How To Stand Up For Yourself At Work


I remember taking classes in school that taught me how to behave in an interview. You were supposed to dress your best, smile, and make no mistakes. You were expected to give clear, intelligent and polite answers. Rigid, formal interviews were meant to prepare you for how you should behave if you were actually hired.

So that’s how I behaved. I spent ten years in corporate America giving polite, fake smiles, agreeing to work late without pay, keeping quiet when I was passed over for raises, and only meekly requesting a meeting with my boss when one of my paychecks bounced. You see, if you keep your nose to the grindstone and prove that you’re a reliable worker, eventually your boss will notice and give you that promotion. That’s what we’re taught at least.

It’s all a lie.

I don’t know about you, but all I got for proving that I was a good, reliable worker was a larger workload with little to no compensation.

Standing up for yourself at work is scary, and it’s that way on purpose. When we don’t stand up for ourselves to our employers we’re making their lives easier. They can give us whatever task they like with the knowledge that we’re so scared of losing our jobs we’re willing to take whatever they throw at us. They don’t want us to know how much power we actually have.

Your employment rights vary by state, but by and large each employer will have a built in venue by which to report anything you think is a violation. You can have a meeting with your boss with HR in the room. Some states even allow you to record the entire conversation without anyone in the room knowing about it except you. Standing up to your boss when they ask you to do something unethical isn’t just important for you, its important for the whole company. And any higher up that doesn’t want to know when their employees are acting in an unethical manner isn’t someone you want to work for.

Beyond the direct benefits, standing up for yourself for the first time fills you with a sense of pride and accomplishment. You did it, and now you know that you can do it again. You can confidently approach your boss and let them know that you think something was done incorrectly, or tell them you aren’t comfortable working over time without pay (but you’ll be happy to do it at your time and a half rate). You can even do it in writing via email and copy your HR representative.

Toeing the line may have been the way to move onward and upward in days of yore, but it doesn’t work anymore. More and more companies are only willing to give raises and promotions to new employees anyway, which is part of why most people aren’t sticking with their jobs for longer than three to five years.

Be polite, but be direct and confident. Your company hired you for a reason. Really know your worth and be able to list off all of your responsibilities and how they have benefited the company. Believe in the value that you add to your company. If you don’t, your boss certainly will not.

Let your employers know your needs. If you say nothing, there’s no chance of changing things. Set boundaries like you do with partners and friends. And just like partners and friends, if your employer responds poorly to you demanding a work situation that’s good for you, it’s time to move on.