- Saying “no” at work is sometimes necessary. The key is knowing when to push back.
- Rejecting requests is a balancing act – you’ll need to weigh your current workload and team goals against the needs and wants of others.
- Some factors to consider include the amount of work or effort that would be required, your values and time commitments, and the deadline.
For my first job out of college, I worked as a writer at a financial startup in downtown San Francisco. It was one of those offices that had an open floor plan, catered lunches, unlimited paid time off … and sky-high expectations.
Everyone seemed to be working on interesting side projects, helping out their coworkers, leading team meetings, and brainstorming hackathon projects every day. It was inspiring to see people who were so engaged with their work. So like Shonda Rhimes, I decided to suppress my introverted tendencies to have a “year of yes.”
But juggling the needs and wants of my boss, my team, my coworkers, and the company alongside my own was exhausting. At a certain point, something had to give, and I had to learn to say “no.” The key was figuring out when to push back.
Here are nine things it’s totally reasonable to say “no” to at work:
1. Ineffective tasks
Former IBM executive and bestselling author Catherine DeVrye wrote in her book that "we have always done it that way" are the "seven most expensive words in business." But the cost of ineffective assignments doesn't just apply to your company's bottom line. It impacts your work, too.
2. Things that don't clearly contribute to your goals and responsibilities
You deserve to know what is expected of you and what you're working toward - something I didn't always do at my first job.
3. Unnecessary meetings
A survey by the Harvard Business Review found that 65% of respondents said meetings kept them from getting work done, and 71% said meetings were "unproductive and inefficient."
4. Responding to messages 24 hours a day
Work is important, but so is having a social life - boundaries clarify when one ends and the other begins. Formal boundaries, like France's ban on after-hours emails and New York City's proposed ban, which would also include instant messages, illustrate this shifting view toward work-life balance.
5. Requests that conflict with your values
Lump in the back of your throat? That's probably when to draw the line.
6. Unrealistic deadlines on low-priority projects
There's a difference between asking employees to hustle and demanding the impossible. And agreeing to projects that you can't deliver on reflects poorly on your performance. As Karen Dillon, co-author of "How Will You Measure Your Life?," told the Harvard Business Review, you'll want to figure out "whether it's feasible for you to help," given your priorities and workload.
7. Writing a reference for someone you don't fully endorse
When that happens, "it's in everyone's best interest to bow out early," writes career and workplace expert Anne Fisher for Fortune. But according to legal website Nolo, some states require employers to provide certain information about an employee, so make sure you're aware of the rules.
8. Extra work — when you've already taken on additional assignments
There's no need to pile on if it will detract from the quality of your work.
9. Work that could be better accomplished by someone else
When I started working, I often asked several people for help with tasks before finding the right person for the job. Recognizing that you may not be the right person saves everyone time.
Saying "no" is a part of being a working professional. But there is a right way to do it: Make the reason for your rejection known and, if you can, offer a solution or alternative. That way, you don't have to sacrifice on the quality of your work or overschedule yourself and everyone involved knows what to expect.