6 ways to become irreplaceable at work

Job security is a nice thing, even when the economy is doing well. After all, looking for a new position when you’re unemployed isn’t on anyone’s list of The Most Fun Things To Do. One way to achieve job security: Be the kind of employee that your boss would be crazy to let go of because you’re too valuable. In other words, make yourself indispensable. For this to happen, you have to be more than just great at your job (although that helps). The suggestions below will take you from employee of the month to we-can’t-do-this-without-you territory.

Exceed expectations

Maybe it goes without saying, but going above and beyond is a great way to stand out. Find out what each task requires, and then crush it. “Always get clarity about what expectations are,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City. “Ask your boss, ‘What does success look like in this task? How will I know I’ve really succeeded at this?’ And then do it. Make that your priority.” Many workers may not realize that they’re expected to be more efficient and productive as they get more knowledgeable in their roles. “Sadly, longer-term employees often lose their enthusiasm and start to work down to the standards of the newest, least-experienced, and often lower-compensated counterparts,” says Susan Hosage, senior consultant and executive coach with OneSource HR Solutions. “If you were the boss, who would you choose to keep on the payroll?”

Show initiative

Whether it’s volunteering for an additional project or assignment or filling in for an employee who’s absent, impress your boss by going the extra mile for the good of the department. “Have your ear to the ground for those things that are cross-functional,” Halpern says. Are there task forces being formed? Is your boss asking for volunteers to think about new work methods or efficiencies? “Dive into those things that give you wider visibility and exposure,” Halpern says. “If you just have your head down doing your job and doing it well, they can probably find someone to do that functionally. But if you seem like someone who’s always ready to pitch in for company-wide things, you’re going to have a lot more fans.”

Be present

In this age of social media, when nearly everyone always has their nose in their device, be the worker who looks everyone in the eyes. “If you’re in a meeting, don’t be checking your cell phone,” Halpern says. “If you’re in a conversation with someone, make it about them. Don’t be texting in between or answering texts. It really is insulting to the person you’re with.” Unless your personal cell is used for business purposes, employees who spend the day staring at their phones are viewed as distracted, disengaged, and less productive. “With the exception of lunchtime, your employer is paying for your time and attention during the workday,” Hosage says. “No one looks more replaceable than the person who can’t break away from their cell phone.”

Become a problem solver

There are plenty of people in the workplace who are experts at pointing out what’s wrong. Be the person who can provide the fix. “If you brand yourself as a person who looks for the idea on how to complete or collaborate on a project, versus the employee who always conveys why something can’t or won’t work, you’ll be viewed as a valued contributor in your workplace,” says Kenneth L. Johnson, a diversity recruiter and career coach at East Coast Executives. There’s a quick way to put this into practice: Johnson calls it the 10 Second Rule: “Before making your thoughts known during workplace discussions, give yourself 10 seconds to process your immediate thoughts before answering,” he says. “Then frame your answer as a solution. If utilized consistently, you’ll brand yourself as a problem solver who adds value, and everyone wants those types on their team.” Try substituting the word “and” for “but” when responding to a colleague’s idea. For instance, say, “That sounds like a great plan, and we can schedule it for next quarter,” instead of, “That could work, but not until next quarter.” That simple switch makes your co-worker’s ideas valued instead of dismissed or belittled.

Be good at many things—or really good at one thing

There are two approaches that are helpful here. Either you can be good at a variety of different things around the office, making you generally useful everywhere, or you can be good at something no one else knows how or has the desire to do. “Whether this is some technical engineering or coding skill or understanding how the printer works better than anyone else, being the only one that has a knack for something, by default, makes you a pretty desirable employee,” says Stephanie Troiano, marketing manager for The Hire Talent. At the other end of the spectrum, a jack of all trades is also hard to replace. “If you are able to dabble in the accounting, consult with clients, handle the email marketing, train the new hires, and order the office supplies, who wants to get rid of that person?” Troiano says.

Have a good attitude

Simple but true—if your colleagues find you miserable, you’re not irreplaceable. “I don’t care how good you are at what you do,” Troiano says. “No one wants you around if you’re difficult to work with.” Keep the complaining and gossiping to a minimum, and be a constructive part of the work team. “People would rather keep positive people around than negative people,” Halpern says. “If you’re a negative person, try to channel that into problem-solving. Find a place to take that perspective and put it there.”

Know the best experts

The person who’s truly indispensable is the one with great intel. Whether it’s where to get the best lunch near the office or which printer works better, people love getting the inside scoop. Who knows, that kind of information could prove very useful if your current boss doesn’t value your contributions to the team. Once you get a new job, you’ll quickly show him just how irreplaceable you truly are.

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