“What if I’m already in a job that is less-than ideal? How can I change it?”
Realize that you are constantly in a negotiation with your manager.
You want to keep a job and have your career advance. They want their team to be stable, to get work done well and effectively, and to advance their own career. The common ground between your goals and theirs is that you both want to establish a work environment where you are happy to work, and able to do it well. The differences in your goals is what drives the ongoing negotiation.
This negotiation is often ignored. But every day you continue to work without raising concerns about the environment means that you have accepted the status quo. Your employer does not own you – you agree to work for them in exchange for money. When the money no longer feels like fair compensation for your time and troubles, it is time to explicitly negotiate for a change. Likewise, if they re-organize your work, change your team or your role, that also should be seen as time to re-negotiate.
I am not talking about your salary. Typically, that is the most difficult item to change outside of a formal review process. Look for other changes that can happen in your work — flexible hours, working from home, better tools, more autonomy, time to explore your interests, paid training… these are the types of perks you want to negotiate on an ongoing basis.
It starts with knowing your own wants and needs… and knowing the difference.
If you have realized that your current job is not working for you because you have a need that is not being met, you need to communicate the need to your boss, and help them to resolve it. If they cannot, it is time to leave. This is harsher than my typical advice, but it is for your own health – if they don’t meet your needs, you should not be there any more than if you were considering joining them in the first palace and rejected an offer because your needs were not met. Your loyalty to your employer is a lovely concept, but is outdated. Would they continue to employ you if you stopped meeting their needs? No. Act the same, and go.
The more common scenario, however, is negotiating your wants. Let’s pretend you have just gotten some bad news – for example, lets imagine that you heard an announcement about an organizational change to work for a manager whom you don’t get along with. It isn’t ideal, and is a step backwards from where you were before, so it is time to negotiate for something else that you want to balance the difference.
You have leverage in this negotiation. A new boss doesn’t want his people to quit. Aside from having to replace them, which costs time and money and energy, it simply makes them look bad. Their career will suffer if they don’t keep their employees happy and efficient. Your retention in your role does matter to them. So ask for something you want. First, ask nicely – you don’t need to go into discussion with management acting like you are re-negotiating your job. Although you are, that is a more hostile approach to take, and will burn you if you play that card too often. So just go in saying that you have some ideas that would make you happier and better at your work, and want to discuss them.
Once you start talking about your desired changes, it is hard to draw a roadmap of how conversations will go. Maybe you’ll get what you want. Maybe they’ll give a hard ‘No’, or maybe you’ll have to compromise.
A few tips on each scenario:
- You get what you want – be grateful, take the win, say Thanks, and go back to work.
- They give a hard ‘No’ – don’t react. Just sit quietly for a minute. This is a bit manipulative, but many people are uncomfortable with silence, especially when they know they just gave you a bad answer. They might voluntarily start compromising instead. So give them a minute to do so. If they don’t offer up anything else, walk away from the conversation. Don’t drop it – but let them know that you need some time to consider how that will impact your work life, and walk away. And then do think about it – can you live with losing a bit of positivity in your work environment? Or does this mean you should start looking for different work? I recommend giving any job time to see how such things play out. “You win some, you lose some” is accurate, so you don’t want to over-react to losing on negotiation. But you’d better also be winning some to balance it out.
- They compromise – We jump right back into listening skills in this case. Why are they compromising? What do they need? Is there an alternative proposal that meets their needs while improving your wants? Talk through the concerns in detail.
I recommend having ongoing conversations with your boss, so that when you need to have hard conversations to negotiate your working environment, it isn’t a large change to your communication pattern. I talk to my current boss weekly, and try to keep track of how much I am pushing for. I’ll push hard on concerns for a couple weeks, then back off for a couple weeks. People respect you for being a little demanding, but get annoyed by you if your demands are all they ever hear. Find a balance.
If you are uncomfortable asking for changes in your environment, it is worth spending some time figuring out why. What is going on that makes you hesitant to negotiate for change? Would you be more comfortable doing it a different way? Via email, messaging, or even asking for a team meeting to discuss the work environment in a way that isn’t 1-on-1 negotiations?
Find a way to keep the conversation about your job a constant in your working relationship with your boss.