When to Say You're Not Doing Your Best Work

When to Say You're Not Doing Your Best Work
Image credit: Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

Very few people genuinely don’t want to take pride in what they do.

Yet we all know someone (it might be you) who isn’t putting their best in. Whether it’s time pressure from your boss that causes you to focus on quantity over quality, or a project that is causing you nothing but problems, everyone is guilty of just getting something done at the expense of getting it done well.

Understandably, this can be a problem for many businesses, and the last thing you want is to be working in a culture where you’re fearful of being honest to the point of submitting below par work. The chances are it’ll catch up with you and it’ll cause much more damage than if you’d bought the problems up before they affected your output.

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When to tell your boss the truth? Of course it depends on the type of manager you’re dealing with, but by and large, if you care about what you’re doing and you can frame the problem in a way that reflects well on yourself, you’re on to a winner.

When you need to make a point

Some managers, and rarely the best, can be culpable of pushing more and more out their employees indiscriminately.  You may be set targets that are met and then increased, without much understanding of what you’re expected to do within your time at work.

While productivity is hugely important to any business, this kind of attitude tends to come at the cost of quality work. It’s a short term fix that rarely benefits the company in the long run. It can damage your brand. It can damage your reputation. It can damage relationships with key partners, customers and clients.

Your next step all comes down to how you read your boss. If you think they will stand staunchly by their targets and come back saying that they think the inability to meet them is down to you, then it sounds like you have a serious micro-manager problem, and it’s probably time to get out.

On the other hand, if you know that deep down the company is genuinely concerned with the quality and believes in you and the quality you produce, you should let them know. Any good manager would look to resolve the problem, either by reconsidering other tasks or taking a step back from the target-heavy approach.

When you need some advice

Approaching your boss to tell them that you’re not producing your best work can actually be a really effective way of receiving constructive feedback. Yes, it’s daunting to tell your boss that you’re not acing it. But isn’t that what a manager is there for?

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In fact, what you’re doing is incredibly brave, whilst showing initiative and serious objectivity in assessing the quality of what you’re producing. Instead of submitting some work knowing that it’s not good enough and waiting for feedback to tell you as much, you’re being proactive and making it clear you’re not going to go forward with work that’s below par.

This way, you can receive advice and feedback about how you’re working and what you could be doing better that can help you to resolve whatever problem you’re having. Sometimes a piece of advice on how to structure your work day, some resources or even just helping to highlight your knowledge gaps can be hugely beneficial to the company and your continued development.

To highlight areas of weakness

People often get given tasks that sit nicely outside of their comfort zones. And this is a good thing.

In at the deep-end development can often be the best way of learning. Saying yes to these kind of new tasks, particularly early on in your career, can be incredibly beneficial for both your personal development and your relationship within the business.

Having said this, sometimes it’s important to know where you’re weaker. If you’ve been given a task and you can see that it’s not right based on your understanding, your skills or your experience, be honest.

Provided you have the kind of boss who puts their own ego aside for the good of the business, you will have a situation where your honesty is appreciated. If anything, you’ve chosen to put the business in front of your personal reputation. Just make sure that you focus on what you do have to offer, and where your skills do lie.

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It’s a bit of a gamble, because you don’t want to be seen as work-shy or unhappy to pick up extra tasks. The chances are that if this particular role is central to what you do, you might need to learn how to do it or find a job that you’re better suited to.

But if you have faith in the people above you, you’ll come out of it looking much better, as you’ll have cleared up paths of communications. They may reassign that task, or train you how to do it better, but the problem will have been solved.