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What to do when you find yourself underutilized

Posted by Meg Bear on December 19, 2009


One thing I’ve noticed about high achievers is that they  hate to be bored.  In fact, I think that underutilized is probably the biggest risk of loss indicator for a high achiever.  With achievers it’s  results that builds energy.

Underutilized = less results = badness.

Ironically, being underutilized can happen in concert with being overworked.  You can be completely busy and underutilized.  Some would describe this as soul destroying, or more specifically, I would (and have).

If you find yourself in this situation you need to do an analysis of your job mix quickly, to see if there is something you can do proactively to re-work the job to give you the right sense of achievement.

Sometimes, though, reworking the job is just  not an available option.  Maybe what you want to do will not be available for some time,  maybe you don’t have the kind of job that can be better aligned with your interests.

What do you do then?

At this point you have a few options.

You can wallow in self-pity and spiral into a bad attitude OR you can take control of your situation.   The first step in taking control is to do some self-analysis to determine what kind of challenges you need in your life and set them for yourself.

You could…

Work on your network.  Work on giving back to your community.  Work on being more available to your family.  Work on treating yourself better.   Give yourself new goals to achieve.

The key is to do something proactively to control your energy and your situation.  If you don’t do that, you are degrading your self esteem and you are setting yourself down the path of negativity.

Being underutilized sucks, I know this first hand.  But allowing that lack of utility to imact your confidence is much worse.   At the risk of being a broken record I must repeat, your career is yours to manage.  If your company is not utilizing you properly it is your job to fix it.

15 Responses to “What to do when you find yourself underutilized”

  1. I got tired of feeling like I was underutilized at work, so I picked up a lot of outside projects. Now I’m having a blast. My work is only a tiny part of what I am, and if they don’t want to use my energy, I’ll find somewhere else to put it to work. :-)

    • Meg Bear said

      @Ben
      Exactly! Ironically, you are probably a better employee at your work as a result as well. Thanks for commenting.

      -M

  2. Justin Field said

    Yes, Meg, volunteering outside the company, in a job-related field, is a great way to get new skills, and work in a different environment that might recognise those skills in a different way. And sometimes a change of scenery is quite refreshing and helps you to see things (i.e. the same old world) from a different perspective. Justin

  3. Amy Wilson said

    Great point, Meg. I would love to see someone study the correlation between the “Are you fully utilized?” question and actual risk of loss.

    • Meg Bear said

      Me too!

      • Vivian Wong said

        We should also have a question in self evaluation or company survey asking people if they feel they’re fully utilized at work – I think the results would be really interesting and eye opening for most businesses.

      • Meg Bear said

        oh, Vivian that’s a good idea. I totally agree, there were many times in my career, I wished to be asked about this.

  4. Jayavel said

    I see 2 categorues of underutilized :

    Worker who is capable of doing Task A (required for his job profile) is occupied or assigned with task B. This is happening because worker is not interested in Task A or he is not allowed to take up Task A. In both the cases worker can take control of the situation and speak to his/her manager.

    Worker is not getting enough work. Community service (inside the company) is the best option to still gain visibility and make progress in career in this case.

  5. […] a great conversation starter.  In most cases, it’s really hard to avoid.  Finding yourself underutilized and overlooked is much more subtle.  There is often not a moment in time that the switch happens, […]

  6. […] know I’m not alone when I find that some of my toughest professional moments come from either boredom or a sense of being […]

  7. Rene said

    Very relevant discussion. I personally think that unless one takes the reigns by pursuing their personal goals and ambitions by possibly starting their own business one may never achieve their God given potential. I’m frustrated by the limits set by my employers simply because of 1.my job description and 2. experience. Is it simply a lack of patience on my part that has resulted in my heightened level of frustration?

    • Meg Bear said

      @Rene I would like to think that you are having this conversation with your manager to fix this. Putting a proposal together to get new experience, in addition to your job description, is the trick — so that you both gain the experience and get out of the rut.

  8. Sooo underutilized.... said

    This is how I feel at work right now. I started in a Graduate position 3 months ago and my probation period finished 2 days ago and I feel so down. I have two university qualifications and moved to a regional area for work, and I am getting paid the same money as a administrative job(I am on at least $10,000 less than most others in my same position). I would like to ask for more money but I do not feel like I even contribute enough work to ask. I am always stretching my work out so I have work to do during the days or I just waste time on the internet. Such bad habits! I feel like I nor anyone else can bring the issue of little work to the director because is does not want to know (and is quite grumpy). I know I am still learning (as I am straight out of uni) but want more work, more responsibility and more money. I have learnt a lot since I have been and feel disloyal to leave so suddenly after them helping to train me. Can anybody help me?

    • Meg Bear said

      I think that you need to find a way to suggest additional work that will help increase your own satisfaction while avoiding making the director more grumpy. The key is to make it a productive conversation vs. a complaint. Suggesting things you could be doing that might help — or better yet, asking if there is anything else you could be helpful and do, is a much more constructive approach.

      Think if it as a skill building exercise (influence of leaders) vs. something to avoid. You are in a perfect position to experiment on this topic as new grads are naturally given a little more latitude in the area of corp protocol. That skill is one that will serve you well throughout your career.

      Good luck!
      -Meg

  9. Cynthia said

    I have already had the conversation. It didn’t work. I have been as high as I can go in my job and now have taken a “less responsible” position, but I could still help with the experience I have and it ain’t happenin’. Send emails and get no response, volunteer to do work for different members of the team and never hear a word. BTW I have an MBA and 34 years experience in the business. Lots of valuable experience. Feel like I’ve been put out to pasture and I still have at least 12 years before I can retire. Really discouraging and hurts.

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