There are times during anyone's career when it's preferable to stay quiet, and avoid confrontations or drama. And, there are other times when staying quiet may be the easy thing to do — but not the right thing. You may be put in a situation that requires you to speak up for the good of the company, yourself, or another employee. Your job could be put in jeopardy by not speaking up. You could simply be doing yourself a disservice by not speaking your mind, and letting others know just how you feel. Here are 10 of those times. In these situations, speak up, and do it quickly.
1. Any Time You Are Being Harassed
Whether sexually, physically, racially, or emotionally, the workplace should be harassment-free. Most employers require you to take harassment training courses these days, and with good reason. Harassment is not only disruptive to the work environment, it can lead to deep psychological scarring, lawsuits, and in the worst cases, suicide. The moment you suspect anything has gone from playful banter to something much more serious, you must arrange a meeting with someone from your HR department. If you don't have one, then you need to talk to your supervisor, or someone else in a position of authority. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get.
2. When You Witness Harassment
Look out for fellow employees who may be too afraid to take action against harassment themselves. If you notice that someone is experiencing any kind of harassment that could be contributing to a hostile work environment, follow the procedures set in place by your HR department, or superiors. This is not just a "nice" thing to do — it's actually your responsibility to the people you work with. Again, this needs to be nipped in the bud quickly, before it gets out of hand and creates a very serious situation.
3. During Brainstorming Meetings
If you work in an environment that requires brainstorming sessions, be they about finances, advertising, engineering, or just the holiday party, you must not make the mistake of staying quiet in these meetings. Whether it's from shyness, self-doubt, or preferring to listen instead of contribute, your lack of involvement will only be viewed in a negative light. You will be seen as someone who doesn't contribute, has no ideas, or is apathetic to the task at hand. To combat this, speak up early; ideally within the first few minutes. This is a great way to make sure you break the silence, boost your confidence, and avoid searching your brain for an idea that is not already on the table.
4. When You Don't Understand the Assignment
There's a famous episode of Seinfeld ("The Bottle Deposit") that involves George receiving a very important assignment from his boss, Mr. Wilhem. As George is getting briefed, Mr. Wilhelm enters the bathroom, and George stays outside. But when he eventually follows him in, Wilhelm has finishes the briefing and thinks George heard every word. The comedy comes from George trying to figure out what on earth Wilhelm wants, without asking him to repeat the instructions.
Don't be like George. If you misunderstand any part of the brief, go back and ask questions; explicit questions. This is not the time to beat around the bush, and your boss will appreciate you making sure you are going in the right direction. Of course, there is one caveat; don't continue to ask the same questions over and over. Getting clarification is one thing, but if you have to be told something five times before it sinks in, you may not be in the right career.
5. If You're in Physical Pain
It doesn't matter if you do a desk job, or you're out doing hard labor. If you're in pain, you must speak up, and quickly. Experiencing pain on the job can severely impact your performance, and also make the cause of the pain even worse. If it's a migraine, take the day off if you have sick days. If you don't have sick days left, see if it is possible to work from home after the pain has eased a little. If you're experiencing physical pain, like a bad back or shoulder, explain it to your supervisor. It could be work-related, in which case the company may be obligated to help you eliminate the cause of the pain. These days, many office workers find it better to stand at their desks, and your employer could provide you with the appropriate desk and equipment.
6. When You Witness Something Illegal
Your company's code of conduct will likely cover compliance issues, and how to make sure you are not breaking any laws (even accidentally) while at work. If you should notice someone breaking these rules or laws, you need to speak up. Your employer should have a whistleblower policy to cover this, and you will be able to report the incident anonymously. If there is something systemic going on, like the Enron scandal, your quick action could save hundreds of jobs. If you believe you, yourself, may have inadvertently broken a law, you must also speak up. It is far better that it comes from you, than someone who notices your genuine mistake and reports it to your superiors.
7. As Soon as You Know Something is Wrong
Wrong? How? Well, it all depends on the kind of job you have. If you're in accounting and you notice a mistake in the numbers, don't wait until the financial report is at the printers. Say something when you first notice the mistake. If you're in advertising, don't stay quiet when something is clearly wrong with the ad (or bottle… as Bud Light found out recently to much blowback). If you're in engineering, and see something that could cause major problems later on (such as GM's poorly-made ignition switch), for goodness sake speak up. These mistakes can cost lives. Staying quiet because it's easier than causing a fuss is not good enough. Be brave, speak up, and do the right thing.
8. When Someone Takes Credit for Your Work
It happens a lot in businesses all over the world. You have a great idea, you say something to someone, and the next thing you know, they're claiming ownership. They get the pay raise, the new account, the promotion, the accolades, and you're left holding with a whole lot of bitterness. These "leeches" work everywhere, and are quite happy to take the credit and climb the ladder, be it in a Fortune 500 company, or the local bakery or autoshop.
How you speak up is important though. It can't come down to whining and complaining. Make sure you approach your supervisor, show them the work you had done beforehand (if you have it) and calmly discuss the fact that this was your idea. You may want to approach the person who stole the idea first; sometimes, they may be unaware of their mistake. In those rare cases, they may be quite happy to speak up on your behalf. Either way… take what's yours.
9. If Anything You Own Goes "Missing"
Make no mistake: there are sticky fingers in offices and businesses around the country. It can be as small as someone using the milk you brought in for their own cup of tea. Or, it can be more expensive items, including money, electronics, clothing, or even collectibles. When you start noticing that your things are going missing, report it immediately to HR or your superiors. It's important to at least get them alerted to the problem. It could be an internal person, someone from the cleaning staff, or anyone else trusted to walk around your business or office. HR can even install security cameras if it is serious enough.
10. When Rumors and Gossip Are Running Riot
You can't avoid water cooler chats and idle gossip in businesses. It happens in kitchens, bathrooms, conference rooms, and anywhere else people congregate to chat. However, when this gossip goes from a little harmless griping, to something much more toxic, you need to speak up. You can either put a stop to the chat instantly when you hear it (i.e. "No, she didn't say that, and was never even in that meeting") or you can take your concerns to your superiors so that they can address the issues. Gossip can be very destructive, and needs to be stopped.
When has speaking up at work made you most proud?
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