Why more Singapore workplaces should practice job sculpting

Singapore Business Review
Published: 10 Dec 14
By Ronald Lee, Managing Director, PrimeStaff Management Services

“Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” While Confucius’ words still ring true, our competitive workplace and ever-demanding society make it difficult for anyone to be completely satisfied at work – and even harder to resist the call of greener pastures.

A recent survey by the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and a consultancy firm found that the typical Singapore worker had an average score of 59 out of 100 in a workplace happiness index. This is deemed “Under Happy” according to the index. A score of 0 to 50 is considered “Unhappy” and 68 to 100 is “Happy”.

Why are Singaporeans that unsatisfied with their work?

Perhaps your employees have lost their drive or they are disenchanted with their jobs and everything that it entails, as in the case of A*STAR scientist Dr Eng Kai Er, who recently made the news and was heavily criticised for protesting against her six-year scholarship bond because her job is “not aligned with her interests”.

The reasons for employee dissatisfaction are endless, but the solutions are not. The obvious remedy for most workers is to call it quits and seek greener pastures. But leaving is not the only option.

While it is certainly tempting to succumb to the idea of a “migration cure”, it may not be feasible for some who struggle between chasing their ideals and staying on out of financial concerns and other responsibilities.

As an employer, is there a way to make your grass greener for your people?

A Bespoke Job Scope

Enter job sculpting, the art of creating a customised career path to increase the likelihood of retaining talented employees. This is done by tailoring a worker’s job scope to allow his deeply embedded life interests to be expressed.

Job sculpting is not a new theory, but I feel it holds a lot of value in the workplace as it can go a long way towards improving job satisfaction, leading to higher staff retention rates.

Some of your employees may be top performers but just because they have the skillset to excel in a particular job doesn’t mean that is where their true interests lie.

These employees may produce great results and be rewarded financially but they may feel unfulfilled inside and if unaddressed, this dissatisfaction will most likely lead to their eventual exit.

Rather than lose top talent in this manner, leaders and managers should consider adopting this job sculpting approach. It is really not that difficult to achieve and does not require a complete overhaul of the employee’s current job scope, which would obviously be unrealistic as the employee has been hired and paid to perform a particular role, after all.

You can start with small steps; tweak the job scope or add minor responsibilities that are aligned with the employee’s interests.

For instance, if an employee enjoys creative production, offer him the opportunity to decorate the office for the year-end party and other events.

If he enjoys writing, designing, or photography, he could be invited to be part of the production team behind the company newsletter.

Although the newsletter may be the purview of the corporate communications department, allow for some flexibility as there is an upside to cross-department collaborations; it fosters team bonding and team spirit, which have a positive effect on employee engagement.

Plus, you may be pleasantly surprised that the employee might be willing to stay late or work over the weekend to do something they love.

It’s a win-win for all: the corporate communications team has a reduced workload, the employee feels a greater sense of work pride and brings that passion to their official job scope, and the organisation benefits from having a more engaged employee who experiences greater job satisfaction and will quite possibly stay on longer with the company.

Let’s look at another example: some people are just very nurturing by nature and these individuals would be good at mentoring younger workers or facilitating the onboarding of new hires.

Now what does it take to effectively implement job sculpting in your workplace?

First and foremost, you need to know the hearts and minds of your employees. Good managers should already take a strong interest in the motivational psychology of their employees; it should be part of your organisation’s modus operandi.

Managers should take the time to get to know their workers on a deeper level. Spend time conversing with them to get to know the individual behind the job title. What inherent qualities do they possess? What are their leisure activities and hobbies outside of work? This will help clue you in on the implicit interests they have at heart.

A Delicate Approach

From the organisational standpoint, however, the idea of job sculpting could be like walking a tightrope between workplace constraints and the ideals of the employee.

There are practical considerations to think about, such as whether allowing an employee to expand his portfolio in such manner would take up too much time and adversely affect the performance of his core function.

Or would the long-term benefit of employees’ job satisfaction result in higher engagement and retention rates, thus improving productivity while saving the organisation much time and money in recruitment in the long run?

Certainly, leaders will need to approach this with a delicate hand. The ultimate lynchpin is communication; it is only through meaningful dialogue and some give-and-take on both sides that a true understanding of your employees’ intrinsic passions will be gained.

But while managers ought to take the lead in discovering what truly inspires and motivates their people, employees should also take responsibility for their own fulfillment at work. Initiate or involve yourself in projects that are more aligned with your interests instead of waiting for such opportunities to fall in your lap.

It’s time to stop looking at the grass on the other side, and start greening your current turf instead.


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