Generation Y: Stand Up For Yourself in the Workplace

How many times have you tucked your tail between your legs, left your bosses office and wandered back down the hall to begrudgingly complete a task that was incompetent or worse yet not, even in the realm of pertinence?

I’ll be the first to raise my hand. I have always been passive and unwilling to stand up for myself in the work place. I have always done what my father would do and said, "Yes Sir," (or Yes Ma’am) and put my head down, did the ridiculous task, and then went back to working on things that actually mattered, and did that to the best of my ability.

The misconception I had is that every boss wants the tireless, obedient worker that never questions authority. And this may well hold true for a lot of companies, but Generation Y is changing the workplace, and we’re very fortunate that we do not have to spend our entire careers working for one company, and constantly bending over to grab our ankles in an effort to ascend the proverbial corporate ladder.

One of the most important things I have realized is that I have to stand up for myself in the workplace if I want pursue my passions and achieve my goals. I have also found that most bosses will respect you more if you have an opinion of your own and are able to articulate that opinion in a tactful way. In my experience, you might still have to do that particular ridiculous request, but the stupid action items will become less prevalent if you respectfully stand up for yourself. Honestly, this advice pertains to fellow co-workers as well, but is more focused conflicts with a boss. If you want good advice for how to stand up for yourself with respect to co-workers check out this article.

Here’s three things to keep in mind when standing up for yourself:

  • Always be tactful. If you are not great at thinking on your feet put it in writing after you have had a few minutes to think about it. Be respectful and candid, but say something to the effect of, "I am having a hard time understanding how my time is being maximized by running off 500 copies, as opposed to working on the strategic marketing initiatives for the new account. I would appreciate insight into your rationale regarding this decision. Respectfully. Ryan." Perhaps this isn’t the best example (but it was on the fly). Make a conscious effort to handle the situation in a way that still enables your boss to feel empowered and in charge.
  • Honestly, one thing that has worked for me is to shoot and e-mail and carbon copy another co-worker in a leadership position. If someone else becomes aware that your boss made you organize and stack all of his personal belongings on the shelf in his new office instead of working on things that will invariably benefit the company your boss might feel silly, or you might get fired.
  • Which leads me to the fact that if your boss is always a jerk, why do you want to work with them or a company that supports those actions; regardless of how successful he may be at the expense of his employees? The Office Newb has a good piece about how a bad boss can be good for you, but even she recommends new work if you have a boss that is a real jerk.
Don’t be scared to stand up for yourself in the workplace. It is an important part of learning and growing as an employee, and if the boss is relentless in his pursuit of being a real tool then start looking for a new place to work; one that respects its employees, and has values that speak to you and passion that inspires you. After all, isn’t that what it’s about anyway?

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  • Ryan Stephens

    @ Allen - Certainly you have far more experience in the work place than I do, and I appreciate your contribution to this discussion. I think we all hope to have bosses that challenge us, and help us to understand the reason behind some of the "scut" work. Unfortunately, that's not always that case.

    I whole-heartily agree with you that you should stay in bad jobs as opposed to being out of work. The thing is that if you're good at relationship marketing, and good at networking chances are you can find another opportunity while still employed with at your current position. Once you have, you can give you two weeks notice and make a relatively smooth transition.

    While we may be/are potentially in a "recession" the job market is actually not that sparse. Job opportunities actually increased over the last year.

    @ Gary - There's something to be said about -earning- what comes to you. Nobody wants the rookie to hit cleanup the day he's called up, and it's VERY RARE that a rookie makes an impact like that (i.e. Jay Bruce). I agree with you there and I hope that I didn't allude to the fact that I think Generation Y employees should feel entitled to be involved in 'how to run the company' prior to developing that experience and expertise required to make that contribution.

    You definitely need to pick your battles carefully, but the first time a boss asks me to organize the books on the bookshelf in his office, I'm probably going to tell him where he can shove that notion.

    I think having great mentors is important (whether one of them is your boss or not), but I also know that Generation Y is begging to be managed in a different way than their predecessors, and other generations seem be opposed to it. It doesn't always have to be our way or the high way anymore; the two demographics need to reach a common understanding and a consensus about how they can effectively operate with one another in the most optimal way.

    The point of my post wasn't to stir the pot with Baby Boomers or Generation X. It was to help out Generation Y when they find themselves in a situation in which they feel uncomfortable.

    Thanks for your insight and contribution with respect to this blog post.

  • Gary Mason

    Every generation thinks it's going to change the world. Every generation also thinks that the one that came before them just doesn't get it like they do. Annoying, yes, but it's a good thing! The trouble is, more and more younger people come to work with a sense of entitlement that makes them think one year of experience gives them the understanding to be involved in the conversations about how to run the company, or what is and isn't important to be doing.

    Do the stupid tasks, pay attention, learn something. Try to figure out why the stupid task exists in the first place. Maybe there is a reason you just aren't experienced enough to realize.

    More often than not, your boss achieved their status for doing well. Take advantage of them and learn from their experience. Trust me... they WANT someone to ask them what they've learned.

  • Allen Laudenslager

    At 63 I’ve worked for great bosses who really mentored me and made every effort make sure that I was challenged and understood when I had to do the “scut” work. I’ve also worked for arbitrary bosses who’s answer to almost everything is “because I’m the boss”.

    As to why I’ve stayed in the bad jobs, it’s because I don’t like being out of work! In the current (dare I say it, “recession”) many of the “just change jobs” will learn, when the market is shedding jobs, you may not be able to find a new job quickly enough to make a difference!