3 Pitfalls to Being Indispensable
Do a quick Google search with the key phrase “indispensable at work” and you will have a plethora of sites with tips to help you drive value as an employee. I love these sites because a most of the workforce never reach their true potential either because they choose to underperform (consciously or subconsciously) or their skills sets are not right for the job. Does this mean everyone should strive to be a Star Employee? No. Each person views work differently. Some are most happy when they are in their comfort zone while others aren’t happy unless they are pushing the envelope. I would never urge someone to live outside their comfort zone if that caused them unhappiness and distress.
But what about the people who want to be indispensable? Are you one of those people who attacks each day at work like it is your next big opportunity to succeed? If so … and if you have done this for a while … you probably realize that being indispensable has a few pitfalls. The top three I experience on a regular basis are burnout, mobility issues, and over-specialization.
Burnout is the #1 cause for concern when you are making yourself indispensable. Have clear boundaries for your work-life balance and appoint family and friends to hold you accountable to those boundaries. Appointing specific people ahead of time will create a safety net before things go sideways – and they will go sideways if you are successful at becoming invaluable.
Remember that work-life balance is not a 50-50 split; work takes up 1/3 of your life and the other 2/3 goes to your family, health, and happiness. Murphy’s Law dictates that burnout will creep up on you when you have 3 projects running at full steam with no slack left in your critical path. It’s like sneezing while trying to spin 10 plates. One of the fastest ways to sink your reputation is to allow burnout to derail your projects. Protect against burnout at all costs.
The sheer fact that you are working towards ‘Employee Stardom’ should alert you to the fact that whomever you become vital to will not want you to move out of that position. So, if you are in your twilight years and you want a job until you retire, this is a perfectly sensible decision. Most of us know that there are more promotions and lateral moves lay in the future.
Balance your indispensable skill set with a backup plan or exit strategy. I just talked with my director a couple of weeks ago about my exit strategy. The discussion reminded him that, while I’m committed to the projects, I have to keep my eyes open for the next transfer. He confided that he has similar concerns about career mobility and relevance within the company.
One note of caution … don’t share your backup plan or exit strategy with just anyone. It should only be discussed with trusted family, friends, or co-workers. Most employers only hear “exit” and will no longer consider you indispensable if they think you are ready to leave.
Being indispensable also means you have a unique, niche, or specialized skill set. This is great as an analyst, technician, or middle management. If you set your sights on higher paying jobs, you will need some career broadening experience so you better understand multiple environments within the company or industry. This relates to mobility issues since career broadening typically requires job mobility.
If you stay with one company, over-specialization makes it hard to show leadership that you can open your aperture and perform in a different environment. If you plan to move between companies to broaden your career, your résumé will be missing key elements required to make the next big jump.
Offset your specialization by volunteering for projects outside of your comfort zone. Watch out for burnout, though. It is easier to fall into the burnout trap when you are learning a new skill or attacking a problem from a different perspective.
Try to map out the skill sets or perspectives you need more experience with. Almost a decade ago, a mentor helped me write out the skill sets I needed to develop. It was a short list but I focused on moving to the next job to round out my skill sets.
Don’t worry too much if a project does not broaden your skill set in the direction you planned. Additional opportunities will open up with each new project. After a few career moves, I had a tough time finding career broadening opportunities so I just starting taking whatever opportunities were available. One of those opportunities involved writing and editing contract proposals. Flash forward 5 years later and I am preparing to rate in-coming contract proposals. I have a better understanding of how companies approach contract proposals which will help during the evaluation phase.
Being an indispensable employee means you will make it through some of the downsizing (or right-sizing) drills. However, it is exhausting and can be a thankless job the longer you stay in the same job. Don’t make yourself miserable trying to find success. Balance success and achievement with family and friends.
How do you become invaluable in your career without backing yourself into a corner?