Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University, Department of Management, Leadership & Organisations

December 20, 2021

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cultures & behaviours

Crafting our way through the pandemic: Celebrating the improvisations and adaptations of the UK OSH profession

Dr Tristan W Casey, Dr Xiaowen Hu and Prof Chia-Huei Wu look into the concept of job crafting, revealing the findings of two recent academic studies and at some of the positive outcomes for professionals who structure and shape their jobs with purposeful intent.

A manufacturing plant worker forges new relationships with co-workers and takes on the extra task of building a workshop shelving unit. A chef reimagines their job as an opportunity to practice culinary art and give a little joy to customers. A telephone salesperson uses their script as an opportunity to practice acting out different characters to help prepare for an upcoming performance outside work.

All these examples relate to the practice of job crafting.

Job crafting refers to the adjustments and modifications that people make to their tasks, the relationships they have with others, and/or the way they think about work (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). In other words, job crafting is about changing the boundaries of a job to achieve better fit a better ‘fit’ with the employee, optimise and balance job demands and resources (Demerouti & Bakker, 2015) or to increase work meaning, engagement, and shape a new identity (Gordon et al., 2018).

But as an OSH professional, have you ever engaged in the art of job crafting? I’m sure you have, but maybe not realised it.

A recent body of work we did with the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (Pryor et al., 2021) highlighted the improvisations and adaptations made by the OSH profession that helped organisations to navigate through the tumultuous early stages of the pandemic and beyond.

OSH professionals leveraged opportunities to adjust their jobs to help organisations adapt and increase resilience during the pandemic. Indeed, flexibility and improvisation are key concepts that resilience engineers propose help build adaptive capacity (adjust to potential harm, take advantage of opportunities, and respond to incidents; Provan et al., 2020). Without the innovation of OSH professionals, the impact of the pandemic would arguably be even more disruptive and widespread.

But what did OSH professionals do to create resilience during the pandemic? What were the experiences that triggered adaptation and improvisation in their jobs? We conducted a program of mixed methods research, drawing on four waves of interviews with 25 safety managers during 2020, as well as a survey of 314 Australian H&S professionals. Not only did this research unveil specific challenges faced by H&S professionals, it also uncovered the types of job crafting activities they undertook to adjust and adapt their roles to meet the demands of these challenges.

During the pandemic, three core themes emerged from our research relating to the ways that OSH professionals engaged in job crafting:

  • managing uncertainty in standards and regulations surrounding protective measures;
  • managing role and work overload; and
  • balancing tensions between different forms of safety, such as between COVID safety and operational safety.

More recently, we extended this initial research by surveying 250 UK-based OHS professionals. We found that most also engaged in a form of proactive and positive job-crafting, which is known as ‘promotion-focussed job crafting’. This form of crafting operates across three areas: relationships, tasks, and thinking processes.

Relationship-based job crafting refers to the expansion of social networks within and between organisations, such as liaising with external OSH professionals and crisis experts. Task-related job crafting involves taking on new tasks or otherwise seeking out stimulating challenges at work to contribute more and be proactive towards safety. Finally, thinking or cognitive job crafting is where reframing is done to shape thoughts into more positive ones (e.g., thinking about how one’s role demands helps contribute to the pandemic response of society and the organisation).

In our recent UK-based study, some interesting findings emerged, such as the following:

  1. Over 90% of surveyed OSH professionals reported that they engaged in some form of job crafting, with relationship-based job crafting being the most frequent activity undertaken.
  2. OSH professionals who engaged in promotion-focussed job crafting said that they felt more respected by their management, their contributions were valued, and they had greater influence over pandemic-related decision-making.
  3. Feelings of job meaning, purpose, and overall engagement were higher among OSH professionals who undertook job crafting practices.
  4. Job crafting was more likely in organisations where OSH professionals were: a) actively supported by management, b) given adequate resources and tools to do their jobs well, c) allowed to have autonomy over the way they execute their role, and d) involved in organisational decision making (e.g., made part of the crisis response/management team).

Overall, job crafting is a practical and impactful tool for the 21st Century OSH professional’s toolkit. Many positive outcomes are possible for professionals who structure and shape their jobs with purposeful intent. Not only will the professional be more engaged and effective at work, but the organisation will also experience greater resilience as improvisations and adaptations compensate for shortfalls in processes and procedures.

If you are an OSH professional, consider how you might engage in job crafting and add it to your professional development and education plan. If you lead OSH professionals, consider how you can create an environment that enables job crafting, and incorporate job crafting conversations into regular catch-ups and performance appraisals.

Dr Tristan Casey is a Senior Lecturer with Middlesex University London, and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow with Griffith University Australia

Dr Xiaowen Hu is a Senior Lecturer with Queensland University of Technology Australia

Prof Chia-Huei Wu is Director of the Workplace Behaviour Research Centre at the University of Leeds

Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., & Halbesleben, J. R. (2015). Productive and counterproductive job crafting: A daily diary study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(4), 457.
Gordon, H. J., Demerouti, E., Le Blanc, P. M., & Bipp, T. (2015). Job crafting and performance of Dutch and American health care professionals. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 14(4), 192-202.
Provan, D. J., Woods, D. D., Dekker, S. W., & Rae, A. J. (2020). Safety II professionals: How resilience engineering can transform safety practice. Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 195, 106740.
Pryor, P., Provan, D., Casey, T., & Hu, X. (2021). The generalist OHS professional: International and Australian perspectives. In Australian Institute of Health & Safety (AIHS), The Core Body of Knowledge for Generalist OHS Professionals (2nd ed.). Tullamarine, VIC: AIHS.
Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of management review, 26(2), 179-201.

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Dr Nick Bell
Dr Nick Bell
2 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks! I used the job demands resources model and job crafting a lot in my PhD and they are also really helpful for understand wellbeing. For example, what can we do with people’s roles to make them feel more stimulating, meaningful etc.? Take a look at my “wild west of wellbeing article” on this site. There’s quite a few articles about how job crafting has helped organisations and workers cope with the impact of Covid. This article/research is great for shining a light on what our profession can do with our own roles. If I… Read more »