How to take your power back at work

I’ve been sharing my learnings and thoughts from my own career advancement for quite some time already. Looking back, I realized I’ve always somewhat geared it toward fast growth. But something I’ve learned along the way as a by-product of the fast growth, is the feeling of autonomy over your work life. And a thought I always had is that you should be in control of your work life. To be honest, it took me a couple of years of working full-time to gain consciousness of it. t first, the shock of earning a full-time salary kept me quite busy. But once I did it, I never looked back. So that’s why today I wanted to share a few tips to help you take your power back at work.

Being an employee by definition means the power scales are never in your favor. There are certain things that you just cannot go around. For example, being in the office according to your company’s policy, or having somebody to report to. It’s just part of the game. However, I am here to tell you that there are certain aspects where you can give, and some where you can take.

Why does it matter?

Having a high-level idea of where your career is heading is important. But more importantly, I’d argue is being happy with your day-to-day work life and the level of control you have over it. This is what dictates how you feel at the end of the day. Whether you count the days until the weekend comes. Or whether you are having a life Monday to Friday too. And if overall you have a good quality of life. If you’ve read my posts before, you will know that I love talking about the “little things” and how important they are for our happiness. And the daily work is very much part of it. If you hate your work day, it’s really difficult for your net happiness to be that high.

One more thing I will say. Don’t confuse this with “loving your job” or being “passionate about your job”. This is a completely different topic. You can still love your job and what you do, but have an absolutely miserable day-to-day work life because of the relationship with your manager, with your clients and stakeholders, or the sheer amount of meetings that overflow into dinner time every other day that stop you from spending time with your partner, family, kids or friends. And vice versa applies too. You can dislike the job and do it purely for the money, but you can still have a high-quality work life with solid boundaries in place. Which way you pick is entirely your choice.

The bottom line is, being happy with your day-to-day work is essential to your net happiness and worth fighting for. And if you are not there, that’s fine. You can fight to get there. It can take time, you might not even succeed at it if you are in a toxic workplace. Sometimes it’s just not you. It’s them. But know that it is possible, and keep searching for it even if it sometimes means doing so in a new role, new team, new company, or hey, even in a new country if that’s what it takes.

5 tips on how to take your power back at work

So here are a few tips to help you take control of your work life. and take your power back at work. Know that it’s also a mindset, and it takes time to build. Things might fall out of balance sometimes, and you will not be 100% happy with how things are going 100% of the time. But as long as you fight the good fight – the fight for your happiness – it will be worth it.

You can take your power back at work whether you are working remotely or in the office.

Don’t work for your “boss”, work for yourself

This one is a bit more of a mindset change than a practical tip. First of all, I absolutely despise the word “boss” and all the connotations that come with it. I stick to the term “manager” in my day-to-day and I would advise you to do the same too. But that’s a whole other topic that I talked more about in this post. Regardless of how you call the next person above you in the reporting line, don’t see them as more than what they are. They’re simply managers, not commanders – even though some like to assert themselves through this leadership style at all times. If you are lucky, your manager can also be someone that you can learn from or be coached by. In which case, that’s great and it can be the basis of building a healthy professional relationship.

This will go against what most people say. But I truly believe that your goal is not to make your manager look good. That should come naturally if you focus on delivering great results. When you do that, everything will fall into place and you won’t need to play petty games with people up the chain of command. Think of it as if you are your ultimate manager and that how you work and the results you deliver impact you, first and foremost, and your company and manager second. As long as you are delivering results and you’re a team player, there’s really little else you need to care about.

I don’t say to go past your manager. You will still need to align certain things and loop them into your decision-making where it makes sense. But beware of keeping your autonomy or demanding it if it’s not there. You can “train” people around you to work with you on your own terms. It takes some work and patience but it pays off. Having autonomy and control over your work life is key to taking your power back at work.

Keep a tight grip on your workload

I think intense working hours are one of the biggest issues when it comes to having a good working day. It’s a typical sign of a toxic company culture, that is accepted as a standard much more than it should. But again, this is another conversation for another time. Similar to “teaching” those around you how to work with you and setting boundaries, saying no to meetings outside of your working hours is something in your hands. It takes time but it pays off.

Getting into a good rhythm with this one might require some effort and also depends on a lot of things. The type of company you are working for, the type of manager you have, the stage in your career that you are at, your role, etc. However, it is possible to get to a healthy workload most of the time. Especially if you apply some tips that can help you work smarter, and not just harder. You can use different techniques. Bring transparency into how you prioritize things. Learn to say no (see point below). If more work is shoved down your throat, simply showcase the trade-offs necessary to achieve that. Start saying no to meetings outside of your working hours. If at your company there is no respect or regard over what is appropriate or not work hours wise, decline meetings or put blockers in your calendar after a certain time. Book doctor appointments, family commitments, or anything that helps you say no easier, and until it becomes second nature.

Now, if you are actively trying to climb up the corporate ladder and especially at a faster pace, you will need to be strategic about this one. However, I still strongly believe that you can advance in your career at a healthy pace while still maintaining normal-ish work hours. The key however is to make sure you focus on high-value work and make your work visible. A second point here as well, is to learn that there are seasons. There will be times when you’re willing to give more and times when you’ll give less.

Learn to say no

“No, thank you” should be a complete sentence for everyone. And it’s a power move to help you get your power back at work. The aspiration is to get there and use it as second nature. The reality however, is that it takes time to get there. And that’s totally fine because practice makes perfect. Saying no is a very effective way of setting boundaries. The sooner you start to put it in practice, the better.

I have fought my way out of projects, and meetings and have undone decisions that if I felt didn’t make sense for me. And one thing I can tell you is that sometimes it takes more than just a simple “No”. You have to also be prepared to go all in. However, in those cases I’ve always come out feeling good about myself. Fighting for my own cause always made me feel proud.

Until you feel ready for the big battles though, practice on the smaller things. Say no to little tasks that should be out of your scope. Or to helping out somebody else when you, yourself are in a crunch. An easy way is to decline meetings that don’t make sense and to start saying no to meetings outside of your working hours.

Don’t over apologize

I started policing myself for saying “sorry” when it’s not necessary a long time ago. I try to substitute it with a “thank you” instead and move on. Now, I will say that I will happily apologize for an earnest mistake I made. And I have no problem with that. But what I hate and try not to do is over-apologize for every little thing. And I absolutely dislike seeing it around.

There are a ton of tips out there on how to stop apologizing and what phrasing to use instead. And I encourage you to put it in practice as much as you can. The reason why this is important for me is that it helps build that work persona that you are proud of. All the things that you do – learn to say no, learn to not apologize when you don’t need to, etc… – it all adds up to becoming the best and most confident version of yourself. This is what I always aspire for myself and for everyone else around. In both the personal realm and the professional one. And by the way, all these tips can also be practiced in personal life when the stakes feel lower. To me, not apologizing for things I shouldn’t be apologizing for in the first place, is key to feeling like I am taking my power back at work.

Don’t ask for permission for time off, simply announce it

This one is the bonus tip. An easy one to start practicing all the above. I already talked about this in other posts, but it’s such an easy thing to start practicing that can help boost your confidence and give you a taste of how good it can feel to take what’s yours.  I know a lot of people don’t “dare” to do it and always ask for permission, but the truth is you have a life and you have the right to take time off. So next time, instead of asking for permission to take a day or a week off, simply inform people of your plans and don’t let them have a say in it.

If you expect pushback at the start, make your life easier by anticipating concerns. This can mean arranging a handover for key tasks, informing your stakeholders or clients of the need to put things on pause while you are away or agreeing on and re-scheduling important meetings, and really covering your main bases – whatever that means in your line of work.

This is it, these are a few tips to help you take your power back at work. They’re simple tips overall, but they help you take a bit more control of your work life and just have a better day-to-day work life. And, most importantly, they also help you be the best and most confident version of yourself.

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