Why some people work hard but don't get appreciated enough for that work?

Note: This is part of an ongoing mini-research (less than six weeks each) on topics that catch my attention. At the end of this post, you will find links to outcomes of the other two (previous) mini-research projects.

Over the years I have heard many young people complaining (in various flavors) that they work hard but their hard work goes unappreciated. To be more specific, here are some complaints:

1. I did most of the work but my Boss got all the credit

2. I work in the evenings and on weekends and all that happens is – my company takes me for granted.

3. “They” don’t really care how hard I work. It hurts.

If I have to summarize the various flavors of complaints into one sentence, it would look something like this – “I am a victim of someone taking away credit for my work.” So the real question becomes “How can you prevent someone else from taking credit for your hard work?”

When I started my mini-research work, I suspended my bias on the topic and just listened to people as they complained and probed them further to get more details of their specific situation. Upon further digging in, research, reflection and analysis, I reached some conclusions and I have presented them below.

Yes, I agree – in a few cases people were victimized and they were treated unfairly. In those cases, I don’t know why the victims were continuing to be employed in that company. Either they had no other choices or they were “really” stuck (an example: the company had applied for their Green Card and they wanted to get through that process)

In most cases though, I found that they had to take complete responsibility for their situation. If there was ONE over-arching reason for their situation, it was their interpretation of “hard work.” Here are the final observations that led to the “victimization”:

1. Working hard because of lack of skills: This is their first job and they had to “walk the extra mile” to ensure that they develop the skills required to complete the job on time. The company does not “directly” benefit from their skill-update exercise.

2. Working hard because of lack of competence: This is similar to #1 but here you simply lack competence and they are not aware of it.

3. Confusing “time spent” to “value created”: There was a general notion that whoever spent more time contributed more value. This is far from truth. One can spend a lot of time creating zero value or sometimes eroding value or even creating headache for someone else who is creating value.

4. Forgetting the value of experience: There is one general but thousands of foot soldiers. When the battle is won, the General gets the credit. When the battle is lost, the General will be blamed. Foot soldiers are very important but they are replaceable. Generals are not easily replaceable. It is easy to forget that Generals have paid their dues earlier for a LONG time before they reached that position. With that experience, it is easy to “better interpret” the situation and tell the soldiers what to do. Even if the soldiers work “very hard” they may not be able to “interpret” the situation as well as how a General can interpret it.

5. Forgetting that the commodity stuff can’t get a premium: If one spends a lot of time on commodity work, it can be hard work but it is something that “someone else” could have easily done for the same or less price (consider outsourcing or offshoring or both.) If you are “easily replaceable” your hard work does not count much. If you are a “linchpin” instead, you start getting a premium.

6. Not knowing how to tell the “right” story about one’s work: When someone completes a job, “they” don’t see a job completed but a story about the job that got completed. If the person who completed the job does not take the responsibility of telling the “right” story about the job that got completed, whoever needs to know about the job completed will tell a story to themselves about the job. That may not be in the best interest of the person who completed the job.

7. Too much humility; too little pride: One needs to be humble but too much humility hurts. Similarly having too little pride hurts. The ultimate combination is right amount of pride and humility. If there is an imbalance it creates a competitive disadvantage.

8. Thinking the employer alone is responsible for career growth: Sometimes people think that the employer is “obligated” to take care of their career growth. They forget that they are “already” getting paid a salary for the their contribution and the employer provides a framework for them to grow. That’s the most an employer can do. Rest is left to the employee – they can sit on the sidelines and watch others flourish or get cracking to go somewhere.

9. Confusing affiliation with the employer as their personal brand: This was more common with employees working for VERY big brands. They were proud of that affiliation and had a tendency to confuse their affiliation with this BIG brand as their personal brand. Affiliations help but they are not a substitute for “valuable accomplishments.” Employees get special attention if they build big personal brands but they get nothing “extra” for affiliation.

10. Confusing brilliant storytelling to showing off: There were also cases where I heard people saying that “their work should speak for itself” and they didn’t have to tell anything else. What they forget is that brilliant storytelling is not showing off. Storytelling is an art. Showing off is a desperate attempt to gain attention. Storytelling is helping people “interpret” what happened in the right way. Showing is interrupting for personal gain.

There were a few other minor observations but the above were worth sharing.

In summary, take a look at your own case. If you are feeling victimized AND there is a clear case that someone else is “responsible” for it, you have to think whether you want to continue being associated to that place. If you are feeling victimized and it is your own making, you have your work cut out – take responsibility for it and make the necessary changes to make things happen.

Here are the outcomes of the previous mini-research initiatives:

1. Why some smart people are reluctant to share? (Dec 26, 2009)

2. Why nice people will win BIG TIME in the long run? (Jan 15, 2010)