The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has resulted in thousands of Aussies becoming unemployed, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows if you’re lucky enough to still have a job.
If you’re one of the lucky Aussies who still has a job, you’re probably left feeling pretty guilty if you complain about well… anything to your unemployed mates. Sure, maybe your boss is piling way too much on your plate, but at least you’ve got a job. Or maybe you’re facing some sort of workplace bullying, but it *could* be worse, right?
Well, true. But there are also starving children in third world countries, so by that rhetoric, we shouldn’t be complaining about anything… ever.
Just because you’ve still got a job doesn’t mean your workplace concerns are invalid, and it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to address them. But when the world feels like it’s falling apart around you, it can seem like a really shitty time to open a whole new can of shitty workplace worms, so we’ve devised a guide to help you through it.
1. Pick your battles
Before you start any sort of workplace confrontation, it’s worth weighing up if it’s the right time to do it. Depending on your specific industry and concern, it could be worth waiting it out until things calm down before you add another problem to the current situation.
If it’s a big or immediate problem that’s impacting your mental or physical health, financial stability or ability to do your job, it’s probably worth bringing it up ASAP. But if you’re concerned with more general issues (like a procedure that could use updating or wanting to upgrade to a comfier office chair), you might want to wait until the situation calms down a little.
You’re the only person who can really judge if your concern is urgent or not, but you’ll likely receive a better response from your boss if you address the issue when they’re not stressed about the coronavirus situation.
2. Don’t catch them off guard
If you need to discuss anything of even moderate importance, do not (and I cannot stress this enough) try to pull your boss aside without warning. Send them a text/email or ask them if they can schedule a time to sit down with you.
You don’t have to tell them exactly what you’re going to talk about, but giving them a quick heads up that you’d like to sit down with them to discuss rostering/leave/your payslip will give them some time to come prepared with information that could actually help you. Also, nobody likes being caught off guard, so it’s best to give them some time to prepare so you’re not met with hostility and defensiveness.
3. Watch your tone
No, I’m not your mother. But it’s important (for your own sake) to watch your tone when you’re confronting your boss during what is understandably a stressful time for everybody.
We all know it’s easy to get super emotional about your job, but this isn’t a fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend, it’s addressing a work-related issue in a professional manner. If you struggle to bite your tongue when you *really* just want to tell your boss to get fucked, try having a mock conversation with a friend first. That way, you can tell your friend how much of a flaming pile of dog shit they are and get all of your anger out before you have to talk to your real boss.
Remember to keep everything in perspective. At the end of the day, it’s just a job. There’s no need to overreact or get too emotional. If you aren’t getting the response you’re looking for, there are alternative options.
4. Remain calm
If you’re at the holy-shit-I-could-literally-cry-with-anger stage, it could be worth taking a few days to really think it over before you go into work and do something drastic. We’ve all been there, and if you’ve ever called your boss a flaming pile of dog shit, you’d know that it doesn’t usually work out in your favour.
Even if you’ve just realised your boss has been underpaying you or denying you your entitlements, it’s best to go in calm and prepared. Before you approach your boss, it’s worth reading through your contract (and the general award conditions on FairWork) to get a solid idea of where you stand legally.
Once you’ve got all of your ducks in a row, you can approach your boss in a calm manner because you’re an informed king/queen who knows exactly what they’re entitled to. Take a couple of dot points with you (on paper or on your phone) so you don’t get nervous and forget to discuss something.
5. Give everybody the benefit of the doubt
Like we discussed with the JobKeeper entitlements, you should always go in with the mindset that your boss genuinely doesn’t realise they’ve made a mistake. Sure, any responsible business owner should be well-versed in employee entitlements, but lets be real, there are a plethora of idiots bosses out there (you know who you are).
Personally, I’ve found flaws in my job contracts before that meant I was entitled to thousands of dollars in back-payments, but my boss had no idea. Obviously, I wasn’t going to let it slide, but by assuming they had purposely tried to rip me off, I ended up destroying my relationship with my boss and ultimately left the job because of it. Even if you’re fairly certain your boss is being dodgy, give them the benefit of the doubt and approach it like you’re trying to give them an opportunity to fix the mistake.
Sure, you can go to Fairwork. But don’t throw this at them before you’ve given them a moment to try to remedy the situation.
6. Be flexible (to an extent)
Obviously, you should never compromise when it comes to your safety or basic entitlements at work. But if it’s something less serious like your annual leave requests, shifts or just a general work issue, go into the meeting with a flexible attitude.
Maybe you don’t want to work weekends but your boss wants you to work every weekend. Go in with the mindset of being willing to compromise. Maybe that means working Saturdays but not Sundays, or having one full weekend off per month.
7. Know your entitlements
So far, we’ve been pushing you to be cautious, but that doesn’t mean you need to forfeit your rights. Your rights and entitlements as an employee are called that for a reason, because you’re legally ENTITLED to them. It doesn’t make you a spoilt millennial for standing up for your rights, no matter how many times you’re told otherwise.
If you’re not well-versed in Fairwork legislation, you might not be aware of this, but you legally cannot sign a contract that leaves you worse off than the general award. Even if you’ve signed a contract that says you’re only entitled to $4/hr and you have no sick/annual leave, that doesn’t make it legally binding because you’re still covered by the National Employment Standards.
It pays to read your contract before you sign it, but if you find yourself in a sticky situation, find out which general award you’re covered under. The FairWork website has hundreds of pages of information detailing exactly what you’re entitled to, even if it’s not stipulated in your contract.
Seriously, this website is your best friend regardless of what industry you’re in.
8. Plan your exit strategy
If your situation is beyond repair or you just can’t reach a good resolution, its best to plan an exit strategy before you take any drastic action.
Let’s be real, Centrelink is a total shit show at the best of times and sometimes you’re not entitled to anything (especially if you’re still considered dependent on your parents). So make sure you’ve got another job, ample savings or Centrelink to fall back on BEFORE you quit/get into a situation that could land you out of a job.
Don’t just assume you’re eligible for Centrelink because your best mate is. It’s always worth checking and reading the eligibility criteria to make sure you’ll be financially secure if you do end up out of a job. The only thing worse than a terrible work environment is being out of work without any financial support to keep you afloat.
9. Remember, it’s just a job
If all else fails and you find yourself shit out of luck with no job, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve all been there.
Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and remember that your job doesn’t determine your self worth. Give yourself a moment to process what has happened, then get back out there and look for your next opportunity. Sometimes losing a job is the fresh start you need to do something even greater.