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Start here: Tips for solving work problems

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Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work. Conflicts are inevitable, compromises unavoidable. Here, find tips on how you can take action to solve problems at work.

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.

You can start a conversation, write a letter, file a complaint. Or as a last resort, take legal action.

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

Taking these steps can help you solve a work-related problem.

Step 1. Gather relevant information

Step 2. Communicate strategically

Step 3. Follow up

Step 4. Write a letter

Step 5. Be persistent

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

Before turning to courts or tribunals, think about talking to a trusted co-worker or family member. Or, if your workplace is unionized, your union rep. They may have been through your situation before and have valuable insight.

As a worker, there are agencies you can reach out to with questions about your rights.

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
The government office that deals with complaints against employers in BC.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website
Employment and Social Development Canada logo
Employment and Social Development Canada
They can help if you work in a federally-regulated industry.
Call 1-800-641-4049Visit website
WorkSafeBC logo
WorkSafeBC
Can help if you want to report an unsafe workplace
Call 1-888-621-7233Visit website
BC Human Rights Tribunal logo
BC Human Rights Tribunal
Deals with discrimination complaints under BC law.
Call 1-888-440-8844Visit website

Getting legal advice can help you clarify how to proceed.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Call 1-800-663-1919Visit website
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 1-877-762-6664Visit website
LSLAP logo
UBC Law School's Student Advice Program
Law students provide help to people with limited means in the Vancouver area.
Call 604-822-5791Visit website
CLAS logo
Community Legal Assistance Society
Free legal assistance on workers’ rights, human rights, and mental health rights.
Call 1-888-685-6222 📞Visit website 🌎

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in March 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Jonas McKay, HHBG Lawyers and Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law

Jonas McKay, HHBG Lawyers
Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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