Frustrated at Work? Make a Case for Change

Have you ever sat at your desk, quietly cursing your boss for failing to understand your untapped creative gifts? Or maybe just biding your time until she intuits that life would be 1000% easier for you if the company had more interns? We are often guilty of waiting – particularly when it comes to innovating within our own job description or work culture.

We expect our bosses and co-workers to intuit our needs. How could they NOT see that you are eminently qualified to helm the new project your company just landed? How could they NOT observe that your monitor is on the fritz and it’s killing your productivity? How could they NOT notice you’ve clearly outgrown your current position and are no longer challenged?
It’s called the “illusion of transparency,” a natural cognitive bias that leads us to overestimate others’ ability to know our mental state. (Arguments related to the illusion of transparency inevitably conclude with the other party throwing up their hands in frustration and saying, “I’m not a mind reader!”)
Particularly with people we interact with on a daily basis, such as our colleagues, we fall prey to this illusion. It creates a false sense of understanding, and a false belief in the possibility of change. We assume that our colleagues know more than they actually do about our wants and needs, and thus refrain from speaking up and clearly articulating them.
See if any of these situations sound familiar:

  • You lack the proper resources to excel. Are there simple things that could easily help you do your job significantly better? Such a “resource” could be anything from more RAM to speed your desktop workflow, to a two-week professional development class, to a new intern to manage your less challenging tasks.
  • Your best skills are going to waste. Your position is not challenging you, or helping you grow. Perhaps it’s because you have an untapped skill set your boss doesn’t even know about, or maybe you’re just not getting assigned projects that align with your strengths.
  • Your workload is experience “scope creep.” Your general competence has turned you into a magnet for new tasks. Your job responsibilities are growing out of control as new tasks are assigned to you through circumstance or randomness rather than with good reason, and based on your interests and strengths.
The tendency in the above situations is to endure, assuming that the circumstances are unchangeable as we wait for a higher-up to recognize what seems like a glaringly obvious problem. But remember: What seems obvious to you may not be obvious to others at all.
If there’s something that you need, be it a new desktop tool or a new job description, you must take it upon yourself to: 1) identify the problem that needs to be addressed, and 2) articulate a solution that’s good for you and good your company. Your overworked boss will be much more likely to listen to your complaints if they are accompanied by a simple plan for solving the problem.
Contrary to popular cliché, greatness is rarely “thrust upon us.” We must learn to be our own best advocates in the workplace, constantly petitioning for the projects and resources that will enable us to thrive in our careers. Part of your job as a creative – if you want to grow – is to constantly refine and re-define your job.
The next time you’re frustrated at work, consider how you might make a case for change. Think about it like you’re developing a pitch deck for a client, only this time the client is your boss.

Jocelyn K. Glei

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A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
load comments (3)
  • Billy Clarke

    What advice can you give when you’re only 3 months into a new job and all of the above is happening? Not only that, but all promises made by the company, which often happens often, employer and employee promise each other things to further themselves, don’t happen, leaving the employee, extremely frustrated, betrayed and feeling rather neglected? As you had guessed, this is happening to me, and what makes it worse, I’ve brought my problems up, in reasonable fashion, with plenty to back everything up, yet still I’m pushed aside… Is there any foresight you can shed in me?

  • John

    Wow, that’s a hard one. Especially having the balls after 3 months to voice your concern. Go you! Looks like promises and commitments aren’t being met. I am constantly in the above situation, it comes and goes, but generally the feeling being overworked is consistent. You set priorities and stick to them. If you work over 60 hours every week of the month, there’s a problem. Are you able to delegate? Do you not say “no” enough? If you are constantly being pushed aside then you are not to blame when something doesn’t get done or if it is done with haste.

  • Berthold

    Been there, done that. You might want to make sure that your input really is appreciated before you start suggesting solutions. Indicators that they will not fall on fertile ground include:

    – no communication (jobs are forwarded to you from your superior without comment, criticism is voiced via post-its on your LCD)

    – no ambition (your superior makes it abundantly clear that they only care about the money, not about improvement; overcharging and underdelivering is frequent)

    – no responsibility (superiors try to pass off all their responsibility on their subordinates, and blame them for mistakes in front of the customer)

    If you encounter one or more of these behaviours, don’t try to change the company. Change the job. Your input will be worth more elsewhere.

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