Craft a Career That Reflects Your Character
- Isaac H. Smith
- Maryam Kouchaki
March 17, 2020
Hiroshi Watanabe/Getty Images
Summary. How often do you view your job as an avenue for becoming your best moral self? We propose that through job crafting—by actively reimagining, redefining, and redesigning your own job—your workplace can become a moral laboratory for character…more
How often do you view your job as an avenue for becoming your best moral self? We propose that through job crafting — by actively reimagining, redefining, and redesigning your own job — your workplace can become a moral laboratory for character development. This is particularly important considering the thousands of hours you will likely spend at work, and it all begins by reframing your approach to work as an opportunity to become a better person, in all aspects of your life.
Although nearly all people want to see themselves as good, moral human beings, a recent study suggests that many of us don’t prioritize morality in our personal development. When 800 undergraduate students were asked to rank the personality changes they would most like to see in their lives, non-moral traits (such as sociability, productiveness, and creative imagination) were prioritized over moral traits (such as compassion, honesty, and general morality). While it is possible that these findings uniquely reflect the social anxiety, career concerns, or self-focus of university students, we believe that many people approach their own morality with an over-confidence and complacency that unwittingly hinders their character development. This is why we urge people to develop moral humility and recognize the need to proactively focus on becoming their best moral selves — even, if not especially, at work.
The Workplace as a Moral Laboratory
For many people, on-the-job experiences provide ample opportunities to develop the fortitude and self-control necessary to avoid tempting but unethical behaviors such as lying to customers, paying bribes, padding expense accounts, or manipulating accounting records. However, a person with good character does not simply avoid doing bad things but also pursues the good. And the workplace serves as a unique setting to practice compassion and kindness (even when we may feel less of an obligation to do so, as we might with our family and friends). At work we might further develop virtues related to diligence (productivity and hard work), courage (to speak up when something is awry), or fairness (in the way we treat subordinates and customers). In short, the collaborative, social, hierarchical, performance-oriented, and even incentive-driven aspects of our work often create an environment that is well-suited to test our character and help us refine our virtues. But to take full advantage of this occupational moral laboratory requires a concerted effort on our part — it requires some job crafting.
Job Crafting for Character
As originally presented by scholars Amy Wrzesniewski (Yale University) and Jane Dutton (University of Michigan), people can craft their jobs by first altering the way they think about their work (cognitive crafting), second, changing the scope and type of tasks they engage in (task crafting) and, third, changing the nature of their relationships and interactions with others at work (relational crafting). To date, most scholars and practitioners have explored job crafting as a means to make work more meaningful and satisfying, and potentially increase individual performance. But we suggest that you can also engage in job crafting to become your best moral self.
- The Era of Job Crafting
Design the work you want.
First, and most important, use cognitive crafting to fundamentally shift the way you approach your job, recognizing that work is an avenue for character development. At the end of each day, ask yourself if you are a better person than you were when you woke up that morning — because of what you contributed at work. Then, at the beginning of the next day, ask yourself what you can do to become an even better person by the end of that day. Who can I help or support? What can I contribute at work that will make a positive difference (to coworkers, to clients, to my organization, to society at large)?
Second, engage in task crafting to shape your daily activities in a way that both avoids ethical challenges and gives you an opportunity to be an influence for good. Build safeguards into your routines to protect yourself from temptations. Identify the tasks that you feel make the biggest positive difference and engage in more of them more often. Infuse kindness, self-sacrifice, or other noble ends into the tasks you undertake. Develop the courage to make a habit of regularly expressing your voice in your team or organization (to suggest meaningful improvements or to denounce unfairness, injustice, or discrimination).
Third, employ relational crafting to build a strong network of friends, colleagues, and mentors at work who are supportive of your efforts to live up to your values. To help “avoid the bad,” send signals to your peers and supervisors that you are committed to ethical behavior at work, and find a mentor that is willing to guide you through ethical challenges. To “pursue the good,” try approaching every interaction you have with other people as an opportunity to build, uplift, support, or encourage. Spend more time with the people who make you feel at your best, and limit interaction with those that drag you down (although sometimes those are the very people who need your kindness, compassion, and service the most).
When Crafting Isn’t Enough
Certain jobs, organizations, or even industries are not well aligned with your personal moral values. We are all very much shaped by our environment, and despite the power of job crafting, the context in which we work can still hinder our moral development. Therefore, be proactive about finding a job that provides the right moral fit. When evaluating a job, pay attention to the organization’s mission, making sure that you can embrace its values. Gain an understanding of the company’s cultural norms, particularly regarding ethics. Speak with current and past employees and ask them what their day-to-day experiences were like in their respective positions. Ask them what ethical challenges they faced, if any, and how the job or organization helped them grow and develop as a person. Ask yourself if these are the types of people you would want to work with, and if they are reflective of the person you are striving to become. In short, try to find a job that aligns with your personal moral values and that will allow you to craft your job in a way that helps you develop moral character.
Whether you view your job as merely a paycheck, as a step up the career ladder, or even as a calling, we encourage you to also approach your job as an avenue for becoming a better person — as a laboratory for refining your character. Doing so will not only help you become virtuous, but it can help others as well. Psychology research on elevation (the moral emotion experienced upon witnessing the virtuous acts of others that leads to a desire to become a better person yourself) suggests that morality can be contagious. Crafting your job in a way that leads to exemplary behaviors might just result in a moral contagion that benefits others in your organization as well. Like a tiny pebble tossed into a vast pond, your simple job crafting efforts might ripple throughout your entire workplace. Try job crafting to make the world a better place — one life at a time, starting with your own.