Psychology of Job Sculpting

How to match the nature of the job with the inner nature of the person? A new concept in motivation in the light of the Indian concept of Swadharma.

Key Perspectives:

Life-interest; discovering our swadharma; sculpting the work-content.

The Life-interest

There is at present a growing recognition of the importance of psychological factors in shaping the motives, performance and job-satisfaction of employees. According to Harvard psychologist, Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, latest research studies on the subject have identified three factors as the main ingredients of job-satisfaction and performance: Ability, Values and life-interests. Ability is the professional competence acquired through experience, knowledge, skill. Values are the type of rewards which people seek. Some people value money, others want intellectual challenge still others desire comfortable life-style. The third factor is the “deeply embedded life-interest” which are described by Butler and Waldrop as:

“These interests are not hobbies, nor are the topical enthusiasms such as Chinese history. Instead, deeply embedded life-interests are long-held, emotionally driven passions intricately entwined with personality and thus born of an indeterminate mix of nature and nurture. Deeply embedded life-interests do not determine what people are good at – they drive what kind of activities make them happy. At work, that happiness often translates into commitment.”(1)

In the Indian perception the inner source of ability, values and life-interests is the swadharma of the individual which may be defined as a fundamental and deeply embedded psychological disposition which determines the unique inner temperament, inclination and values of the individual and also those activities for which she has a natural affinity. We must note here swadharma is not the nature or temperament of the surface personality woven around the consciousness of our body. It is the nature of the deeper self in us which is a part of or one with the innermost spiritual core of our individuality.

We may say swadharma is the psycho-spiritual temperament intrinsic to the very essence of our individuality. So, the Indian concept of swadharma is a deeper and broader concept which includes not only life-interest but also much more.

Discovering our Swadharma

This brings us to the practical question: how to discover the swadharma of an individual and match her outer occupation with her inner nature. The Harvard psychologists butler and waldrop call this task as “job-sculpting” which means “the art of matching people to jobs that will allow their deeply embedded life-interest to be expressed”(1999). We may replace the concept of life-interest with the concept of swadharma. Job-sculpting involves, matching the swadharma of the individual with the psychological content of the job. The first step in job-sculpting is to understand the swadharma of the individual. There are three methods or approaches for discovering the swadharma of an individual: tests, counselling and self-observation.

The first one, oral and written tests, like interviews and aptitude tests or the more recent psychometric tests, are the most extensively used method in the modern corporate world. It is now well-recognised that for better performance, the employee should possess not only the knowledge and skill required for the job but also the requisite psychological temperament or aptitude. For example, an article in New Scientist, says the following on psychometric tests:

“Psychometric questionnaires measures factors such as independence, leadership, sociability, perseverance and decisiveness… The result tell employees, among other factors, whether you are decisive, cautious, like working towards goals, seek to achieve something you consider significant or enjoy variety. Some indicate whether you are a leader or follower, introvert or extrovert, conformist or non-conformist, prefer a supportive environment or don’t care. There are no correct answers to personality questionnaire. The results reflect your view of yourself and can indicate whether or not you are suitable for certain roles. It is best to be honest in your responses. For if you pretend to be what you are not, you may find yourself in a job which is totally unsuitable. Someone who lacks staying power and persistence is unlikely to make a good researcher, while an introvert will find life hard in sales.”(2)

The second method is counseling which involves discussion, guidance and suggestions from experts like psychologists or career counselors and also with others like the boss or peers or teachers. The third method is self-observation, which means a deep and alert awareness of our inner world and the inner sources of our motives, values and actions.

All the three methods can be used but with a predominant emphasis on self-observation because the understanding of our swadharma and our decisions and actions which flows from it gets fully internalized and effective only when it is a personal discovery. The advantage of the first method is that it can be applied extensively for a large number of people. The disadvantage of the method, especially with psychometric tests is that it tends to be superficial, mistaking our fleeting likes, dislikes, preferences and qualities of our surface personality as our deeper swadharma. Counselling and discussions is a more effective method because it brings the objective and scientific perspective of others to the investigation. The advantage of self-observation is that it leads to a better internalization and assimilation of the discovery. The drawback of the method is that it may lead to much confusion and errors created by personal bias, if the individual is not sufficiently mature psychologically, and does not have the right discrimination to distinguish between the deep and enduring urges and the fleeting surface impulsion.

As we have indicated earlier passing likes and dislikes and preferences of the surface personality tethered to our body are not the swadharma. To discover the deeper psychological disposition of our swadharma, we have to detach our mind from these surface urges and learn to feel impersonally the inner impulsions which come from the deeper sources of our being. A helpful indication is to see or rather feel what are the activities which give us a deep, tranquil and intrinsic joy. So the discovery of swadharma has to be based mainly on self-observation with the other two methods helping and augmenting the process of self-assessment by providing appropriate information, guidance or expert advice.

But for effective job-sculpting it is not enough to know the swadharma of the individual. We must also know the psychological content of the job or occupation which is made of the following factors:

i) the proportion of mentor, marshal, merchant or worker faculties needed for the job.
ii) the dominant psychological temperament and the qualities required for performing the job effectively or in other words what is the psychographic profile of the job.
iii) we may add one more factor to this psychological content of the job. Values and ideals – moral, aesthetic and spiritual – which can elevate the activity to higher level of consciousness beyond the purely mundane focus on the bottom line.

The best way to determine this psychographic profile of the job is to ask people who have long experience in the job or achieved a high level of expertise and performance in their professional occupation not only in terms of efficiency and productivity but also in terms of implementing and enforcing values. For example, we may ask a world-class manufacturing manager with long-experience in the line to observe himself carefully while performing his function and also look at the activities of his department and his subordinates in a psychological perspective and describe what are the predominant faculties, qualities or values required for achieving high quality and performance in his job and also that of other workers in his department.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

Courtesy: KIIT Journal of Management (partially reproduced)

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