Studying, Wellbeing

In our quest to bolster student well-being, we’ve adapted the well-known concept in organizational psychology – job crafting – and applied it to higher education. In our study we found that students who actively utilized social and structural resources and adapted their studies to match their interests showed higher levels of study engagement. Additionally, those who took a more autonomous approach to their studies and decreased the emotional strain related to studies showed lower levels of study burnout. We argue that encouraging study crafting is a useful tool in promoting students’ wellbeing.

Crafting isn’t just for working life

With reports of psychological distress and burnout among students increasing post-Covid, it’s crucial to find innovative ways to enhance their resilience. One useful tool could be found from research on work well-being showing the fruitfulness of job crafting, defined as “self-initiated change behaviors that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their own preferences, motives, and passions (Tims et al., 2012, p. 173). More specifically, job crafting involves four aspects: increasing structural resources (i.e., seeking autonomy and opportunities to develop one’s expertise), decreasing hindering demands (i.e., decreasing emotional strain related to work), increasing social resources (i.e., seeking support and feedback), and increasing challenging demands (i.e., seeking new challenges at work). Importantly, job crafting isn’t just about tasks and performance; it’s about finding the right balance between work demands and personal needs. More than a decade of international research has shown that job crafting is associated with better work well-being.

Also researchers of higher education are now interested in the potential of crafting behaviours, recognizing that the demands of university studies closely resemble the responsibilities and self-regulation expected in working life. Indeed, recent studies have suggested that crafting related to studies is associated with higher well-being.

In our study we aimed to investigate if study crafting is associated with students’ well-being in Finland among both open and degree students. We examined well-being using study engagement and burnout as two of its indicators. Study engagementis about having energy, being dedicated, and experiencing absorption while studying. Study burnout, in turn, refers to a loss of motivation and cynicism, exhaustion due to study demands, and feelings of inadequacy as a student. Research has shown that resources related to studies are needed for promoting engagement, whereas excessive demands are associated with burnout symptoms. Thus, crafting behaviours could be of help when trying to balance resources and demands optimally for oneself.

Study crafting supports students’ wellbeing

We analysed data from 261 open university and degree students participating in two online courses in 2020 and 2022 at the University of Helsinki. Most participants identified as female (82%). Overall, students reported good opportunities for study crafting, along with relatively high engagement levels and low burnout rates. Open university and degree students did not differ in how much they engaged in study crafting, nor were there differences between the two time points (pre and post-Covid outbreak).

As regards our main finding, the more students adapted their studies in all four aspects of crafting mentioned earlier, the higher study engagement they experienced. Increasing structural resources and decreasing hindering demands also seemed to help against burnout symptoms. However, increasing social resources and increasing challenging demands did not appear as effective tools for reducing burnout in our data.

Let´s support crafting, not just expect it

Our findings from the Finnish context echo the message of recent international studies: we should better acknowledge the fit between students and their studies. However, study crafting should not be yet another expectation laid on the shoulders of students. As argued by Samuli Hietala in his Nyyti blog post (2.5.2024), students’ ill-being is not just an individual-level, but also a system-level problem. This needs to be remembered also when interpreting our findings. It is plausible that students who already feel better have more energy to actively craft their studies. Independent crafting cannot be expected, if even following the basic curriculum is a daily struggle.

This brings us to the varying opportunities for study crafting. Promoting autonomy has become characteristic of the Finnish education system, but this trend does not fit the needs of all students. Moreover, demands for fast graduation may undermine students’ autonomy even when they would have the skills and energy for crafting. Finally, it is noteworthy that the items tapping students’ seeking for peer support did not work in our data as one dimension of study crafting. It is possible that the participants did not perceive their peers as a potential source for feedback, or that their curriculum or the surrounding academic culture did not encourage such crafting behaviour. Student communities can offer much needed sense of belonging and counteract the harmful effects of loneliness (see also Nyyti blogs 20.11.2023 by Lindberg, and 20.9.2023 by Rutanen & Tuuttila). Thus, more research is needed on the way social interaction is currently experienced and utilized in higher education.

In the meanwhile, we believe that teachers in higher education can play a crucial role. Our findings add to the growing research evidence that we should provide students with opportunities and examples for study crafting. This way we can help them achieve their goals, build on their strengths, and feel well in their studies.

Key references:

Tims, M., Bakker, A. B., & Derks, D. (2012). Development and validation of the job crafting scale. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80(1), 173-186.

Körner, L. S., Mülder, L. M., Bruno, L., Janneck, M., Dettmers, J., & Rigotti, T. (2022). Fostering study crafting to increase engagement and reduce exhaustion among higher education students: A randomized controlled trial of the STUDYCoach online intervention. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being.

Tuuli Anna Renvik ja Florencia Sortheix

Tuuli Anna Renvik works as a Chief Specialist at the Urban Research and Statistics Unit, City of Helsinki. At the time of data collection, she was a University Lecturer in Social Psychology, University of Helsinki. Florencia Sortheix works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Education, University of Helsinki, and her research conducted as part of the FLUX consortium is funded by the Academy of Finland.