Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges
Question: I was hired as an intern with the HR team at a public accounting agency when I was a senior in college. They offered me a full-time position as soon as I graduated two years ago, and I’ve been working there since. Both COVID and the racial unrest that we’ve experienced this year have greatly increased my workload. In addition to my normal role, I was asked to add protocols to our Health & Safety Procedures and serve on the new Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Steering Committee. I’ve been putting in a ton of extra hours on these projects and keep up with my regular workload, and I’m starting to feel serious fatigue. On top of that, my manager often volunteers me at the last minute for additional tasks, and, although I say no in my head, I can’t seem to tell her no. Do you have any advice for how to how to push back without getting passed by?
Answer: The earlier you are in your career, the harder it is to say no. But, with practice, you’ll get better at building healthy boundaries and master one of the most crucial skills you need to have in your workplace survival toolkit. People who say yes to every request are setting themselves up for failure. Maintaining workload boundaries is key to staying on track with your career goals, as well as looking after your health. Follow these practical tips and learn how to say no without upsetting others, including your manager.
First, consider the request. Is it an opportunity to grow your career, or is it a mundane task that is routinely given to “the lowest person on the totem pole?” Since you’ve been working there for two full years, plus the time from your internship, you’re probably not the newest person anymore, but neither your manager nor you have recognized that fact. You may need to be the first person to shift yourself into the next gear.
Next, acknowledge the request and thank your manager for thinking of you. This will help safeguard you from being branded as someone who’s not a team player or difficult. Then, use evidence for why you are pushing back. For example, you might say, “I need this time to work on X and, therefore, I won’t be able to give Y the attention it deserves.”
Last, either reinforce or renegotiate. Either get your manager to agree that your work on X should be your focus, or if there’s no way that Project Y can wait, ask to renegotiate what needs to be put on the back burner. This will help you both prioritize the request so that you can give it the attention it needs to produce the best results.
Practice saying no using this framework a few times, so that when you’re under pressure you’ll come across as confident and not defensive.