Here’s a question I get all the time:
“I feel unchallenged at work. I keep looking for new things to do and new responsibilities to take on, but I’m having trouble. How do I get my superiors to better utilize me and my skills?”
It’s a great question because it shows that you want to contribute to your organization in a meaningful way and you have more to offer. But how do you make it happen?
First off, think of it this way: If you’re looking around trying to find more to do and having a rough go of it, your superiors will have the same difficulty. They’ve got other things on their plates so searching for ways to better utilize you is an easy task to put on the back burner.
Sadly, I find that a lot of people complain of being under utilized but they don’t really do much to fix the problem. They use it as a way of saying they’re undervalued and capable of more (if only others would recognize it!), but they’re unwilling to actually put in the effort to demonstrate that… Which makes me wonder if they really ARE capable of more, or if they just want to believe that. Some of these folks, in my humble opinion, would actually rather be bored and unchallenged because, hey, it’s easy and it gives them something to complain about.
Of course, I assume that my fabulous readers who have this question are amazingly talented and want desperately to find real, tangible ways of using the skills that are currently being overlooked and underutilized in the workplace.
So, the most important first step is this: You’ve got to take ownership of the problem. Don’t blame others for what’s going on and don’t expect others to figure out how to best use you. Sure, the situation may feel out of your control at the moment. But it’s time to wrap your arms around it and fix it. Here’s how…
Evaluate Your Current Performance
Before you even consider asking for more/different responsibilities, your first job is to make sure your current work is done to perfection. If you’re not rocking and rolling with your existing responsibilities, there’s no reason you should be looking for anything else. Put your concentration where it belongs first. Then, and only then, is it worthwhile exploring other opportunities.
What Do You Want?
As with most things, you won’t get what you want if you can’t clearly define it. Figure out the skills you have that could be better utilized in your position (or skills you’d like to hone) and brainstorm what that would really look like. Come up with specific projects or tasks that you’d like to be a part of and outline exactly what you could contribute and how you’d add value.
What Can Your Superiors Do?
Managers are funny. Sometimes, they just need you to tell them what to do (i.e., what projects to let you take on, what tasks to give you, etc.). The trick is that you have to be specific.
Too many people go to their superiors and simply say things like, “I’d like more responsibility,” or “I’d like to take on more challenging projects.” These are easy requests to hear and then ignore because you’re not presenting anything tangible or concrete. And they can come off sounding like empty complaints.
Ask for what you want and be specific. Be sure to share the reasons behind your request. Focus on the fact that you believe you can make a significant, positive contribution in these areas without negatively impacting your existing work. Don’t put too much emphasis on the fact that you’re trying to fill empty time or feel more challenged. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the organization. Your boss is more concerned with the impact you can have, not the “enjoyment” you’ll get out of the additional work.
Alternatively, if you can’t come up with the exact things you’d like to do, you can let your boss know that you have specific skills you’d like to better utilize in service of the organization and you’d like his/her advice on how to do that. This gives your superior(s) a chance to consider the various needs of the company and where your skills might better be used. Unfortunately, it creates a task for your already busy superiors and an easy one to set aside.
Lastly, consider taking on new tasks and responsibilities on your own. There are probably a lot of ways you can do more without getting prior “permission”. For example, look at the routines and processes you currently engage in throughout the day. Where is there room for improvement? Perhaps you can find a way to increase efficiency, reduce costs, or improve the quality of output.
Make it your “responsibility” to find new, innovative ways to make everyday activities more effective. You might have to get buy in from your superiors to implement your ideas, but use your skills to outline an improvement plan and clearly define the benefit. Doing this kind of thing increases your value to your boss, your team and the organization as a whole. Plus, if it’s a great idea, you might get to head up a big initiative.
I know a lot of you have this same problem (or have in the past) so please share your recommendations in the comments below. What have you done to better utilize your skills in the workplace?