Unhappy at work? Effective responses to a common problem

Feeling undervalued in the workplace? Here's what to do. Photo: dma/StockFreeImages

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2013 - Millions of Americans complain about being unsatisfied at work. In fact, according to a recent Gallup study, out of 100 million full-time employees in this country, only 30% are happy with their jobs. Additionally, 20% of full-time workers feel that they are “actively disengaged” from their work and even hate their jobs. The remaining 50% of American full-time-workers are likewise uninspired, and are, according to Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton, just “kind of present.”

Employee dissatisfaction frequently stems from feeling undervalued and underappreciated. It is the feeling that, despite your hard work and persistence, your job efforts are not adequately appreciated. This feeling can either be “intrinsic” or “extrinsic,” derived from employees’ personal insecurities or the environment in which they work.


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For example, if an employee rightfully believes that there is limited room for professional growth at her current job or that she is overqualified for her current job, she is experiencing an “extrinsic” case of under-appreciation, in which her feelings directly relate to the circumstances of her working environment.

Alternatively, when an employee feels undervalued, though the rest of co-workers do not, he is experiencing an “intrinsic” case of under appreciation, in which his feelings may be the result of his own personal conclusions.

Whether the cause is intrinsic or extrinsic, feeling undervalued is an untenable state of being. As Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of the article, “The Only Thing that Really Matters,” concludes that “To feel valued (and valuable) it is almost as compelling a need as food. The more our value feels at risk, the more preoccupied we become with defending and restoring it, and the less value we’re capable of creating in the world.”

However, the 70 million Americans who have given up on their jobs should remain hopeful and muster the strength to actively work out their frustration. If an employee feels undervalued, it is important that he accurately identify the source of his feeling so that he can employ the right tactics to remedy the situation. To do so, an employee must do a pulse check, taking a moment to evaluate whether his coworkers harbor similar feelings.


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If the employee finds that he singularly feels dissatisfied, he must then look inside himself to fix this intrinsic insecurity. First, the employee should work on taking ownership of his own feelings and then try to articulate them in objective terms. If the employee can effectively communicate his personal concerns, a supervisor or manager can offer assistance by assigning the employee tasks that are visible to others, provide him with positive reinforcement (i.e., compliments), or possibly assign the employee more difficult tasks which demonstrate that his supervisor believes he is ready for more challenging work.

For extrinsic cases in which an employee is feeling underappreciated, there are measures that can be taken from both the employer’s and the employee’s standpoints. Typically, companies that incentivize their employees with career advancement opportunities and the promise of greater responsibilities demonstrate that they do, in fact, value their employees, reducing the potential for extrinsic cases of feeling undervalued.

Career advancement and greater job responsibilities improve employees’ productivity levels by keeping them consistently engaged. Alternatively, when employees feel that they are unable to advance in their careers, they lose focus, motivation and interest. As a result they become unproductive and dissatisfied.

Employees who feel that their environment undervalues them should schedule a meeting with their supervisors to discuss the situation. However, it is crucial that the content of the conversation is constructive instead of destructive, and that the employee avoid casting blame during the discussion.

These conversations are most effective when employees speak from an individual standpoint using objective and behavioral terms, while also standing firm. Here’s an effective example: “Yesterday, after I spent the entire day and night finishing my report that the client was very happy with, you said to me, ‘can you get this office cleaned up,’ rather than appreciating my effort on the report.”  Keep in mind that failure to speak using objective terms and level emotions runs the risk of putting the supervisor in a defensive position. 

Moreover, the employee can start this conversation by inquiring about the ways in which he can improve his performance and then slowly delve into his personal dissatisfaction as in the above example. As long as employees do not directly blame their bosses for the way they feel, there is a good chance that the outcome of the meeting will result in positive changes in the work environment.

The key to managing any successful career is communicating your job-related needs and maintaining a productive dialogue with senior level management. Not only will these types of conversations help you to re-engage with your job. More importantly, they will communicate to your employer that you are invested in making your job work. In turn, your employer will see how valuable you are to the company and will work to make the appropriate changes.

On rare occasions, your supervisor or manager may remain inflexible. If so, you may not be the right fit for your company’s culture. However, your ability to navigate through your career challenges is crucial to both remaining satisfied at work and advancing your career.

 


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Cassi Fields

Dr. Cassi Fields has provided expert opinion on career and workplace issues for nationally recognized media outlets including Forbes, TheStreet TV, MSNBC.com, FOX News Live, US News & World Report, Recruiter.com, WUSA9, News Channel 8, HR.com, and more. Dr. Fields, who received her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from George Washington University, lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.

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