It's almost 5 pm, and you see your boss walking to your desk. Maybe you've already tidied up your work area, and even turned off the computer. But you cringe and start sweating because you know you're going to have to stay late. Again.
It seems your boss waits until the end of your shift to start giving you more tasks that "should be done immediately". And it's not like you've been all day doing nothing. You're up to your eyeballs with things to do, which is ok, you think. Having a good sized workload means job stability, and lots of learning opportunities. But when things like this happen, you can't help but feel undervalued and unappreciated.
Today's working environment has changed from how it was 10 years ago. Things move at high speed nowadays, there are tighter deadlines, hundreds of emails to read and respond every day, clients and bosses are more demanding than ever. The competition in the workplace is tough, and not always the best qualified worker is the one who gets to climb one step up the corporate ladder.
You're not alone, especially if you're a woman. Studies have shown that almost half of the American workforce feel undervalued. And more than 50% of the employed women manifested they don't receive an adequate monetary compensation, or more important assignments according to their knowledge and experience
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to boost your self-esteem as a worker and increase the perception of your own value as an employee, in case you've been, or currently are, in a similar situation:
- Create a “feel good” file: every time you receive a positive email about an issue that you solved, whether from a client or from a coworker, save it in a special file called “feel good” file, or something similar. Gather all those positive notes, chats and social media comments in that special file. Every time you need a boost of confidence, open your file and read some of the kudos you've received. Start a chain reaction by sending a group email praising one of your colleagues for a job well done. They'll most likely return the favor when the time comes.
- Assess the situation: Find out what's exactly making you feel unhappy, and discuss it with your boss. Maybe having a little more flexibility in your schedule, working from home one day a week, or having more support from management or other coworkers would make the difference you're searching for. After you've identified the issue, set up an appointment with your supervisor or boss, and discuss the possibility of making these changes.
- Don't be afraid to speak up: people who are more outgoing and direct are perceived in a better way by their superiors than their more timid and quieter colleagues. Claim your credit when it's due, give your ideas in meetings, print out some of the emails and positive messages in your "feel good" file and show them to your boss, ask your supervisor for feedback on your work. This will help your very busy boss to notice how valuable of an asset you are for the firm.
- Set your own boundaries: sometimes the only way to fix things is by setting your own boundaries. If your boss continuously shows up at your desk at 5 pm with a foot-long list of things to complete "before you leave", first of all, don't jump into conclusions and think your boss is doing this on purpose. Say that it's almost the end of your shift, and ask nicely if those new tasks can wait until the next day (maybe they didn't even notice it was already the end of your shift). Remind your boss about the other projects or tasks you're currently working on, and ask for a clear deadline for those new tasks. Or, ask if it's ok for you to manage your own workload depending on the different deadlines you have to meet. Be clear about what's expected from you. Then, show up and do the work no matter what.
- Set boundaries for yourself: taking care of yourself must be on top of your priorities. You'll perform better if you stay hydrated, take your restroom breaks, and get away from the computer to have lunch. When your boss and coworkers see you sitting at your desk at lunch hour, there's no way for them to know you have never taken your lunch break since you started working there; they'll assume you already had your break, and you'll feel resentful if they approach you during this time. Do not skip lunch; at least get out of the office, go to a lounge room or a nearby cafe to read a magazine, a book, or your favorite blog. Don't answer work emails or calls during your day off, if possible. Try to unplug during the weekend and spend that time with your family, or simply recharge your energy. A work-life balance is a nonnegotiable component of a person's happiness.
It's hard to keep in mind that bosses don't rejoice about making their employees work longer hours. They (in most cases) actually want to be better bosses, motivate their collaborators, and provide a good work environment. Sometimes all they need is just a little input from your part. Put yourself in their position, don't make assumptions, and keep in mind how valuable you are for your corporation. And, if all else fails, just remember you have options. There's no such thing as "the perfect workplace", but there's an ideal place where you'll feel appreciated and valued as an individual, where you can thrive, learn and grow. And maybe you're already there.