How to ask your boss for more meaningful work

 

By Stephanie Vozza

While a paycheck is important, a lot of people are questioning the exchange of their time for money. According to survey by McKinsey, 70% of U.S.-based employees say their work defines their sense of purpose and nearly half are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of a shift in priorities during the pandemic.

 
How to ask your boss for more meaningful work
 

Instead of leaving your current employer to find a job that is more fulfilling, though, it’s possible to find a greater sense of purpose where you are, says Soon Yu, author of Friction: Adding Value by Making People Work for It.

One of the biggest benefits of work is that there is meaning attached to effort. It can be learning something, teaching something, or getting better at something and being able to demonstrate mastery. A lot of the reward of a hard day’s work is knowing who you helped, how you moved the business forward, or what you proved to yourself today. Often, these times are predicated on periods where you faced adversity and overcame it.

While companies are realizing that they have to provide opportunities for professional development, mentorship, and career progression, employees can and should start asking for it. How you approach your request, however, will likely impact your success.

How to Frame the Ask

Don’t plop the request in their lap, says Ken Coleman, author of From Paycheck to Purpose: The Clear Path to Doing Work You Love. “You could create a little bit of unnecessary tension, even if you are ultimately helping your boss,” he says. “Instead, you can be like a lawyer in a courtroom and lead them along the path to what you’re actually asking.”

 
 

Do this by casting a vision. Coleman recommends showing hunger that is wrapped in humility. For example, “I’m grateful for this company and the job that I have. I want to grow professionally, and I’ve been looking around in my heart and examining my talents, what I love to do, and what results matter to me.”

“I call this talent, passion, and mission,” says Coleman. “Talent is what I’m good at. Passion is what I love to do. And my mission speaks to the values and results that I want my work to create.”

Next, ask for what you need to get there, such as additional training, new assignments, or added responsibilities. Be sure to connect the effort to the anticipated results, showing your boss what they can expect from you in the future.

 

“Paint a picture for your boss of what it will look like when you’re using the specific talents,” says Coleman. “You want to add more value to the company. That kind of specificity and vision casting will bring them in as a participant and help get their buy-in.”

For example, you could say, “do you think there’s an opportunity to make a slight adjustment in my current job? I’m spending half my day doing work I love, and I’d like to bump that up to 80%. I believe the additional time I spend on that type of work will generate [this benefit].”

Yu agrees that it’s important that your request demonstrates the added value you will bring to the company. Another good way to frame the ask is to say, “I would like to get better at what I’m doing, but I need help. I’m willing to put in the extra time and effort if you’re willing to help me. I would really like to take a course, which connects to this project I’m working on. I am happy to share what I learn with the team.”

 

“Your boss would have to be an asshole to say ‘no’ to that, especially if you come in with some concrete things that would help your mastery and your autonomy,” says Yu. “If it’s in their authority, the boss is likely going to give you a trial.”

But don’t ask if you’re not willing to put in extra time and effort. “If you fall flat on your face, the likelihood of you getting the second favor may not be as great,” says Yu.

Meaningful Work is Meaningful to Your Boss, too

Managing employees who excel at their roles and add value to the company will reflects well on bosses. “Now you’re their protégé,” says Yu. “If it’s within their authority or if they can advocate for it or be a champion for it, they’ll try to get you an opportunity to [put] meaningful work into practice.”

 

“There’s humility [in] saying, ‘I want to bring more to the table,’” adds Coleman. “That’s usually very attractive. What’s happening with that type of posture is that you’re bringing your leader into the equation, and you’re not just saying, ‘hey, I want this.’”

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