One of the skills most schools fail to teach their students is how to be their own biggest advocate when they enter the working world. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to fight to have your ideas heard and your bosses would recognize your work 100% of the time. But that world is fictional.
Since I graduated college almost four years ago, there have been plenty of times I’ve had to forcefully advocate for myself at work in big and small ways. So far one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that there really is a time to stand up for yourself and there’s also a time to fall back and let things go. Before you walk up to your manager demanding to be put on a project you’re super passionate about, ask yourself how will this move benefit you AND the company. I think sometimes we can tend to look at things from a selfish perspective and not look at the big picture.
Here’s how to evaluate when to stand up for yourself at work:
WHEN YOUR JOB WOULD BE SIGNIFICANTLY EASIER OR BETTER
Sometimes we “put up” with stuff. Whether it’s a slow computer, the water machine always out of service or the colleague who will never clean up their crumbs. If something is actually hindering you from doing your best possible job, it’s time to speak up. About two years ago when I was working at HuffPost, a really big boss came into town and had a meeting with the D.C. staff. During his talk, he said multiple times how bad video was. I was the associate video editor at the time. After his third remark, I raised my hand and spoke up about how there was a lack of management and resources in the video department. I told him how I couldn’t get a $100 microphone that would have really helped the quality of the videos we produced (and a list of other issues I was dealing with). He was really surprised by my comments (because most people don’t speak up). At the end of the meeting, a manager handed me his corporate card and told me to buy the microphone and after that there was a better video operation put into place.
WHEN IT BENEFITS YOU AND A GROUP OF OTHERS
I work overnights and there’s a lot of events that go on during daytime hours. I miss the majority of them and I’m usually fine with that. However, when there’s a workshop or training that’s mandatory or really important I send an email to the organizer asking if an additional session can accommodate overnight employees. I send a polite note saying a group of us will not be able to attend the scheduled training because it interrupts our sleep and then I cc the other people who work overnight too. This has worked really well. Usually, the organizer can set up an early morning or evening training. Asking for small things like this really makes a difference.
WHEN YOU TRULY DESERVE IT
You can be the hardest working employee in your company and not be recognized for your work. When you practice self-advocacy you are bound to run into roadblocks. For example, you might ask for a raise and management might lowball what you proposed. The important thing is to keep fighting. I wasn’t on the list to go to the Democratic National Convention in 2016. I truly believed I worked really hard that year and could make a difference if I went. I sat down with my boss and pitched why I should go. I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be but I knew I had to try to attend. In the end, my boss agreed I should go and I had the best experience at the DNC that summer.
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