Re-Crafting Careers at Mid-Career

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By Ellen Ensher, Ph.D.

Re-Crafting Best Midlife Career Changes - Ellen Ensher

They say all research is me-search. Recently, my good friend and co-author, Elisa Grant-Vallone, blinked our eyes and found ourselves at mid-career. So we asked the question, how do we and our colleagues stay engaged? To learn more about our findings, read our published article Re-Crafting Careers for Mid-Career Faculty: A Qualitative Study.

Mid-career is often considered to be the period of time after one has earned tenure and before one starts to prepare for retirement. For many faculty, this time period can involve mixed feelings of relief and stress as they experience an increased workload, higher expectations, and increased concerns over their personal life. While other industries offer lots of opportunity for promotion, in academe, there is a short ladder for growth. Additionally, rewards, recognition, and feedback become increasingly rare over time; yet, many mid-career faculty are still thriving.

One explanation behind this success can be credited to job-crafting. Job-crafting is (see original work by Jane Dutton and Amy Wrzesniewski for more information) defined as the “physical and cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries of their work” and includes “proactive changes that employees make to their own jobs.” Although our research focused on faculty, the theory of job crafting can be used for anyone who wants to be more engaged at work.

Employees can engage in job-crafting in three ways.

The first way is through Task crafting. Faculty may place more emphasis on certain tasks or redesign tasks to make them more meaningful. So, recently I started doing online classes for LinkedIn Learning which made me change up how I teaching in class. I also have taken on more leadership roles which has also been a way to practice what I preach in management.

The second way to engage is Cognitive crafting. This involves changing one’s mindset as to how employees think about the purpose or meaning of their job. So thinking about yourself as a not just a teacher for student but also a career advisor and connector with alums is an example from my own experience.

The third way to engage is Relational crafting which is about changing the quality and amount of interaction with others while working. So for me I am saying yes to more social engagements and hosting get-togethers at my home for colleagues.

In our study, we found that many mid-career faculty experienced cognitive shifts as they expressed feelings of control and autonomy after earning tenure. When the pressure of earning tenure was removed, many felt that the possibilities were endless and they could now pursue projects they were passionate about without being “pulled in 1,000 different directions.” If employees take the initiative to make changes to their job by changing their mindset and the relationships they have with other organizational stakeholders, employees will find themselves more involved and engaged with their work.

As Mary Oliver asks “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Or how will you make the most of your career today?