“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~ Alice Walker, Author/Activist
So what are we staying quiet about?
- Voicing a concern about a difficult manager or co-worker
- Saying what we need to do our work better
- Expressing a differing opinion
- Negotiating a salary during the interview process (only 5% of women will negotiate)
- Justifying a raise and/or promotion
- Confronting a bully
- Reporting the toxic behaviors of a bully
- Discussing an emerging workplace issue
- Pitching an idea
- Talking about the need for training
- Asking for time off
Why do we not speak up? Mainly fear…
Fear of losing a job
Fear of being told “no”
Fear of being yelled at
Fear of being wrong
Fear of being right
Fear of being viewed as a “troublemaker”
Fear of being perceived a braggart
Fear of being ostracized by others
Fear of retaliation for being “the messenger”
Assistants ultimately pay physical and emotional tolls when they are quiet against their innate judgement. They are affected by it personally in the form of stress–related health issues, such as depression, poor sleep, obesity, drug abuse, alcoholism, and excessive smoking. The bottom line is that keeping quiet is unhealthy. And companies are paying a huge price for the silence, too, in the form of absenteeism, presenteeism, high staff turnover, low morale, and lower productivity — which can lead to lower profits.
Workplace bullying affects 35% of American workers and experts say these numbers are most likely higher because the issue is under-reported. Have you witnessed it or experienced it yourself? If the answer is yes, you are not alone but the issue has been shrouded in silence and looking the other way too often has been the norm. Truly great things happen when we start the conversation — when we break the silence. The workplace transforms for the better when we address the important issues that are disturbing us and draining our energy. Awareness is key. This is true for both assistants and managers.
We All Know…
That in our workplaces, it is a matter of when, not if, issues will arise. But even minor conflicts among assistants, managers and colleagues can easily escalate if left to fester. And this destructive dynamic sets the stage for workplace bullying, which is an epidemic problem around the world. Raising awareness and Speaking Up! are the catalysts to positive change.
Find Your Voice
I train Executive and Personal Assistants worldwide and have been privy to both truly nightmare tales and fabulous success stories of speaking up. With more than 25 years experience seeing first-hand what challenges they face, I understand and know that too many assistants struggle with the self–confidence needed to speak up. Simply put, many of them do not have a voice and, worse, believe that speaking up will make no difference. But it does…very much. Of course, there is a time and place to discuss workplace issues and always must be done in a professional and respectful manner. For assistants, schedule a time to talk to your manager face-to-face and make this a priority. Have your thoughts and agenda clearly outlined before the meeting and practice what you are going to say, so you feel more confident. For managers, having frequent conversations with staff is vital and is a set-up for success. Asking, “What do you think?” is a very powerful question. The “how” you speak up is very important — be calm, direct and factual. This is a very effective strategy.
True Story #1
Hilary’s executive manager is now conducting speaking engagements around the country and she is responsible for handling all the preparations. Despite her efforts, she noticed that he has trouble managing all the details involved — having once almost missed a flight, for example, because he lost track of time while speaking to audience members at an event. To help him deal with these challenges, she thought of offering to travel with him, but then hesitated. After all, she second–guessed herself, wouldn’t he have asked her along if he thought it was a good idea? She finally mustered her courage and sent the executive manager a written proposal. Much to her surprise, she received an earnest response in return. “Great! I didn’t even think to ask you. Yes. Let’s do that,” her manager said. Hilary now accompanies him on many business trips and he has never missed a flight since.
True Story #2
Danielle and her CEO had a “great relationship” for two years. Then, he gradually became increasingly moody and belligerent, and finally exploded at her without warning. After three months of suffering through these erratic behaviors, Danielle gave up and resigned without advance notice. She never asked the CEO what was bothering him because she was afraid of being yelled at even more.
When the CEO learned that Danielle quit, he had no reaction. Eventually, though, Danielle did speak with a colleague from her former job, who informed her that the CEO was going through a very messy divorce and was so distraught that he could barely get through the day. He missed Danielle very much but was unable to ask her to join the company again and opted to take no action at all. Today, Danielle deeply regrets not having had even one conversation with the CEO about their conflict. She knows that things might have turned out differently had she spoken up.
The Price They Paid:
The CEO lost a great assistant; Danielle was the best assistant he ever had.
Danielle lost a great job. Her new job paid less money and was a longer commute.
The company incurred the costly expense of hiring and training a new executive assistant.
The other staffers were worried about their own jobs and where they stood with the CEO and morale was low.
True Story #3
An executive, who is a director of marketing, is a classic bully. He leads by intimidation and fear. He publicly humilates staff and uses profanity. Upper management looks the other way because he is a “rainmaker” at the company. Everyone in the department is afraid of confronting him. As a result, there is a high turnover rate on his team and it’s a common joke among the rank-and-file that his new hires are given “combat pay” if they manage to last longer than a year.
The Price We Pay:
35% of the American workforce has been a target of bullying.
17% of employees look for a new job (while on their current job) because of bullying.
21% of the American workforce has witnessed on–the–job bullying.
2 out of 3 people choose to handle bullying by avoiding the bully. 80 percent experience anxiety and stress–related health problems because of the situation.
Witnesses to bullying pay almost as high a price as the target by staying quiet.
Studies show that the cost to replace one staff member can be 1.5-2X his or her annual salary.
The Heart Of The Matter
Inaction rarely solves a workplace conflict. But, the good news is that action does — and it’s not mutually exclusive with acting professional. Of course, it’s not surprising that so many women in the workplace choose to stay mute; many have been taught from childhood that they should be “good girls” and “not make waves.” But the heart of the matter is, such behavior does not benefit us, especially in the workplace.
Time To Sign
Experts say that awareness is critical to making a dent in these very real problems and the only way to raise awareness is to SPEAK UP!
- Sign the Speak Up! Pledge and ask your manager to do the same.
- Post a photo to seal the deal. Take a photo of you alone, of you and your manager, or of you and your colleagues, and post it to Instagram #speakuppledge.
- Share the Speak Up! Pledge with other assistants and other managers, and help generate awareness about this important change we need to make. Let’s start the conversations that will make a difference.