What Is Your Worth At Work?
On 19th July, the BBC, under pressure from the Royal Charter, released a list of their highest earners (According to the BBC, this means people earning over at least £150, 000 a year). Whilst the very real issue of the gender pay gap dominated news coverage, it was very noticeable, from the social media storm that ensued, that the minutiae of the discussions within the Twittersphere seemed to revolve more around who were the most ‘deserving’ of their earnings. Naturally, and as it usually goes on social media, such discussions took on a very subjective nature: “I think to be fair Charlie from Casualty has saved more lives than Chris Evans” tweeted one user, whilst another stated “Worth noting that Chris Evans has 9.38m listeners a week. So they’re paying him £0.005 a day, each. Or, if you like, 26p a year”. So, if we all have such varying and subjective opinions in matters such as these, how do we quantify the ‘worth’ of our own colleagues, and, for that matter, how do people judge us? What Is Your Worth At Work?
To represent this on a small scale, one of the first and best pieces of advice I was given in my twenties about the interview process was that the interview actually starts the moment you walk through the door. From the security staff, to the receptionist through to the actual people interviewing you, your body language, your appearance and confidence are all up for scrutiny and judgement, and this judgement will likely feed into whether you will get the job or not – all this time you are building your worth. For example, a few years ago I had two candidates shortlisted for the same high level position. On paper and in interview they were evenly matched, but one of the candidates happened to treat one of the office staff with disdain, clearly thinking that this would not affect the interview process in any way. That particular member of the office staff was, herself, highly regarded and consulted for her opinion by the senior managers about both candidates. No prizes for guessing who got the job.
On a longer term scale, once you have got the job, it is much more tricky to build your worth. Sometimes it can take years to gain value and respect, for some, it may come very quickly, and there is no set formula, and it can sometimes be subject to the vagaries of things beyond your control. There are clearly some hard bench marks for this like being able to produce results. Whether they be financial or in another measurable capacity, or things like putting the hours in and reliability, but when it comes to the softer people skills, your worth cannot always be measured in such an objective way. One employee might have a gregarious and charismatic personality which makes them popular with colleagues, and brings in leads, but when it comes to seeing the task through, they may not be able to deliver. What, then, is their actual worth? Can we judge it that the person is good for the company because they attract clients or business opportunities (which other employees may see through to the end), or bad for the company, because they may not bring in fees or achieve set targets themselves? There is no right answer because the answer is always going to be subjective, according to the specific company context.
However, there are some ways in which you can try to build your worth in a positive way:
- Switch on your emotional intelligence.
Don’t make judgements about others until you have listened and learned through observation of how other colleagues work. In the meantime, always maintain a professional air and don’t get dragged into any discussions of a personal nature about another colleague’s performance or conduct.
- Work out who the opinion leaders are in the company.
Opinion leaders are not just the senior members of staff, they could be anybody in the company or people associated with the company. Many are held in high regard by other colleagues and are usually easy to spot, but watch out for the stealth opinion leaders, who may take on a more negative role in working life. These are sometimes people who can appear overly friendly and keen to help you out in the early days of a new job, but often have their own agenda for getting you onside for more negative reasons. Listen to how they talk about other colleagues. If they readily disclose personal information, gossip or reveal their bad opinion of others, they may be someone you want to keep at a friendly but professional distance. A good tip is to think that if they are talking about others like that, they will probably say similar things about you at some point.
- Understand the values of the company and key individuals.
Every company has its own ‘personality’ and value set. If you understand the culture and how you can fit into this, then you can focus on how to be good at your job. We’re not talking about trying to change yourself into someone you’re not, but if you identify two or three key things that the company places importance on (a good starting point will be the company’s mission statement or the ‘About’ section on their website) then you’ll have a good feel for what you need to foreground or develop in your own practice.
- Cultivate ‘critical friends’
Once you are established in a company and have forged good and trustworthy relationships with other colleagues, why not ask for some informal feedback about what you do well or could do things in a better or different way? In a formal context, line managers and appraisers may only focus on more objective targets, but having a ‘critical friend’ who you trust beyond the boundary of formality to say “Why not try it this way next time?” or someone you can run things past without fear of being judged, is a really healthy type of relationship to have at work.
Whilst all the above points have focused on how to get your worth perceived by others around you, it is also vital to understand what your own worth at work is yourself. Be realistic – examine projects that have gone well for you – what skills did you use to make that happen? Work out what circumstances you work best in and that play to your strengths, and try to replicate that in your chosen working environment. It may take time, but it’ll definitely be worth it.