Sunday evening did you listen to the Prime Ministers briefing with mixed emotions? On the one hand, we hear the positive message that the sacrifices we have all made have reduced the rate of infection and that we can start to consider lifting some restrictions, but then fear and anxiety creep in as we contemplate returning to our place of work and increasing our own individual chances of infection and bringing it into the home.

What we are experiencing now for the majority of us is unprecedented and how organisations and employees choose to respond will be critical to our success in continuing to reduce the rate of infection and limiting the impact to our economy. But striking a balance between the spread of infection and limiting the shrinkage to our economy is not easy.

Whilst we can take comfort and realise that we are not alone in struggling with the fears and the anxieties we have, what we need to manage the situation and feel more content in ourselves will vary, there is no blueprint to how we should manage the challenges we find ourselves in. What you need and what I need will be different, recognising the individual nature of the action will not come easy to organisations that have historically operated within established regulations and processes that are about treating people consistently and fairly. We also know the reality is that some organisations will work really hard to resolve concerns for their employees and there will be others who will ignore or manage by fear in their response.

Over the past couple of weeks, this has been the number one topic of conversation with my coaching clients. How do they share their concerns with their managers and present ideas that could enable them to be productive at work and feel safe without the fear of repercussion? How do you give yourself the best chance of getting your concerns listened to and your needs acted on? Here is my take on the answer to that question, however, I stress that your circumstances are unique and this is general so take what makes sense to apply to your situation.

Your boss is not a mind reader. Don’t assume your boss knows or understands how you are feeling. They have their own issues and challenges; do you know how they really feel about returning to work themselves – no then how can you be sure they know how you feel? If we have any chance of getting what we need, we have to be prepared to talk to them. Yes, it may be awkward, but if you don’t ask for help is it fair to expect them to read your mind and know exactly how you are feeling and what you need? Remember the old adage ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’

The structure of your conversation consists of three parts

        the problem + the impact potential solutions including how to mitigate the impact


1.  Be specific about the problem. If you want your boss to really grasp the problems you need to get specific. Generic conversations about workloads, balancing family life and work, or health and safety concerns won’t give your boss sufficient information to really understand the crux of your problem (and identify potential solutions).  Instead, a general conversation leads to assumptions about how you feel and what you need. For example, if your workload is a problem as others have been furloughed or made redundant and you have found this manageable while working at home free from disruptions you need to first be specific about the disruptions and why working from home makes it more manageable.  Without this level of detail, your boss may not understand that the volume of work is not the problem but the location.

If you are a single parent with kids and currently have no other form of child care. Up until now, you have been able to work from home and oversee school work, using the evenings to catch up. In this instance, you need your boss to understand the family dynamics explain how you have been managing the situation currently without any detrimental impact on your performance in your role.

2.  Explain the impact in a way that makes sense to them. Think about what is important to your boss, what is the hook that will make them understand the challenge you are facing? For example, if you know that your performance will suffer as a result of returning to the workplace, talk about this in a way that grabs the intention of your boss. Concerns about lack of focus impacting the rest of the team and reputation or perhaps it’s the customer service you will be able to provide, you don’t want this to negatively reflect on your boss.  When discussing impacts think at three levels - impact to you, the team and the organisation.

3.  Own the solution. You own the problem and the solution. You know yourself when you are presented with a problem it can seem huge to resolve, but if you are presented with a problem which included potential solutions it can be easier to act. However to be taken seriously these need to be realistic. Consider what precedents have been set elsewhere in the organisation and consider how these could be applied to your own situation. With your suggestions consider your manager's position and think about what would be their concerns and how you can mitigate or reduce them and share this as part of your proposal. What would your manager need to be able to support your proposal and think about how you can provide this.

The right time to talk. You have given yourself time to plan your conversation; what does your boss need to be able to really listen and respond to what you have to say.  Consider how your boss works, do they like to feel prepared, do they have a short attention span, do they struggle if they feel they are being blind-sighted, when is the best time to get their attention and not be disrupted? Think about how you prepare your boss in advance, by giving them a heads up that you have put a meeting in their diary, or you would like to set up a time to talk as you have some work challenges and potential solutions you need to discuss with them. Resolving your problems needs a partnership between you and your boss.  You need to ensure they have the information necessary including your ideas on how to resolve and they need to listen and work with you to identify how they can be resolved.  You need to listen to their challenges and work with them to see how you can move forward.  

If you need help planning your conversation then you may like to take advantage of my power hour service, during this time we get clarity on what you want to achieve and plan how to get you there, giving you the tools and confidence to take the next step.

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