Being pigeonholed at work isn’t good news for anyone that is ambitious. Whether you want to climb the corporate ladder, reach a certain income level or become a specialist in your profession, it will stunt your growth or even blow out the flame on your ambitions.
To be in a pigeonhole means different things to different people. You might find yourself always being assigned to the same assignments. Your salary might flatline and not grow much. You might have been in the same role for as long as you can remember. There could be no progression opportunities available for you beyond the role you are in. If you recognise any of these as relevant, you could be in a pigeonhole already.
To get out of it or to avoid being put in one, follow these three steps.
- Do more
You were employed to fill a role and to perform certain tasks. But if you only ever follow your job description, you risk being pigeonholed. The reason for that being a lack of ambition and a cloak of invisibility (any other skills you have will go unnoticed) and it’s very difficult to come back from that.
So raise your hand and be on the lookout for opportunities to do more. All it takes is a manager or other senior employee to take notice and a liking to you, and you’ll be on your way to a much more enjoyable role at work with even further opportunities to demonstrate yourself. And if you do happen to find yourself being pushed back to the same assignments, keep working at it. You’ll get noticed.
- Develop yourself
It is often the case that professionals find themselves pigeonholed because they lack the skills or certifications to apply themselves in other areas of a business. Businesses with stretched resources will find it easier to pigeonhole you in a role you’re good at than to train you up in other areas. Don’t take it personally, it’s just more efficient that way, so if you’re a round peg you can expect to be put in a round pigeonhole.
To avoid this, you should identify relevant new skills you could put to use in the workplace and work towards obtaining the knowledge and skills in those areas, as well as achieving the relevant professional certification confirming it. You can still be a round peg, but it pays to be a shape changing one.
So for example, if you work in a project team, you might take the next step towards becoming the project manager of that team by taking a nationally-recognised certification in project management. The aim here is to improve your own skillset so you can apply yourself in more areas. This makes you more adaptable and in turn gives your boss a reason to give you more opportunities. And you can’t argue with that.
- Don’t be a pushover
Nobody likes a pushover. Except your boss. You know why? Because pushovers are easy to manage and by token to pigeonhole. Not being a pushover isn’t about being subordinate, argumentative or abrasive. It’s about standing up for yourself and having the confidence to back yourself and be selective in your own assignments.
Fact is, if you are constantly being assigned to do the same thing and you don’t speak up about it, your boss will continue to take advantage of that. It really is best to have a conversation with your boss. Explain what it is you want to do and why you don’t want to be doing what you do right now. Be consistent – demonstrate that you are serious about it and it is not just a thought that you will forget about in a week. If you approach this in the right way, you’ll get a good response.
To explain the ‘right way’, we mean in the interests of the company – not yourself. Remember, it isn’t about you at work, it’s about the organisation as a whole. If you don’t want to be pigeonholed, spin whatever angle you take in a way that benefits the company you work for. This way you won’t appear to be self-serving. Though both you and the company will benefit from the end result.
And if all that fails? Consider a job or career change. Check out the article covering 5 key steps to a career change if you’d like to explore that option further.