Self-Advocacy in the Workplace

Self-advocacy could be one of the greatest skills you build this year–especially when it comes to your job. Self-advocacy involves behaviors like learning how to effectively speak up for yourself, self-determination, and reaching out when you need help. Instead of waiting around for someone else to notice your great work, it’s time to try something different. Whether it’s a promotion, new responsibilities or transferring to a new team, learning to advocate for yourself is integral to shaping your career. By actively championing your needs, you’re directing your own professional growth. If you're new to advocating for yourself at work, here are a few steps to get started:

Know what you want.

Self-reflection plays a major part in self-advocacy: Are you bored with your current workload and want to learn something new, or are you overtaxed and need fewer responsibilities? Decide if you need to adjust your workload or define clearer priorities with your supervisor. Is there an exciting project that you want to join in on or spearhead? Outline how you would accomplish it. 

Plan out your ideal weekly schedule to show how you could spend your time to be more productive. Think critically about which areas of your job could be more efficient. Sometimes the things that need to be changed aren't big at all! Perhaps you want to expand your skillset or attend an off-site training seminar. Maybe you’re tired of back-end work and you’re ready for more client-facing responsibilities. Whatever direction you want your career to go, you can get yourself there with self-advocacy.

Start with something small.

For the people who have little to no experience advocating for themselves at work, it can be overwhelming and anxiety-producing. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go for the big stuff the first time around. Instead, start with a small but meaningful change. It could be needing a new ergo keyboard or switching the coffee in the kitchen to a better blend. Look at your list of needs and choose a relatively harmless request to start with. The joy of that small concession will encourage you to move onto bigger asks!

Talk to others.

Take the time to chat with others in your organization. Change is always less stressful when you can talk to others. Would the promotion you’re eyeing require you to move to another team or department in your organization? Get to know the team members! Learn first-hand about the team dynamics, distribution of responsibilities, and workload before applying for the role or talking to your boss.

You wouldn’t want to move to what you thought was a highly collaborative and engaging team environment only to find out they spend most of their time working independently. If you’re comfortable, share your plan with a trusted co-worker or two -- especially if they’re in the job you want. Get their feedback on your ideas-- it could mirror what your boss would say in your one-on-one meeting. Use their feedback to not only optimize your proposal but gain confidence from practicing before meeting with your supervisor.

Carve out space for yourself.

If you want to grow professionally but there aren’t any positions in your company that interest you, think outside the box. Is there a niche skillset your company or department is lacking that you think you’d be great at? Can you think of a way to support an important need of the business that would increase efficiency in a certain area? Identify those needs within your organization and brainstorm how you might remedy them. Usually pain points are a challenge to the organization for many reasons. If the business needs don’t justify hiring someone full-time, can you take those new responsibilities without overtaxing yourself? If not, maybe you currently perform tasks that someone else has expressed interest in and re-distributing them would free up your time to allow for new projects. Work out as many of the kinks as you can before taking your idea to management so they can focus on the solutions rather than the challenges it could produce.

Have a conversation.

Once you've outlined needs and created a plan, it's time to speak to your boss. Lay out your ideas with confidence, you did the work after all! Remember to keep it positive. Highlight the parts of your job and department that are working well, and then the parts you think need some change. Keeping the dialogue positive and upbeat keeps your meeting focused on solutions, not complaints. Don’t forget that for every problem you outline, you should have a solution. When you’re finished, listen to your boss’s feedback.

Some people prefer taking the time to draft an email, so their thoughts are composed and succinct – that’s fine! Draft an email outlining what you're advocating for, then let it sit. A few hours will be fine, but a day or more is optimal. Come back to the email with fresh eyes so you can edit potential miscommunication in your draft (it also wouldn’t hurt to throw it through an editing software like Grammarly). The beauty of email is you have all the time in the world to send it. Once you’re positive the email is ready to go, send it off! Most importantly, end your email asking for a one on one meeting to discuss the contents with your boss.

Be persistent.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Sometimes, changing roles or switching responsibilities can happen fast, but often it’s a slow progression due to the many moving parts in any organization. Be patient. Transitions often involve a lot of little steps to avoid disrupting teams with training, shifting responsibilities, etc. Keep an open line of communication with your boss. If there haven’t been any announcements or  movement for a few weeks, bring it up again. It could be stalled in the approval process due to holidays or vacations, or it could have gotten lost in the shuffle. A gentle reminder is a great way to keep your request fresh in their minds. If your new position is not something your company can do at the moment, you may need to bide your time until it’s feasible. Advocating is all about strategy, which means sometimes, you’re in it for the long-haul.

With greater responsibility often comes greater pay. Know how much your new skills are worth by downloading our 2020 Salary Guides.