What you should know
Work problems can be big (like getting fired) or small (like a co-worker who doesn’t unload the dishwasher). Rather than resorting to extreme solutions — doing nothing and letting the problems fester, or hollering “I’ll see you in court!” as you storm out — there are other approaches to consider.
We’ll walk you through tips to help you solve work-related problems. But first up: you have many options for how to put your plans in motion.
First tip: know what you want. It seems simple, but many folks skip the step of really getting clear about what outcome they’re looking for. Is it a raise you want? A more flexible work week? Is it compensation because you were harrassed?
People rarely get every single thing they desire. Figure out what’s absolutely non-negotiable, and what isn’t. When you set realistic expectations, you’ll be more comfortable with the outcome.
Before you take action, do some research. Find out what legal rights you have, and what you can reasonably expect your employer to agree to. Some requests have strict timelines. (Like parental leave, where you have to give at least four weeks’ notice.)
We have great resources on your rights at work, getting paid, time off work, and getting fired or leaving a job. Check out our in-depth information.
Work out the problem
Step 1. Gather relevant information
First up: information gathering. If you’re looking for a raise, compile stats about salaries in your industry. If you’re asking for a four-day work week, find data on how that boosts productivity.
If there are any specific laws that apply to your situation, make sure you understand them and consider if you want to raise them with your employer.
Gather together anything that supports your position — any emails or letters that relate to the issue, your paystubs (if part of your pay was missing, for example), your written employment contract (if you have one).
Basically, come prepared. It’s one thing to promise an employer something; it’s more powerful when you can bring solid research to bear. It shows you’re taking things seriously.
Step 2. Communicate strategically with your employer or co-worker
Think about your approach. Do you want to send a “heads up” email or calendar invite to set the stage for a serious conversation? What will you say? How will you say it?
Strive to come across as professional, courteous, and results-oriented. Empty complaints with no action plan won’t inspire confidence or be taken seriously.
Workplaces are like small villages. If you complain about a co-worker, or make an unreasonable demand — say, for extra time off to get your fantasy sports pools in order — realize that people may find out about it. Your reputation can be dismantled with one bad conversation.
Step 3. Follow up, and know the timeline
Make sure to set a deadline for a response. It doesn’t have to be a hard “If I don’t get a raise by July 5th I’ll quit.” But a sensible “Please let me know your thoughts on this by the end of next week” will light the right fire.
Doing this makes for an easy follow-up. If nothing happened by the deadline, you can then be more direct about when you’d like to see results.
Step 4. Write a letter
If a face-to-face discussion doesn’t work (or is just too stressful to even consider), put your thoughts in writing.
Stick to the facts. If possible, keep your letter short and to the point. Ask a trusted friend or relative to proofread it and provide honest feedback.
We offer tips to help you out with a letter. See our information on writing a letter to your employer.
Step 5. Be persistent and stay confident
Asking for a raise is hard. Complaining about a bad situation is harder. Try to shake the feeling that your boss or employer is in the driver’s seat. If you’re a good and long-tenured worker, your superiors won’t want to lose you.
Stay confident and be persistent. In the end, even if the outcome isn’t what you want, you’ll know you did everything you could.
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
Getting legal advice can help you clarify how to proceed.
Lawyer Referral Service
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
UBC Law School's Student Advice Program
Community Legal Assistance Society
Dial-A-Law has more information on Problems at work in the section on Work.