9 Questions You Should Never Be Afraid To Ask At Work

by Eliza Castile
Young woman sitting in office and working on laptop
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For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

Back in the day, as a sleep-deprived college senior, I was convinced that the working world would be a breezy utopia in comparison to the miserable, apocalyptic realm that was finals week at an American university. I was wrong. Being gainfully employed comes with surprising complications — like figuring out what questions you shouldn't be afraid to ask at work versus which ones you should save for a phone call to your mom that night.

Considering that the United States' unemployment rate only recently fell below five percent, it's understandable to want to hang on to your job at all costs. However, it's critical to learn to speak up for yourself at work, beginning with learning to ask questions — even the small ones you might not think are worth voicing. What time are you expected in the office? Do you have to eat lunch at your desk, or can you slip out for a few glorious minutes?

"When you know the answers to these (and many other) questions, you will better understand the company culture and how to be a productive member of the team," life coach and psychotherapist Nina Rubin explains to Bustle over email.

But those are just a few examples of what you shouldn't be afraid to ask. Read on to discover what else you deserve to learn from your employer.

Here's a fun fact: This summer, Glassdoor reported that American workers only use about half of their paid time off. Generally speaking, their reasons came down to fear: that they would get behind, be passed up for a promotion, and so on.

However, research has shown that taking time away from work is good for your physical and mental health, and it's good for productivity in the long run. When you start a new job, make sure to look into the vacation policy. "It's okay to ask an employer about time off and how to request it when you start working," Rubin tells Bustle.

Make an effort to take all (or at least most) of your vacation time for your own good. Work will still be there when you get back.

Time off is usually divided into two categories: sick days and vacation. But mental health days are equally important to wellbeing as physical health, so don't be afraid to take personal time when you need to. Who knows? Your boss might even appreciate your candor. As you can see in the tweet above, it happened to web developer Madalyn Parker when her CEO saw her out-of-office email about mental health days.

If the only thing stopping you from taking a mental health day is yourself, go ahead and take the time off. "It's critical to speak up for yourself! Each person has to care for his/her well-being," Rubin tells Bustle.

At this point, it's common knowledge that on average, women are paid less than men for the same amount of work. Asking for a raise can be a nerve-racking prospect, especially in a society that punishes ambitious women, but employers don't often hand out extra money unprovoked. If you want a raise, the best way to get it is to ask for it.

If you're too shy to ask for one for your own benefit, do it for the good of other women: Reluctance to ask for a raise is often cited as one of the contributing factors to the wage gap. Even if you don't get extra pay, at least you tried.

So you got passed up for a promotion. It happens to everyone at some point, so consult a bottle of wine about it and move on. If you feel like you're stagnating in your current position or you're currently negotiating with a new employer, try asking for a title that better reflects your abilities. (The Harvard Business Review has an excellent guide to choosing a better title.) On top of appreciating your talents, it will look better to future employers.

Whether four years of weekend shifts have worn you out or your personal schedule has changed, never be afraid to ask to switch up your schedule. The worst your employer can do is say no. As long as your request is reasonable — a barista is unlikely to get out of working early mornings — you can probably work something out. If you're especially worried about getting what you want, talk to a coworker and see if they'll switch a shift with you so the transition will be seamless.

A key part of career success is personal development: continuing to set goals and learn new skills even after you finish school. Some employers may already have development programs in place, but if yours is lacking or doesn't quite fit your needs, ask to see if you can receive training or work on a certification through your place of work. It will make you a better employee and demonstrate a strong work ethic, so you can make a strong case.

There's nothing more frustrating than working with no idea of how you're doing. Are you barely scraping by? The best employee at the company? Some strange combination of the two depending on the day of the week?

Instead of guessing your status with your employer, simply ask for a performance review. Any employer should be willing to give you feedback, and they'll appreciate your interest. It may not be all sunshine-and-heaps-of-praise, but use the constructive criticism to make changes to your way of working. That is, after all, what performance reviews are for.

If you work in an industry that allows overtime, Rubin stresses the importance of understanding your rights — and how you'll be paid for the extra time. "Ask what the policy is regarding comp time or compensation," she tells Bustle over email.

Have you ever plopped down at your desk at 8 a.m. sharp and wished you could still be wearing your pajamas? Between the advent of the internet and increasing reliance on technology, many jobs could be performed just as effectively from a home office. This can be seen in the growing number of Americans who work remotely; according to The New York Times, 43 percent of workers in the United States worked from home at least sometimes in 2016. Some people even say it makes them more productive.

Not all jobs can be performed remotely, of course. But if you have duties you know you could perform just as well at home, you can make a good case for a schedule allowing you to work remotely a few days each week. Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your business casual.