What To Do When You Feel Unseen at Work
Ever felt like you’re not valued at work? Maybe you’ve been passed up for a promotion for the third time, or the exceptional work you’ve done this quarter went unnoticed. Maybe you’re an expert in your field but your expertise isn’t taken seriously.
When we start to feel like our work doesn’t matter, we begin to think we don’t matter. Pretty soon, we might think to ourselves, “Why bother?” And that’s a big problem. Unsurprisingly, feeling underappreciated is one of the leading reasons people quit their jobs.
If you’ve ever experienced something similar, you understand how much of a drag it can be—and you’re definitely not alone. A Gallup poll found that 65% of American workers felt unappreciated in their jobs. Employers are beginning to take this issue seriously because they know that people will only put up with it for so long before they (justifiably) jump ship.
So, let’s talk about what you can do if you start feeling like you’re invisible at work.
Feeling unseen at work
Another way that we might feel undervalued or unappreciated, which is perhaps not as cut and dry as the examples above, is when we can’t really pin down where we fit within our organization. We might feel lost, directionless, like our role adds little to no value to the company.
It’s a common problem for those of us working in complex, fragmented organizations, where our role and the meaning we derive from it remains an existential conundrum. Often, the best way to emphasize your value to the team and organization is to “manage up”. This means repeatedly communicating to your manager the ways in which you’re achieving or exceeding performance goals.
Here are a few things you can do to highlight your contributions and value:
- Send your manager a weekly email that summarizes what you achieved that week. Present these achievements in a way that draws attention to KPIs and explains how you’ve met them and why they matter.
- Share any exciting achievements/updates on your projects. Did you fix an important bug or discover a solution that was blocking progress? That’s exciting and worth sharing. It also demonstrates that you’re excited to solve problems and overcome challenges.
- If you have a weekly team/project meeting already happening, suggest adding time for each person to share their most exciting win and learning from the past week. Giving team members a chance to call out wins encourages an atmosphere in which celebration is part of the process. It normalizes a culture of recognition.
- Make sure you are celebrating others as well. What goes around comes around, right? Once you get into the habit of celebrating the rest of your team, you’ll begin to notice when they do the same for you—and so will your manager.
- Share your development plan with your team so that people can speak up when you’re making progress. This gives colleagues the go-ahead to celebrate each other’s success when they notice progress that managers might overlook. It’s another great way to make celebration and recognition the norm.
The value of employee recognition
If you’re having trouble connecting your goals and objectives to those of your employer, chances are that may not be on you. (Hey managers, this section’s for you!)
The truth is, large organizations often don’t do a very good job of recognizing individual employees. Your contributions might be impressive and valuable, but they still go under the radar. Top performers may routinely make waves within their team or department, but rarely do their achievements receive the recognition they deserve.
And that’s a huge missed opportunity because employee recognition is one of the best low-cost, high-impact things an organization can do to boost engagement and increase retention. According to Gallup, “recognition not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention.”
According to a 2016 survey, there’s a strong correlation between satisfied employees and recognition for their work. In fact, 83% of employees who worked for a company with a recognition program stated that they were content with their jobs.
Although monetary reward ranked as the first place stimulus, many employees valued alternatives such as:
- In-person recognition from a manager or a peer
- A company or team-wide email recognizing the individual
- A title promotion
- A raise or other type of monetary bonus
- Extra vacation days
Another way to go about this is to simply contextualize an individual’s achievements or performance within the overall objectives of the organization. Did someone deliver on a last-minute product update? Explain how that extra effort helped deliver the product on time to customers, or how their perseverance encapsulated one of the organization’s core values.
Too often we think of employee recognition as an “attaboy”, a low effort pat on the back. But really, it’s about making the connection between individual effort and organizational success. Once that connection is made, employees can see how their work is paying off, how they fit in, and how they’re creating value for the organization. Plus, it feels good to receive positive feedback.
If you feel unseen or underappreciated in your role, it’s probably not your fault. My advice is to stay positive, find ways to reiterate your value, and play a small role in normalizing a culture of recognition. The same goes for employers. Reach out to your people and let them know when they’re doing good work. It’s good for them, for you, and for the health of your organization.