#76 Five Reasons to Say No at Work

saying no at work

As headcount shrinks and workloads increase, you’re pressured to take everything on. Saying no at work can seem insurmountable given the circumstances that are presented as critical. But there are dark consequences of consistently saying yes. Ironically, it can make circumstances worse, not better.

I offer five ideas to digest if you find it difficult to say no at work:

1 – Others are off the hook

Perhaps you can set up a program or spreadsheet in your sleep. You’ve done it a million times. Or maybe you’ve been tasked with doing something for the very first time. Are you the type who always finds a way to justify doing the extras, the dirty work, or the busy work that any living organism can accomplish?

To add insult to injury, some people are skilled at saying no, and then they earn respect for it!

A potential problem with your consistent willingness to take on the extras is that you are training management and other colleagues how to treat you. Therefore, by saying yes too often, you teach them that you’re the go-to-person who won’t draw boundaries.

When it makes sense: Practice saying no so that management can learn you are not the only dependable, go-to person available.

2 – Unnecessary tasks reduce efficiency

Does this extra work truly need to get done? Will the world stop revolving if you say no?

Management can be notorious for assigning menial work that can either wait or that doesn’t need to be done at all. It can be a deceptive process. Management, authorities, or even colleagues may act like something is urgent. Then they try to brush it off on you. At this point, take a step back and assess, “Is it truly urgent? Can this wait until next week, next quarter, next year?”

If you pay attention, you might surprise yourself at the amount of unnecessary activities that are disguised as urgencies. This might be a time to push back and say no thanks in a professional manner.

When it makes sense: Practice saying no so management can audit and reassess what’s truly important.

3 – You are not paid to say yes to everything

You were hired to be a problem-solver. By definition problem-solvers solve problems. This presupposes that a problem-solver doesn’t have or know all the answers up front. Makes sense, right?

Therefore, you were not hired to know how to do everything. You were hired because somebody trusts your judgment. They trust that you will combine your experience and knowledge to find solutions. 

To go one step further, this means you were hired to be resourceful. To figure things out as you go along… which requires judgment. The whole concept of work is about the challenging process of using judgment to find solutions.

When it makes sense: Practice saying no to allow yourself flexibility and freedom to be the problem-solver they hired you to be.

4 – Real problems don’t get resolved

Guess what can happen when you’re always putting out the little fires that no one else recognizes or acknowledges? You distract the company from resolving the real issues.

Sure, you could clean up the same mess over and over as a temporary measure. In the short term, maybe it makes everybody happy. Maybe you like to make everybody happy. 

In the long term, saying yes all the time can come back to bite. If you’re always applying a different colored band aid to similar problems, those issues will only grow. You might be around long enough to see it fester, you may not.

When it makes sense: Practice saying no to avoid the application of band-aids, which covers up the root cause.

5 – Burnout

Need I say more?

Is burnout worth a stack of proud accomplishments or accolades? Is it worth being a martyr due to irrational fears of saying no at work?

When you’re lying in bed recovering from burnout, because you tried to please everybody all the time, or because you were afraid of getting fired, your talents sit on the sidelines.

When you are forced to take time to recover from burnout, it might be easy to point the finger. You could easily blame your employer or blame your colleagues. The truth is that you always have the freedom to use your judgment and declare yes or no at work.

When it makes sense: Practice saying no to manage your energy and mitigate burnout, mental breakdowns, or worse!

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