How to Be Your Own Advocate at Work

The workplace can sometimes push us beyond our boundaries, from messages sent on the weekend and poorly communicated expectations to unclear deadlines and little opportunity for advancement. Cultivating a healthy and balanced workplace often means that each team member must learn to self-advocate at work. 

So what does it mean to be your own advocate? 

Effectively advocating for yourself means recognizing and asking for what you need to be successful. Even if you find it easy to advocate for coworkers or your team, doing so for yourself can be a confusing and nerve-wracking process. 

Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be! No matter which stage you’re at in your career, there are steps you can take to understand, set, and communicate your boundaries and advocate for yourself at work.

Understand the Signs

The first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem in the first place. For example, it is completely normal to have hard days at work. What is not normal is to have a consistent feeling of frustration, unhappiness, or dread. If these are feelings coming up over and over for you, that’s a sign that you need to advocate for a change. 

Know What You Need

Ok, you know that something needs to change, but you’re unsure what that change is. Reflect on what may be causing unhappiness by running through a simple exercise. Write down the top five things you want in a job. Is it a flexible work schedule or one that is consistent and structured? Is it a mission you can get behind? Do you prefer to be on a big team, or are you more of a solo contributor? Writing down what is most important to you will help clarify if the things important to you are possible at the organization you’re at or if it’s time to advocate for change.

Aligning on what’s important to you shouldn’t be a one-and-done exercise, either. As your life changes, so will the things you find essential to success at your job and in life. Check-in with yourself on an annual basis to ensure that how you are advocating for yourself still rings true to what you need.

Talk with a Trusted Peer or Mentor

 Find someone you trust and feel comfortable with to talk through what you’re experiencing. Talking through difficult situations with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor is a great way to get to the heart of a challenge and to explore solutions. You can share the insights you uncovered about what you need and discuss ways to advocate for yourself clearly and effectively. 

You might want to try having your trusted peer or mentor act as your manager while advocating for yourself. This exercise may help you feel more comfortable bringing up issues and suggested solutions and allow space for you to practice handling the varied responses your manager might have.

Ask for Regular Check-Ins

Regular one-on-one meetings with your manager are great for many reasons, but they are especially important when the need arises to have an uncomfortable or difficult conversation.  Having a consistent block of time with your manager can make it easier to bring up issues and advocate for yourself. Having regular meetings may also remove any extra stress or tension you might experience if trying to schedule one when those types of meetings are not the norm.

If you don’t have regular one-on-one meetings right now, consider starting them with your manager. First, share whether you believe a weekly, biweekly, or monthly cadence is the best fit and share why. Then use that one-on-one time to discuss major wins or roadblocks and, when the time comes, areas in which you need to advocate for yourself at work. 

Determine Your Boundaries

Boundaries look different to different people. Determining what boundaries are important to you is one of the most important steps in advocating for yourself.  Here are  some examples of boundaries:

  • Establish a consistent start and end time for your workday. You can set working hours in your calendar to formalize and communicate the beginning and end of your workday. Especially when working remotely, this can be a hard boundary to set, but it is as much for you as it is for your coworkers. Many remote workers struggle with knowing when the workday is done since they never truly “leave” the office. A firm start and end time will remove the need to decide every day and lessen the likelihood of you working well into the night. 
  • Set a Do Not Disturb on notifications during the lunch hour and/or hours outside of your established workday.
  • Filter the emails you receive on your phone. If you’re the type of person that needs to respond to an email the minute you see it, removing your work email from your phone might be the key to effectively stepping away from work during your off hours.

Communicate Your Boundaries

Initially, advocating for yourself can feel as if you’re being pushy or rude, but it is neither of those things. Openly communicating your boundaries with your peers and superiors means sharing what you need to be successful and following through with your set boundaries. Even if they don’t mean to, coworkers can often overlook boundaries if you don’t continually practice and enforce them.

Consider sending your team a message or email outlining the boundaries you are setting. For example, share that you will be logging on at 8:00 AM and logging off each day at 4:00 PM with the ask that team members schedule all meetings within that time frame. More often than not, people are ready and willing to accept the boundaries you’ve set. 

Advocating for yourself may not feel natural at first but practice makes perfect. Doing so will help you feel supported, seen, and heard – all of which are imperative to being successful at your job. 

If you’ve exhausted all the suggestions outlined above and still feel unsupported, that may be a sign that it is time to explore new opportunities. If that sounds like you, don’t hesitate to reach out. Here at Celarity, we make it our mission to create happy careers. Send us an email at info@celarity.com.

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