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Updated: Aug 5, 2019

Recently I was talking to a friend who needed to have a difficult conversation with her boss. She wanted feedback on how she was performing, to discuss her future and her salary. Being the empathetic person she is, she has found it difficult to raise her concerns because her boss experiencing some personal problems, and she wasn’t sure how he would respond to what she has to say at that particular time.

This got me thinking…

When we have issues at work, aren’t engaged or feel like we are worth more than what we are being paid, do we value ourselves enough to speak up, and, do our employers value our opinions if we do?

When I was 18, I worked in hospitality. I had to leave one organisation because I was being bullied by some older women employees. Rather than working at fixing the bullying problem, they decided it easier to give me some money and for me to leave. This experience gave me an early appreciation around working for organisations with a good culture.

In my first full time job, I had some teething problems with my boss as we were both strong minded. As a 19 year old who didn’t drink tea or coffee and didn’t appreciate being told to “Make me a coffee!”, or what I deemed a “yes master” expectation of employees. One day, he said to me “I know you hate me”. I didn’t hate him at all, I didn’t even dislike him, it was quite the opposite. I liked him and I found him entertaining. But this was the turning point in our relationship because it started a conversation.

I explained I didn’t hate him, I just didn’t appreciate the way he spoke sometimes and being ‘told’ to make him coffee. After that our relationship was amazing. We joked, we had banter, he valued me as an employee, he made his own coffee or said ‘please’ if he asked me to make him a coffee. We developed a mutual respect for each other. He knew I was a hard worker and I even made his ‘scrap book’, which was newspaper clippings of people he knew.

When I moved to Melbourne, I was offered three jobs on the same day. I accepted the job with Hudson (recruitment), which was the lowest paying of the three. Now most people would think I made the wrong decision, but at the grand old age of 21, I valued the culture of the organisation, the people I met and the future possibilities over the money. I am so grateful I made this decision because I met some incredible people who I will always respect and admire.

Hudson, as an organisation, really did value their employees and their culture was incredible. I could have difficult conversations or express my aspirations with managers and they respected it because “if they don’t know about a problem, they can’t fix it”. I learnt so much from Hudson, about myself, my values, organisational culture, respect, communication and much more.

I left Hudson and joined the police force. I’m sure people can imagine, Victoria Police, as an organisation is a completely different beast. There’s political pressure on senior ranking members, most of which haven’t been operational for a long time, who have to push the government’s agenda and KPI’s down to the uniform members. Sometimes the decisions made don’t make sense. But what can you do? Nothing. Suck it up. This was a bit of a cultural shock.

When I was very new, I remember hearing some senior members who had been in the job for years say “They don’t care about you, you’re just a number”. At the time I thought, “You’re just old and grumpy, what would you know!”. I loved the police force and was considered ‘one of the guys’ (which in itself is wrong), because I’m easy going, I’m not precious, I love black humour and I was really good at my job. I had a good relationship with the Sergeants and Senior Sergeants and was offered secondments early on in my career. Things were great. It was only when things didn’t go well, did I realise that the grumpy old members may have had a point.

If you are a police officer, you are just a number. Each station operates differently and there are people who genuinely care about you, but others can’t see past policy and appreciate they are dealing with people. While on gardening leave, my closest friends were told they weren’t allowed to talk to me. A Senior Sergeant called and said something very similar to “I know I don’t ring you as much as I should and I like you! Imagine how little I ring people I don’t like”. WTF! And then, in the midst of contemplating suicide, I sent one of my friends (who wasn’t allowed to speak to me) a message in a desperate cry for help. She didn’t respond. Instead, she contacted the welfare team and was told “There’s nothing wrong with her, someone spoke to her the other day and she’s fine, she’s just looking for attention”. Again… WTF!

The police force claim to ‘care’ about their employees, yet isolate them even further when they are going through a difficult time. Their primary focus is adhering to policies and procedures, ticking the box as some might say. There is generally no room for opinions and open discussions. They lose sight of the fact the ‘people’ who work for them, are exactly that. They are people, with emotions, who put their lives on the line every day, get offered very little (if any) assistance or support after critical incidents and become forgotten and isolated if something goes wrong, no matter who’s fault it is.

In saying that, I met some amazing, genuine and inspiring people through the police force. I've made friends with high ranking police as well junior members, some of who are like family to me. The life skills I learnt while policing are ones I would not have received elsewhere and I am grateful for some of the experiences I had.

Since leaving the police force, I’ve been fortunate the two organisations I have worked for do care about their people. One organisation still has some work to do in that some managers have the “I’m the boss and you’ll do what I say and I don’t care for your opinion” view, which is counteracted by other managers managing them. However, you can have honest conversations where your opinion is heard, you can express what you’re worth and they appreciate that. They realise they’re dealing with people and some things aren’t negotiable.

About 12 months ago, I had a conversation with a friend, and Director of a company about what people want from their job. His view is that “everyone has a price”. I disagree and believe there is much more to ‘work’ than money.

I don’t have a price… I have expectations of what I want to achieve, what keeps me engaged and what makes me happy.

We spend so much of our lives at work, and yes money is important, but it’s not what makes you happy. You could earn $120,000 for an organisation with a toxic environment, isn’t open to change and don’t value their staff, and be miserable. You’ll go to get paid but you won’t be engaged.

On the other hand, you might earn $95,000 for an organisation who make their culture a priority, value their people, invest in personal development and want to know if their staff are unhappy. Despite making some personal sacrifices, you’ll feel valued, respected, give your best version of yourself and enjoy going to work.

So I leave you with these questions…

If you own or manage a business, do you value your employees? If they have a problem, do you want them to come and tell you about it so you can work through it and find a solution, or do you think they should just do their job and be grateful they have a job? Are you flexible or inflexible? Are you open to new ideas that you may not have thought of, or does that scare you? Do you want engaged staff?

If you are an employee, do you work for someone you can have an open conversation with? Do you feel valued? If you have a problem or wanted to question something, would you feel comfortable approaching your manager and having that awkward conversation? If not, is that because you don’t value yourself enough (you don’t think you’re important enough) or because the organisation doesn’t allow it? Have you been trained to just ‘get on with it’ or do you stand up for what you believe in?

It’s time people start valuing their own worth. It’s time people start taking notice of what it is that makes them happy and gives them fulfilment in their life. It’s time people speak up if they think their organisation could do something that would make their business better and their people more engaged.

If you’ve had to have one of these conversations, I’d love to hear how it was received.

If you’re a manager, do you appreciate when your staff make the effort to voice their concerns?

If you need to have a conversation that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t know how to approach it, or if you’re still trying to figure out what makes you happy and what you want for yourself, let me know.

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