Self-Advocating for Your Needs: Navigating the “New Normal” at Work

Maribeth Savoie
Maribeth Savoie

As vaccines increase and the nation appears to gradually approach yet another new state of “normal,” one in which more offices and schools reopen and people resume in-person socializing, comfort levels with all that lies ahead vary.

For example, in a recent poll of Active Minds’ network, 96% of respondents shared that there are elements of their COVID-19 experience that they hope are here to stay even after COVID. Ranked near the top were an increased value/priority placed on mental health by society, ability to work or study from home, and flexibility to do their work at their own pace and schedule.

Everyone is in a different place regarding how they are approaching the future. Self-advocacy will become even more paramount to avoid feeling rushed to embrace the new normal before you’re ready and to help lead your workplace or community in maintaining a level of flexibility, understanding and empathy you may have experienced during the pandemic.

If you’re in a tight spot with a manager or perhaps you’re just feeling like it’s time to brush up on your self-advocacy skills, use the following tips to help guide your next moves:

Decide what you need. Can what you need to succeed be accomplished during your lunch hour or does it require a special schedule? Perhaps you need to schedule a 45-minute weekly virtual therapy appointment. In most scenarios, you are not obligated to share anything about how you use your lunch break as long as it does not create undue hardship to the company which is defined as an “action requiring significant difficulty, risk, or expense.”

Research. Review any existing employee manuals and policies that may already state special accommodations that the company offers. You may also need to do some outside research to understand how other companies offer flexible benefits. Be prepared to share how you will continue to provide accountability and value to the team. 

Know your rights. Employees have the right to reasonable accommodations for disabilities which is defined as both a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more activities. Most special accommodations will be granted as long as the request does not create risk or financial burden to the company. 

Demonstrate transparency. Be open and honest with your supervisor about any life circumstances that may be affecting your ability to effectively work from home and brainstorm possible solutions and accommodations together that are both reliable and realistic. 

Ask the question. Request a trial run of any special accommodations and demonstrate your ability to offer value and productivity under those new conditions. Be prepared to offer and sign a written agreement that specifies the terms and conditions of the flexible arrangement. Perhaps you need to pick up your children everyday at 3pm and expect to be away from your desk for 45 minutes. Demonstrate how you will make up for that time during your week day and set expectations on your calendar. 

Show trust and consistency: Once an arrangement has been agreed upon. Continue to show that you are being consistent with the arrangement and share how valuable the agreement has been to your work-life balance. Demonstrate trust and accountability and show that you appreciate the new accommodations and take them very seriously. 

Be Flexible. Know that your employer is not always required to give you exactly what you are requesting. They may ask you to compromise and offer you a standard or a more cost-effective choice.

Taking preventative measures to support the mental health and wellbeing of yourself and your co-workers will ultimately benefit the bottom line of the company, reduce absenteeism, decrease turnover, and in turn improve employee wellbeing, morale, longevity and productivity. Employees and employers must be open and flexible in working together to find the right solutions that both support mental health and demonstrate value to the company. 

Learn more about tips for prioritizing wellbeing in the workplace.