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Suzanne Powell
Suzanne Powell

CEO and Founder of Simple Business Transformation

What to do when you feel undervalued at work


You’re doing a great job. You assume your manager has noticed and you will get that pay rise/promotion/recognition or even a thank you. But they aren’t noticing and the pay rise/promotion/recognition or thank you isn’t forthcoming. You don’t want to lose heart but it’s just not happening and you either feel uncomfortable blowing your own trumpet or you’re not even getting the chance to. Basically you’re feeling undervalued at work so if you want to take charge of your career then carry on reading.

Does your perception of reality match your manager’s perception of reality?

Firstly, before you can make any plans to accelerate your career you need to understand whether your perception of your behaviour and abilities is the same as other people’s perception of you.

The best way to do that is via 360 degree feedback from the people whose opinions count. Choose a selection of people including, your manager, some colleagues and some of your team and create a survey. You can sign up to Survey Monkey https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/mp/360-employee-feedback-survey-example/ for free.

Once you have your feedback you will have an idea of your strengths as well as your areas for development and you can address the problem you’re facing. Let’s look at the most common scenarios people find themselves in when they feel undervalued.

1. You keep being passed over for promotion, or you have acted up into a role, and they have brought someone else in to do the job permanently.

This is the biggest slap in the face isn’t it? You were good enough when they wanted you to look after the role for 6 months but not good enough to do the job permanently. Why? Did they even know you wanted the role or did they assume you had a busy home life that meant you couldn’t wait to get back to your own job? What tends to happen here is someone is asked to cover the role, not even aware the role is being advertised, and hope or assume that if they do a good enough job they will be given the role permanently but, for whatever reason someone else is recruited to fill the role permanently.


Take action

Once you are given a role to act up to the next level request a meeting with your manager, and ask them what you need to do to be considered for the role permanently. What does good like for them? Are they going to advertise the role and are they happy that you intend to apply?  Remember you will have an advantage at the interview because you know what they are looking for and you will have more experience than the other candidates.

If they asked you to cover the role they must think you’re capable, but don’t assume you will get it permanently, make sure they know you want it and before you start, and during the cover period, keep checking they are happy with your performance.

If it’s already happened to you and you are now back in your old role and working for the new recruit then make sure you add a question in your 360 degree feedback along the lines of “how likely would you be to recommend me for promotion” so you can understand if they didn’t think you were ready. Request a meeting with the recruiting line manager to ask why you weren’t considered suitable for the role but if you didn’t say you were interested they could have assumed you didn’t want it or even be disappointed you hadn’t applied.  I know people this has happened to!!

2. Your line manager or your colleagues take credit for your or your team’s work. You want to speak up but don’t want to rock the boat.

I once worked with someone who constantly presented my team’s results as part of her weekly update. Each week she and I would have a call and I’d update her about the work my team was doing. She then presented this back as part of her weekly update.  The results were well received by the MD and it looked childish of me to point out it was my team’s results and not hers. After a quiet word with her didn’t work I cancelled my update call with her and when the MD asked for an update on the numbers she had to confess she didn’t know. I told him I would be presenting the results so that I could give a hot off the press update rather than the results I had given her the day before. It may seem childish to cut her out but you need to show accountability for your own work.

In another role I told a colleague over coffee about an idea I’d had to reduce costs in the business. I made an appointment to discuss the idea with the MD and happened to tell his personal assistant all about it. 2 days later the personal assistant phoned me, a bit confused, to say a presentation had come in via email that sounded like my idea.  The presentation had come from my colleague who was presenting the idea as their own.


Take action

If someone is presenting your work as their own, or including your results to pad out their update then then it’s important not to react in the meeting or when you see them. You need to be calm when you speak to them and rather than make statements ask questions as this sounds a lot less confrontational. Something like “you didn’t mention the project was a joint one. Was that intentional?” or “you sent a proposal to the MD that featured the idea I spoke to you about. What was the reason for that?”

 If your line manager is presenting your work then this is more difficult as managers often present the work of their team. Are you happy they will credit you at your performance review and grade your performance accordingly? Does it matter that your bosses’ boss isn’t aware the work is yours? If it is important then at your next one to one ask how you get visibility for yourself and your team with senior management.

If you can’t resolve the problem this way then email your manager an update before the meeting and CC your colleague in so that your colleague knows there is no point in trying to present your results.

If it’s your line manager then go direct to the recipient of your idea and cc your manager in.

3. People keep talking over you or interrupting you at meetings.

I really hate this and feel it’s a lack of respect on their part, and I usually find that people do it to their colleagues or people from a lower level of management, but they don’t tend to do it to the MD or CEO. Maybe it’s a power thing if they are feeling insecure but it should makes you feel undervalued at work.


Take action

If it’s a colleague then as they start to talk over you just say “sorry can I just finish what I was saying” before continuing with what you were saying. If it’s your boss or another senior manager ask a trusted colleague that attends the same meetings if they can honestly tell you why it happens. Maybe you’re not succinct in making your point? Are you rambling? If they don’t have any feedback for you then it is something you will need to tactfully raise at a one to one meeting.

4. The person chairing the meeting, or your boss, seems to listen to other people’s ideas but doesn’t seem interested in what you have to say.

You need to know why. Do you feel you need to talk for the sake of something to say? Sometimes people feel they need to contribute and do so without sense checking whether there is any value in what they are about to say.


Take action

If you know what you are about to say is important a phrase that often works, and gets the focus on you before you speak is “excuse me may I just say something?” the chairman of the meeting is unlikely to say no and everyone stops talking to allow you to talk. If it’s a great idea or something that clearly needed to be said then your value in that meeting, and any future ones, has just gone up. Play these aces carefully.

5. You don’t get opportunities to grow in your role.

What opportunities are you after?


Take action

Don’t just ask “please may I be considered for any opportunities”, you need to be specific. If you decided you want to cover your boss’s annual leave then ask if you can be considered for it as a development opportunity. If you want to mentor people then say so and give the reason why. Whatever the opportunity is that you’re after no one is going to think badly of you for wanting to take on more responsibility.

If you are told no then ask why and take action depending on the reason. For example if you want to mentor people but you manager says they can’t spare you to take the time out then ask if you can do it after work or as part of a working lunch.

6. You don’t get the resources or budget to succeed and you feel you are being set up to fail.

Why haven’t you been given the resources or budget? Do you know? Is it because your work isn’t valued and top priority? I was once in this position and it made me feel so undervalued at work. Were my projects a lower priority. Why did my colleagues have larger teams?


Take action

If you genuinely believe you can’t hit your targets then for your own sanity don’t try and get all the work done anyway by working day and night. No one will thank you for it and it can become the expected norm. Calculate what can be done with the resource or budget you’ve been given, and more importantly what won’t get done, because of the shortfall in the budget or resource.

Be specific, so rather than make statements such as “if I only have 4 people instead of 5 then I will never be able to get everything done” and instead say something like “I’ve calculated that with 4 people I can get A, B, and C done but not D & E. What will the impact be of not being able to achieve D & E?”

By asking a question it requires the person to listen and answer. If they answer that D & E needs to be completed then ask “how can you help me do that?” they will either have to find you more resource or agree that D & E will need to be descoped.

7. You have no autonomy and you are being micro managed which makes you feel your line manager doesn’t trust your ability to get the job done.

Do they do this with everyone or just you? If it’s everyone then it’s about your boss rather than you. If it appears to be just you then you need to have a conversation. Remember there may be lots of reasons that you feel you are being micro managed. You’re probably thinking it’s that they don’t trust you but what if it’s because they think you have talent and they are checking your work to ensure its perfect? 


Take action

Until you speak to them you will never know. And remember, when you have the conversation, it’s important to ask if there’s a problem with your work as they seem to want regular updates rather than accuse them of micro management.  Another way is to explain you would like more autonomy and accountability so could you change your daily catch up meeting to weekly so you can get more done. If a daily update is critical ask if you can drop 3 or 4 bullets in an email each day rather than a face to face meeting.

8. You’re told you are valuable in your current role and can’t be spared to diversify into something different.

I haven’t seen this happen often but I have seen it and it’s very unfortunate when someone is so good at their job, or the skill is very specific and rare and there is no one to take over.


Take action

Take action: If it’s you that in this position then you need to point out to your line manager that if you end up leaving the company they will be in the same boat. However rather than give your manager the problem to solve see if you can find someone who would be willing to learn if you teach them. Take your manager the solution and they should be more willing to listen and take action.

9. You don’t get invited to meetings even though the meeting relates directly to your work.

Does your manager even know what you do?


Take action

In the short term ask the organizer for an invite to the meeting and explain the value you will be adding. In the longer term you need to educate your manager, and others, on the work that you and your team are doing. Schedule a one to one and ask your manager for the best way to keep them updated. When I have an “absent” line manager I send them a weekly email with brief bullets on progress rather than a long and detailed list. Slides can be a good idea but when your line manager is very senior they may not open it so email bullets are best for them to read on the go. Keeping your manager informed is critical. I’ve seen people made redundant as their work isn’t valued only to find, often after they’ve left, that they played a critical role no one was aware of!!

10. You either know or suspect your colleagues are being paid more than you for doing the same job.

This is so tricky. Firstly it’s not often that people discuss their salaries so can you actually be sure they are paid more? This actually happened to me. I was put onto a talent pool and was promoted 3 times in less than a year. By the time I got to Consultant I was actually 10k below the minimum salary. It took me 3 years to get to the minimum but by them I was an experienced Consultant and there were people on the team who were coming to me for help and on a lot more money than I was. In larger companies there is often a lot of bureaucracy around this, with a ceiling on the percentage pay rise that can be given, however it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a conversation with your manager about this.

Take action

Read the article below from Monster to put you on the best footing.


There are many scenarios you may find yourself in where you feel undervalued and these are just the 10 that I’ve encountered but here’s some more advice on why you may feel you are not where you want to be. This may be useful if you’ve had feedback which indicates you have some development gaps.

How proactive are you?

When things don’t go as you’d like what is your reaction? Does it make you more determined or do you blame circumstances or even other people? 

When there is a crisis do you step up or do you assume your manager won’t want your help or that there is someone who is better able to fix the problem?

Do you avoid applying for other jobs because you assume you won’t get it?  Or is it easier to stay where you are and hope it will get better?

Fear of failure will hold you back, so when things don’t go as planned or hoped, rather than think of it as failure, think of it as feedback. Thomas Edison had many attempts when trying to invent the electric light bulb. His view was “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And J K Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before Bloomsbury accepted her first Harry Potter book,  so don’t give up, don’t make excuses and don’t take no for an answer. 

So be proactive. If you want to advance your career then be more proactive as nothing will come along and fall into your lap. Ask for opportunities; put yourself out to complete a task; go above an beyond to get noticed.

Be flexible in your approach and your behavior

The most successful people in life and in business are those who are flexible in their behaviours. Here’s an example. In my early twenties I went to the Greek islands with a group of friends. One afternoon at the beach my friend and I queued for an ice cream. When she asked for the ice cream she did it in a very complicated way and the vendor didn’t understand, so my friend’s reaction was to repeat the same complicated request but more slowly and much, much louder. This isn’t flexible behavior. Repeating the same sentence louder didn’t improve his English but just making the sentence simpler did. As the saying goes “If you always do what you’ve always done you you’ll always get what you always got” so if what you are doing to get your managers attention or get your team motivated isn’t working then do something different.

Take responsibility for communication

So often I see mistakes made in business where one person assumes something and doesn’t communicate it very well. It can lead to duplication and misunderstanding.

If you want a great reputation and a recognition of the work you and the team is doing then there is no one is better placed to communicate this than you. You can’t assume your work will speak for itself and that eventually you will be noticed.

So if you’re going to be proactive in your communication to increase your visibility then you need to decide what you want people to know before you can even create a communication and engagement strategy. Is your project going well? Has your team exceeded their targets? What do you want to happen once your value has been acknowledged? Are you hoping it will lead to a promotion or a pay rise?

Decide what you are going to communicate, keep it short and to the point, and decide the method. This can be

  • a weekly 15 minute call or meeting with your manager. Make sure you pick a time they are least likely to cancel so don’t pick a Monday if that is their busiest day.
  • An email with a bulleted progress report at the end of each week.
  • A slot at the monthly team meeting.

Is it time to move on?

Finally value yourself. Even if, despite everything, you are still feeling undervalued at work and you can’t achieve what you need to where you are then it may be time to move on. Don’t sit and wait hoping it will get better. I know so many people who made the decision the leave and wished they had done it sooner. In fact I have been one of those people.

If someone doesn’t appreciate you when you’re there then you should leave and hope they appreciate your absence. 

So in summary

  • Your perception, and the perception of others (including your manager) may not match. In order to understand other people’s perceptions you need to
    • Get feedback from others
    • Take the feedback on board but if it’s not what you were expecting don’t take it as failure
    • Create a personal development plan
    • Decide what you want to communicate to whom so that your value is acknowledged
    • If your plan isn’t working be flexible and change your plan to ensure success.
    • If nothing works cut your losses and find another role
Hopefully you will be able to rectify feeling undervalued at work. If you found this article useful please share with your friends and colleagues. Many thanks Suzanne

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