How to Stop Being Undervalued at Work (Part 1 of 2)

Do you ever feel like people at work don’t really “get” who you are and what you’re capable of? That’s what I call being misunderstood and undervalued, and it’s happened to me more than once.

Not only is it frustrating, it can have some serious knock-on effects on your career. Like getting passed over when cool assignments are handed out, or being excluded from key conversations.

You hold the key

Each time I felt misunderstood and undervalued, I remember thinking, “If only they knew the kind of person I am. Then, I’d get a fair shake.” And I saw only two options: wait for senior management to notice me, or change jobs and try again.

Waiting left me feeling more frustrated and helpless, and leaving my job seemed extreme since I liked the company I worked for.

So I started to read self-help books, watching what others did, and taking a hard look at myself. I also consulted my family “brain trust” (aka, Mom, Dad, my sister and my husband). Back then, I didn’t have a mastermind group, but if I did, I would have discussed the problem with them too.

What I concluded was this: My own behavior held the key to my being understood.

Also read: 15 Habits that Will Make You Well Respected at Work

So if you’re like me back in the day, thinking that my boss, colleagues or senior managers should be the ones to reach out and figure out just how marvelous a contributor I could be, then the sooner you understand and take action on this, the better off you will be:

Why it’s up to you

First of all, it matters more to you than anyone else – you have the biggest upside, and also the biggest downside. Other people are preoccupied with their own situations/ If you don’t make it a priority, it’s not going to happen.

Secondly, if you haven’t done your part to learn and grow, then your problems are likely to follow you to the next place you work. You can leave your company, but you can’t leave yourself behind.

Finally, as with all aspects of succeeding in your career, you have to do the work of putting yourself in a position to succeed. As scientist Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

5 Questions to Ask

When you find yourself being misunderstood and undervalued, here are five questions to ask yourself. Your answers will guide you toward the best actions to take. Once you start taking actions, you’ll feel much better about yourself and your situation.

  1. What’s causing you to be misunderstood?

There are many possible reasons. Getting to the core will help you figure out whether it’s something worth working on. And, if so, it will give you clues as to how to address it most effectively.

The solution usually starts with understanding why you’re not getting the opportunities or recognition you want.

For example:

  • They see you as an expert in whatever you currently do, and can’t envision you doing anything else

Tom was a lawyer heading up our documentation group, and doing such a great job that the rest of us not only didn’t want him to move to another role, we couldn’t imagine him doing anything else. But Tom’s ambition was to move into the advisory side of our business. He needed to find situations to show his client advisory potential.

  • They misread the extent to which you are ambitious

Having turned down an opportunity to relocate a few years ago, Paul’s managers assumed that he wasn’t interested in relocating even if it came with a promotion and greater visibility.

When someone else got the job, Paul realized he needed to tell his managers that his situation had changed and that he wanted to be considered for all opportunities.

  • They see you as less capable than you really are

People only see a slice of who we are and what we can do. So if you only work with someone on a specific type of project or in a narrow part of what you can do, they won’t have the full picture of what you bring to the party.

Or worse yet, maybe the one time they saw you in action was when you were having a bad day. As a friend of mine likes to say, “senior managers only get one or two snapshots of your performance”. So you need to manage those situations well and create more of them if you can.

Either way, it’s up to you to find ways to show others the full and accurate picture.

Also read: 5 Ways to Expand Your Visibility and Earn that Promotion

  • They think you want a different degree of work/life balance than you actually do

My friend Valerie’s bosses assumed she would go part-time once she had children. After all, that’s what the other two women in the department had chosen to do. But in Valerie’s case, that wasn’t true. She had to make it clear that she was the primary earner in her family and wanted to be considered for top opportunities.

  • They still see you as the same person you were when they worked with you 5 years ago

When you’ve been with one organization and in the same role for a long time, people may have an outdated view of you.

You need to update their impressions proactively through your demeanor and the capabilities you showcase.

Continue to Part 2

About the Author

May Busch is a sought-after executive coach, speaker, advisor, author, and former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe. Her passion is helping people succeed in their career and life – to be better, do more, and make the difference they are meant to make. Find her on and follow her on Twitter at @maybusch