We've all felt under-appreciated or unrecognized in the workplace. Sometimes those feelings are fleeting reactions to temporary situations or incidents, but sometimes they're an indication of a much more prominent problem. If your skills are being underutilized, it means you aren't being applied to your full potential. The result is that you'll make less money, you'll find yourself bored or uninspired at work, and you'll miss out on the deep sense of fulfillment that is synonymous with working to your fullest potential.

Unfortunately, finding out whether your skills are being underutilized isn't as simple as noting whether or not you're bored at work. If you feel like you have more to offer the working world, try using the following strategies to objectively evaluate your current situation.

You Find Your Work Unstimulating

This is the first and most common sign that your skills are being underutilized. Think about when you first started in your given career--you likely found each new task or responsibility to be an exhilarating or at least interesting affair. Today, look at your body of work. Does it challenge you? Does it interest you? There will always be days where you find yourself unstimulated, but if it has become a chronic symptom, it may be that you simply aren't using yourself to the fullest potential.

You Fly Through Your Performance

As an employee, it's natural to want to complete your tasks quickly and easily. In a culture where productivity is the ultimate sign of success, the more work you can get done efficiently and accurately, the better. However, flying through your work easily doesn't usually lead to job satisfaction. In order to truly feel accomplished in our work, we must experience some level of dissonance, resistance, or challenge. Take a look at the past few weeks--have you encountered any challenges, or do you knock out your responsibilities flawlessly?

Your Responsibilities Haven't Changed in Years

Think about the growth you've seen in your individual position over the years. As you've developed as a professional, you've undoubtedly gained new skills and learned new things--and you've certainly gained more experience. Have your responsibilities evolved in response to those changes, or are you still restricted to the range of responsibilities you started with? Regardless of whether you're in a new position or the same position, if your responsibilities are more or less the same, you may have a problem being underutilized.

You Have Technical Skills That Aren't Being Used or Acknowledged

Are there skills you've acquired or talents you've discovered in the past few years that haven't been put to good use or at least acknowledged? For example, let's say you've completed coursework in a new, related area, or that you've gotten certified in a field that could help your current employer. Have your supervisors taken notice of these new developments? If they haven't given you any new responsibilities and haven't even acknowledged that those skills are useful, it means they aren't paying attention, and you're being underutilized.

You Aren't Getting Promoted or Recognized

Promotions aren't the be-all end-all measurement of a career, but they are useful indicators of your influence and place within an organization. As part of your development within an organization, you should be getting regular raises or promotions every few years or so. If you don't, it could mean that your responsibilities aren't adapting to your increasing experience and broadening skillset. If you don't see a bright and changing future for yourself in this organization, it could mean that you're perpetually being underutilized.

Now Here's What to Do About It

Let's imagine that all signs point to you being underutilized at work. What can you do about it? You have several options, and which one you take depends on your current circumstances and how you feel about the situation.

  • Adjust your expectations. If your underutilization is more of an annoyance than an existential burden, there's no problem with staying where you are. You'll just have to adjust your expectations and realize that this job isn't everything. With the understanding that your work is somewhat beneath you, you'll be able to better manage the day and feel at peace with your place in the organization.
  • Demand recognition. If you like this company but you can't continue being underutilized, stand up and voice your opinion. Go to your immediate supervisor (or higher up, if necessary), and make an objective case for why you deserve a different place in the company or a different set of responsibilities. If they still refuse to recognize you, it may be time to move on.
  • Find a new job. It's never too late to start somewhere else. If you can't stand your work anymore and your supervisors won't recognize your skills, find another place that will.
  • Start your own business. If you're experienced enough in your industry, you can remove yourself from the system entirely and put your skills to the test as an entrepreneur. Whether you build a company from the ground up or just start a freelance or consulting operation, entrepreneurship allows you to use your skills however you see fit.

If you truly feel as though you are being underutilized, you can't let this working relationship continue. You deserve to earn a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in your workday, and you can't do that unless you're being used to your fullest potential.