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Creating a culture of self-advocacy: why it's important and how to do it

By Remy Meraz May 8, 2023

Creating a culture of self-advocacy: why it's important and how to do it

In any corporate setting, it is vital for employees to take a proactive and assertive stance in promoting their objectives and necessities. Nevertheless, recent research confirms the existence of a common misconception that self-advocacy is equivalent to complaining or causing a disturbance in the workplace, earning the label of a "squeaky wheel."

Thus, it becomes crucial to differentiate between employees who genuinely self-advocate both for themselves and their responsibilities and those who generate unnecessary noise and are counterproductive to the organization's success. This blog post aims to delve into the significance of establishing a culture and practice of self-advocacy, elucidate its benefits for both employees and organizations and provide practical guidelines to foster it within your own life and organization. Let's get started!

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Understanding self-advocacy

Understanding self-advocacy

Self-advocacy refers to the ability of individuals to speak up for themselves with confidence, express their needs, and assert their rights to achieve their personal and professional goals. In both life and the workplace, key elements of self-advocacy involve taking an active role in seeking opportunities, setting goals, and requesting resources necessary to achieve them.

Characteristics of self-advocating team members:

Team members who self-advocate are typically individuals who are confident, assertive, and proactive in communicating their needs and expectations. They possess excellent communication skills, are adept at articulating their thoughts and desires, and can express themselves in a clear and concise manner.

Additionally, self-advocating team members have a high degree of self-awareness and the ability to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They are willing to take risks and seek out opportunities to improve their skills and knowledge, understanding that continuous learning is essential for their personal and professional growth.

Furthermore, self-advocating team members are active participants in decision-making processes. They are not afraid to express their opinions and contribute to discussions, and they value the input of others. They seek feedback from their friends, colleagues, and superiors and use this feedback to improve their performance and develop their skills further.

Why is self-advocacy important?

Why is self-advocacy important?

Organizations that have self-advocating team members tend to have a more engaged and productive workforce. Such team members feel valued and respected, as their managers and colleagues listen to and consider their opinions and ideas. Self-advocating team members are empowered to make meaningful contributions to support the team and organization, leading to higher levels of career satisfaction and motivation.

Self-advocating adults are often more innovative in their approach to work, as they are not afraid to take risks and suggest new ideas. They possess a growth mindset and are willing to learn and develop their skills continually. This attitude can help to drive innovation and creativity within the organization, leading to improved performance and outcomes.

Additionally, self-advocating team members can act as role models for others, inspiring and encouraging their colleagues to become more self-aware and self-directed. They lead by example and can help to create a culture of self-advocacy within the organization, leading to improved productivity, morale, and teamwork.

Examples of self-advocacy in the workplace:

Self-advocacy in the workplace can take many forms, such as:

  • Requesting a meeting with a supervisor to discuss career goals and advancement opportunities.
  • Asking for additional resources or training to enhance job performance.
  • Communicating personal needs or preferences related to work schedules, accommodations, or work environment.
  • Seeking feedback on job performance and taking steps to address areas of improvement.
  • Advocating for oneself in difficult or uncomfortable situations, such as conflicts with coworkers or unfair treatment.

Identifying the "squeaky wheels"

"Squeaky wheels" refer to team or family members who are often perceived as problematic due to their tendency to be overly vocal or demanding, often without due cause. They may make frequent complaints, insist on receiving special treatment, or cause disruptions in the workplace.

Individuals who are often referred to as "squeaky wheels" tend to exhibit a number of common characteristics. They tend to have a negative attitude and complain excessively, often making it difficult for others to work with them effectively. They may be resistant to change and unwilling to adapt to new situations. Additionally, "squeaky wheels" may be overly demanding, insisting on receiving preferential treatment or special accommodations, and may be argumentative and confrontational.

Having "squeaky wheels" on a team can have a range of negative impacts, which can undermine the team's productivity and morale. For instance, the constant complaining and demanding behavior of such individuals can create distractions and disruptions, leading to a decrease in overall productivity. This can further lead to poor team morale and decreased motivation, as "squeaky wheels" create a negative atmosphere in the workplace.

The confrontational and argumentative behavior of "squeaky wheels" can also damage team dynamics, leading to increased tension and conflict within the team. Moreover, the negative and demanding behavior of "squeaky wheels" can erode trust between team members and negatively impact the overall team culture. Therefore, it's important for organizations to manage such individuals to ensure a positive and productive work environment.

Examples of "squeaky wheels" in the workplace

The following examples demonstrate how "squeaky wheels" can create unnecessary noise and disruptions in the workplace, leading to negative impacts on team productivity, morale, and culture. Identifying and managing such individuals can help organizations minimize the negative impacts and foster a positive and productive work environment.

  1. A coworker who complains excessively about their workload and insists on receiving preferential treatment, such as a lighter workload or flexible working hours, without a valid reason or explanation.
  2. An employee who is overly demanding constantly interrupts colleagues and superiors to request special accommodations, such as a private office or specific software.
  3. A team member who is resistant to change and refuses to adapt to new procedures, even if they are more efficient or effective than the current ones.
  4. An individual who is argumentative and confrontational, constantly challenging the decisions and suggestions of colleagues and superiors.
  5. An employee who lacks self-awareness and fails to recognize the impact of their behavior on others, such as interrupting or talking over others during meetings, without realizing the negative impact of their actions.

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How to handle "squeaky wheels"

Addressing "squeaky wheels" in the workplace is crucial to ensure a productive and harmonious team environment. Such individuals can create unnecessary noise and disruptions, leading to decreased productivity and team morale. As a manager, it is your responsibility to work with these individuals and help them become strong self-advocates.

Here are four tips on how to handle "squeaky wheels" effectively:

Addressing the behavior constructively:

The first step in addressing a person with squeaky wheel tendencies is to listen to their concerns. Managers should set aside time to talk with the employee, listen to their grievances, and develop a clear understanding of the issues they are facing. It's important to approach the conversation with an open mind and be empathetic toward their situation.

After understanding the employee's concerns, the manager should work with them to identify specific issues that need to be addressed. By identifying specific issues, the manager can help the employee focus their energy on constructive solutions rather than simply complaining about the problem.

The next step is to find solutions to address the issues. The manager should work with the person to identify potential challenges and solutions and evaluate their effectiveness. This can involve brainstorming sessions, analyzing data, or seeking input from other team members.

Finally, the manager should work with the employee to implement the agreed-upon solutions. This involves creating an action plan, setting goals and timelines, and tracking progress toward achieving them. It's important to communicate regularly with the employee to ensure that they are making progress and to make any necessary adjustments along the way.

Teaching self-advocacy skills

Teaching effective self-advocacy skills can be an effective strategy for handling "squeaky wheels" in the workplace. By empowering a person to advocate for themselves in a constructive and productive manner, managers can reduce the negative impacts of "squeaky wheel" behavior and promote a more positive and productive workplace culture.

This should be a crucial part of any first-time manager training as well.

Setting clear expectations:

Communicating clear expectations and boundaries is essential when speaking with "squeaky wheels." This can include outlining specific behaviors that are unacceptable, as well as establishing clear consequences for violations.

Encouraging open communication:

Encouraging open and honest communication can help to identify underlying issues that may be contributing to the "squeaky wheel" behavior. Learning how to communicate effectively can help most people address root causes and prevent the behavior from recurring in the future.

Providing support and guidance:

Providing support and guidance to "squeaky wheels" can help them to overcome their challenges and become more productive members of the team. This can include offering training, education, coaching, or mentoring, as well as providing resources and tools to help them succeed.

This could also involve recommending a self-advocacy group, depending on the individual's needs. For example, self-advocacy groups can be an excellent resource for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to connect with peers who share similar experiences. Similarly, those who struggle with learning disabilities can benefits from these groups that offer support, advice, and a sense of community. By recommending a self-advocacy group, managers can help a person with disabilities learn to be a strong self-advocate and become more confident and empowered in the workplace.

How to recognize team members who self-advocate

How to recognize team members who self-advocate

When team members are recognized for their self-advocacy efforts, they feel valued and respected. This, in turn, promotes self-awareness, engagement, motivation, and commitment to the team and organization's goals. When team members feel comfortable expressing their needs and expectations, they are more likely to be productive, proactive, and innovative in their own decisions and approaches to work.

Recognizing team members who self-advocate can also help to foster a culture of open communication and collaboration. When team members see that their colleagues are being recognized for their self-advocacy efforts, they are more likely to follow suit and begin advocating for themselves. This can lead to improved team dynamics, increased trust, and better decision-making processes.

If you're looking for ways to recognize and encourage self-advocacy within your team, check out our here are three key elements to get you started:

Look for assertiveness:

Self-advocating team members typically possess a higher self-esteem and are assertive in expressing their needs and expectations. They are not afraid to ask for what they want or to advocate for themselves in a constructive and respectful manner.

Looking for assertiveness can help managers and business leaders to identify team members who self-advocate effectively. By understanding and supporting self-advocacy within the team, managers can build a culture that promotes productivity, engagement, and growth.

Listen actively:

Actively listening to team members is essential for recognizing self-advocacy. By paying attention to what team members are saying, managers can identify individuals who are advocating for themselves effectively and respond appropriately.

Reward positive behavior:

Acknowledging positive behavior is another effective way to encourage self-advocacy within the team. By recognizing successful self-advocacy efforts and offering incentives for positive behavior, managers can reinforce the importance of self-advocacy and encourage team members to continue to develop and refine their self-advocacy skills.

Leaders can recognize and appreciate self-advocating team members in various ways, such as a verbal or written thank you note, a certificate of recognition, or public acknowledgment at a team meeting. This could also include a bonus, a salary increase, a gift card, or non-financial benefits such as flexible work arrangements.

For more on this, you can also check out The benefits of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. Or check out Thank you for all you do: 100+ ways to express gratitude for great ideas on how to say thank you.


Creating a culture of self-advocacy is crucial for building a productive and harmonious team environment. By empowering team members to advocate for themselves and effectively communicate, managers can improve productivity, morale, and team dynamics. Additionally, by addressing "squeaky wheel" behavior constructively and providing support and guidance, managers can minimize the negative impacts of such behavior and foster a positive and productive workplace culture.

To encourage self-advocacy and prevent "squeaky wheel" behavior within their teams, managers and business leaders can implement a range of strategies, including offering training and support, providing resources and tools, setting clear expectations and boundaries, encouraging open communication, and recognizing and rewarding positive behavior.

In today's fast-paced and competitive business environment, it's essential for managers and business leaders to recognize the importance of creating a culture of self-advocacy and taking proactive steps to prevent "squeaky wheel" behavior. By doing so, they can build a strong, engaged, and productive team that can achieve its goals and succeed in the long run. So, let's take action now and create a culture of self-advocacy in our teams and workplaces!

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About Remy Meraz

Remy Meraz is a visionary leader and dedicated entrepreneur with a passion for driving positive change. As the co-founder and CEO of Zella Life, an on-demand coaching platform, Remy is working to close the diversity and gender gaps she has personally experienced as a woman of color. Through her innovative platform, she is providing businesses and individuals with critical personal and professional development tools that are improving entire workplace ecosystems and transforming the future of work.

Recognized for her contributions and impact in the startup world, Remy was named a 2022 Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund recipient. Her entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to social impact make her a powerful force in the business community. With Zella Life, Remy is creating new opportunities for growth and success for people from all backgrounds.