One of the most irritating, and unfortunately too common, injustices of the contemporary workplace is seeing an individual with less competence and an inferior work ethic advance ahead of a more skilled and hard-working person simply because they are more adept at office politics.
When the wrong people are getting promoted for the wrong reasons organizational productivity and morale eventually take a big hit.
To create a merit based culture that rewards hard work, dedication and teamwork organizations need to promote the employees who best embody those values.
Having said that, what can you do as an individual employee if you feel like your contributions are not adequately recognized by your organization? What can you do if you see less qualified individuals getting opportunities and promotions that you are denied?
You could complain to sympathetic coworkers and family members. You could let yourself become discouraged and decide to care less and do less. These responses are tempting, and may even provide some temporary relief, but they will not solve the problem or stop the steady advance of resentment caused by your perception of unfairness.
A more productive solution is to address the problem directly by doing a better job of marketing yourself within your organization.
I have made this suggestion many times to employees in my years as an EAP consultant. In response, some employees have said something to the effect of: “My work should speak for itself. I shouldn’t be required to “kiss-up” to management in order to be recognized, rewarded and/or promoted.”
I am sympathetic to this description of the problem but ultimately this perspective is inadequate because it doesn’t lead to a solution; it simply leads to further resentment , feelings of helplessness and stress.
Of course, in an ideal world our work should speak for itself. However, our actual world is so overloaded with information that, in fact, your organization’s perception of your work and its value is always competing for your boss’s (and other decision makers) finite attention.
Of course, you shouldn’t have to “kiss up” which denotes a manipulative and devious type of communication. However, framing the problem as “kissing up” is just one choice. You could also choose to call this “speaking up” for yourself. Or you could call it “documenting” or “communicating” your achievements.
Framing the problem in these terms is much more likely to lead to action and to positive results.
So if you are better at doing your job than you are at marketing yourself within your organization, embrace the task of learning how to improve your ability to communicate your value and achievements. It may take you out of your comfort zone to get better at “advertising” yourself but don’t rationalize your avoidance by saying “you shouldn’t have to do it.”
Lean into it.
If you don’t do it who will?
There is a lot of territory between the extremes of being boastful (and being perceived as arrogant) and being silent about one’s achievements (and feeling unappreciated and undervalued). Explore that space and discover ways you might communicate your commitment and value to the organization.
The EAP can offer you a confidential sounding board for developing a communication strategy that suits the specifics of your situation and your workplace.
You can improve your skills in the area of marketing yourself, but you first need to learn to accept this challenge as worthwhile, necessary and appropriate.
As the first century sage Hillel put it: “If I am not for myself, who is for me?”