How to ask your boss for more meaningful work

While a paycheck is important, many people question trading their time for money. According to McKinsey research, 70% of US-based workers say their work defines their sense of purpose, and nearly half are rethinking the type of work they do because of shifting priorities during the pandemic.

But instead of letting your current employer find you a more fulfilling job, you’re likely 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 greatest benefits of work is that there is meaning attached to the effort. It can be learning something, teaching something, or getting better at something and being able to demonstrate mastery. A big part of the reward of hard work is knowing who you helped, how you promoted the business, or what you proved to yourself today. Often, these moments are based on times when you faced adversity and overcame it.

While companies realize they need to provide opportunities for professional development, mentoring and career advancement, employees can and should start asking for it. How you approach your request, however, will likely affect your success.

How to Frame Ask

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

Do this by casting a vision. Coleman recommends showing hunger that is wrapped in humility. For example, “I am grateful for this company and the job I have. I want to develop professionally and I look around in my heart and consider my talents, what I like to do and what results matter to me.”

“I call it 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 I want my work to create.”

Then ask for whatever you need to get there, such as additional training, new assignments, or additional responsibilities. Be sure to tie the effort to the expected results, showing your boss what he can expect from you in the future.

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

For example, you could say, “do you think there is an opportunity for me to make a small adjustment in my current job? I spend half my day doing the work I love and would like to increase that to 80%. I believe that the extra time I spend on this type of work will create [this benefit].”

Yu agrees that it’s important that your request demonstrates the added value you’ll bring to the company. Another good way to frame the question is to say, “I’d like to get better at what I do, but I need help. I am willing to put in the extra time and effort if you want to help me. I would love to take a course that is related to this project I am working on. I’m happy to share what I’m learning with the team.”

“Your boss would have to be dumb to say no to that, especially if you’re coming up with specific things that would help your dominance and autonomy,” says Yu. “If it is in their power, the boss is likely to give you a test.”

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

Meaningful work is also meaningful to your boss

Managing employees who excel in their roles and add value to the company will reflect well on bosses. “Now you’re their protégé,” says Yu. “If it’s within their remit or if they can support it or champion it, they’ll try to give you the opportunity to [put] substantial work in practice”.

“There is humility [in] saying, “I want to bring more to the table,” Coleman adds. “This is usually very attractive. What happens with this type of attitude is that you bring your leader into the equation and you don’t just say, “oh, I want this.”

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