Have you ever been in a position at work where you thought to yourself, what am I even doing here? No one seems to care what I think or what I’m contributing. No one seems to notice anything that I do unless there is a ball that I have dropped. No one is sharing all of the information with me therefor I can’t possibly make the right decisions. I am called out for the smallest of missteps while others are given the benefit of the doubt. I could probably just walk out the front door and no one would even notice it happened until all of the work I have done would come to a screeching halt. Yeah one of those types of jobs where you feel like your manager is either micromanaging you or ignoring you all together (some times they seem to have the uncanny ability to do both). Have you ever felt that?
While I’m sure many have experienced this exact thing there are others who don’t know it yet. For you I’ll explain, it is frustrating and demoralizing. You find yourself noticing every transgression and highlighting every slight from those above you. You question the structure, is this just my manager or is this the way the organization is run? You’re sure that not all of this can be real, some of it must be you being too sensitive or exaggerating it. This is of little comfort because it really just adds your mental instability to the mix. It hurts and it is exhausting. If you’re like me and have too much passion within you for making a difference, you can’t just let that slide. Falling into cynicism isn’t an option for you.
When I have experienced this it has been suffocating. This is partially because I invest so much into work, if I am not feeling like the investment is mutual it is really difficult for me to live with that. For me, the most difficult thing was that I was no longer allowed in the room. I had always been encouraged to be part of the meeting, ask questions, make comments, influence decisions, be a part of the process and the strategy. Then there was sudden change in the organization and when things change people hold tight to what they can control. That meant that certain people needed to hold onto what they had dominion over and what the narrative would be. For that reason I started losing my invitation, when I was in the meeting I was told to only listen or was talked over, I was no longer asked for my thoughts on the strategy. I started getting increasingly frustrated and disheartened with the culture and to be honest I started spiraling a little.
In what I thought was an effort to improve the situation, which was really a disguised effort to find a new place in the organization, I started grasping at straws. Over the course of about six months, I proposed a new initiative and suggested partnering with someone who was very respected to champion and guide while I could take the lead to actually drive it. No. I requested to be part of a group being formed to improve overall communication. No. I asked to go to classes and take webinars. No. I gave some feedback on the trajectory of the department strategy. I was told to focus on my individual work. I updated my manager of some things my team was working on. I was told to run team initiatives by him first for approval. (Like I said, frustrating, demoralizing, and suffocating.) I was told I was doing well but needed to stay in my lane.
I got to a point that I thought I’d never get to; I asked for more money. Now, I’m a pragmatic, organized, logical person. I did not just march into someone’s office and demand money because I was getting a “no” everywhere else. After discussions, research, and understanding that predated all of the “what am I doing here” thoughts, I had a firm case to request a raise. I had taken on added responsibility with my position and done well with it for about a year. I had objective proof that my leadership of the group was improving the unit and the department as a whole. The thing was I’d been so fulfilled by the work previously that I didn’t need it or even want money for it. The fact that I asked for money may have seemed completely logical for another person in my shoes but for me it was very telling of my mental state in that job. I had personally gotten to the point that I was looking to money to motivate me.
Once I put it together that I was only asking for money because I wasn’t feeling valued in any other capacity I wanted to get to the root of it. What would make me feel valued? If asking for a bigger paycheck (justified as it may be) felt like rock bottom, what was I missing that I had before that kept me above this place? I started listing things out, reading books, and asking others.
What makes you feel like a valued part of the organization?
I came up with a hierarchy of sorts (picture the food pyramid) to help me better understand where I was at and why. At the bottom was the absolute lowest level of how a company shows they value you as an employee, they pay you. Just up from pay is your title and status. Smack dab in the middle you have development. Just above that is true autonomy. Finally you have influence at the top which can be broken into three parts, influencing down to the team, across your peers, and finally up to those above you in the organization.
Figuring out this hierarchy was so liberating for me. I wanted to share it with everyone once I saw how much understanding where I was personally helped me to take back control over my career and my feeling of worth in the organization. Over the coming weeks we’ll dive deeper into each of these levels of the hierarchy starting from the bottom. We’ll cover what it looks like to feel valued or not at each level and how you can impact your situation in each level.