How to Ask Your Employer for What You Need
By Shama Yunus-Joynt BA, CPHR, SHRM-SCP
As employees, we often feel like we are expected to perform in a vacuum that does not include our personal lives and needs. We expect and get concessions for basic needs like medical and childcare, but what about mental health? Currently, there is a trend towards improving company culture and creating better conditions for employee engagement, but these often fall short of creating psychological safety within the organization. For example, research shows that only about 5% of the total available Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) offered by companies across Canada are ever used by employees. It turns out that even in the age of Bell’s, Let’s Talk, there is still significant stigma associated with mental health, and companies are reluctant to acknowledge the mental health needs of their employees. Ironically, even where wellness programs exist, people experiencing uncontrollable stress can eventually become overwhelmed and suffer breakdowns. Even more tragic is that some end up being terminated due to poor performance.
So what do you do if you are struggling?
If you are struggling with stress of any kind, chances are it stems from something you can’t control. Anyone who has children, elderly parents, or complicated personal lives can relate. However, toxic work relationships, time pressures, and inadequate managerial support, to name a few, create a great deal of stress for employees and if allowed to continue, can be damaging in the long run. Quitting may not be possible, so you have to figure out how to regain some control and reduce your overall stress level.
If you’re lucky, you have a supportive boss that you can trust; this person has your back and will help you negotiate what you need. If you don’t have a boss like this, or you don’t work for an employer who considers employee wellness a priority, you need to advocate for yourself. This can be a scary road, particularly when you are struggling from the start. However, even though you might feel like you are backed into a corner, this is likely not true. You can ask for what you need by following some basic tips:
3 Basic Tips:
1. Rights and Responsibilities
Both employers and employees have rights and responsibilities. Know what you are entitled to by law (Human Rights, Employment Standards, Occupational Health and Safety), but also understand what you are responsible for. As a rule of thumb, the areas that you have control over are your areas of responsibility. By being informed about your situation, you can avoid frustrating interactions that may end up making you feel even worse. Make sure that you know what is required of you, and assume your employer knows what is required of them.
2. Be clear in your request and make sure it is reasonable
When employees don’t frame their request according to what is actually possible, the request can get denied. Find out what policies are in place and what resources are provided. Let’s look at an example that is not illness-related: you ask for an extended leave of absence to visit your family overseas. Your employer is under no obligation to grant this request since they would have to find someone else to do your job while you are away. Because of the cost involved, they likely won’t grant your request. However, the workforce is very diverse and includes people needing to maintain ties with family overseas, so many employers have policies that allow for this type of leave. At such a company, your request may be reasonable.
3. Consequences of speaking up vs. consequences of not doing so
This is a very important consideration when planning your request. Start by considering the worst thing that could happen if you were to speak up: is this scenario legally possible or is this your fear? More importantly, what is the cost to you if you don’t ask for what you need? There is also a cost to the company if you continue to show up at your job as less than your best self. Studies show that employees are afraid of losing their jobs as a result of divulging their mental health status; ironically, in the end, some of these persons will lose their jobs due to poor performance. The consequences of not speaking up will likely be more detrimental than any unrelated consequences of making a reasonable, well thought out request.
About the Author
Shama Yunus-Joynt is an experienced Human Resources professional specializing in culture and engagement. She has a background in coaching and mental health which she combines in a very unique way towards helping companies define and execute an extraordinary people strategy. Connect with Shama on LinkedIn to learn more about her.
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