How Do You Advocate in Your Workplace?

Most people that know me from my volunteer work with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) know me as a SHRM Advocacy Captain (or the “Advocacy Guy” or ‘Legislative Guy”, I answer to all of the above), so HR Advocacy is something that is obviously near and dear to my heart. I could, and probably will at some point, devote an entire post about the importance of advocacy within the human resources field, but I wanted to first focus more on how the concept of advocacy should be a part of all of us within our organizations.

There are many definitions of the word “advocate” but generally speaking, an advocate is someone that supports or recommends a cause on behalf of others. Serving as a SHRM Advocacy Captain, my role is pretty clear…I support and/or recommend support for certain legislation or policies, also supported by SHRM, that I believe would bring a positive impact upon the workplace or our industry as a whole. Being an advocate in other areas in the workplace may not always be so apparent, but can be extremely effective and important. Here are four examples of advocates in the workplace:

Employee Advocate:
If you currently work in the human resources field, I hope that this type of advocacy defines your career. If not, you may seriously want to consider another field. As human resources professionals, by definition we carefully straddle a role of being an advocate for our employees as well as our employer, often depending upon the situation or circumstance. Dr. David Ulrich, one of the top management and human resources minds, lists “Employee Sponsor or Advocate” as one of the three important roles human resources professionals must fill, along with “Strategic Thinker” and “Change Mentor.”

From an employee’s standpoint, we in human resources are often the primary point of contact for our employees seeking assistance. How many managers in your organization respond to some employee questions with, “Go ask HR?” In these instances, employees are often seeking answers or assistance and we then serve them as their advocate. Whether it is helping them navigate a complicated benefits claim, ensuring due process with a workplace concern or complaint, or assisting with workplace conflict resolution, our roles as employee advocates provide our employees with professional and often compassionate support to help them succeed.

Employer Advocate:
Another critical role of a human resources professional is to serve as an Employer Advocate. Some may argue that this role takes precedence over being an Employee Advocate (remember, who signs your paycheck?) and they are not necessarily wrong. Ultimately, the goal of human resources is to protect the best interests of the organization, but in my opinion, being an Employee Advocate or Employer Advocate are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe that the role of human resources is to ensure that EVERYONE in the organization is protecting the best interests of the organization, from the C-suite to hourly workers, and everyone in between.

Effective Employer Advocates work to ensure that they are doing their part to promote a positive and inclusive culture, a safe work environment, and an open and productive organization. Often the role requires effectively communicating “bad news” such as reductions in force, administering employee discipline, and other workplace challenges. On the positive side, an Employer Advocate can promote the organization’s brand with industry colleagues and when recruiting new employees, by being the positive face of the organization.

Peer Advocate:
It is my hope that many of us regularly assume the role of being a Peer Advocate whenever the opportunity presents itself. Whether it is helping a team member, co-worker or colleague, I have found that being a Peer Advocate is the best way to “pay it forward” which often results in positive outcomes for all involved.

Maybe I am biased, but I have found that the human resources field has presented me with more great examples of Peer Advocates than in any field that I have previously worked in. It may be due to many aspects of the human resources discipline are somewhat common, regardless of what type of organization we may be working for, and we all share in this familiarity and camaraderie as human resources professionals.

You can find a great example of this on social media. For example, on Twitter follow hashtags such as #HRTribe #HRSocialHour #HRonPurpose #NextChat and you will read many examples of human resources professionals from across the world, reaching out as Peer Advocates to each other by offering support, assistance and advice. One specific example, who I feel is the epitome of a Peer Advocate, is Steve Browne. If you are a human resources professional and not yet somehow linked with Steve, you will be, trust me! He sets a positive example for all of us on how to reach out, network, connect and be a positive force for everyone you encounter. Follow Steve on Twitter @sbrownehr and be sure to pick up his book “HR On Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion” to learn more about him who I consider a great example of a Peer Advocate.

Self Advocate:
My last example of an advocate is that of a Self Advocate. We have been told not to “blow our own horn” but in many cases, we may be the only one that will. One piece of advice that I have often given employees and job seekers is, “YOU are primarily responsible for your own career.” What I mean by this is, don’t just wait for things to happen…make things happen! In the workplace, this can be as simple as volunteering for a special project, asking for and accepting new responsibilities to enhance your knowledge, or asking to take a course or attend a conference.

You may be like me where I often find that I am great at giving others advice, but often forget to use that advice myself. It is good thing, and I will argue the right thing to do, to reach out and be an advocate for others, but don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Sometimes you need to be your own advocate to first succeed, and then take that opportunity to advocate for others.

So in your workplace, what kind of advocate will you be today?

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