I’ve been working in an office environment for over 15 years, and most of that time has been in support roles. After a while, you realize support roles have access to not only the inner workings of the company and how the departments work together, but we’re also in touch with employees and their happiness, or lack thereof in some situations. Both topics are (usually) priorities for managers and executives.
I’ve been fortunate enough to make friends at my jobs and, as friends do, I hear people talk about the frustrations they experience at work. Sometimes it’s just venting, but other times it’s real issues that directly affect someone’s quality of life or mental well-being. In those instances, I ask if they’ve brought it up with their manager. The answer I usually receive is, “I don’t want to rock the boat.” I’ve heard this phrase so many times over the years, and I get it. But I ask you, do you want to work for a company that doesn’t care if you’re miserable, drowning, or dreading each and every day you work? Do you want to work for people who treat you badly and make you feel inferior?
SPEAKING UP IN ACTION - A SUCCESS STORY
I’ll start with a story from my earlier career; my first office job was as a temporary employee, or “temp,” in the data entry department for a mortgage company. My second week into that role, there was a pizza party to help celebrate our branch exceeding our stretch goal the month before. When I got in the pizza line, I was told by one of the managers that temps needed to wait until everyone else got their food and if there was any left, we could have some.
I was both sad and frustrated when I heard that. Not just because of the possibility of missing out on pizza, but that the temps were treated as “less than” full-time, salaried employees. Before reaching out to my temp agency to request a new assignment, I wondered if the people above her knew how the temps were being treated. I decided to email the branch manager to see if he would meet with me and to my surprise, he agreed! Some people might think it crazy to go to the top of the chain to “complain” about something when I was only there for two weeks and just a temp; but, I didn’t think it was right, and I knew I didn’t want to continue to work for a company that was treating a group of employees unfairly.
As a result of this, I met with the branch manager of a multi-billion-dollar company to let him know I thought the way the temps were being treated was unfair, and that every role contributes to a company’s success. He said I had guts coming to him about this. He also agreed and made sure that any catered lunches from that point forward were enjoyed by everyone.
I eventually went from a temp to a full-time employee, subsequently received a promotion and then another one soon followed. I moved up faster than others who were in data entry longer than me, and I attributed it to that meeting with the branch manager. Everyone in the department was a hard worker, but I was willing to speak up and address concerns. Not all managers or executives want to be surrounded by people who only focus on numbers or the end results.
DO IT! (EVEN IF IT SCARES YOU)
I completely understand the hesitation or fear in bringing up concerns (some say “complaints”) to your manager. Especially if you’re in a position where you’re living paycheck to paycheck; I’ve been there myself. But how much is your sanity worth? Being miserable when there’s a possibility of improving things doesn’t make sense.
HOW TO SUCCEED AT SPEAKING UP
I’ve been in my current role as an executive assistant with Bishop Fox for almost five years. During that time, I’ve sat in on various meetings at all levels. When I’m in executive meetings where people talk about processes, company changes, events, or the messaging around them, I speak up when I feel like they’re missing something from the non-executive perspective. I’ll either raise my hand or ask if it’s all right for me to speak on the subject since they might not want my feedback. I would not suggest blurting out what you’re thinking, especially if you disagree with them. I’m thankful they’ve listened to what I’ve had to say each and every time. The group might not agree with me, but they let me know why, which gives me their perspective. This can help later if someone in another support role has the same idea/feeling as I did. As long as I am not divulging information that should be kept within the meeting, I can provide the person some insight into why we’re not doing XYZ based on what was said to me.
Another thing I’ve learned in these meetings is they address concerns that are brought up by employees. 100 percent of those concerns are tackled. Unfortunately, not all of them can be solved since some things can’t be changed. But those people know their voices were heard. Your voice, too, deserves to be heard!
If you’re ready to speak up, here are a few tips to help you approach your manager:
Tip #1: If you have a concern you’d like to address with your manager, include possible solutions and not merely the concern. If you’re unhappy because there’s a tedious process that takes up too much time, propose a different way of getting it done and, if possible, include metrics like how much time a week the new process could save you.
Tip #2: Be concise. Schedule your initial meeting for 15 minutes since you can always schedule a follow-up meeting if needed. Nobody’s a fan of long meetings where you’re waiting for the person to get to the point. We all have work to do, so respecting your manager’s time will ultimately work in your favor.
Tip #3: When meeting with your manager, come prepared and remember what your goal is. The meeting may not go as planned and you could become frustrated, develop a little anxiety, or the nerves can set in. It’s okay; take a minute to try and relax, gather your thoughts, and absorb what’s been said so far. If it helps, you can run your ideas by someone you trust to give you honest feedback, whether that be a co-worker, family member, or friend.
Tip #4: If/when bringing up concerns about company culture, people or teams being unhappy, use generalizations. Do not include specifics about who said what unless that person gives you permission to do so (which is rare). And only address these concerns if there’s something that could be plausibly done to help. Your manager can’t help the person complaining about driving an hour to work every day, but they might be able to help the nursing mother who struggles to find a private spot to breastfeed.
Tip #5: If you’re unhappy at work, have already met with your manager to talk about issues and nothing changes after a fair amount of time, escalate to the next person up or to your human resources department. You could also have a follow up meeting with your manager for a “progress check” if you are concerned about going above or around them.
Bonus tip: If you’re lucky enough to find a company that treats you well, have a manager(s) that respects you and cares about you, coworkers that you look forward to working with every day, stay for as long as you can. The grass is not necessarily greener, and these workplaces can be few and far between. And if you ever get the opportunity to work for Bishop Fox, take it!
Rocking the boat can be scary, but making waves can show your manager that you bring something not everyone else has to offer. Plainly put, you have guts, a handle on the bigger picture, and a willingness to help find solutions to make the company better. All these things mean you’re not just there to do a job, but you’re there because you want to have a future with them and, possibly most importantly, that you care.
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