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Life and Work Blog

When Your Job Description Doesn't Fit Anymore

Jun 5, 2018 5:51:35 AM / by Paul Johnson

Job descriptions aren't designed for you. Have you ever thought about that? They're designed in a generic manner to attract a diverse pool of candidates. If companies made the list of requirements and job tasks too specific, they may not get any candidates at all. It's a really smart strategy...until the candidate starts the job. 

What baffles me is that most often when a person is hired, the job description stays the same and the employee has to fit into the mold of what the company has created. This is problematic because companies don't hire the perfect candidate.

Instead, they hire the best candidate who inevitably doesn't meet every single requirement or preference the hiring manager has. Making this person assimilate into the job can be like putting a square peg into a round hole. There are a couple of reasons why this is (and they are going to sound contradictory):

Humans Don't Like to Go Against the Grain

Without going too deep into neuroscience, it is difficult for us to be who we are not. Our strengths, values, and beliefs are hard-wired into our brains. When we do what's not natural for us (fake it till you make it!), it never ends well. In fact, there is interesting research on the topic of "emotional labor" which is when people mask their emotions to hide what they are really feeling (you've done it when you received a pair of socks for your birthday from grandma and you had to smile and say thank you). This happens frequently in the customer service industry, when employees may be feeling sad or anxious, but have to force themselves to appear happy and upbeat when they are serving customers. 

The same applies when we have to perform tasks on the job that we're not naturally hard-wired to do, or at least to enjoy or do well. We are leaning on our weaknesses—rather than our strengths—and it's exhausting. A job description may have elements of it that the new hire doesn't have the natural talent for. It will be laborious for the person to not only do something they aren't naturally inclined to do, but also fake like they know what they are doing or that they are enjoying it.

job description doesn't fit

Humans Are Constantly Evolving

At the same time, there is neuroplasticity. We are able to learn new skills, change our beliefs and develop new interests. Think about what you were passionate about 10 years ago. Chances are it will be a list of things, some have remained constant but you most likely have a new set of passions. 

Job descriptions should be fluid, not a static set of tasks and expectations. They should evolve just as humans evolve. They should be responsive to the employee, not the other way around. As they learn new things that excite them or bring value to their work, they should be able to incorporate them into their work.  

So what's the solution? It's called job crafting. Simply put, it is the action that a person takes to redesign their job so it better fits their strengths, values and interests. Managers should sit down with their direct reports every 6-8 months to have a discussion about what's working and what's not.

Here are a few questions you (as a manager) can ask:

  • What part(s) of your job do you look forward to doing?
  • What part(s) of your job drain you of energy?
  • What strengths do you use the most in your job? The least?
  • If you could spend 5% of your work week working on a project that is not part of your current job, what would you do?

The answers to these questions will provide crucial insight as to how your direct reports can redesign their job so it is a better fit. The second question really gets to what is causing them to experience emotional labor. The last two can provide critical feedback about what talents and interests are not currently being utilized. 

Job crafting could be a complete overhaul, or just a few minor tweaks. But either way, you'll get an employee who will be more engaged, more satisfied, and less likely to leave the organization. 

Redesigning On Your Own

Now, unfortunately we don't all have bosses who would have this conversation with us, so what do we do if we want to redesign our jobs on our own? 

  1. Ask yourself those same questions or sit down with a friend, a family member or a co-worker (or me) to help walk you through it. Get into specifics about what gives you energy and drains you of energy, what strengths aren't being used and what projects you're interested in working on.
  2. Write up a compelling proposal that will convince your boss to redesign your job. Keep in mind what would persuade them.  Are they a logical person so they need data and evidence? Or do they respond to emotion so you'll need to tell an inspiring story?
  3. Rewrite your job description. Write up the JD as if you are designing the job to perfectly fit your strengths, values, interests and skills. It's critical, however, to be clear that the tasks and objectives of the job will still be completed.
  4. Set up a meeting with your boss. Before you meet with her or him, it's important to check your attitude. Are you going in excited and inspired? Or are you going in feeling resentful or frustrated? If it's the latter, don't hide the fact that you're frustrated, but just be sure to not let your emotions get the best of you. You want to be professional and prove to her or him that you've thought this through.
  5. Create buy-in. Remember that your boss will be sitting there thinking "What's in it for me (or the company)?" Make sure to clear about how this "new" job description will not only benefit you, but it will align with the goals of the organization and will drive results (and make your boss look good).

If you feel stuck in your job, know that you have another option besides toughing it out or quitting your job. There's a third way, and it's a win-win for both you and your boss: job crafting.

No matter where you're at in your career, it's always a good time to redesign. And I'd love to help! By knowing your Strengths and with the help of the Job Crafting Exercise we can reimagine your job so that it fits with who you are, not the other way around. 

Are you interested in building a strengths-based culture in your workplace?

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Topics: Engagement, Strengths

Paul Johnson

Written by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. He is passionate about helping people discover their strengths and use them more in their work and life. He believes that work should be a flexible set of building blocks (not a static job description) and that people deserve the freedom to incorporate their passions, values, and interests into what they do every day. He is a Munyay Approved Coach.