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Recognizing your position of power with your employer - and leveraging it.

It is not entirely unsurprising that so many people feel that their employer "has all the power" and they, the employee, have no choice but to accept it.

Interestingly, more often than not, when you take a step back and truly take a look at your situation, you may find out that you have a lot more to bargain with - and a lot less to lose - than your boss does.

While we see regular news about the economy hurting and high unemployment, the fact of the matter is that many industries truly are an employees market - not the other way around. In other words, there are more than a small number of firms that are really hurting for more qualified staff.

So: How do you know if you're carrying a bigger stick than you may think ?

Firstly, you have to take an HONEST appraisal of your own performance at work; You don't have to share this with anyone, but you do have to tell yourself the truth:

  1. Do you accomplish everything your job requires you to, every day ?
  2. Do you often go above and beyond the call of duty in your job ?
  3. Are you one of the more productive or skilled employees in your group ?
  4. Do you notice that any time you are away, the departments workload to catch up is more than when someone else is away ?
  5. Are you the 'go to' person for your colleagues ?

Second, what's the hiring situation like, both at your employer in specific and in your industry, in general ?

  1. Is your company short-staffed, with near constant "for hire" ads running ?
  2. Do you often receive contacts from recruiters, specifically looking to talk to you (or "someone in a position identical to yours", nudge, nudge, wink, wink)
  3. Do you notice employment ads for many of your competitors in employment sites like and ?
  4. Have you noticed that when other people leave your firm, are they employed almost immediately after they leave where you work ?
  5. Do you have an unusual churn rate where you work, despite pay and benefits being attractive ?

Finally, you need to make an honest self-appraisal of yourself-as-someone-to-work with:

  1. Do you have a generally pleasant disposition ?
  2. Do you avoid complaining about the little - or big - things frequently ?
  3. Do you avoid gossipping about co-workers, or speaking negatively about them behind their backs ?
  4. Do you generally have a "can do" attitude when asked to perform extra work, even if it isn't necessarily strictly in your job definition ?
  5. Do you accept criticism well, taking it as an opportunity for professional growth, rather than a personal attack ?
  6. Do you contribute to your work place, be that either/or in suggestions to improve projects in specific, or the company as a whole ?
  7. Do you contribute to your co-workers, helping them get their jobs done better, faster or more efficiently, without necessarily "looking for the credit" all the time ?

If you answered yes to most or even all of the above, you have a LOT more "employee currency" than you might think;

Answering in the affirmative to most of the above says (at least) two things:

  1. You, personally, are a valued employee who most likely makes the company far, far more money than that which they pay you (this, by the way, is how it's supposed to work)
  2. You have a skill set that is in demand in your industry and quite likely wouldn't be unemployed very long at all, should the situation arise.

So: Knowing this, does this mean you get to strut around the office, demanding people bow to your superiority ? Of course not: Doing that (or anything even remotely along the lines of "getting too big for your britches") turns many of the "Yes" answers, above, into "No" answers, completely negating your advantage.

What it DOES mean, however, is some, most or even all of the following:

  1. You have much greater - and legitimate - leverage for a salary increase in your next review
  2. You have a much greater chance at the next promotion opportunity
  3. You don't have to "take attitude" from superiors that may be treating you as "a small cog in a large machine"

It is this last point that is worth addressing, since the first two are fairly self-evident (though if you'd like to see a pointers list on negotiating a better raise or being considered for a promotion, by all means, contact me and I'll be happy to publish one);

There are, unfortunately, more than a few "poor" managers out there; People who think that their titles mean they are "better" than those "under" them. A good friend of mine pointed out years ago that a good manager is good at managing people - this means helping them to accomplish their goals; Sticking up for their teams to higher ups, encouraging bonuses and well-deserved raises and ensuring that continual learning and professional improvement opportunities are available to their team.

What it doesn't mean is that they are "better" or more skilled than those they manage - In fact, more often than not, the managers are the ones with far less of the critical talents of those that they manage. Does it mean your manager "isn't as good" as you ? Of course not: They're good at managing and you are good at producing - that's it, that's all. Some managers, however, have yet to receive this memo.

So if you've found yourself answering in the affirmative to most of the questions posed in this article and you are faced with a superior that is treating you rudely, unfairly or is being overly patronizing - to the point of rudeness, you have a LOT to back you up in asking them, politely, of course, to please treat you with more professionalism.

You may be carrying a bigger stick than you realizeMany times, a manager faced with a request like this will be embarrassed and apologize quickly, not realizing that they come across as less-than-professional. If, however, their attitude gets worse, you can start bringing out the heavy artillery; You don't want to be rude or overly confrontational, but a suggestion that you've heard that your competitor treats its (engineers, programmers, nurses, designers, etc) with both respect and mutual cooperation might get them to take a step back, as you've just not-so-subtly told them you are in no means afraid to put yourself on the job market.

If, at this point, things become more heated, it is time to break off the conversation - Usually a "Look, it doesn't look like we are going to resolve anything right now, can we take this up again in a couple of days?" - After which, it's time to go to their superiors. It is often surprising just how many business owners and CEOs are completely unaware of how poorly some of their middle managers are treating their production staff - i.e. the people that actually make the company their profits.

And if that looks like it's going to fail, remember all those "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" emails you got from recruiters, asking for you by name ? It's time to send them a note (from your home computer, on your personal email address), asking them how they've been and what's new in the market ?

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