A female scientist holds a test tube with a blue solution while her co-worker looks on

How to Boost Staff Retention in the Lab Through Job Crafting

Activating the full potential of every employee is critical, in an increasingly competitive talent market. Reducing turnover and driving staff retention is an increasing priority for leaders, as the cost of manufacture and the heightening skills gap across STEM continues to rise

Job crafting, where employees make small changes within the boundaries of their role, can empower both employees and leaders alike with a strategic roadmap to boost job satisfaction and retention in STEM workplaces.

In this article, I’ll explore:

  • Key drivers of STEM employee retention
  • Why job crafting is important
  • How to job craft and drive retention

Driving STEM employee retention

Throughout the pandemic, workplace environments have evolved to better enable workforce agility. In the world of laboratories, more organisations than ever are investing in outsourcing employees and teams to build a flexible workforce network. 

Meanwhile, employees are experiencing the benefits of hybrid work and may have shifting priorities while recovering from the pandemic.

In SRG’s 2022 Global Science Employment Report, we found that while a good work-life balance was the factor cited as most important by the highest number of employees across STEM, it was also ranked as the least important factor by the most respondents in the UK and Europe. Meanwhile, over half of respondents across all regions are driven by a stimulating and challenging work environment, where they are well compensated.

In recent research involving laboratories across the globe, a stimulating work environment was similarly cited as a major motivational factor for staff, and a key reason behind high employee retention rates. 

To successfully cultivate an appropriate work environment, leaders must consider how to make the work itself meaningful for employees – this is where job crafting is key.

Why job crafting is important in laboratory environments

Whether you realise it or not, job crafting is something we all do in our day-to-day work. The decisions we make according to our motivational drivers, from seeking more social opportunities in the office, to mentally reframing a task to self-motivate, how we perform our jobs is invariably customised to our preferences. 

As job crafting affects how tasks are completed and interpersonal dynamics in the laboratory, it has the potential to influence both individual and organisational performance alike. 

STEM leaders must mediate job crafting to ensure its effects are positive, rather than detrimental to performance. Doing so successfully, can accelerate job satisfaction, and drive improved retention.

In recent research exploring the impact of job crafting in a post-pandemic landscape, researchers found that employees who had the opportunity to job craft during the pandemic reported a job satisfaction increase of 92%, which contributed to a 29% decrease in their stress levels. In laboratory environments where turn-around times are often hallmarked as a benchmark for success, managing stress levels, and improving resilience is fundamental to sustained retention and productivity. 

How to job craft and drive retention

Job crafting, as a concept, falls into three key proponents. 

1. Task crafting

Task crafting refers to adding, or dropping the responsibilities set out in your job description. It can also involve modifying the nature of responsibilities, or re-prioritising tasks to maximise your time. 
Research demonstrates that a key part of successful task crafting lies in optimising resource allocation and enabling staff with improved access to the resources they need to succeed – whether that be regular one-to-ones, mentorship opportunities, or simply an alternative piece of equipment. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1359432X.2019.1576632)

2. Relationship crafting

Relationship crafting refers to reshaping the ways employees interact. It can involve changing who we interact with or expanding opportunities to communicate and engage with a wider group of people on a more regular basis.
Additionally, relationship crafting can be reinforced by enabling staff to change responsibilities and roles across different tasks, while allocating peer leaders to help guide and upskill teams. This can strengthen development and employee growth, all while providing peer leadership opportunities to activate continuous development.

3. Cognitive crafting

Cognitive crafting involves shifting your mindset around the tasks you complete. Attributing a wider purpose to the smaller task completed is a key part of this, and can be integrated as part of your research’s vision strategy (you can read more about that here). (https://www.srgtalent.com/blog/how-to-lead-a-research-team-in-4-steps) 
Using elements of the above can enable leaders to better customise and improve how talent interact, engage, and complete work. 

How Synergy helps with job crafting

At Synergy, we equip laboratories across the globe with managed laboratory teams, with an embedded job crafting strategy. 
For every client project, we hire and recruit expert staff with the right abilities, and skills to achieve target deliverables, while empowering every team member with the flexibility to craft the process of achieving client targets.

We provide the flexibility required for our managed scientific staff to specialise in the elements of deliverables and tasks that are most related to their core needs, and motivational drivers. In doing so, we help our clients improve retention and boost productivity.

To find out more about how we can support your organisation with specialist scientific support, contact us at: synergyqueries@srgtalent.com

About the author: Kris Randell is Head of Continuous Improvement at Synergy. You can connect with Kris on Linkedin here.

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