by Ryan Stephens
How many times have you tucked your tail between your legs, left your boss’s office and wandered back down the hall to begrudgingly complete a task that was incompetent or, worse yet, not even in the realm of pertinence?
I’ll be the first to raise my hand. I have always been passive and unwilling to stand up for myself in the workplace. I have always done what my father would do and said, “Yes, sir,” (or “Yes, ma’am”), put my head down, done the ridiculous task and then went back to working on things that actually mattered—and did them to the best of my ability. The misconception I had is that every boss wants the tireless, obedient worker who never questions authority.
And this may well hold true for a lot of companies, but Generation Y is changing the workplace, and we’re very fortunate that we do not have to spend our entire careers working for one company and constantly bending over to grab our ankles in an effort to ascend the proverbial corporate ladder.
One of the most important things I have realized is that I have to stand up for myself in the workplace if I want to pursue my passions and achieve my goals. I have also found that most bosses will respect you more if you have an opinion of your own and are able to articulate that opinion in a tactful way.
In my experience, you might still have to do a particular ridiculous request, but the stupid action items will become less prevalent if you respectfully stand up for yourself. Honestly, this advice pertains to fellow coworkers as well, but is more focused in conflicts with a boss. If you want good advice for how to stand up for yourself with respect to coworkers, check out this article.
Here are three things to keep in mind when standing up for yourself:
- Always be tactful. If you are not great at thinking on your feet, put it in writing after you have had a few minutes to think about it. Be respectful and candid, but say something to the effect of “I am having a hard time understanding how my time is being maximized by running off 500 copies, as opposed to working on the strategic marketing initiatives for the new account. I would appreciate insight into your rationale regarding this decision. -Respectfully, Ryan.” Perhaps this isn’t the best example (it was on the fly). Make a conscious effort to handle the situation in a way that still enables your boss to feel empowered and in charge.
- Honestly, one thing that has worked for me is to shoot an e-mail and “cc” another coworker in a leadership position. If someone else becomes aware that your boss made you organize and stack all of his personal belongings on the shelf in his new office instead of working on things that will invariably benefit the company, your boss might feel silly—or you might get fired.
- Which leads me to the fact that if your boss is always a jerk, why do you want to work with him or for a company that supports those actions, regardless of how successful he may be at the expense of his employees? The Office Newb has a good piece about how a bad boss can be good for you, but even she recommends new work if you have a boss who is a real jerk.
Don’t be scared to stand up for yourself in the workplace. It is an important part of learning and growing as an employee, and if the boss is relentless in his pursuit of being a real tool, then start looking for a new place to work—one that respects its employees and has values that speak to you and passion that inspires you. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?