Detoxify Relationships at Work

Re-crafting Your Job Description & Relationships

Have you ever worked with people who have an uncanny ability to quickly form deep and lasting bonds with the people they work with? To the rest of us it seems like some sort of magic. What’s their trick? Cookies? Compliments? Christmas Cards? Most people, at least sometimes, struggle with work relationships that are tainted with mistrust, undermining, and exclusionary behavior. Bad relationships not only hurt, but they also waste time and resources and while distracting us from doing our best work and advancing our careers.

So what do we do in the face of toxic relationships? Some of us buy books, read blogs, go to trainings and sometimes even get coaching to help us deal with toxic relationships. Most of the advice we get from these sources is focused on building social skills or emotional competence. This is a very direct approach, and it makes sense. If you have a relationship problem, build your relationships skills to try to solve it. But what if, in addition to tackling the problem head on, we tried coming at it sideways? What if we try to detoxify our relationships by crafting our jobs, exposing the ways in which we are interdependent with others to do our jobs well?

Job crafting might help. Job crafting was proposed by researchers at the University of Michigan as new paradigm to replace job descriptions (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzeniewski, 2013). Traditional job descriptions tend to be rigid lists of duties and hierarchical reporting relationships, focusing on what needs to get done and the skills required to do it. Job crafting is different. It is a process in which you reimagine your job so that it is personally meaningful and intrinsically motivating to you. Such a process empowers you to make big changes in three ways: you think differently about your work, you undertake tasks differently within it, and you adjust who you do your work with. The process of clarifying or redesigning what you think, what you do and who you do it with is good for both you and your company. Job crafting has been associated with increased individual effectiveness, more attachment to the organization, and reduced absenteeism (Ghitulescu, 2007).

But what about relationships? Job crafting might improve your work relationships by making you and others aware of your interdependence on each other. When you engage in the process of job crafting you articulate the landscape of who you depend on and who depends on you in your work. It’s not enough to say that one of your duties is to generate a status report each month. That might be okay for a job description. In job crafting, you are expected to describe the landscape of interdependencies, so you would also identify who is receiving that monthly report and how they use it to meet their goals, as well as who provides you with information for the report and how doing so aligns with your and their goals.  This is good for your relationships because information about interdependencies increases prosocial motivation, which is associated with strengthened relationships (Grant, 2007).

When you know who depends on you and why, then you know how you contribute to their success, and you see yourself as providing benefits to them.  When you get a sense of your impact on other people, you also increase your motivation to make a positive difference in their lives. When you make a positive difference in people’s lives, you get to experience yourself as “a competent, self-determined and socially valued individual, so relationships thus shape and are shaped by the motivation to make a prosocial difference” (Grant, 2007, p. 405).

So, if you want to improve your workplace relationships, by all means bake cookies and send cards; these are not bad strategies. But if you want to take a step that might have deep and lasting prosocial consequences in your work relationships, try job crafting and articulating the interdependencies of your work.


Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job crafting and meaningful work. Purpose and meaning in the workplace, 81-104.

Ghitulescu, B. E. (2007). Shaping tasks and relationships at work: Examining the antecedents and consequences of employee job crafting (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from University of Pittsburgh.

Grant, A. M. (2007). Relational job design and the motivation to make a prosocial difference. Academy of Management Review, 32(2), 393-417.

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