Corporate values tend to be enforced top-down, not bottom-up. Too often, employees find themselves helpless when it comes to holding managers accountable for the company’s values.
While company policy should protect benefits and hold management accountable in part for employee happiness, employees also need to start advocating for their needs. No benefit is too small to matter: whether it’s working from home or taking allocated vacation time, it’s worth advocating for.
Workplace culture is more than an employee handbook with a list of values. If an unlimited vacation is a company benefit but only endorsed when a person can also manage an extremely heavy workload, then no one takes time off, for fear of getting too far behind. Culture should be tangible, and employees should feel empowered to speak up when values fall by the wayside.
Here are some tools that help employees feel confident advocating for themselves and suggest ways that corporate culture can change to include accountability metrics for managers—not just employees.
The beauty of boundaries
One of the best methods for improving workplace culture is promoting personal boundary-setting. Setting boundaries for yourself helps line up expectations for others and can be an excellent way to reduce workplace conflicts.
Start by asking yourself: what helps you succeed? What sends you into a stress spiral? Once you understand your limits, you can have an honest conversation with your supervisor about restructuring and prioritizing your work responsibilities.
Technology can also help with boundary setting. By using software built for collaboration to track your time and progress on tasks, you can justify a flex-work schedule by providing tangible proof to a manager questioning your productivity. You can also adjust your availability to “do not disturb” before 9am or after 5pm, set yourself as away, or pause notifications when you need to shut out distractions to meet a deadline.
These days, it’s far too common for employees to say yes to everything, whether it’s putting in extra hours or taking on more responsibilities in their roles. While this is also a symptom of a culture fraught with a hyperactive work ethic, it’s also what happens when appropriate boundaries aren’t set.
By setting boundaries for workload and communication, you’ll be making tangible steps toward improving your workplace. And keep this in mind: The only people who will take issue with your boundaries are those who benefitted from you having none.
The accountability factor
Think back to your last quarterly meeting with your supervisor. Chances are, they led the conversation, highlighting your achievements and providing some constructive criticism. In a perfect world, your supervisor would then open up the floor for you to give the same feedback. However, this is unfortunately not the norm.
The top-down corporate value model needs to be flipped on its head. For a truly balanced workplace, supervisors and managers should be held accountable in the same way employees are judged based on work output and attendance. You can tell when this is important to a company because they have accountability measures in place that help them to ensure values are being upheld inside their management teams, and employee’s rights are protected.
On an individual level, employees getting a written list of expectations and benefits before starting a position is an excellent place to start when evaluating and advocating for accountability metrics. Closely evaluate benefits like time off, workload expectations and workplace communications. Ask questions during the interview process about how these are maintained and enforced. Negotiate when something that’s important to you is missing—make sure that benefits and cultural expectations are explicitly stated and not implied.
Using collaboration tools can help you bring tangible evidence of your achievements to the table. By having documentation of your contribution to the team every month or quarter, you have “proof points” of your ability to perform no matter where you work, and when exactly you’re logged on.
Keep your list of job expectations handy during performance evaluations, and advocate for an opportunity to revisit values and boundaries as frequently as needed with supervisors. Not only will this help establish a reasonable set of expectations for employees, but it will also keep supervisors honest and limit exploitation and unreasonable work demands.
Okay, so you’ve laid out your boundaries and identified values and expectations, but what next? This can sometimes be the hardest part: Holding yourself accountable for maintaining your boundaries and limits. When it comes to evaluating how much extra time and energy to give your work, where do you draw the line?
Workplaces can be competitive environments, and it’s all too easy to compare yourself and your performance to that of your colleagues—even if your colleagues are workaholics. Comparison to others will make you feel pressured to take on more, work longer hours just for the sake of “keeping up” with everyone else.
Rather than getting sucked into the grind of over performing and comparing yourself to others, hold true to your values. This can mean exercising your right to leave work at a reasonable hour, not replying to work emails after a set time, saying no to extra projects, or taking well-earned vacation time and truly unplugging. Uphold your boundaries. Whatever is important to you is worth fighting for.
For better or worse, standing up for what you believe in often makes you stand out. This might cause some inner conflict, but ultimately, you’ll be setting an excellent example for your coworkers and employers alike. When you exercise your ability to uphold corporate values on an individual level, your colleagues will hopefully follow suit. Employers also need to do their part and take ownership of the work culture alongside employees. If everyone is onboard and does their part, workplace culture will shift for the better.