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Help! I’m Under Utilized!

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.

Take Initiative

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?

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10 Responses to “Help! I’m Under Utilized!”

  1. Liane Davey says:

    This is a great answer to a question that people pose all the time. I agree that if it’s just a hollow complaint, it’s a waste of breath. For people who want to take accountability for adding more to their team this is where they should start.
    One other thought is to offer to help out a teammate. Not everything needs to go through the boss. Maybe there’s a colleague who would be willing to teach you something new in return for an extra pair of arms and legs.

  2. Masha says:

    It’s sometimes hard to hear that you are the one in control of your destiny. It is scary to have the power because that means you got the responsibility that comes with it too. But we really are responsible for setting our goals and ambitions. Great, nice but firm advice.

  3. sara leone says:

    I was very happy that I discovered this website. I needed to thank you for this excellent information!! I have bookmarked your blog to check out the new stuff you post.

  4. Elaine says:

    I struggle with having gone from 50 hours a week working for a high energy leader to having an interim leader 2 days a week and literally having no more than an hour a day of work to do. The interm is a great guy who will be moving on soon. Unfortunately, this is the top position in our company and I see no efforts being made to find a full time replacement. I realize there is a lot of politics going on … but our company is suffering. And, being a high energy, self-motivated, challenge oriented person, I cannot sit here day after day waiting for 5 p.m. The volume of calls and emails coming thru have gone from constant to truly no calls and maybe 3-5 emails a day. While I gladly assist others when needed and have offered my assistance, this is simply driving me crazy. I am more tired from doing nothing at the end of the day than I was when I worked a 10 hour day with my plate running over. I loved my high pressured job and the sense of accomplished I had each day. I’m ready to walk out but I have a real passion to see this come succeed. Sometimes being “under utilized” isn’t always in our control.

  5. Lady Red says:

    @Elaine —
    I agree with Elaine wholeheartedly. Being under utilized is often out of someone’s control. I work in the administrative field. I have always proved my abilities to multitask, to be detail oriented and being extremely organized and always finishing any project before the deadline, but recently with the new management and new teammates it hasn’t been the same. I have seniority over everyone, but this has since been overlooked. We are a team of 10 people. 7 are working busily on a project that I could have been part of because I have asked to be part of it months before and was told that they won’t be adding more people, but if they were going to they would. I am not a whiny person, and I have had to go look for projects in other departments to feel like I’m not wasting the companies money by coming to working 8 hrs a day 5 days a week just to sit and stare at the computer. I am very proactive, but that can only go so far when I am at the complete bottom of the totem pole and there are people that do not want the one who likes to work hard to show her abilities. There is always a reason why someone isn’t given enough work or in my case, any work at all. I have thought of leaving and finding something better, but there aren’t any jobs out there with the benefits and salary and proximity as this one, so I’m stuck, but hope it will change soon enough.

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  7. patrick says:

    I m asking for help.My boss gave me employee appraisal do I rate my self

  8. Paula says:

    Good article. I have done all the things suggested. I took full ownership of my current role and streamlined all tasks and took on more responsibility. I have put myself forward for projects which have all been successful. I am described as ‘the font of all knowledge’ by work colleagues and as ‘a person who gets the job done’ by managers. When a more senior role came up in another department last year I expressed my interest to be told by my line manager “Oh no, I can’t lose you, you’re too valuable to me in your current position”. A few months later another more senior role came up and I again expressed my interest and said I feel I can be doing so much more for the company. This time I was given an interview. The feedback was that I had scored the highest on the psychometric tests and interviewed really well but that they were giving the job to someone else with a smidgen of more experience. I was told that the tests had highlighted my intelligence and that my current role would be looked at to give it more depth. Six months on with no change I have now given up and have handed my notice in. I will look elsewhere.

  9. Lindsay D says:

    Good luck Joshy hope you can still get me with all the extra work

  10. Lindsay D says:

    Good luck Joshy hope you are not too busy to get me now

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