Considering quitting? Maybe you don’t need a new job – just a new approach to the one you have.

“Caring” is rarely listed on job descriptions. It is seen as a soft skill and not core to success. In some cases, it’s even seen as inappropriate in the workplace. But while we’re not required to care for our colleagues, clients, or other people, caring can be a difference maker. By understanding the role caring can have in your workplace, you can transform your role and your relationship with colleagues, potentially giving you the ownership over your job you need to thrive.

Researchers Amy Wrzesniewski, Jane Dutton, and Gelaye Debebe were particularly interested in this phenomenon when it came to what are known as “dirty” jobs, and looked at maintenance staff at a hospital, the folks who clean up after the sick, dying and recently deceased. They wanted to know how these cleaning professionals found purpose in their work, especially as research confirmed that they were treated with disrespect or disdain. Doctors, for example, would regularly drop their gloves on the floor after doing an exam rather than disposing of them properly. Others complained of nurses avoiding cleaning up bodily fluids and just dumping them on the floor so they became the responsibility of the cleaning team.

But the researchers also discovered that many of these cleaning professionals found ways to care for patients that created purpose in their work. The majority of cleaners expressed genuine concern for patients and their families, and responded to patients’ requests and took time for friendly chats.

None of this was part of their job description, and in many cases could be frowned upon by some managers. However, they weren’t simply doing the job and clocking out—they were taking ownership of and finding ways to craft their jobs to make them meaningful. They had changed their relationship with others to be able to provide care and, in the process, incorporate new tasks. They had redesigned their jobs to suit them rather than be a victim of their constraints.

Job crafting is a conscious or unconscious process of redesigning your own job to better align with your values, strengths, and passions.

It is a relatively new area of study that is part of the broader, nascent field of positive psychology. As is clear from these stories of hospital workers, what brings meaning to a job is not the job itself, but what we bring to it. In observing professionals in some of the toughest environments, such as the cleaning people, they are uncovering the natural ways people adapt to bring meaning to their work.

Don't Love Your Job? Fix the Job You're In.
From The Purpose Economy, released this week.

Traditional thinking says that the best way to find more meaningful work is to find a new job. But job crafting points to another solution—changing the job you’re in to better meet your needs. Positive psychologists have gone from observing organic job crafting, to documenting the process, to proactively facilitating job crafting. The results are remarkable and point to the fact that we have a lot more control over purpose at work than we may realize. Within job crafting, professionals can redesign not only their mindset, but also their tasks and relationships. It is a process that anyone can use to boost purpose at work. And the best part is that applies to any role—from hospital administrator to maintenance worker.

Task crafting can entail one of three approaches:

1. Task crafting. By redesigning the tasks in a job, you change the rules, taking on more or fewer tasks, or changing its scope. One of the most successful examples of this in my own work was in adding writing to my responsibilities. I made time on my commute to write blogs and articles, which gave me a creative outlet. It wasn’t required of my job, but it added a lot of depth to my work, and allowed me to explore issues that weren’t part of my day-to-day

2. Relational crafting. Through changing your relationships with your co-workers, clients, and others in your work environment, you can bring more purpose to your work as a whole. It is usually about changing the nature or depth of relationships and might involve the simplest of changes, such as taking someone to lunch once a week, or trying to have more meetings in person, rather than over email or the phone.

3. Cognitive crafting. This aspect is about approach. Workers can connected each task with its purpose. It is about remembering why you are cleaning the room, conducting an audit, or designing a website.

Done well, this process stems from the ‘who,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why’ of what drives purpose. Once you have that self-awareness, it is possible to intentionally redesign your job to make it substantially more rewarding. It can move you from being on the verge of quitting to finding the same job rich in purpose.

Excerpted from The Purpose Economy, released April 2014.