02 SES 06 B, Meaning of Work, Vocational Self-efficacy and Employability
This paper draws on recent research on the work and learning of hospital porters in England to explore the 'job-crafting' thesis. This group of workers is positioned in low status, low paid and low grade employment of the type variously described as ‘lousy jobs’ (Goos and Manning 2003) or ‘dirty work’ (Ashforth and Kreiner 1999). An earlier account of our research confirmed that hospital porters are categorised in the lowest grade and pay band available in the UK’s National Health Service. As a group, the porters perceive themselves as lacking organisational visibility and status particularly in comparison with doctors and clinical support staff (Fuller et al 2011). However, our data suggests that many of the porters highly value the work that they do and enjoy strong job satisfaction. This raises the two key research questions addressed in this paper: What are the differences between hospital porters and institutional conceptions of their work, role and its purpose and value? How can these differences be theorised and explained?
We review innovative developments in organisational theory to explore how workers (re-)shape the tasks, relationships and boundaries which make up the way their jobs are designed and experienced. Specifically, we draw on the concepts of ‘job crafters’ and ‘job crafting’ (Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001) to help understand how the hospital porters act, interact and learn day to day in the workplace to challenge, reconfigure and reconstruct what their jobs mean. The paper argues that making assumptions about employees’ experience of work - based on the formal design, structure and characteristics of their jobs understates the role they can and do play in ‘crafting’ the contours and meanings of their work. To understand this process it is important to consider European and international debates about the extent to which prescribed job designs determine how work is experienced and give rise to opportunities for employees to craft their jobs. Conventional organisation theory would suggest that staff who proactively engage in revising and adjusting their work tasks and activities are more likely to be in jobs characterised by high levels of discretion and functional accountability (Staw and Boettger 1990). However, rather than reading off employees’ ability to improvise from the specification of job status and designs, ‘job crafting’ theory invites researchers to reveal when, why and how individuals can influence the social and interpersonal relations and tasks that influence the experience of work and learning even in routine and apparently limiting organisational contexts (Berg et al 2003). The case of the hospital porters provides a rich resource for exploring the usefulness of the job crafting thesis as an analytical and explanatory framework for making sense of our evidence.
Wrzesniewski. A. and Dutton, J.E. (2001) Crafting a Job: revisioning employees as active crafters of their work, The Academy of Management Review, 26, 2, 179-201 Fuller, A., Laurie, I and Unwin, L. (2011) Learning at work as a low grade worker: the case of hospital porters, Research Paper 25, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at: http://www.llakes.org Goos, M. and Manning, A. (2003) Lousy and Lovely Jobs: the rising polarization of work in Britain, CEP Discussion Papers, dp0604, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics
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