Self-advocacy is an essential skill that everyone should have, especially in the workplace. But what is self-advocacy and how can employers encourage a self-advocacy mindset? Let’s take a look.
What does self-advocacy mean in the workplace? Why is it important to have employees that can self-advocate for themselves?
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the meaning of self-advocacy, how it can benefit your company, and tips on how leaders within your company can promote and encourage self-advocacy to build stronger teams.
Self-advocacy, in the simplest of definitions, is having the ability to stand up for yourself. But it’s really more than just having the courage to speak up. It’s also about being able to recognize when you need help and when it is the right time to stand up for yourself.
Furthermore, self-advocacy is also about knowing how to communicate what you want or need when you do speak up. Because having the courage to say something is one thing, but knowing what you need to say exactly to make sure your voice is heard and you are taken seriously is another thing entirely.
Many people have the first part down — the courage to come forward and stand up for themselves — but not everyone knows how to effectively communicate their needs once they start speaking. However, both of these skills are an important part of self-advocacy.
Self-advocacy takes different forms depending on your environment and context. It’s not uncommon for people to be self-advocates in their personal lives but to leave their courage to advocate for their best interests at the door when they enter the workplace. This is often due to the fear that speaking up will result in some sort of punishment or pushback, like losing your job.
However, speaking up for your needs is normal both in and out of the workplace — and it should not result in punishment. Employees are human beings with wants and needs. They are not machines that can simply put their needs aside. Self-advocacy in the workplace is about feeling safe and comfortable acknowledging their needs as an employee and being able to speak up and make their voice heard. You want employees to ensure that their own best interests are being considered.
→ Asking for more time off;
→ Asking for a promotion or pay raise;
→ Asking for help or more guidance and clarity on how to perform a task;
→ Asking for a specific thing, like a tool, device, or software, that can better help you get your job done;
→ Coming forward with an idea or feedback that you think can help with a project or just for general improvements.
There are many ways employees can self-advocate in the workplace. It can be about personal needs, but it can also be about having needs met that can help them grow and succeed within the company.
Self-advocacy is important in the workplace because it can help break down barriers and organizational silos that typically hold employees back from reaching out and speaking up to get what they need so they can better perform on the job. Companies that encourage self-advocacy tend to have healthier workplace cultures where employees feel safe to speak up and communicate, which can overall improve collaboration and productivity.
→ Empower employees;
→ Help employees take better control of their work;
→ Improve self-awareness and the needs of others;
→ Allow for better communication and flow of ideas;
→ Make your employees better problem solvers.
Overall, when employees feel more comfortable speaking up for themselves, they become stronger and better workers because of it. When they feel seen and like their voices are being heard and their needs are being met, they are happier to be a part of the team and help the company as a whole achieve success.
Knowing what self-advocacy looks like is one thing, but putting it into effect is another. One of the best ways for your employees to learn how to self-advocate is for your company leaders and managers to actively encourage it and set a good example.
To self-advocate, you must be aware of your own wants and needs. This requires looking internally to better understand your own mind and what you need. Thus, for leaders to set a good example, they must first practice self-advocacy.
Leadership impacts overall team performance, so if your leaders aren’t advocating for themselves, how can you expect your employees to feel comfortable speaking up for their needs? Once leaders can self-advocate, they are then capable of leading by example and showing employees how they can do the same.
Transparency in the workplace and open communication are also key when it comes to encouraging self-advocacy. Again, an important part of learning to self-advocate is having the courage to speak up but also knowing when and how to speak up.
If a company does not promote open communication and transparency, they are creating an environment where employees do not feel comfortable opening up. And, if your employees aren’t comfortable opening up about anything job-related, or if there aren’t effective means of communicating with those they need to speak to, they certainly won’t feel free to self-advocate.
Encouraging self-advocacy starts with creating a space where employees and teams can easily and transparently communicate with one another. This should be a space where they are encouraged to say what’s on their mind and add their two cents to help the team, the company, and themselves.
This means showing employees that it’s okay asking for help, that it’s okay asking for what they want or need, and that you welcome their feedback and ideas. The future of work is transparent, allowing ideas to flow freely for enhanced productivity.
Part of being a good leader and promoting self-advocacy isn’t just telling your employees that they should feel free to communicate with you but also actively showing them that you see them and respect them.
In other words, give your employees positive feedback and show your appreciation by rewarding them for their hard work. Employees will be less likely to advocate for themselves if they don’t genuinely feel acknowledged or if they feel that what they do and say goes unnoticed.
So to encourage employees to speak up for themselves, show them that they matter and that they deserve to have their needs met. The more you do this, the more they will realize that what they say matters — that they matter. This will most likely lead to them feeling more comfortable in their role, working harder, and getting better at advocating for their needs.
Another important aspect of self-advocacy in the workplace is making sure your employees have the tools they need to do their job. For example, digital transformation tools can add a human element to work, surprisingly, greatly improving an employee's ability to do their job. This looks like automation software to streamline basic tasks and online learning modules to open up promotion opportunities.
If you don’t give your employees the tools they need, they might feel like you don’t care about them doing their job well. If they don’t perceive that you care about that, they will likely think that you feel the same way about their specific needs.
Empowering employees to feel good about themselves and their role within your company is not just about meeting their mental and emotional needs, but it is also about meeting their physical and work-related needs. The better tools they have at their disposal, the more empowered they will feel to do their job and speak up for their best interests to help them succeed.
Self-advocacy in the workplace starts with good leadership. If your leaders can advocate for themselves, they can better advocate for others — for your employees. When they set a good example and advocate for their employees, it teaches employees to better advocate for themselves.