I love my job and the company I work for, but I often feel undervalued. I’m always coming up with ideas, working above and beyond what is asked for, yet I don’t get the pat on the back I feel I deserve. How can I ask for the feedback I need to help me measure my contribution and assess whether I really am valued or not? LK, Dubai
As well as having a written contract with an organisation, we each have our “psychological contracts”. These are the unwritten and often unspoken needs and wants between an employee and an employer. They relate to how each individual expects to be treated and the type of value they seek from the organisation and importantly what it expects in return.
Some people are happy to sign up to a transactional contracts whereby an employee punches in their agreed 40-hour week (no more, no less) for a set wage. These contracts are very clear-cut and offer few benefits outside the obvious financial ones.
Others have more complex relational contracts where they exchange effort, time and energy for more aspirational reasons – a sense of purpose, a stretching new challenge or for status and power. It is almost like a trade being made between two parties at a souq: “If I give you 40 hours a week full of energy, ideas and motivation, I expect X and Y in return.”
Unfortunately, some organisations tend to take advantage of these types of contracts, making promises without delivering and ultimately exploiting their employees.
Based on what you have told me, your company has clearly done something right; they have placed you in the right role, and you believe in their vision. It seems like they have signed you up to a relational contract, yet you feel a bit let down. You are putting in the hard work and sharing those ideas yet the recognition you are receiving feels slightly out of balance.
This is not unusual. Many organisations fall into their comfort zone with their more committed employees. They assume that because you are putting in time, ideas and effort that you are subsequently engaged. They are not living up to their side of the deal and for this reason you may need some contract renegotiation.
If you feel you are not fully valued, then an honest conversation with your manager is in order. Start on a positive note by explaining your satisfaction with your role and the company itself and then go on to explain what you feel is lacking. Show them that for you to remain an engaged employee you would appreciate more feedback on your effort and performance. Explain that you are not constantly seeking praise or reassurance as such, but instead you want to be able to measure and reflect on your own contribution.
There is no harm putting your psychological contract on the table, explaining what you enjoy doing for your company, the ideas you can share and the energy you are willing to put in. Rather than listing all the things you do – which may come across as cocky – balance it out with the elements your employer have provided in return (even in previous years). This conversation should raise awareness on both sides.
Another area to focus on is instead of looking upwards for this feedback and value, look to yourself and your colleagues. Take the time to recognise the efforts of colleagues and this will not only create a positive workplace culture but will encourage others to have the same attitude. Similarly, there are times when we all need to praise our own performance, because unfortunately even in our personal relationships lots of things go unnoticed.
Finally, although there are times when it is justified to speak up and seek the praise and recognition you may feel you deserve, there are others times when you may have to let things go and be grateful for what you have. You are fortunate to love your job and believe in your company and for that reason you are in a better position than many others.
The unwritten rules in organisational life are often more influential than the formal contracts we sign when we join. Even if we work tirelessly, sometimes they simply do not see everything that is happening and do not fulfil their part of the deal, which should be to praise and encourage exceptional performance. Honest conversations with management can help us get some of the recognition we deserve and rebalance our own expectations.
Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on any work issues.
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