How to speak up to your boss (without losing your job)

So, you’re unhappy at work, and rather than handing in your notice, you’d like to actually change things.

Or you’d at least like to raise some issues before you reach your wit’s end.

How do you bring up your concerns with your boss, without seeming like you’re just having a whinge or putting your job at risk? How do you speak up for yourself when it comes to talking to your manager?

‘There are lots of tools and training courses for bosses on how to manage people, but we hardly ever talk about how people can manage their bosses,’ says Pam Hamilton, the author of Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork.

‘”Managing up” is being able to speak up to your boss about how they can support you more, for example to ask for help, to share your concerns about your work or team, or even to ask them to change how they work.

‘Finding the courage to speak up to your boss can be difficult, but it is more important now than it ever was before.’

Pam notes that after the past year, you may be up against new challenges that need addressing, and have likely reached the point that you need to talk to your boss.

She gives some common examples of why you might need to speak up to your boss:

  • Your boss is not giving you the support you need – maybe they are changing their mind a lot, giving you extra work, or they are putting you under unnecessary pressure, or even using language or behaviour that you find offensive
  • Your team have fallen into new working habits, like answering emails at all hours or being expected to start an hour earlier because you weren’t commuting, and you want to reset back to a calmer pace of work as we come out of the crisis
  • You are worried about coming in to the office – you may be anxious about being around lots of people, or you don’t feel as confident about your job as you did before
  • You feel like some people on the team have used the pandemic as an excuse not to do their work, and it’s making you stressed or overworked
  • You are feeling left out or excluded at work because you can’t be there in person and when they are all in the office you’re worried they will be talking about you
  • Over lockdown you loved not dealing with people eating smelly food at lunch, gossiping by the coffee machine or behaving unprofessionally, and you are worrying about facing them again

Whatever the reason, it’s important that you feel able to have a conversation with senior people in your workplace – and are able to do this confidently, without it causing nights awake and anxiety bubbling in your tummy.

Ahead, Pam shares her tips for speaking up.

Don’t hold off

‘The earlier you say something the easier it will be,’ Pam tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Don’t wait for a good moment or for something bad to happen more than once before you say something.

‘If you postpone a difficult conversation, it will become even more difficult the longer you leave it.’

Make it about you

This is a handy way to make your concerns feel like critical.

Rather than saying ‘you’re doing [bad thing]’, start with ‘I feel…’, whether that’s ‘I feel really upset when you use sexist language’ or ‘I’m worried about coming into the office again’.

Be open to solutions

Going into a conversation with the sole goal of complaining isn’t the most productive thing.

Frame the issue as a desire to make things better.

Pam suggests: ‘Ask “How can we…” In a tricky situation, you may not know the answer, but you can start with asking a genuinely positive question.

‘For example “How can we make sure we stop people from overworking now that we are coming out of the crisis?” or “How can we use this chance to make the office a more positive place than it was before COVID?”’

It can be helpful to come prepared with some suggestions.

‘If you’ve got something worrying you, explain the issue to your boss, and have a couple of different solutions ready, showing you are proactive and offering them the final decision,’ adds Pam.

Show you understand their needs

‘Listen to how your boss talks and what they talk about, and use that to show you understand the pressures they are facing,’ suggests Pam. ‘If you know they are concerned about the end of year figures, help them to see how solving your issue will give you more time to help them with the end of year reporting.’

Schedule regular catch-ups

This is a good approach for many reasons, including that having a regular chat rather than one big, formal conversation, is far less anxiety-inducing.

Pam says: ‘It’s far better to have lots of smaller conversations with your boss where you can share concerns than saving it all up for one big one.

‘Schedule regular time where you chat, so that the lines of communication are always open and can pick up any small issues early, so they never become big problems.’

Don’t issue-dump

Be prepared to work on an issue together, instead of just dumping problems on your boss’s plate and leaving them to stress about it.

‘Offer to join them to work together to solve it,’ Pam tells us. ‘That way you are their partner in crime, rather than leaving them to it and wishing them luck as you walk out the door’.

She adds: ‘In these times of uncertainty, we need to communicate more often than ever. This is our chance to reset the way we work for the better – we don’t need to go back to how things were pre-Covid, and we certainly don’t want to keep working in the same way we did during Covid.

‘Tell your boss how you feel, ask them for help and offer to join them on the journey to create an even better normal than we ever had before.’

Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork is available to buy now.

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