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Undervalued and underpaid: progressing your career against the odds

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick
Stressful working conditions, staff shortages and limited resources make for a difficult working environment. It’s no wonder that nurses feel undervalued, underpaid and confused about how to seek out career progression opportunities. A study into workplace stresses carried out by the University of Aberdeen found that feeling undervalued was actually more stressful to nurses than carrying out their day-to-day work. It’s clear that a sense of value is vital for nurses to feel happy and fulfilled in what they are doing, so we’ve put together a few tips on how to seek out opportunities that can offer the progression and the value that you’re seeking. 

Be open and honest – with yourself and your employer

Feeling like you want to move on with your career and take things to the next level is a great starting point for exploring options. But you have to know where you want to go in order to get there. Think about what you’d like out of work and life and how a certain role or career step could fulfil that. Whether it’s taking on more responsibility, learning a new skill or moving into management, keep that goal in mind. 

Once you’ve worked out where you want to be, ask for help. Your employer may be completely unaware of your ambitions: explain your goal and how you think your employer can help you get there. The outcome could be very favourable and a significant step in your career progression. If you find that help or opportunities are not forthcoming, and you’ve been open and explicit about what you want, then it could be time to move on. 

Take a proactive approach

Theatre, A&E, district, end of life care, general practice – there are so many different areas of nursing, all requiring different skills and offering different career paths. If you’re feeling undervalued in your current position, take steps to investigate what else is out there. Career progression doesn’t just have to mean moving up the hierarchy; exploring different avenues can be equally as rewarding and can progress your professional life by equipping you with a breadth of skills that ultimately make you more valuable. 

Look into courses, opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) or consider further study. Not only will this make you more technically able, it will push you further and could open doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. 

Step out of your comfort zone

If you have a rough idea of the path you’d like your career to take but feel that a course if too much commitment, you could explore your options in a non-committal way. Volunteer with a charity that interests you or which is totally different to what you usually do. Perhaps spend a day with St. John’s Ambulance at an event like the London Marathon or volunteer to be on hand in case of injuries at a local fete or event. Doing something different could spark ideas about your career progression, plus you’ll feel good knowing that you’re lending a helping hand. If you’re feeling really brave and you have the means you could even consider volunteering with a charity overseas or seeking out employment with an aid agency.
While it may feel counter-intuitive to explore work options in your own time, the point is that it gives you first-hand experience and a clearer idea of the potential for career progression. Spending time with people that you wouldn’t usually meet in your day-to-day job can also be a great networking opportunity; developing a career is not necessarily a linear process and encountering situations and people outside of the norm can open doors.  

Finding value starts and ends with you

The recent announcement of pay rises for 1.3 million NHS staff is sure to be a welcome announcement for many, especially after years of pay freezes. A fair wage for the work completed is what anybody would ask for, not just those that work in healthcare. 

However, if after moving up the pay scale you still feel undervalued and that nothing has changed despite feeding back your aspirations to your employer then it’s unlikely that anything will. Tight budgets may be alleviated somewhat by the extra money allocated to pay in the next few years, but cash won’t change systemic issues of undervaluing staff; in these cases it’s best to look elsewhere for progression and value. The most important thing to remember is that progression doesn’t just mean moving from student to sister; forging your own way means that you’ll find satisfaction, value and a sense of achievement in however you choose to progress your career.  
If you found this blog interesting, have a look at more of our blogs on top career tips and how to remain healthy at work, or if you're looking for that perfect role, check out all the vacancies we have available.
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