What to keep and what to cull (how to tell your boss you want to work differently)

Sometimes a sudden change or unexpected shift makes you stop and reflect – and even look at things differently.

That’s been the case for a lot of us during the COVID-19 pandemic – especially if we had to shift to working from home, or our working situations were changed. As restrictions ease, some of us will return to workplaces, and others are looking for new jobs – but there’s an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what we learnt these past few months.

“This is a chance to take time to assess what works for us as individuals and within organisations,” says Sabina Read, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist. “Rather than assuming work is going to go back to what it was, take time to reflect on what you’ve learnt and how you may want to change the way you work.”

What have you learnt during lockdown?

To uncover what you’ve learnt about yourself and what you want to take into the future, Read suggests asking questions like:

  • When am I most productive?

This may be a particular time of day, but you may also have realised that you’re most productive when working in short, concentrated 30-minute bursts or with fewer interruptions.

  • When am I in a state of flow?

When working in a state of flow, our satisfaction, wellbeing and engagement increases. Think of a time when you were fully immersed in what you were doing. What task were you working on? What helped you stay engaged?

  • What was the hardest part about work during COVID-19?

Was there something you particularly struggled with during this time? Many people missed collaborating face-to-face with colleagues; others missed having clear work-life boundaries.

“These are prompts to assess the systems, structures and contact points that you’re used to at work,” Read says. “The aim is to figure out when you’re working at your best and to identify what ingredients are part of that.”

Sharing your learnings with your boss

Once you’ve identified what you’ve learnt, it’s time to share these things and see if you can use them to spark positive change. “A lot of bosses and managers are re-thinking the way they work too,” Read says. “They’re not necessarily rushing to go back to business as usual. They’re probably going to be open to your thoughts about different ways of doing things.”

Read says there are 5 steps in talking with your boss.

  1. Know what you’re asking for

Be clear about the insights you’ve gained and what your new needs are. Then write them down so you’re prepared to share them with clarity and confidence.

  1. Use clear and assertive language

Don’t apologise for having the conversation or use minimising language. Cut out phrases like ‘Sorryto ask this …’ or ‘I justwanted to talk about’.

  1. Be specific

Be as clear and precise as you can when asking for what you want.

Instead of saying:“Sorry, but I just wanted to talk to you about maybe having more flexibility in my role”

Try:“I’ve loved being able to pick my children up from school. I’d like to talk to you about having more flexibility in my role, and for me, ideally that means working a three-day week.”

  1. Frame it as a trial

There are still many unknowns for businesses, so it makes sense to propose any changes as a trial. You could say:

“Things have shifted since COVID-19. I’d like to try X for a period of a month and see how it goes. What would these changes mean for you and our team/organisation?”

  1. Ensure your request aligns with the organisation’s goals

“If you think about your own needs in isolation from the organisation, your request will fall on deaf ears,” Read says. “You need to think about how you can have your needs met but also align with the goals of the organisation.”

COVID-19 has been challenging, but it’s also opened up a chance for many of us to reflect on what makes us feel more fulfilled and productive at work. Taking the time to consider what you’ve learnt and talking about this with your boss to make change means you’re more likely to get the best out of yourself. And this is a win-win for you and your employer.