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The Young Professional’s Guide to Advocating for Yourself at Work & Setting Healthy Boundaries

Are you feeling like your job is taking over your life and your work doesn’t end when your workday does?

You’re not alone. With the rising cost of living and climbing inflation, the fear of falling behind financially has led many of us to do whatever we can to keep our income stable. This mindset causes people to take on ever-increasing demands from their jobs and sacrifice their non-working pursuits in order to maintain a sense of job security.

But this way of thinking can also lead to worker burnout and negatively impact your physical and mental health — and it’s a subtle, slippery slope. It can start with your boss increasing goals at work, putting more stress on you to achieve them. Then a co-worker asks for help on one of their projects, and you want to be a team player, so you offer your assistance even though it’s going to stretch you thin. 

Before you know it, you’re struggling to keep up with the workload and spending what should be your free time at home trying to complete tasks to keep from falling further behind. Even if you’re not taking actual work home with you, you can still be stressed and thinking about everything you need to accomplish when you go in the next day. 

Now you’re not getting good sleep because you can’t relax and you’re fatigued, making you less productive and falling into a cycle that seems never-ending. 

So how can you avoid this scenario? It’s simple but can be very difficult to do: You have to stand up for yourself and set boundaries at work that are healthy and reasonable. We’re here to help you learn how to advocate for yourself at work and not be afraid to say “no” so you don’t take on more than you can handle.

What Is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy is being able to communicate your needs clearly and effectively. Simply put, it means being able to stand up for yourself. It builds confidence and independence, and people who can advocate for themselves tend to do well in school, work, and their personal lives.

There are three main aspects to advocating for yourself:

  • You have to understand what your needs are.
  • You have to know what kinds of support you need to help you meet those needs.
  • You have to be able to communicate your needs to others effectively.

An example of how this could play out at your job could be that your supervisor wants you to create a report around production efficiency and wants it the following morning. As you set out to begin working on it, you realize you don’t have all of the data you need to create the report, and it will take you an extra day to get it. Without communicating these issues, your report would be virtually useless if completed by the deadline, or you would have an effective report that you wouldn’t turn in on time. 

But someone with good self-advocacy skills can avoid this type of no-win situation. They would let the supervisor know the logistical problem in getting the information in time to prepare the report by the morning. In doing this, they’re not stressing about meeting an unrealistic expectation or leaving themself open to a negative perception of their work. 

How Do You Develop Advocacy Skills?

It can be challenging enough to communicate what you need to your peers at work, let alone do it with your boss. No one wants their supervisor to think they’re not a reliable worker or, worse yet, a lazy one. We can all be susceptible to imposter syndrome, doubting ourselves and what we bring to the table while feeling like a fraud just waiting to be discovered.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is vital to being able to advocate for yourself since confidence is such a necessary part of voicing your needs. Knowing what your strengths are and understanding your value and role builds this confidence. 

There are steps you need to take to further build your self-assurance beyond just knowing your strong points. You may think it’s egotistical to tout your accomplishments, but how can you expect others to do it if you can’t hype yourself? Being able to show how your contributions tie into results will help you see how much value you have. Once you’ve done this, you can use that info to show your worth to those you work with.

At the same time, being self-assured and self-aware helps you learn what your limitations are. All of this combines to give you the ability to ask for help when you need it without feeling like you’ll appear weak for needing assistance.

Have Your Own Back

Past generations had the mentality of putting your nose to the grindstone and that just working hard would get you rewarded. But times have changed, and you can’t just sit back and hope that your efforts will be noticed and earn you more. If anything, quietly grinding away can give the impression of being content and lead to a situation where the only thing you earn is a heavier workload for no extra compensation.

This is why being an advocate for yourself is so important. We’d all like to think that our boss will see how hard we’re striving and go to bat for us, but we can’t rely on that to happen. We have to have a bit of ego and be able to show how much we contribute and benefit the team.

So how do you advocate for yourself at work effectively? The folks at Indeed compiled a list of steps to follow:

#1: Identify Your Goals

Figure out how you can contribute from your position and what you need in order to advance your career. This will help identify your goals and how your team and managers can help you succeed in the role.

Self-assess what your strengths and weaknesses are to help you find areas you can improve on and where you may require assistance. Doing this will enable you to communicate your workplace needs and make you more likely to get the support you need.

#2: Develop Your Confidence

We’ve already talked about how important being confident in yourself is to self-advocacy, but it can’t be stressed enough. Use positive affirmations to gain more self-assurance, and don’t be afraid to highlight your achievements to stand out and be more memorable.

#3: Understand Your Role and Value

You need to know what your job duties are and the responsibilities that come with your role. Having knowledge of these helps you to call attention to the weight of your contributions and improve how your co-workers view you. 

#4: Maintain Professionalism

Being able to speak to colleagues respectfully and communicate your opinion in a positive tone can make them more receptive to what you’re trying to say. It shows emotional intelligence when you can calmly make your point if you’re expressing yourself and your manager disagrees with you. Providing clear examples that back up what you’re saying is an excellent way to do this and prevent you from being seen as just complaining.

#5: Develop Relationships

You will struggle to achieve your goals if you don’t foster good working relationships with your colleagues. They likely won’t vouch for you or listen to you if you haven’t built any kind of connection with them, and they probably won’t see you as a contributor, either. You’re not going to get their support or advice unless you’ve made an effort to build relationships.

#6: Consider Your Supervisor’s Perspective

It would help if you looked at things from your manager’s point of view before approaching them with a request or concern. Think about what questions they may ask you, and prepare appropriate responses to answer them. Having information to support your argument will make you more confident in advocating for yourself and give more credence to what you’re saying.

#7: Set Boundaries That Are Reasonable

You need to have a good idea of what you need to be more effective in your role and what limitations you may have. Being able to communicate these boundaries and keeping them realistic will enable you to maintain a better work-life balance and effectively manage the expectations others have of you.

#8: Be Able to Communicate Effectively

If you can’t clearly communicate with colleagues, you won’t be able to advocate for yourself. Effective communication goes beyond just bringing a matter to someone’s attention. You have to be prepared to support your point and have a conversation, not just list demands. Speaking clearly, keeping good eye contact, and remaining respectful and professional will express your confidence and convey your belief in your stance. 

Make Sure Your Needs Are Being Met

Being your own advocate will help you set healthy boundaries at work and give you more satisfaction in your work. Having the confidence to stand up for what you need and communicate those needs can have a major impact not just in the workplace, but those same skills will translate into your personal relationships, as well.

Nobody can fight for you more effectively than you can fight for yourself, and we can help you achieve those goals here at Greatness. If you want to learn more about setting healthy boundaries, Chris Lee gives some great advice on how to here. Check out “How to Negotiate Salary Like a Pro” for tips on advocating for better pay.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, and keep a better work-life balance to make sure you’re taken care of!

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