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Work advocacy 101: Asking your boss for what you need to thrive

By Ben Samuel Shapiro

Even the best employees need support on the job sometimes. They also know that small changes can make a big difference. But how do you ask your boss for what you need to thrive at work?

Most bosses want you to do well at your job, because it makes the company more successful. But you have to take the initiative.

Begin by planning out what you want to ask for. Maybe you need your boss to give you a clear list of tasks. Or space to cool off after talking to a customer. It may help to write down or record your request.

If you don’t know what will help, be clear about the challenge. Is the videoconference so noisy that you get distracted? Is it hard to take notes mid-meeting?

Next, set aside time to talk with your boss. Avoid starting a conversation during a busy meeting or when your boss is stressed.

Your employer hired you because you are qualified. So approach the request like a regular part of work. You don’t need to reveal your life story. If you have a learning or thinking difference like ADHD, or a disability, it can help to share. But it’s not required.

You just need to be ready to advocate for what you need.

Dive deeper

Sentence starters for work advocacy

Not sure how to start a conversation? Here are sentence starters that you can use with your boss.

  • “If I could get __________, I think I could get these tasks done faster. Can we talk about how to make that happen?”

  • “I know you’re busy today, but I need advice. I want to discuss how I can improve in how I handle the following situation: __________.”

  • “I want to do the best job I can. Can we talk for a few minutes about some challenges I’m having with __________.”

  • “I’m struggling with __________. I want to try doing _________ instead to get the job done. Are you OK with that?”

Talking about your learning and thinking differences can make your advocacy stronger. Learn about disclosure at work

Things you can ask for

Not sure what support to ask for at work? Here are just a few ideas:

  • A quiet place to work

  • Earplugs or headphones

  • Better lighting

  • More ventilation

  • Flexibility in how you take breaks

  • A list of your work responsibilities

  • An agenda before a meeting

  • Seating near a window or away from the bathroom door

  • A source of drinking water, like a fountain or bottled water

  • Distance from a coworker you don’t get along with

Check out 30 more examples of workplace supports , from ergonomic chairs to daily team huddles.

When bosses aren’t helpful

In the real world, your boss or employer may not agree to your request. They might even be unhelpful. What then?

Always make clear that you’re asking for support because you want to do your job well. After that, you have a few options:

  • You can try to build trust with your boss. Over time, they may become more flexible.

  • You can propose alternatives for your boss to consider.

  • If you have a disability, you can formally ask for a work accommodation. (Keep in mind that learning and thinking differences can qualify as disabilities.)

  • Lastly, if there’s a lot of resistance, you may want to consider if you want to work with this company or boss. 

Download a one-page fact sheet on workplace rights for people with disabilities.

Remember you’re not alone. Follow a day in the life of an employee with dyslexia .

Your right to work accommodations

It’s important to know that workers with disabilities have the legal right to reasonable accommodations at work. Having a learning or thinking difference can qualify as a disability.

Learn about accommodations in the workplace .

Get the truth behind three myths about workplace accommodations .

Covid requests

Many workers are asking for flexibility at work because of Covid. These changes may also be accommodations that workers have a right to under federal law. 

Get advice on how to ask for Covid accommodations .

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom