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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 52 – Help! I feel I’m being taken advantage of at work because of my age

No. 52 – Help! I feel I’m being taken advantage of at work because of my age

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23 March 2022

I am 24 years old and started my first full-time job almost two years ago. I found it hard to find full-time employment, so when I finally did I felt extremely grateful. However, my desire to “earn my keep” has me feeling as though I’m being taken advantage of. We’re a national company and I work away a lot. Since I’m young and have no children, I’m expected to be away more than my colleagues and I’m also paid a lot less. I made many attempts to discuss pay and workload with my employer but was ignored until they finally offered me a very small increase and still expect me to be away most weeks. How do young people go about protecting their interests in the workplace without the fear of being rejected or punished?

I think some employers – and it sounds like yours included – need to take a good hard look at how they employ, respect and value younger workers just starting out in their career. The fact anyone, let alone a younger worker, is feeling exploited and unable to speak up says volumes about your workplace’s culture. My advice is to try to find a colleague you trust, hopefully someone more experienced and keen to see you succeed, and ask them how to navigate these issues at your company and who they recommend you raise your concerns with.

If things don’t improve, remember you’re in an employee’s market at the moment and chances are you will be in more demand than when you were looking a few years ago. This role will have given you experience and skills to take to your next job – hopefully somewhere that makes you feel more valued.

On the bright side, this situation will also help you know exactly what you don’t want in a job. We learn just as much from the bad experiences as the good. Good luck and take care.

I generally work from home which I really love but I’m finding when I am sick, I still feel like I should soldier on. It feels strange to ask for sick leave when no one actually sees me to know I am unwell. Is it usual practice to take sick leave when working from home?

Soldiering on is something I had hoped COVID-19 had well and truly kicked to the curb. I think you do need to take sick leave if you are unwell, even if only to make sure you recuperate quickly. I know the temptation will be to jump into bed with your laptop and catch up on those emails but instead, let your boss or team know what is going on and put your out of office on. Sick leave is there to be used when it’s needed and it’s far better to stay on top of your health than find you have a bigger issue down the track by not taking the time you needed to recover.

Where I work, my boss always refers to men as men but calls women, females. He seems to virtually choke on the word “women” and uses the term females whenever possible. I don’t get it. What’s going on?

If anyone is reading this question and feels totally stumped why this might even be an issue, here’s the deal. The word female is a biological term that focuses on species that are capable of producing offspring – for example, you can have a female human, a female dog or a female elephant. It is biology that defines the terms male and female across all species. So in a workplace full of humans, why not just use the term women? For many women, using the term “women” is more accurate and more respectful. An easy fix.

But there is actually a much bigger issue for your boss to consider. Unless absolutely necessary for the situation, it’s far better to avoid unnecessary references to gender at all. The Diversity Council of Australia has produced a handy guide called Words at Work. Using gendered terms excludes and make invisible transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals.

And to fend off another gender norm, it’s better, for example, to refer to parental leave rather than maternity leave. Your boss may not be aware of the effect of his language, so perhaps someone should have a gentle chat with him about tweaks he could make. This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about being leaders for all.

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Kirstin Ferguson is an award-winning leadership expert, author, columnist and company director.
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