The workplace can be a minefield of weird, uncomfortable situations. Whether it's work that borders on unsafe, a co-worker who's making unwelcome advances or a task that challenges your cultural or spiritual beliefs, chances are those things didn't make it into the job description. While a study conducted by staffing firm Adecco revealed that about 34 percent of people believed they could do their boss's job better than she does, this not the time to try. Take some time to polish your evidence and argument, and then present the problem to your boss for her review.
Make a list of your complaints. Before you do anything else, you'll need to have a little sit-down with yourself to decide what's really an uncomfortable situation your boss can solve, and what's just in your head. Throughout the day, make a list of the things that are making you uncomfortable, whether it's safety issues related to the tasks you do, co-workers' off-color jokes or a bad odor in your work area -- just write it down for now.
Go over your list with a friend, advisor or colleague. Naturally, this has to be a person you really trust; after all, you can't talk about your co-worker's body odor or someone's unwanted sexual advances with just anyone. Have the friend help you sort out the big no-no's from the little annoyances that make you seem like a whiner, and then discuss possible solutions to the problem. For the body odor problem, you could ask to be moved to a different desk; for the sexual harassment issue, simply reporting it -- that is, if you're working in a perfect, non-biased work environment -- should solve the problem.
Send your boss an email asking for a meeting, or ask her secretary to schedule you one. If you don't hear back the first time, try again, but this time name a specific time and date -- one when you know the boss is available. Be persistent about getting that one-on-one meeting; this is not the case in which talking in the break room is going to cut it.
Rehearse what you're going to say before the meeting. If you need to, write out an outline with some of your main points. Your basic approach should be to: 1) appear grateful for the opportunity to work with such a brilliant boss; 2) state the problem professionally and calmly; and 3) outline a few solutions you've come up with. Go over what you're going to say with your trusted friend, and have your friend rehearse some possible responses. If you have access to other documentation about the situation; for example, unwanted text messages from a co-worker, bring them along to the meeting as well.
Present your case during your one-on-one meeting. When your boss is confronted with this situation, the most empathetic bosses will act right away and won't need your help finding a solution. The less engaged boss may need some goading -- in the form of your suggestions. Stay calm and show that you're committed to finding a good outcome for all parties involved.
- Once you've presented your case, it's up to your boss to decide what to do next. Hopefully, you have a boss who cares about your physical and emotional well-being and will react accordingly. If you don't get the response you wanted, however, you may have to consider looking for a new job, or going over the boss's head to lodge a more formal complaint.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.