Recently, I heard the analogy that when we go to work we are leasing our time to the agency. And, when you think about whether you are happy at work, one way to consider it is whether you are receiving sufficient pay for the time you are lending to the agency. And if you aren’t happy, then how do you sweeten the deal for yourself?

Over the years, I’ve heard variations of the phrase: “You couldn’t pay me enough to work for that person (or doing that task).” Now, in the government, we know our pay is pretty much set. Sure, there’s some chance of step-increases, performance bonuses, or Presidentially-approved raises. But in general, our pay is what it is. So then, how does one sweeten the deal?

Several years back, I read a book titled: Love It, Don’t Leave It: 26 Ways to Get What You Want at Work. And, among the various pieces of advice the book offered was that if you have to stay in the job, to use that time to benefit yourself in the future. The advice really resonated with me at the time and is advice I frequently offer.

How to sweeten the deal

Let’s briefly explore this concept of leasing your time. A lease, by definition is “a contract or instrument conveying (something) to another for a specified period…at the will of either lessor or lessee in consideration of…compensation.” Thus, accepting/offering a position is like a contract. The will of the lessor or lessee is when someone is fired or quits. And, the compensation or ‘rent’ is our compensation or pay.

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As we’ve already acknowledged, you can’t raise the ‘rent’.

When you think about a future job, one that you think will make you happier, what is it? Is it a manager or branch chief position? Or, perhaps a job as a project manager?

Whatever it is, take some time to think about what skills are needed for that future job. Are there some experiences you need to have had? Or, is there network connections you need to make? Is there training that might make you more marketable?

Step 1: Create a wishlist of all the skills, experiences, connections, and/or training (SECT) that would benefit you.

You could of course make that list right now, and move to step 2. However, I’d encourage you to keep your list handy and add to it over the course of a week or two.

During the week, try to get job announcements that match your ideal job. You’ll want to read through the list of qualifications and see if there’s anything to add to your wishlist. Also, see if you can set up meetings with someone who currently has the job to see if they can share what SECTs that helped them get the job and be successful. Add whatever you learn from your interviews to the list. You might also want to meet with people that interact with the person who holds your ideal job to see what they see as important SECTs. Again, add what you learn to your wishlist.

Step 2: Prioritize the list.

Now that you have a comprehensive list, you’ll want to start prioritizing the list. There’s a good chance you can’t get all of the things on your SECT list, so you’ll want to be strategic about which one’s you’ll prioritize.

You might prioritize based on one, some, or all of the following:

  • Areas of greatest weakness in your current portfolio.
  • Opportunities that are most unique.
  • Options that are easiest to accomplish. Or, hardest to accomplish.
  • Some other priority that’s important to you.

Step 3: Identify opportunities to check off your list

Finally, start looking for specific opportunities where you can begin checking off things from your list – starting with those with your highest priority. For instance, you may want to ask to shadow your supervisor if you want to become a supervisor. You might ask to detail briefly in another department so you can learn about other parts of the agency. Alternatively, you might ask to develop an extra product on a project 0 that you know would be a good portfolio piece for a future job interview.

You’ll need to be creative. But, I have faith that you can find a way to sweeten the deal. That you can find ways to make your current job just a little more bearable. You just need a strategy to make it more worth your time.

That said…

The alternative to sweetening the deal is, of course, to end the deal. Which, you already know. But, if you’re finding yourself in a job that doesn’t make you happy but you don’t seem to be taking action…then check out this post on why you may not be applying for a new job.