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How to Speak Up for Change at Work

A reality that many of us face is that we can’t leave our jobs. There are family circumstances, financial obligations, and mental roadblocks that keep us from being able to just quit. And then there are some of us who are generally happy with our careers and want to stick with the company we work for, but there are issues that need to be addressed to make it more aligned with our values.

Whichever side of the spectrum you find yourself on, the truth is you don’t have to just keep trudging along with the notion that this is just what it is and always will be. You have the power, whether you realize it or not, to enact some form of change within your company and work environment.

However, that can be easier said than done. I know this, you know this. But it’s not impossible. In fact, in Episode 15 of the Fork in the Road podcast, we got real about what it would take to be better where you already are, instead of just leaving.

We called on two experts in leadership and development Debbie Cohen and Kate Roeske-Zummer, creators of Humanity Works. Debbie and Kate’s goal is to change the world of work through a push for a human-centered work environment that thrives.

Both of them provided insight and actionable advice on how to speak up for change and advocate for ourselves (and those around us) within our company. Here are the top 3 insights we gained from the episode.

Start with Self Awareness

Before you can speak up for change, you have to know exactly what it is that you need.

Often, we feel discontent but we don’t really know the specific reason we feel that way. It’s usually because we’ve become complacent. Going along with the status quo and doing whatever we need to do to fulfill our obligations at work and at home.

So, the first step is to reflect and make yourself aware of what is ailing you.

  • Is it a low pay rate?

  • Is it a lack of challenging assignments?

  • Is it a lack of compassion and understanding from leadership?

You have to do deep work to realize what is causing your frustration. Take time during your work day to pinpoint the moments where you feel a heightened sense of aggravation. But don’t just focus on the negatives.

You should also begin to think about what you like, why you want to stay, and what the company is doing well. And to play devil’s advocate, don’t skip over looking at what you are doing that is contributing to your problems.

What we don’t realize is that we can enable the issues we face at work through our actions and inactions. You have to decide to get real with yourself and lay it all out.

A mindset shift is key. It’s an important piece because you have to be strong enough mentally to take on whatever may arise from your reflection - even if you find that you are the problem. You have the power to shift your reality based on the choices you make.

Have the Courage to take action.

Once you have identified your values and the changes that need to be made, you can move on to taking action.

The action you take can look different depending on what you need. It could be that you need to have a conversation with those in charge or that you need to change the way you do things on a daily basis.

When it is time to have difficult conversations, you want to make sure that you go about it the right way. There are three things that you need to consider.

Be Courageous

Having difficult conversations and enacting change requires strength. It requires resilience and as Debbie Cohen put it in the podcast episode, “it requires a certain type of energy”

You have to be courageous but you should evaluate whether the time is right for you. If you have obligations that could be directly affected by your actions, then you may want to pause. But don’t stop, just wait until a more favorable opportunity arises.

However, if you can, you should know that you are empowered to ask for what you want. And you can use your strengths to change your own actions for a more favorable outcome, too.

Identify the right people.

A lot of the time, we are just more comfortable with speaking to those we’ve built relationships with or that feel easier to talk to. But don’t be afraid to find the right people even if they aren’t who you would expect.

When it is time to speak up, choose wisely. Go straight to the source and know that you have every right to be there.

Work on Your Delivery

During the interview, Kate told a story about a time she found out she was being underpaid.

They hired someone new and Kate was essentially teaching them how to do their job. Except, she found out they were getting paid significantly more money than her. Sound familiar?

This is a reality for many, especially women, worldwide. So for Kate, she had to find the courage to take it up the chain of command and not just allow it to continue.

When the difficult conversation arose, she could have gone in furious. Pointing fingers and placing blame. Instead, she simply had a conversation.

The way you deliver your message is essential to the reaction you will receive. Don’t go in with the objective to bash, blame, or shame. Instead, your goal is to raise their awareness, help them understand, and provide feedback. Then, guide them toward change.

In the end, Kate received a significant increase in her salary but more importantly, she advocated for herself and she was seen and heard.

Wait for the Change

There is no reason to sugarcoat it. Attempting to enact change is going to be hard. Even in the midst of its difficulty, you will be surprised to see that with the right leadership, change can happen.

Still, for many, the outcome may not be what you want or lead to change at all. Before you go into this, get a feel for the temperament of your company. There are clues that show you whether the company is open to change. Lean into that before you take a leap.

That’s why it is important to go into this process with the goal of enacting change within yourself first. Ultimately, being better where you are in your career relies on you shifting your perspective, learning your needs, and moving toward them.

Listen to the full Episode 15 right here.


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