Job security is a serious concern for so many employees in today’s workforce. Knowing that so many positions are being outsourced, cut, or revamped, for instance, makes it especially difficult to believe that anybody’s job is completely safe, says Rita Friedman, a Philadelphia-based career coach and resume writer. “But in any workplace, you’ll still find people who are absolutely indispensable – that is to say that productivity would grind to a halt if they were suddenly no longer there. And it’s not just C-level executives who hold this distinction; it could be an employee at any level in any department of the organization.”
“Being indispensable at work means that your supervisors count on you so much that without you, the productivity of your department might suffer, or at least that’s the perception,” adds Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, and host of the YouTube channel FromGradToCorp. “In the minds of your supervisors and perhaps your co-workers, you are essential to the overall success of the department or even the company. Their feeling is that you are a necessary and valued part of the machine. They depend on you.”
Stever Robbins, an executive and personal coach and top 10 business podcaster, agrees. When you’re indispensable, some part of the company cannot function without you, he says. “You may have knowledge that is unique to you, a position in the organization that is unique to you, or a skill that is unique to you.”
Some people mistake indispensable for irreplaceable, says Amy Hoover, president of Talent Zoo–but they’re not the same thing. “As they say, everyone can be replaced. But to be indispensable means that you are so good and efficient at your job, that your boss and co-workers don’t want to imagine replacing you,” she says. “You are the go-to person they count on; the one who simply gets things done.”
Hoover says if you are ambitious or take pride in your work, you should “absolutely strive to be indispensable.” There is a great feeling of satisfaction in a job well done and knowing that you’re making an impact. “In this day and age when employee job satisfaction is nearly at an all-time low, it’s a great goal to have.”
Teach agrees. “Being indispensable can help your morale because you’re going to enjoy your job more knowing how valuable you are to the company,” he says. “It not only makes you feel that you’re contributing to something greater than yourself, but it also provides you with validation of what you do and who you are.”
Being indispensable also puts you in a comfort zone because you won’t have to worry as much about losing your job, “which is one less stress you won’t have to endure,” he adds. “You have greater job security—and will (hopefully) be the last one to go if your department or company is forced to make layoffs.”
Other benefits of being indispensable at work: You’re more likely to get a raise or promotion; and you may be sought out for special projects, opinions, and direction, says Marsha Egan, a certified workplace productivity and business leader coach, and chief executive of The Egan Group, Inc.
Want to be indispensable to your employer? Here’s how:
Do work that matters, not work that’s easy. Most employees can find tasks at work to stay busy, pass the time, and fly under the radar of the boss, Hoover says. “To become indispensable, you’ll want to dig deeper and really think about the work that matters to the company and its success. Tackle those projects first.”
Monopolize a particular skill. Find some task that needs to get done by the organization and make sure that you are the only person who knows how to do it, Robbins says. “You will have the chance when somebody who already has a unique skill leaves the company, and you step in to replace them. Or it will happen when a new initiative is created that requires skill the company has never before had.”
Be willing to go the extra mile. This doesn’t mean you have to ‘suck up’ to your boss–but if you’ve got the time and means to give a little more than what’s expected, it can go a long way, Hoover explains. “Managers need help and support to do their jobs well and having a reliable team member makes a big impact.”
Teach adds: “Most employees just execute, but if you’re one of the few who are constantly coming up with new ideas and are taking on new responsibilities that aren’t required of you, this will go a long way in making you indispensable.” Volunteering for projects that other employees don’t want to work on will also solidify your position as an indispensable employee, he says.
Remember that your job is to make your supervisor’s job easier. By becoming your supervisor’s right-hand man or woman, you are building a trust between the two of you, Teach says. If you are always thinking of ways to help your boss and you do make their job easier, they are certainly going to count on you more and more.
Master a language that’s not required of your position. Whether its fluency in Mandarin, HTML and web coding, or a special way of calming down irate customers, being able to communicate on another level is highly valuable. “You never know when the company will need to reach a client on the other side of the world or to quickly have its website updated, but it can be very reassuring for senior management to know there’s someone on staff who could respond to these types of emergencies,” Friedman says.
Be productive, but don’t make it a race. “Most employees equate being successful and productive with doing the most work, and doing it the quickest,” Hoover says. “That’s not always the case.” Take your time to do the work correctly and thoughtfully. Often when you do this you can uncover better and more efficient ways to get the job done and once you bring those to the table, voila!: You’re a little more indispensable to your boss and company.
Monopolize an important relationship. If you are the only person who is a trusted advisor to your company’s biggest customer, you will be essential to the company, says Robbins. “Find relationships that are crucial to the company’s survival or ability to get things done, and become the point person who maintains the relationship. Build it up over time.”
Be a thought leader. When everyone agrees, it is difficult to stand out, Egan says. “By applying yourself in a way that provides new and valuable thinking that benefits your company, you become a thought leader.”
Be a team player. To be indispensable, you not only need to prove yourself to your supervisor, but to your co-workers as well, says Teach. “If they’re always looking to you to lead them, to be the point person on projects, even though you aren’t their supervisor, this speaks volumes about you. Furthermore, offer to help your co-workers when they run into a problem. If you do, they will see you as their colleague and mentor which can only help your work relationship with them.”
Be committed. “It sounds obvious, and it may even sound easy, but what often truly sets the indispensable workers apart from the replaceable cogs in the machine is a die hard work ethic and commitment to quality,” Friedman says. “If you are the best at what you do, you are likely to be the last one to go.”
Add value to every transaction. Egan says when completing your work, you should always ask yourself: Have I taken the extra step? Has my report/response truly added value to the bottom line of this company?
Have a good attitude. “Again, it might sound obvious, but it’s easy to find people who don’t appreciate having a job at all, and much harder to find people who make the office a pleasant place to come,” Friedman says. “Everyone likes working with people who seem like they are happy to be there, and if choosing between two employees who are equally good at their jobs, a manager is more apt to axe the grumpy one.”
Stay current with technology and trends. Technology and industry trends are constantly changing so if you are continually learning new technologies and keeping up with trends, you will continue to be an invaluable asset to your company, Teach says. “If you’re not already, you will become the go-to person on these matters which makes your knowledge and skills even more valuable compared to those who aren’t staying current.”
Always try to offer solutions. You know that one thing that everyone at work always complains about? It might be the poorly designed e-commerce platform, the way the warehouse is organized, or the computer system that has some really whacky glitches. Whatever it is–instead of commiserating, find a way to fix it (or, at least, a way to consistently work around it), Friedman says. “You don’t necessarily have to have expertise in a hard skill such as creating pivot tables in Excel, but if you’re the only one who can get the printer to stop eating paper, you might find yourself with a leg up.”
Continually improve your oral and written communication skills. Many people don’t like to speak publicly–but for those who do, it can lead to great opportunities, Teach says. It’s also hard to find employees with excellent written skills, especially in the world of texting and Twitter–so if you are a great writer, you will definitely have an advantage over others, he says.
Be consistently reliable and trustworthy. These are traits that employers value today, because of too many incidences of unreliability and mistrust, Egan says.
Keep in mind that no one is truly indispensable. If you leave, as long as the organization is at least slightly functional, it will find a way to survive without you, Robbins says. “The strategies above, however, will give you a chance at being perceived as indispensable, which is what you really care about.”
The downside of being indispensable is that you have to constantly live up to high expectations, so if and when you do fail, it can be quite noticeable, Teach says. “It can put a lot of pressure on you because you feel that people are always counting on you and you don’t want to let them down. However, it’s much better to be seen as indispensable and fail once in a while than not being seen as being indispensable at all.”