Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists.
I’m Loyal, But I’m Not Oblivious
Dear Content Therapist: I’ve been employed in my agency for the past five years. There have been ups and downs, but I’ve remained loyal to the company, as I believed in the work that we were doing. However, we recently brought on a new client with some controversial views and beliefs. When I first joined, the leaders were adamant about working with clients that aligned with our objectives, but as leadership has changed, so has that practice. I want to express my opinion on working with this client. But I’ve seen what happens when others speak up — retaliation in terms of work and projects assigned, or being fired under the guise of “no longer aligning with the company.” For a long time, I thought it was just business. But as I see the company change, I can’t keep quiet anymore. How can I voice my concerns with the new projects and clients we’re taking on in a way that the leadership team will actually listen? — THE LOYAL EMPLOYEE WITHOUT THE ROSE-COLORED GLASSES
Paul Chaney: Let’s review the options you’ve presented:
- Keep quiet and suffer growing frustration and a conflict of conscience.
- Speak up and risk being vilified or fired.
As you said, you “can’t keep quiet” any longer. That being the case, I recommend this plan of action.
Talk with Your Manager
Voice your concerns to your manager first. Hopefully, they will be well-received. And maybe your manager can offer insights that will allay your concerns or educate you so that yours will be a more informed opinion.
Pick an Appropriate Time
Don’t blindside the person you plan to speak with. Instead, give them an idea of what you want to discuss, then set a convenient time to meet. This courtesy allows them time to get their thoughts together and helps set the tone for a more productive conversation.
When you meet, speak deferentially with regard to the person’s position and authority. Doing otherwise will likely elicit a negative response.
Explain Your Reasoning
Clearly state why you feel as you do and why you believe accepting this new client conflicts with the agency’s objectives.
Use ‘I’ Statements
Starting a sentence with “I” is a way to share your thoughts and feelings without pointing fingers or placing blame. Otherwise, the person could become defensive, at which point effective communication ceases to exist.
Listen and Try to See the Leadership’s Point of View
You have your perspective; leadership has its perspective. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Maybe both, maybe neither. While that shouldn’t deter you from voicing your opinion, realize there are two sides to every story.
Will taking these steps and speaking up sit well with leadership? Will they listen and respond positively to your concerns? Who’s to say?
The beginning of this poem by the aviator Amelia Earhart lends itself to your situation:
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not knows no release
From little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.”
Speaking out against what you perceive to be a conflict of company objectives is the cost of brave action. Just be aware that if you are prepared to pay the price, you must also be willing to accept the consequences. There are worse things in life than being fired.
My Boss Is “Quiet Firing” Me, and I Don’t Know What to Do
Dear Content Therapist: Everything was good when I started my job a year and a half ago. We talked about the path that I wanted to take in my career with the company. I received substantial feedback and praise from my supervisors and could have 1:1s with them. However, all of that slowly started to go away about eight months into this role. I was put on the sidelines for many projects for which I was qualified. Relevant information I needed to do my job was either not shared with me, or I was made to figure it out independently. And I’ve only gotten a small raise while my peers have gotten substantial increases. All of this has left me feeling incompetent in my abilities and unappreciated. I love this company’s work and want to do more, but what can I do to change this situation? How should I prepare to address this situation with my manager and get to the root of what is going on? — QUIETLY STRESSING PROFESSIONAL
Paul Chaney: “Quiet firing” is becoming a workforce trend — and not a good one. Leadership that uses passive-aggressive tactics to get rid of an employee in the hopes that they will “quietly” quit is the epitome of cowardice. It’s also not new. Creating unpleasant working conditions for employees has been going on for years; it just didn’t have a catchy term to describe it.
If you feel you are a victim of quiet firing, don’t reward poor behavior by remaining silent. Consider taking these steps:
Keep a journal to document what’s going on. You can use this to cite specific examples when you talk with management or human resources. If you feel any incidents are due to discrimination or harassment, speak to HR and, perhaps, an attorney.
Meet with Your Manager
Be direct, stay focused on the issues, and offer explicit examples of quiet firing. Express your concerns and stand up for yourself, if necessary. You may gain an advocate or adversary. If the latter, tell your manager you will address your concerns with HR.
Take an Internal Inventory of Your Attitude and Performance
A good first step is to check whether your attitude toward your work and company is positive or negative. Also, ask yourself if there’s a possibility you are underperforming and whether that’s the reason you’re being sidelined.
Get a Trusted Coworker’s Opinion
A friend of mine says you “can’t read the label from inside the jar.” By that, he means it’s challenging to be truly objective about ourselves. Ask a fellow employee you trust for their opinion, and insist they be honest. Their insights can help you decide whether you should voice your concerns.
Here’s something else to think about: There is always a chance you are mistaken—that what’s happening to you isn’t a malicious attempt to force your exit but simply poor management. Either way, you may decide it’s time to move on.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.