Over the years I’ve learned that “work” is so much more than what we do and where we do it. It’s far deeper than that.
The word alone can elicit feelings of bliss and excitement or dread and anxiety. For many of us, it dictates what time we go to bed, when we wake up, where we live, how much time we spend with loved ones and when we rest. Our overall health, happiness and even self-worth can be held hostage or nurtured depending on our work environments.
These are the things I think about when considering the layers and complexities of this question: Do I feel supported at work?
I know, the word support is nuanced. It’s given, received and experienced differently from person to person and across work environments and roles. You might feel supported on Monday but completely blindsided and undermined on Wednesday. Or maybe the words validated, vouched for, accepted, encouraged, assisted and recognized have never crossed your mind when describing how you feel at work. Employees from underrepresented groups are especially susceptible to all that comes with a lack of support at work, and Aisha Blake hits on this truth in her tweet below.
A reminder that it DOES NOT MATTER if you hire more Black people if you don’t ALSO have the tools and culture to support them. They’ll either suffer through it until they find something better or, if they can, leave when they realize you care more about perception than people.
— Aisha Blake (@AishaBlake) June 3, 2020
For the past several weeks, I’ve been actively thinking about this question, talking to colleagues, friends and family about:
- What support means to them at work
- How they articulate that to others (ie boss and team members)
- What they want their managers to know
I took that feedback into consideration while thinking about my personal journey and times I felt supported throughout my career but also discouraged and attacked. Yes, personally attacked. That time of reflection produced some thought-provoking questions to help all of us unpack and communicate what we’re feeling at work but also what we need.
Here are some questions to ask as you consider if you’re getting the support you need at work. As you answer these questions, include specific examples and also keep in mind what role you can play in ensuring a positive outcome.
- Am I heard and listened to, during meetings and one-on-one conversations?
- Do I feel comfortable saying what I think and what I need?
- Do I feel understood? By my colleagues? By my boss?
- Do I feel informed about what’s happening at my organization and what’s expected of me?
- Do I have the tools, guidance and emotional support to do my job successfully?
- Does my manager trust me to do my job with excellence?
- Am I given opportunities to lead?
- Are my thoughts and opinions considered and valued?
- Do I feel uncomfortable challenging leadership in a professional manner or suggesting alternatives? Why or why not?
- When I make observations or share concerns, are my comments downplayed or dismissed?
- Does “the client is always right” mentality affect how I do my job? How so?
- Do I feel confident in my role? Why or why not?
- Can I have honest conversations about barriers I face at work and seek help to work through those issues?
- Am I recognized for the talents and contributions I bring to the workplace?
If you’ve given this list a quick scan, commit to going back and really sitting with these questions and allowing yourself to answer them honestly. Write them down. If you’re ready to start the conversation with your manager, use your responses as a starting point for meaningful dialogue. Give yourself time and space to process your emotions so that you can go into that meeting with purpose and substantive examples to share. As someone who has had this talk before, I know it’s likely that passionate tears might flow once you courageously initiate this conversation.
If you’re not ready to have those conversations, that is OK. Don’t rush yourself and don’t create added pressure. This is an emotional exercise and one that’s exacerbated by economic and health crises and racial inequities. Extend grace to yourself. Workplace trauma is real. If you have a close friend, family member or therapist who can help you work through a game plan, reach out and get the support you need. Our online training on psychological safety in the workplace is a great place to start. You can watch the on-demand version.
These questions can also help you evaluate job prospects and decide whether it’s time to consider other opportunities where support flows freely and is not withheld.
And if you do feel supported, embrace and extend that support to others.
I’d love to hear how it goes and what other questions you came across while unpacking this topic of support. Please do share in the comments below (or send me an email at [email protected]) and know that I’m rooting for you.
This story was cross-posted on Medium.com.