6 Ways to Productively Be a Rebel In The Workplace

Being a Rebel in The Workplace - Women With Motivational Quotes

I’m a rebel. No, I don’t prefer my clothes customised with sewn on patches, my neighbours don’t make noise complaints and I rarely stay awake past midnight. But in terms of my attitude in the workplace, I very much have a rebellious heart. I first realised I was a Workplace Rebel when I read Professor Francesca Gino’s book ‘Rebel Talent’. 

Throughout the book Gino describes a ‘Rebel’ as someone who brings an unconventional approach to the status quo,  but who is often labelled a troublemaker, simply challenging norms to be difficult. She argues that in reality they can initiate creativity, business evolution and a path to a better way of working. I found myself nodding along to each chapter and by the end of the book, I felt like someone had written so much of its content about me. All those thoughts, anxieties and situations I’d experienced over the years, finally stopped feeling so unexplained. 

My rebellion shows its face in challenging the status quo, through pushing for equality in the workplace, and a constant desire to find methods to do things more efficiently and effectively. In fact, Ruth Messinger said that ‘It’s not rebels that make trouble, but trouble that makes rebels,’ and this wholeheartedly encapsulates how I feel about workplace rebellion. I want to do what I can to make things better for everyone, and to help exceed performance expectations. I have a passionate personality and I’m fairly comfortable raising concerns to those higher up in organisations. This means that not only do I desire change for the greater good, but I am also confident enough to try to get things in motion. These are personality traits which I am very proud of and had always thought of as being beneficial in the workplace.

Rebel With a Worthy Cause

Some of things I have challenged/tried to implement include:

  • The need for a review of existing pay scales, ensuring that the path to progression is clear and transparent to all.

  • Questioning marketing strategy decisions which were made without consulting key members of the marketing department for their insights and input.

  • Recommending changes to ‘best practices’ based on industry and platform updates, to help futureproof work.

I felt proud in my attempts to challenge the norms and I wanted my suggestions to be taken seriously. However, to a handful of others, such well intentioned actions came across as more problematic than problem solving. Such occurrences led to my fair share of those awkward “can we grab five minutes?” conversations, where my ambition was deemed as selfish. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t play devil’s advocate when large-scale changes are being expedited, simply because it’s counterproductive to getting the changes done. And I’ve heard more than once that if I want to progress within a business then I need to just keep my head down as, “this is how we do things here”. Ouch. Even after a few years between some of those instances, the sting is still there.


Rebellious Nature - Challenging the Norms - Woman at Computer


In these situations, my actions and attitudes were not considered valuable. Despite how genuine and well meaning the efforts were, this is now how they were received or interpreted. To those individuals I was causing trouble and unfortunately, in most of those cases, the issues or topics raised were completely ignored. In a short period I went from that excited feeling of passion and determination in making a valid point or a suggestion, to having your attempt to drive positive change shot down. It’s disappointing, disheartening and confusing, and regardless of how confident you may be, it’s hard to not take things personally. 

So if you’ve got a rebellious heart and keep being labelled as a troublemaker, or if you feel that your efforts keep getting unduly pushed back, what can you do? Well through many tears of frustration, a handful of resignations and a few more years of experience under my belt, I have some advice and tips which I would like to share.

1. Identify Problems But Offer Solutions Too

If you are raising an issue or bringing forward a problem you have noticed, also try to offer a potential solution. For example, offer your opinion on how to remove a logistical obstacle, or present ways that other departments have successfully tackled a similar issue.

Whilst the ‘solution’ may not always be clear, by also coming forward with recommendations it helps to frame your approach in a more positive light. Whilst it may not be your responsibility to know how to fix something, demonstrating that you are willing to look into ways to get there shows that you’re constructive and proactive. 

2. Choose Your Timing

Whilst you may be buzzing over a new idea you have for team development, or have come across a new template you would love to implement, remember that not everyone is going to be in a cheerful mindset at the same time as you. Catching people off guard with unexpected issues is rarely productive, and you need to be mindful of their time and ability to give things proper attention. 

Try to schedule a 1-2-1 meeting with the key stakeholder of whatever it is you’d like to discuss. Make sure that it is a time which works for them, and give them a short agenda of what you’re going to be discussing beforehand. 


Rebellious Nature - Calendars and time keeping


3. Be Realistic in Your Expectations of Others

Rarely in any organisation is a decision dependent on a single person. As much as your hands may be tied with regards to making change happen, your manager or department head may be facing similar constraints. Similarly, as important as you may find the particular issue/idea you’ve raised to be, they may have a hundred identically important ones on their plate.

If your suggestion has been taken on board then be patient and remember that changes seldom happen overnight. A follow up in your next 1-2-1, or a light-touch follow up email with additional information, is a great way to keep the ball rolling. 

4. Be Careful to Not Appear Arrogant

As humans we rarely jump for joy when someone points out an issue or suggests we work in a different way than we have been doing. It can be difficult to have your norm challenged, or to feel that your methods are being questioned. Always keep this in mind when you’re pushing for change, no matter how honourable that motivation may be.

Opening up dialogue and listening to others is really important when it comes to helping your points to be taken seriously. Whilst you may be thinking that you’ve come up with the golden strategy, you need to be open to have it questioned and challenged. You have a recommendation, an observation or an idea, you may not have the final answer

5. Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

What’s better than one rebellious heart? Two rebellious hearts! Speak to other colleagues about your observations and ideas and see if you find someone who is on a similar wavelength. 

Rebellious Nature - Teamwork Fists

6. Reconsider the Fit of the Job for You

It’s a difficult one to face, but if you’re facing constant pushbacks and your passion is never seen as a positive attribute, then it is worth considering whether or not the job is right for you. This is not to say that if your idea for a team building social or recommendation to use a different project management tool is rejected then leaving is your only option, but you owe it yourself to work in an environment where your rebellious heart is respected. 

Whilst one business may find your challenges to the status quo to be a headache, others out there will welcome your opinions. Your appetite for career progression will be encouraged and supported. Your ideas on new operational processes will be explored and considered. You’ll be brought into meetings where your insights and input will help shape business decisions.

Change it. Deal with it. Or move on.

Navigating workplace culture and business norms can be difficult at the best of times. Add on top of that an inherent desire to push for rational change, desire for better equality and a genuine devotion to finding more effective ways to work, and it can be a very challenging place to be yourself. However, by reframing how you tackle issues and accessing how you communicate your spirit with others, you can make your rebellious heart go a long way towards business success. Workplace rebels can lead change, drive innovation and bring a creative spark to business practices, so let’s show them how it’s done. 

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