I have found that this usually occurs for one of two reasons:
- The supervisor is genuinely unaware of the strong work of the chemist.
- Business priorities have changed, but the work plan of the chemist has not changed accordingly.
The case of an unaware supervisor generally occurs with a supervisor juggling multiple priorities. Here the chemist should maximally leverage existing communication opportunities with the supervisor, especially in one-on-one meetings. I suggest the use of well-organized written outlines or slides that communicate not only the achievements, but also how these results were achieved. It is important to be succinct, yet ensure that key messages come across clearly.
It is not unusual for upper management to change business priorities. Unfortunately, communication of these changes can cascade down incompletely. Therefore, each chemist must be aware of the business environment, the organization’s portfolio, and how his/her individual projects fit into the business plan. It is very important to raise the issue if it seems like your current project is no longer a strong business fit. It is better to move to a new project aligned with business needs than to stay on a project that leadership and the business do not value.
If you love the work and want to remain under this individual's supervision, you will need to shift the dynamic. Consider what is lacking in the relationship and directly communicate your concerns with your supervisor. Come prepared with action items that you are willing to take on to improve the dynamic. You can open with something like, "I really love the work that I am doing on this team, but I don't feel like my work is being valued and supported. I want to work on this with you by [insert your action item here]." Action items could be meeting briefly each week, providing weekly updates, and/or sharing your accomplishments. Ask your supervisor for their thoughts on how to shift the dynamic. One of the ways I have addressed this organizationally at my own agency is by introducing a quarterly newsletter entitled "spotlight on service."
If your supervisor isn't open to working with you on this, you should consider moving to a different team.
Try to have a conversation about different forms of appreciation before it's a concern. This is certainly easier with a supervisor who values discussion about recognition styles, but often those supervisors aren't the problem. If you're already at the point where you feel undervalued, you might try having some candid discussions with your peers - ideally people who also report to the same manager. Is there a common thread? Has someone else "cracked the code"? If everyone is facing the same issue, then unfortunately you may need to look elsewhere for a role internally (if it seems to be a personality issue) or externally (if it's a company culture issue).
Often time this is a result of poor communication between you and your supervisor. We often have a biased opinion of our abilities and impacts. First, do a reality check and remember that your manager needs to evaluate/calibrate you fairly against your colleagues. It is essential to communicate with him/her regularly. Always keep your supervisor engaged and in the loop.
Seek constant feedback from your supervisor, be willing to take negative feedback, and adjust accordingly. Do not wait until the mid-year or year-end evaluation before seeking feedback. Try to align your interest with your supervisor’s interest, and both should align with your company’s values, objectives, and strategy. Always check with your supervisor before making critical or strategic decisions. You and your supervisor are a team, and a good supervisor wants you to succeed and be happy. If possible, in addition to your supervisor, try to meet with your supervisor’s manager a few times throughout the year. Make a request for a different supervisor especially if a personality clash exists between you and your current supervisor.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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