to take on more writing projects.

As you grow and strengthen this skill, add it as a performance goal. Check with your manager to see if there are development resources that you can secure to grow the skill; perhaps there’s a writing or grammar workshop that you can attend, for example.

Identifying ways that you would like to deepen your role to be a better fit for your skillset is a win-win for you and your company.

If you have a hand in defining the trajectory of your work, using your talents and interests to streamline it, the work will feel more like yours. It will matter more to you, and it will help you evolve professionally.

Wrzesniewski explains: “One trend that I think will continue is the likelihood that individuals will not be spending their careers in one firm or even a few firms. That’s going to necessitate taking responsibility for putting together your own plan for how you’re putting together the steps of your career, the skills that you’re building and the eventual impact you hope to have in a way that will be your responsibility as opposed to the responsibility of people who used to develop you in firms.”

Job crafting is a self-management initiative, which gives you the power to find satisfaction in your work and forge your own development and trajectory.

Wrzesniewski explains that most employees engage in some level of job crafting. Understanding what’s involved and directing it mindfully can enable you to do it strategically.

It’s ideal when a manager notices that you’re doing great work and offers you a meaningful opportunity. But rather than holding your breath to get noticed, take responsibility for your own professional satisfaction. Job craft like no one is watching, because soon enough someone will be.

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