Not Feeling Valued at Work?

When you're giving work your all, but you're just not feeling appreciated, here are some things you can do to find the love!

Rachel Cooke
5-minute read
Episode #650
The Quick And Dirty

Reclaim your sense of feeling valued by following these 5 steps:

  1. Find your professional "Love Language"
  2. Expand your view of recognition
  3. Talk to your boss
  4. Recognize others
  5. Be patient in this moment of uncertainty

You’re doing your thing at work – you’re hitting goals, making magic, keeping the train on the tracks, and … [birds chirping]. Where, you’re wondering, is the love? The pat on the back, the feeling of being recognized for your effort and achievements?  Does your company value you?

Feeling underappreciated at work can be painful. We spend roughly a third of our lives working. Shouldn’t we feel good about what we’re doing there all those hours?

If you’ve been feeling like your hard work is going unnoticed and underappreciated, then let’s talk about what you can do to reclaim your value.

Tip #1: Find your professional “Love language”

Nearly 30 years ago, relationship counselor and author Gary Chapman published The 5 Love Languages. In this book, Chapman explains that each of us expresses – and wants to receive affection in different ways. And understanding how we choose to receive that affection is critical.

Personally, my love language is Acts of Service. This means that when my husband wants to woo me, he knows that dropping off my dry cleaning or getting my cracked phone screen repaired will mean more to me than gifts of flowers or candy ever could. These, for me, are the greatest expressions of love. But he only knows this because I’ve told him so.

Too much information? Perhaps. But I believe the same concept applies in the workplace. Not in terms of affection, but rather recognition. In order to feel more appreciated, it’s important that you understand what your version of appreciated looks and feels like. 

So ask yourself this question: When do I feel valued? What has someone said or done to leave me feeling this way?

Some of us may be seeking a private thank you, while others want public recognition. Some feel appreciated upon receiving an award or spot bonus, while others strive to have their opinions sought out.

There are no wrong answers here, so be honest with yourself.

In order to feel more appreciated, it’s important that you understand what your version of appreciated looks and feels like.

Tip #2: Expand your view of recognition

So now you understand how you like to feel valued or recognized. But before you go ringing the alarm bells, ask yourself – is it possible that you are being recognized, but not in the ways you’re looking for?

Just last week I was talking to a client, Lucy, who was struggling with feeling underappreciated at work.

“I’m giving this role everything I have, “she told me, “but I haven’t received a single note of praise or thank you. In fact, all I’m getting is more work – I’ve now been asked to lead a committee which feels like punishment!”

In this moment, I could see what she couldn’t. This committee, it turned out, was positioned to be making some very important and visible decisions that would impact the company’s future. Lucy’s appointment to this committee was a huge moment of recognition for her. She just couldn’t see it because it wasn’t written in her love language.

“Lucy,” I told her, “you’re looking for an expression of gratitude, but you’ve been given a huge vote of confidence. Your place on this committee is recognition of your competence -- of how much leadership values your opinion.”

This refresh was big for her.

Now it’s your turn. Take a look around. Have you been asked to join a committee? To mentor a colleague, to offer advice? Have you been invited to present or teach or lead a project? Challenge yourself to look for recognition in ways you hadn’t considered. It may be hiding in plain sight.

Tip #3: Talk to your boss 

If you’ve taken stock of the possibilities around you and you’re still not feeling the love, then it may be time to talk to your boss – or someone influential to you. Sit down with them, and be honest about your concern. How is your feeling underappreciated impacting your performance at work?

The goal is not to go in entitled or demanding, but rather curious about how you’re doing. It’s a great opportunity to self-promote (without feeling icky) – to highlight some of the achievements you’re most proud of. Your boss may just be taking your hard work for granted. So let them know both that you’d like to be recognized, and how they can most impactfully do this for you.

Some things you might say include:

  • "I was proud of that marketing campaign I launched that achieved X result, and I hoped it might earn me a chance to run an even bigger campaign. I was wondering if leaders weren’t as impressed with that campaign’s performance as I thought. Do you have feedback for me?"
  • "I’ve been enjoying the role I’ve played in onboarding our recent hires. I’d love to be asked to take on a formal leadership role. Do you think that’s in the works for me?"

The key elements in these examples are:

  • You’re highlighting achievements without bragging.
  • You’re letting your boss know what brand of recognition you’re seeking.
  • You’re inviting feedback without being entitled.

Let this be your winning formula.

Tip #4: Recognize others

One of the best ways to bump up the recognition you receive is by role-modeling the practice. You may not be in a position to hand out Cadillacs like Oprah, but surely you can express gratitude to highlight a colleague’s hard work or bold idea. Or you might proactively seek someone’s expertise in order to let them showcase their hard-earned knowledge.

There are so many ways to show someone you value them. If it’s not happening organically on your team, then why don’t you get the ball rolling? 

Be the example you’d like to see. Others will follow your lead.

There are so many ways to show someone you value them. If it’s not happening organically on your team, then why don’t you get the ball rolling?

Tip #5: Be patient in this moment of uncertainty

The pandemic of 2020 changed the world of work overnight, and in some ways possibly forever.  That may sound dramatic, but we are in a collective process of redefining what, where, when, and how we work. And candidly, many leaders are simply distracted right now. Figuring out how to maintain client engagement, how to do research and development, how to coach, develop, and manage  their teams – these are all open questions sitting on the shoulders of our leaders.

It’s not an excuse for anyone to lose sight of the importance of recognizing their team members. It’s simply a possible explanation. Your boss may be overwhelmed right now. Still, get on their calendar and have the conversation. Be proactive and ask for what you need. But be mindful of what they may still be wading through, and offer them just a bit of grace.

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.