15 Signs to Step It Up at Work

In an ideal world, your boss tells you when you're doing something wrong. But sometimes people avoid the hard conversations. We've got some common warning signs to watch out for. 

1. She stops giving you large assignments

If you were initially given a chance to work on large assignments, but now you’re only assigned small (maybe even seemingly unnecessary) tasks, something’s gone awry. It’s possible your boss wasn’t impressed with your prior work. Whether it’s paying better attention to detail, logging longer hours, or having a direct conversation with her to get some feedback, you should do something about it now. Tackling bigger projects is your bargaining chip for future promotions. 

2. She reassigns your work to a coworker

Take a look at your current work load. Is it different from when you first started? You might have felt like you nailed your last project, but if you notice that your coworker seems to be taking on more work, while your assignments dwindle, stop to consider. This may be your boss’s attempt to balance, but if you feel like you could be doing more and aren’t getting invited to do so, consider approaching her about it. You want to make sure she knows you’re ready and able to assume additional responsibility.

3. She does your work herself

Some of us may have completed an assignment or conducted research for our manager only to find that she redid it herself (ouch!). This might not actually be as bad as it looks. Sometimes the instructions were unclear, or she wanted you to focus on something else so she finished it up herself. But it doesn’t hurt to clarify. If she’s unhappy with your work, you should discuss ways to improve for next time.

4. She calls a lot of meetings to “discuss your work”

We’ve all experienced a manager who loves meetings. However, if your boss calls a meeting more than once to discuss your work, or the quality of your work, then she’s probably trying to guide you. She may be subtly telling you that your work isn’t up to par. Try to listen without taking offense. A simple fix may make it better, for her and for you.

5. She edits most of your work

I cringe sometimes at the red underlines and blue scribbles I see when my manager edits my writing, and the meetings afterward to discuss the edits are awkward, too. If you embrace the feedback, though, over time the reds and blues will decrease. If you don’t see a marked change after a few attempts, chances are you’re at an impasse with your writing styles. That’s when you’ll want to consider addressing it directly with her.

6. “I love it... but...”

We’ve been programmed to expect the worst when we hear the word “but,” and it’s usually for good reason. Some managers are sensitive to their employees’ feelings so they add a cushion to their negative response when reviewing work. Watch out for these phrases—it may take some reading between the lines to determine what your boss actually wants from you. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, either. Just because she’s not always comfortable with direct feedback doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it.

7. She drops you from a group project

If you start working on a team project, but suddenly you find yourself removed from the email chain? Warning sign. The change in guard could have to do with work load and strategy rather than you specifically, but it’s always good to address it. Letting your boss know you were excited about the project and would love to be considered for a future one is one way to open the conversation. Ask her if there’s anything you could do better for a future opportunity.

8. She micromanages

All bosses have different management styles, but if she feels the need to give you step-by-step guidance on every project, even those you’ve done before, there might be a trust issue. Consider broaching the subject from the perspective of her time. Tell her you don’t want to take up her limited work hours and ask whether there’s a better way for you to work independently. The conversation should reveal any concerns she might have about your work.

9. “You should know by now” 

When you first get a job, you’re given a probation period where you get the chance to show what you can do but also learn the business. If you find that your boss starts to bring up the fact that you’ve been at the company long enough to know how something works without feedback, she’s probably hinting (in a not so subtle way) that you need to step up your game.

10. She starts nitpicking and sniping

As time progresses at your company, you may notice that your manager is becoming more irritable when you approach her.  Maybe she starts pointing out every little error you make, leaving you with this feeling that you can’t do anything right. We’re all personalities beyond our job descriptions and, frankly, that means we sometimes get on each other’s nerves. If your boss continues to lash out in small ways, you can still make a comeback. Triple-check your work before turning it in so those small mistakes don’t happen. After all, they really shouldn’t, should they? If it truly feels like unfair treatment, though, consider addressing it with her or your HR department.

11. She condescends

Yes, she has more experience than you but professionalism dictates that she should treat you with respect even if you aren’t on her “level” at the company. If she condescends from the start, it’s probably just a sign she’s not a great manager (and that’s another story entirely). But if your boss suddenly starts talking to you as if you’re a child or not on her level when she’s previously worked well with you, she may be tired of the less-than-excellent work you’ve been turning in. The key word here is ‘suddenly’.

12. You ask her for a certain opportunity but it goes to someone else

All of us love to take on new and exciting opportunities, and we should relay this to our bosses or managers. However, if an opportunity comes up, and you make it known you’re interested in taking it on, and your manager gives it to someone else, she may not think you’re up for the job.

13. She gives you poor scores on your annual review

This is probably the most obvious sign (if you can even call it that). If your scores on your annual review seem to be decreasing every time, there’s no doubt about how your boss feels about your work

14. She "inadvertently" skips you in update meetings

This can be totally disheartening, but if she stops asking you for updates on your projects or doesn’t ask you to share in team huddles, she’s probably hinting that she’s uninterested in the work you’re doing currently.

15. Her energy toward you has just... changed

Interaction styles vary among managers. Some are open and approachable while others prefer to keep their office door closed most of the time. If you were once “cool” with your manager and for some reason she starts avoiding your morning chats over coffee, she’s probably intentionally distancing herself for one reason or another. It doesn’t hurt to ask her why.

What you can do

If you notice any of these signs, here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your manager directly how she feels about your work and areas where you can improve

  • Ask a coworker who seems to be thriving to give you some pointers regarding your manager’s preferences

  • Ask for feedback from your manager and coworkers monthly

  • Evaluate your work and ask coworkers (whom you trust) to review your work before turning it in

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An original version of this article appeared on Career Contessa.