Women Are Still Scared To Voice Their Needs At Work — Here's What We're Doing About It

By Melanie Mignucci & Emma Lord

At the end of 2018, we asked 283 Bustle readers how they felt about their work-life balance. While the responses and circumstances varied across the board, many of the answers we received seemed united by a common thread: fear. We’re “worried” our bosses will see us as lazy if we shut our notifications off at 6 p.m. We’re “afraid” people will think we’re ungrateful for the opportunities we have. We’re ”terrified” we’ll be seen as needy if we set up clear boundaries. The word fear, or some synonym for it, came up 54 times in our survey results.

In Bustle's package Doing The Most, we wanted to look at the root of this fear so many of us have internalized — in particular, what this fear means for women and nonbinary folks working today. When the definition of “work” has become more and more broad, and the ability to maintain balance has become all the more complicated for it, understanding why we’re still fearful to speak up about our needs is critical to setting up — and sticking to — a work-life balance that works for you. Whether you work a nine-to-five, balance your career with caregiving, work odd hours, or have a job that’s so new that there is no “standard” work-life balance to fall back on, we all face the challenge of overcoming our work-related fears, as diverse as they are.

The idea that “every time you put something into one sphere of life” you’re taking that same fulfillment away from another part of your life, is just not true.

If the best way to conquer a fear is to face it head-on, then that is exactly what we hope to do with this package. We have Gabrielle Moss examining “hustle culture,” and how it spreads a toxic expectation for “having it all.” We have Amy Roberts discussing the intentional step she took away from her career that led her back to bartending, and the kind of balance that worked best for her. We have Iman Hariri-Kia discussing how her body told her she needed a better work-life balance — and how she learned to listen. We have experts advising you on all of the ways, both big and small, you can tip work-life balance in your favor. And most importantly, we have you, our readers, telling us about your career fears, which are a lot more universal than you might think, and how you’re adjusting your expectations of work-life balance in response.

“A common misconception [is] that work-life balance is a zero sum game,” Gretchen Jacobi, Flatiron School’s head of career services, tells Bustle. The idea that “every time you put something into one sphere of life” — that you invest time in your career, in your side hustle, in your relationships — you’re taking that same fulfillment away from another part of your life, is just not true, according to career experts we spoke to for this package. What we’ve seen through these articles — and your responses — is that modern work-life balance is about merging these spheres of life, finding time for each and every one of those things that makes us feel fulfilled, and not letting any one of them dictate the schedule of the other.

As two women who have run the gamut of different roles — in childcare, food services, retail, remote roles, and the traditional, albeit creative office jobs we work now — and experienced that same fear under various past jobs, this is a topic near and dear to our hearts. It’s our hope that with this package, we’ll be able to help dissect some of the sources behind that work-related fear to better give you the tools to start overcoming it, and finally stop doing the most. (Unless, of course, that’s what you want to do.)