We often think of the value of a job being in the paycheck or other compensation in our contracts. We can learn to create value beyond what’s on paper.
In Chapter 2. Working Effectively of The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You, I wrote about discovering the value you create in your job. By learning how you generate value for the company and the customers, you can better focus on delivering more value. I stand by that advice, but there’s additional value creation you should focus on, your own.
In the HBR IdeaCast episode Rethinking Our Relationship with Work (Back to Work, Better) journalist Emily Esfahani Smith relays the story of hospital custodial workers finding value in their work. They employ two techniques that we can use in our own jobs. In both cases it’s about creating value for yourself.
One of the best ways to generate value is to redefine your role to do what you enjoy. “Hold on, my boss won’t let me create my own role!” you say. My guess is you have more flexibility than these custodial workers do. Cleaning a room is a pretty well-defined task; and generally, not very exciting. To find more meaning, some of these workers would build relationships with the patients. They noticed some patients had few if any visitors and felt alone, at a time when they felt very vulnerable. The medical staff was often very busy and so patient interaction was limited in time and scope. The custodial staff was able to create more value for themselves by adding satisfying conversations and relationships to their jobs.
Getting involved with certain projects at work can make your job more fulfilling, such as ones that interest you or increase your skill set. At one less than ideal job I had, I worked right next to the chief marketing officer. The proximity allowed me to listen in, and even join in a number of marketing conversations, and promoted many conversations in general between him and I that may not have happened if we sat far apart. We even started going to lunch regularly where he would mentor me in marketing. I made the job better by creating value for myself, in this case, by developing my marketing skills. That had nothing to do with my official job description as the chief technology officer.
Another technique employed by the hospital custodial workers is to see the value in the job. Some companies aspire to have a moving mission statement or talk about how they are changing the world. Many more companies fall flat when trying to do it, or don’t do it at all. Nevertheless, you can create your own mission. These hospital workers don’t see themselves simply as cleaners, but rather an important part of patient safety. It’s hard to be excited about mopping; it’s much easier to be engaged when you know you’re helping to keep people safe.
I stand by the advice in the book that you need to learn the value that you create in the company. But while my original advice was just about the value generated internally and the customers, it can also include the value you create for yourself. The good news is this is not a zero-sum game and creating more value for one party doesn’t prohibit, and often helps to create value for one of the other parties.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.