How to Tell You're Being Undervalued At Work — And What To Do About It
This is what to look out for, and how to not end up in the same situation in a different place.
Determining value is a slippery concept. Often there’s a number involved, but mostly it’s a gut feel of, Is this worth it? We do it with products, experiences, and also ourselves. Most particularly, we do it at work, coming to the conclusion that we’re not being valued enough.
Money is the obvious source. It’s a sign of respect and it’s a necessity to pay our bills. But if we have financial security, feeling respected and having bosses who are not only supportive but who mean what they say, top the list by far, according to research.
When that stuff isn’t there, the place becomes toxic and we’re ready to say, “See ya,” and for good reason. We want to feel like we’re not just performing a repetitive act, but that we’re contributing something that no one else can.
“It’s brain power. It’s intellectual property. It’s, “I make this better,’” says Mark S. Babbitt, president of WorqIQ and co-author of Good Comes First.
That all might be true, and with jobs available, it’s easy to decide to go, but that shouldn’t always be the go-to first move. You want to make sure you’re really being undervalued. That means interpreting the signs correctly, doing some personal inventory and figuring out how to not end up in the same situation in a different place.
It starts though with picking up the signs.
Sign You Are Not Valued At Work #1: You’re Being Ignored
There’s no eye contact. Maybe people stop talking when you enter the room. But it’s also about how your ideas are being treated. You don’t expect everything you propose to be adopted, but you at least want consideration. And you get nothing, or, even worse, the “Thanks for sharing” blow-off. It stings and it’s not hard to tell it’s happening.
“You know when you’re being belittled,” says Ann Whittaker, a strategic adviser and strategist to startup companies.
Sign You Are Not Valued At Work #2: There’s No Back and Forth
A good leader knows that they don’t have all the answers. But if instead of an exchange, be it in person or email, you only receive rebuffs and the implicit message of just do what the boss says, a huge piece is missing from the relationship.
“If they’re not learning from you, then you’re not going to want to learn from them, so what the frick?” Whittaker says.
Sign You Are Not Valued At Work #3: It’s Suddenly Cold
You had a good relationship with your manager, but now there’s distance. You get no feedback and two-word replies, if that. It’s as if you’re faceless and interchangeable and no one likes the feeling of interaction by algorithm.
“Auto-responses aren’t gratifying,” Babbitt says.
Sign You Are Not Valued At Work #4: You’re Not Being Appreciated
It’s small stuff that has a big effect. You’re not hearing, “Thank you” or “Good job,” especially for stuff that took a decent amount of effort. It’s the reverse from the pandemic when everyone was supporting each other for getting the job done well in makeshift conditions. Now it’s, “Get back to the office.”
“That hard work I’ve been doing for the last two years doesn’t matter anymore,” Babbitt says. “It leads to a feeling of distrust.”
Sign You Are Not Valued At Work #5: You’re Not Growing
Your work has started to feel repetitive because there’s no novelty. You’re not being pushed or being asked to do something a little out of your reach. It can tie into feeling that your boss is disengaged and can cause your eyes to wander.
“If the scale of the work isn’t changing and the work itself isn’t changing, you have a pretty stagnant employee,” Babbitt says.
What to Do When You’re Being Undervalued At Work
You read the above and nod your head. So, what’s the move? Here’s what helps.
1. Talk To An Outsider
It could be a friend, mentor, or former colleague. It could even be a current colleague who you trust will be discreet. It’s just someone who knows you and the scene and can say that you’re being too sensitive or that the place is in fact a cesspool. It’s also a person who gets you to see what is, not what you want things to be, and they’ll make sure “your own crap isn’t getting in the way,” Whittaker says.
2. Have The Conversation
You ultimately have to own what’s going on, and that means bringing up the issue. If the relationship with your boss has gone cold, set up a time and say, “It feels like something has changed and I miss it.” Keep it personal at first, but eventually transition into being more business-minded, mentioning how you want things to be better so the company can do better, Babbitt says.
The approach keeps things from being a bitch fest, and you might learn the distance you’re feeling isn’t personal. It’s just that the boss is busier. If they care, they’ll want to fix it. If they don’t, well, you have your answer. But you can’t assume, “Oh they know,” he says, because, “Oh, no they don’t.”
3. Look At Yourself
Before you do anything definitive, you need to take a hard look at yourself, and ask, “Do I usually have a beef with bosses or feel undervalued?” You’re looking for a pattern, and if you find one, you need to figure out why it happens and then figure out new coping strategies, which involve more than just shutting down, stewing and playing the victim.
“You can go somewhere else but you’ll do it again and again,” Whittaker says.
4. Make A List
Maybe you started the job with certain expectation and needs. Write down what they currently are. It could be flexible hours, growth possibilities, more meaningful work. Whatever you put down, you can see if your current place still lines up or that it’s time to move on, and if you do, your have a guide to refer back to.
“Make sure your new employer does these things or you’re stepping into a pile of you know what,” Babbitt says.
And if you’re looking …
5. Talk To The Right People
You might have successful contacts who you would never work with, so don’t bother tapping into their networks. Think about the kind of people you want to be around, which is more than a shared industry or skill set. If feeling valued is essential, it’s about finding colleagues who have the same attitudes on how to go about work and treating others.
“It’s like-hearted people, not just like minded,” Whittaker says.