Tasks are legitimate when they conform to norms about what can reasonably be expected from a given person, while they are illegitimate if they violate such norms. Illegitimate tasks are conceived as offensive to one’s professional identity. Existing research mainly focuses on the negative impacts of illegitimate tasks or the negative coping strategies taken by employees. However, employees are not only the passive recipient of work tasks, but also can proactively change their tasks to maintain self-esteem and positive image.
Therefore, this study introduces the concept of task crafting, defined as the active role that an employee plays in altering the boundaries of his/her job and shaping actual work practice. From the perspective of task crafting, employees can actively seek opportunities to design their tasks to satisfy their own needs, rather than accepting assigned work passively. By crafting tasks, employees can gain a sense of work meaning and identity. Drawing on the job-crafting perspective, this article analyzes employees’ active coping strategy (i.e., task crafting) towards illegitimate tasks.
Based on the core ideas of the Social Comparison Theory, this study proposes relevant assumptions. There are three main aspects of the Social Comparison Theory: (1) Individuals will compare their own opinions, abilities, received treatment (comparisons) with relevant standards or others (references); (2) When individuals perceive their self-evaluation deviates from references, they will take measures to reduce the discrepancy; (3) In the process of making changes, individuals will experience some resistance and thrust. Accordingly, this study proposes three hypotheses. First, illegitimate tasks positively affect task crafting. People usually desire a positive sense of self in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. When illegitimate tasks are perceived, an employee’s positive self-image is hampered. In order to meet their needs for a positive self-image, individuals will craft their tasks to reduce the discrepancy between their tasks and the range of their roles. Second, justice sensitivity strengthens the positive relationship between illegitimate tasks and task crafting. Justice sensitivity concerns how people react to unfair treatment. Employees with high justice sensitivity may be more likely to be troubled by and react more strongly to unfairness, thereby having greater incentive to craft their tasks. Third, there is a three-way interaction between illegitimate tasks, justice sensitivity and growth need strength. Individuals with high justice sensitivity are more sensitive to differences between illegitimate tasks and the range of their roles. When perceiving differences, individuals’ motivations to change the status quo vary. Growth need strength will reinforce the motivation to make changes, because individuals with stronger growth need strength tend to be more active in seeking opportunities and even creating opportunities to make changes. So, this trait makes individuals more likely to craft tasks when facing illegitimate tasks.
This study makes the following contributions: First, it expands the studies of illegitimate tasks. Next, by considering individuals’ active coping strategy in dealing with illegitimate tasks, this study enriches the literature on the outcomes of illegitimate tasks. In addition, previous studies on task crafting mainly focus on factors that strengthen individuals’ motivations, while this study explores factors that stimulate their motivations, thereby filling the research gap.