Ways to Feel Better About Work When There’s No Money for a Raise

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In a normal year, September offers a chance for a reboot, a moment to revisit and revise all of those resolutions you made in January. With summer behind us, the period leading into the winter holiday season presents an opportunity to hit professional goals, secure promotions and bonuses, or even change jobs. This is not a normal year.

Many professionals have been working at home for months and are likely to stay there until 2021. Companies large and small are struggling in the pandemic-driven recession. And the virus shows no signs of easing its grip. Against this backdrop, the most obvious signal of your employer’s appreciation—a pay bump—will be hard to come by.

So it may be time to adjust your goals and seek satisfaction in less familiar ways. Here are some tips on how to survive—and thrive—as the strangest year in memory draws to a close.

Progression is different from promotion. “The next year is going to be harder” for people with highly specific ambitions, says Helen Tupper, co-host of the Squiggly Careers podcast. She advocates a broader approach to professional growth, focusing on relationships, profile, and impact. “People want to grow, learn, and develop, and they are having to do it in a different way,” she says.

Get crafting. To keep a sense of purpose, Tupper recommends what she calls “job-crafting.” If internal promotions are unavailable and the external job market seems flat, she suggests analyzing whether your current position plays to your strengths and assessing whether you find your work meaningful. “When you are job-crafting, there are higher levels of engagement, increased performance, increased well-being,” she says.

Expand your profile. You’ve probably noticed your LinkedIn feed has been busier than ever during the pandemic. Rebecca Gilmore, a London lawyer specializing in travel litigation, says she—and her bosses—consider engagement and outreach an essential business development tool and a pathway to personal growth. “It’s about seizing opportunities and getting your profile out there, and then work comes in in ways you least expect it,” she says.

Empathize—and be honest. For managers, it’s time to hone engagement skills and connect with individual employees, says Ed Griffin, a director at the Institute for Employment Studies in the U.K. The ability to understand the needs and aspirations of team members will be key: “You don’t want frustrations to seep into your team,” he says.

Aim high. The pandemic has disrupted so much about the world of work, meaning many opportunities that once seemed unavailable could now be up for grabs, such as senior roles that previously involved significant amounts of international travel. “We’re seeing a stronger argument that location is not the most important factor now, opening up roles to people who previously were not able to apply,” Griffin says.

And remember: It’s not entirely about the size of your paycheck. Even if 2020 closes out with no salary bump on the horizon, keep a level head and don’t necessarily jump at a better offer or annoy your boss by pushing for more. “Very often financial reward is a short-term incentive,” Griffin says. “Often we feel dissatisfied if we feel our financial reward is unfair—but there’s a ceiling on how much happier you can feel.”

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