Feeling undervalued is often the root cause of discontent at work.
But before you investigate exactly why you feel that way, or think about possible solutions, it’s important to really think about what value means to you, because it can mean something very different to different people, said career coach Jasmine Escalera.
A lack of advancement can be a big factor in feeling undervalued, but it can also be tied to interpersonal feelings, like resentment that your boss doesn’t respect or thank you. “It can be unique to the person,” Escalara said. “I’ve had some clients who have said, ‘Value to me is my supervisor or my manager giving me affirmations, telling me that the work that I’m contributing and putting in is actually contributing to something.’”
There can be a wide range of telltale warning signs that you are being undervalued at your job — and sometimes they aren’t immediately obvious.
“It takes high emotional intelligence and political savviness to notice the early warnings signs that you’re being undervalued at work, because they tend to be subtle at first,” said Anyelis Cordero, founder of Propel on Purpose Coaching, a career coaching service designed for first-generation professionals.
Here are some of the main ones, according to career experts:
1. You feel invisible in meetings because no one takes your opinion seriously.
One early sign occurs when your perspective is dismissed or overshadowed by the opinions of others in team meetings, Cordero said.
If it becomes a pattern for colleagues to discount your thoughts or to pass off your idea as their own in meetings, the basic message being communicated to you is “You didn’t say anything valuable,” said Mary Abbajay, president of leadership development consultancy Careerstone Group and author of “Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss.”
Abbajay said if your ideas keep getting ignored in meetings, you should first consider if you are communicating the content of your messages clearly. But if you know you are stating your ideas effectively, ask your colleagues follow-up questions to suss out what exactly is the problem with your ideas being recognized, she recommended.
Questions like “Can you help me understand where my thinking went wrong?” can help you gather more information, because it won’t prompt people to view it as an attack and become defensive, Abbajay said.
2. You’re totally checked out with your job.
Feeling disengaged is too often a symptom of being undervalued.
“It’s a neuropsychological need: People want to feel connected, they want to feel valued, they want to feel heard,” Abbajay said. “When we take those things away from people, they become disengaged employees.”
If you feel totally checked out at work, it’s a sign to reflect on whether that stems from feeling unappreciated, she said.
3. You are the go-to person for office work, but not for assignments that will actually get you promoted.
If you keep getting saddled with thankless office tasks that aren’t your job, such as making coffee and taking notes, that’s a troubling sign you are being underutilized and undervalued.
“If you are getting the bad, the boring, the drudge work, the sort of projects or assignments that aren’t challenging, while you see other people get more exciting assignments, that’s a big sign that you may be undervalued,” Abbajay said.
Although all these non-promotable office tasks may be necessary to keep a team running, they should not be falling entirely on you. “Organizations need things done, but just because they need things done doesn’t mean it needs to be you specifically to do them,” Escalera said.
Before you agree to take notes for the 10th time, think strategically about where your main priorities lie. “Every ‘yes’ you have comes with an implicit ‘no’ to something else,” Lise Vesterlund, an economics professor at the University of Pittsburgh, previously told HuffPost. “At some point, if you are doing tasks at work that are sort of beneath the level that you are trained to do work at, then your job is not going to be very satisfying.”
Another way to counteract being stuck with thankless tasks is to figure out what matters to those who matter, so that you can align your job responsibilities with those that can help you get promoted, said Gorick Ng, a career adviser at Harvard University and the author of “The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right.”
“Occupy an unoccupied ‘swim lane,’” he suggested. “What goals are the higher-ups trying to reach, and that you can help reach for them? What pains are the higher-ups trying to alleviate and that you can address for them? Then, approach them with a ‘I noticed X. You may have already thought about this, but two options are A and B. Is anyone already working on this? If not, could I help?’”
If you do speak up about wanting more stretch assignments and nothing changes, that could be a reason to look elsewhere, Abbajay said. “For whatever reason, they have potentially concocted this perception of you that you are not a strong player. Breaking those perceptions can be really hard. It might not even be worth your time,” she said.
4. You’re being micromanaged.
“In some cases, if you don’t have any autonomy, if you’re constantly being micromanaged, I think that’s a big sign that you’re undervalued,” Abbajay said. “They don’t think enough of you to let you actually have any autonomy.”
If you have a boss who monitors you instead of managing you, try suggesting a new way of reporting to them as a short-term experiment. Framing your idea as an experiment makes it more likely that they will agree to it.
Try suggesting it like, “‘Hey, I know you really care about this deadline. Checking in this often is taking away my focus on the project, which is not going to help me hit this deadline. Maybe instead we can ... ’” Lara Hogan, author of “Resilient Management,” previously told HuffPost.
5. You are doing a great job, yet you’re underpaid.
How much you are paid is critical indicator of whether you are being valued for your contributions. If you’re given positive feedback and accolades, but your performance reviews and pay raises don’t match, that could be a sign that you’re undervalued, Cordero said.
“Essentially, we work for pay. That’s what a job is,” Escalera said. “I always think that money should be your top value when it comes to your career. Your career is the vehicle for your life. It is providing the monetary capabilities for you to live the way you want to live.”
“Being undervalued has a real dollar implication. If you’re undervalued, you’re likely underdeveloped and underpaid.”
Being undervalued may not feel like a big deal in the moment, but over time, it increases the likelihood that you are going to be underpaid in the future, Ng said. “Your salary today becomes your ‘floor’ for negotiating your salary tomorrow. It’s easier to negotiate a $65,000 salary in your next job if your current salary is $60,000 than if your current salary is $50,000,” he said.
If you strongly suspect you are in need of a raise or a promotion into a better salary, gather data on what the salary range for your role is with salary-sharing tools like Glassdoor and by asking trusted co-workers. Once you’re armed with data, go to your supervisor. Ng said you can say something such as “‘When I compare my scope of responsibilities to our company’s own job postings, it is really at the level of a chief of staff rather than as an administrative assistant. What would it take for us to rethink my title?’”
Sound familiar? Here’s what to do.
Ultimately, if any of these signs resonate with you, it’s a signal that you should talk to your supervisor about it. Don’t just accept the status quo of feeling like your potential is being wasted.
“Instead of sulking or complaining about it, like so many do, take action,” Cordero said. “Remember that you have to own your career and growth! You owe it to your mental health to advocate for yourself.“
And if that’s not enough to spur you into action, think of the money you could be losing out on by staying at a job that undervalues you.
“Being undervalued has a real dollar implication. If you’re undervalued, you’re likely underdeveloped and underpaid,” Cordero said. “Would you rather keep avoiding an uncomfortable conversation or keep making less money? Most of us can’t afford to not advocate for ourselves.”