What you should know
Consider first whether an honest conversation makes sense. Sometimes informal steps aren’t appropriate. Especially if there are issues of discrimination or other power imbalances at play.
You might prefer writing a letter or making a formal complaint. (We’ve got tips on those as well.) It’s up to you. Start with whatever approach suits you best.
It can help to talk the issue out first with friends, colleagues, or your union representative (if you’re in a union). They may have been through this before, and have wise counsel.
And you may want support if you later decide to write a letter or make a formal complaint. It’s a good idea to take notes of who you talked with, when, about what.
An employer doesn’t have grounds to fire you for raising a workplace issue, making a request, or bringing a complaint. If you get fired for raising a discrimation, harassment, or workplace safety issue, there are laws in place to help you.
But at any time, as long as they give you enough advance notice or severance pay, an employer can end your employment without cause.
What’s enough notice depends on what’s written in your employment contract — or the minimum you’re entitled to by law. (This is usually based on how long you’ve worked somewhere.)
Raising a concern or making a request shouldn’t put your job in jeopardy. Unfortunately, some bosses are short-tempered and don’t react well to requests.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for that raise or promotion. But it does mean you should be strategic about how you ask, and when.
Have the conversation
Step 1. Set a time
If you’ve just been given bad news, or feel you’ve been wronged, resist the urge to make demands right away. You’ll have a better chance of getting something when you’re calm and prepared. Give yourself a day or two to collect your thoughts and composure.
Then set up a time to meet. Re-confirm the day before.
Step 2. Prepare
Treat this like you’re campaigning for a big election. Your speech needs to be ready to go.
So first: brainstorm. Write down what you’re unhappy about and what you want to achieve. If there was a specific incident, make note of the date and place that it happened, and how it made you feel.
List the six or seven main points you want to make. Then cross out half of them. This can highlight what’s most important to you, and help you remember what you want to say.
Think hard about the outcome you want. How do you hope your employer responds? Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: What would I do if I were them?
Gather supporting documents. These could include any emails or letters that relate to the issue, your paystubs (if part of your pay was missing, for example), or your written employment contract (if you have one).
Employers aren’t mind readers. If you can make concrete suggestions, you’ll give your employer something to work with. Consider asking for more than what you want: you’re more likely to get at least part of the solution you’re after.
Step 3. Practice
It doesn’t have to be in front of a mirror, but rehearsing is important. In addition to knowing your top three talking points cold, here are some tips.
Practice good body language. Make eye contact. Don’t slouch. Project confidence.
Listen and clarify. What I hear you saying is…
Frame it. Say I need flexibility rather than You haven’t given me flexibility.
Qualify and soften. Don’t say always or never. Use perhaps or maybe.
Take their temperature. How is this sitting with you?
Step 4. Have the talk
Here’s a template you might follow for the actual conversation.
Explain what the problem is. For example, I’m concerned about the new work schedule.
Explain briefly the impact on you. For example, With so many early morning shifts, it’s challenging for me to get my kids to school.
Stick to the facts. For example, The school’s before- and after-school program is full and has a year-long waitlist.
Suggest one or more solutions. For example, Perhaps I could have the occasional morning shift, and more afternoon shifts.
Ask for a response by a certain date. For example, Can you please let me know by (X date) when you’ve made your decision.
Step 5. Take notes
After the conversation, make notes of what you both said and the date and time you spoke. Be sure to describe the outcome.
You may feel like you didn’t quite get your point across, like you forgot to say something important. That feeling is normal. Remember, having the courage to have the conversation is a win on its own.
Step 6. Follow up
Wait a day or two, then consider emailing them a summary of the conversation. Thank them for taking the time to discuss this. List the main points covered and the requested response deadline.
Be brief and to the point. If the issue doesn’t get resolved, this record of the discussion may be helpful down the road.
Who can help
As a worker, there are agencies you can reach out to with questions about your rights.
Employment Standards Branch
Employment and Social Development Canada
BC Human Rights Tribunal
Dial-A-Law has more information on Problems at work in the section on Work.