Day in and day out, as you look around your office, you see people whose careers are advancing. Even new hires move ahead. But not you. There you are, stuck in workplace limbo. And yet you feel like you do all the work. Or at least more of the work than most people.
Is it just your bad luck, or is there something else going on? You know you do a good job. And yet others are getting all the credit for doing less — at least as far as you can see. So what do they know that you don’t?
Our old friend perspective
In a recent post that discusses deciding whether to stay or go, I talk about perspective. In that case, it’s about taking a look at our entire job with new lenses. Lenses not colored by the heavy weights that going through a rough period can add to parts of the whole.
But perspective also applies when we’re comparing our own efforts with those of people we work with. And it applies when thinking about what a company truly values and rewards.
From our own perspective, we see what we’re doing. And we measure the value of the parts we contribute based on our understanding of what the “whole” picture is. But what if our perspective needs widening?
What I’m not saying about perspective
If you feel like you do all the work, I’m not saying that you are delusional. Or that the work you’re doing isn’t good quality. And I certainly believe that you’re working hard. What you’re feeling has solid roots in the truth.
But that said, working hard is not always the thing that bosses value most. Of course, they don’t want you goofing off. And you have to get your workload done. But as you’ve noticed, in most places that’s not the key to getting ahead.
Your hard work has value. But people who get ahead also work hard. The thing we have to define much more clearly is “work”. What exactly gets things accomplished in a work environment? And what kinds of work get rewarded?
The story of Stephen H. and Mary R.
Stephen H. was seething at his desk. He and Mary work for a company that handles sales orders for several online fashion companies. Stephen just heard that Mary got a promotion — the one he wanted.
Yet he knew that on many days he handles many more online requests than she does. And he works longer hours, often taking on problem calls that require more time and effort.
His boss knows he’s the best at doing that! So why did Mary get promoted to “his” job? He got up and went to his boss’s office to let off some steam.
What his boss told him
“So you feel like you do all the work, Stephen?” His boss wasn’t angry. He just wanted to do his best to explain the bigger picture to Stephen. “I can understand your feelings about not getting the promotion. But you don’t see the other things Mary does.
The promotion Mary got is a managerial position. Mary does process less online requests than you on some days. You’re right. But she also meets with clients, sometimes after work at their offices, to help solve problems and cement the relationships.
And she’s found solutions to problems we hadn’t even recognized yet. Things she learned from our clients. She also figured out ways to improve some of our critical internal processes, without being asked to take that on.”
There’s more to the story, but the main points are these:
- You don’t always get the whole picture from your perspective alone.
- Mary was taking on higher level responsibilities, while still handling her regular work.
- Stephen was doing what was required of him — and doing it well. But that just makes him a good employee — not necessarily one who gets to move up to a management position.
What Stephen could have been doing
Beyond his job description, an employee who wants to get ahead has to show qualities and traits that point to future positions. Just doing your job well — and that has to be part of the formula — won’t get you seen as management material. It will simply get you seen as a good worker.
If you feel like you do all the work, you may not be seeing what the “work” really is. For the most part, we are judged in our jobs on more than just completing tasks. Things like attitude and how we are perceived by our coworkers play a big role.
And so does going beyond just the things listed in your job description. Even though you need to do those well, companies reward people who contribute in ways that feed the bigger picture.
Feel like you do all the work? What to do.
- First, Stephen needs to be seen as someone not solely associated with the limited scope of his required duties. Simply being really good at one thing can often keep you there longer.
- Even from where he is, he should look for ways to improve processes or increase business.
- He should also make it a habit to have regular chats with his boss. And use these times to offer ideas or simply get a feel for what’s going on outside of his area.
- And he should be better at internal networking, where he builds support from those around him.
- He’s so focused on the tasks, he misses chances to help others and simply keep his ears open for opportunities to take on higher-level assignments.
- Finally, he needs to learn the fine art of self-promotion, where you mention any innovative things you’ve accomplished without bragging about them.
Mary, by the way, was good at all of that. In fact, it was through some of her internal networking that she heard about the chance to work with clients. And she wasn’t too shy to talk to her boss about taking that on!
A few more thoughts
Of course, there are situations where you are doing all you can and still get passed over for a promotion. Even though you’ve suggested things and are seen as a person with a good attitude.
In the end, it’s usually about the relationships you build in the workplace. And how you are perceived by your boss and coworkers. And that is something you can help change for yourself. Even if it takes time.
Do they see you as someone who already fits the next set of shoes? If not, think about what you can do on a daily basis to help them see that person a lot more clearly.
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