Mind Over Matter

Give the Misfits a Hand

Job crafting has benefits for both lukewarm and red-hot performers, and it can act as a boon for the business too.

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Are you familiar with the misfits?

We’re not talking about the band or the movie. Researchers at Penn State Erie and University of Georgia define misfits within the workplace as employees who are ill-suited to their employer’s company culture. They’re not cutting up or misbehaving necessarily, they just don’t seem to fit in.

“These might be people who are under-the-radar misfits,” said Ryan Vogel, a Penn State Erie assistant professor of management, in a statement. “These are the people who may, to others, be just fine but who show up to work every day and just feel out of place.”

Maybe they have a heart for giving back, Vogel said. But their current work may not reflect that. Or, maybe they thought they’d be working in a more collaborative environment, but all signs point to anything but.

At this point in the story, I imagine you’re probably calling this mysterious misfit a mis-hire, and you’re not necessarily mistaken. On the other hand, such a person could have been a very appropriate recruit initially, but over time, their professional interests and values changed. Whatever the cause of the mis-fittedness, it will eventually have an impact on their engagement and job performance.

However, the researchers have identified a couple of things disconnected workers can do in the near term to ease their struggle and maintain their effectiveness, including job crafting and having outside interests and hobbies.

When employees become job crafters, they’re essentially taking a designer’s hand to the work they do, molding it — where possible — to better fit their motives, strengths and passions, and along the way they cognitively alter their perception of the work being done. They may take on more or fewer of certain tasks, or change how they perform those tasks all together.

Job crafting might mean changing some relationships — perhaps altering the nature and extent to which an employee collaborates with colleagues on their team and outside of it. This type of role redesign can help the job crafter see the work they do as a collective whole rather than a set of separate tasks, reports a University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Theory-to-Practice briefing.

For the Penn State study, researchers used Craigslist to recruit a host of employees and their bosses from across industries to be participants. They then sent employees a questionnaire designed to assess personal and work values, job crafting, leisure activities and engagement. They sent the employees’ supervisors a questionnaire that asked about their direct report’s job performance and behavior. The misfit employees who engaged in more job crafting were significantly less likely to have low engagement and performance. The same went for those employees who reported high levels of leisure activity.

While the study produced an actionable finding with which to engage misfit employees, job crafting — no doubt subject to the flexibility of the respective role — is something learning and development leaders could encourage all employees at all levels to consider.

Whether or not an employee’s decision to job craft is born out of personal motivation, today’s business environment all but promises that workers will experience some role disruption in the future. Actually, it’s happening already. When learning leaders foster a culture where employees are open to that type of flexibility, they support the performance, engagement and agility of the misfits and those who are not.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. To comment, email editor@clomedia.com.

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