If you’re currently employed, no matter how you might feel about your boss, or your co-workers, or the microwave in the break room that makes everything taste a little like burned Teriyaki sauce, you’re probably pretty happy to at least have a job.
The national unemployment rate in July was 7.4%, which is nearly one percent better than it was at the same time last year (8.2%), and more than two percent better than July of 2009 (9.5%) when we were in the midst of a terrible economic decline. That said, it’s still pretty high. In fact, it’s significantly higher than July of 2008 (5.8%), before the economic collapse hit.
Of course, no job is ever guaranteed, so uncertainty on some level is a given when holding any kind of a job. But a slowly recovering economy, matched with concerns over the potential impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act, puts current employees in a worrisome position.
That said, there may not be much you can do personally to fix the economy, but there’s a lot you can do to make yourself invaluable at work and show your employers how crazy they’d be to let you go. Here are some steps you can take to stand out in a crowded workplace.
The little things
We’ll talk a lot about going above and beyond at work, but first things first – don’t forget the basics.
- Come to work on time
- Leave when you’re supposed to leave
- Do your work
- Hit your targeted goals
- Follow the rules
- Ask if you need help
That’s all pretty basic and self-explanatory. And really, it’s the bare minimum. This is what you need to do to not give your employers a reason to let you go. It’s doesn’t, however, give them any distinctive incentive to keep you.
You don’t need to be the most popular guy or gal in the office, but a positive attitude and a good sense of humor goes a long way. Most jobs involve some sort of daily contact with peers, superiors or direct reports. Your attitude and how you treat your fellow employees has an enormous impact, not just on how you’re perceived, but on the quality of everyone else’s work experience.
In other words, rude or unpleasant people bring down the morale of everyone else in a hurry.
Again, you don’t need to be a social superstar, especially if you’re introverted and that’s not really in your nature. Just be pleasant, kind, and fair, and remember that everyone’s in it together.
Ask for more
In most work settings, you won’t be the only one doing what you’re doing. In fact, your company may have hundreds of people doing the exact same job. If you’re just doing the basics then you’re going to get lost in the crowd, and if the time for downsizing ever comes there won’t be enough to differentiate you from everyone else.
So ask for more. Ask your supervisor if there are any projects they need help with or if any of your peers need assistance with their work. Don’t lose sight of your regular work, of course, and don’t neglect quality in the face of quantity.
Completing helpful tasks above and beyond your normal work responsibilities increases your value and helps separate you from your co-workers. It’s also great ammunition to bring to your next performance review or when asking for a raise.
Increase your skills
Many companies offer benefits to employees pursuing higher education in a related field. That’s a great opportunity to increase your personal value to the company while opening up potential new career paths.
Even if you don’t have the means or desire to pursue an additional degree or accreditation, you should still be looking for opportunities to learn new skills. The modern workplace is constantly evolving and employees need to be evolving as well if they want to remain viable.
When thinking about increasing your skills don’t become hyper-focused on the obvious skills needed for your job. Branch out a little. Consider working on some slightly more tangential skills, like communication, conflict resolution, time management, information technology and more.
People often say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and they usually mean that in a negative way – implying that skills and knowledge don’t matter because it’s all about the connections.
Well, ultimately, they all matter. You do need advocates to succeed at work. You need people who believe in you and see your value. But you also need to produce quality work that other people can get behind.
This basically means that you should focus primarily on doing good work and having obvious, undeniable value to the company. To maximize the work that you’re already doing, you should then make an effort to make yourself known to the people who make decisions. Develop a positive relationship with your direct supervisor. When given the opportunity, make sure that the people above your supervisor know who you are.
That might not be in your nature. It might even feel a little wrong to you. But the point is that you don’t want all of your hard work to live in a vacuum. You want people to know what you’re doing. So don’t hesitate to tell people what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’re working on.
When the big boss makes their way around the floor, don’t miss an opportunity to connect and leave a positive impression. Make sure that the people who matter know who you are, and more importantly, what you do.
Understand the big picture
Your company currently employs you for a reason. Whether you feel like it or not, you’re an important element of your company’s success. Just how important, however, is largely impacted by your understanding of what exactly it is that your company is trying to do and how you fit into that big picture.
What that means is that truly invaluable employees are the ones who can see beyond the list of tasks that are assigned to them. Invaluable employees understand what the company’s goals are and see how their individual actions aid or hinder those goals.
No employee is a faceless cog. Everyone – everywhere – who is currently employed, is employed for a reason and a purpose. If you don’t see that purpose, it’s easy to become de-motivated and to let your work suffer. But the better you understand your company’s goals and how you can personally impact those goals, the more motivated you’ll feel, and beyond that, the easier it will be for you to find those opportunities to go above and beyond and make your value unmistakable.
There are never any guarantees when it comes to jobs and employment, but if you’re willing to make the effort, these steps will go a long ways towards making you an employee your company simply can’t be without.