Boundaries At Work: When Is The Best Time To Say ‘No’

In the workplace, there are always top performers who always aim to carry out projects, duties and responsibilities perfectly. They are the most dependable one among the team. As they possess an intense amount of eagerness to prove themselves, the tendency is that they are often asked to do extra tasks.

While there is nothing wrong saying ‘yes’ to requests, especially if it is from the boss or manager, sometimes, it is better to pause and think about the requests made.

Are they worth it? Are they part of your primary responsibilities? Do they impact your career growth? Will there be incentives in taking them? Are you in the proper headspace to take extra tasks? These are some of the questions one has to consider in assessing the request before they grant and say ‘yes’ to them.

Undoubtedly, especially in the Philippines, it has become difficult to reject requests from the higher-ups. It is as if you are on the “can’t say ‘no’” challenge. If you are new to the workforce and trying to establish a good reputation, saying no can be even more challenging. A lengthy explanation is even prepared beforehand by the employees when in the first place, it is their right to say ‘no’ to certain demands.

Particular to that, here are specific situations to help you establish boundaries at the workplace. You can always say ‘no’ if the following are observed:

1. Requests Are Unnecessary

Sure, saying ‘no’ may be disappointing to a colleague or manager. Turning down requests from someone in the workplace might end up with you not being a team player or reliable.

However, if you think the demands they ask out of you is unnecessary, you are free to say ‘no’. For instance, you work in the accountancy department but someone requested you to organize the files of the candidates for employment. It could also be the supervisor asking you to accomplish a financial report covering just three days of the previous work week but you know so well that what the supervisor is asking can be immediately available and just be derived from the records. Thus, working on a new report would just be a waste of time.

Aside from that, if the request they make is part of someone else’s work, it may also be unnecessary for you to take them knowing that there is already a person in charge of the task.

Being aware of what is expected of you in your line of work and duties that are not yours to fulfill is really important. It would be your basis when your boundaries are being challenged.

2. It Compromises Your Primary Duties

Deadlines are approaching, reports have to be written and your email inbox is piling up. Suddenly, your manager asks you to help a colleague in a current advertising project.

You know so well that it is not part of your job description to help in brainstorming and drafting for the company’s advertisement. Even if you want to extend a helping hand, you are aware that it might compromise the quality of work you are actually in line of.

Saying ‘yes’ to the manager’s request would put your primary duties at stake, and that would have a massive effect on your department’s functionality and stability. Say ‘no’ instead, clearly stating that you would have wanted to share your input however, you would not dare sacrifice your own primary duties and responsibilities at the workplace.

3. Workload Is Too Much

Granting requests and taking extra tasks from time to time is not a bad thing. In fact, it shows your willingness to offer a hand whenever it is needed as long as you do not disregard prior workloads that are part of your responsibility as an employee. Maintaining a workable and reasonable list of tasks can be challenging at times.

Before deciding whether to say yes or no, one needs to know what the current workload is. This will help in identifying what more tasks can be handled right now. It also serves to remind you of your current priorities. Usually, this helps to know if you have the capacity before someone even asks. Among others, you could easily determine by yourself if you are at the maximum capacity of the things you have to do. You would not want to burden yourself with additional tasks that you cannot guarantee you would accomplish in time.

Once you know that it is impossible for you to take additional requests due to business in accomplishing your tasks and completing projects assigned to you, you should say ‘no’. It is both for the benefit of your well-being and the quality of work expected.

4. You’re Not Compensated Enough

It is not to say that one should always ask for something in return when taking additional workload. In most cases, it is normal for the managers, supervisors and bosses to ask for the help of others in completing projects. This is also their way of imposing leadership and teamwork at the workplace.

Everyone knows how busy and full-packed it can get in any kind of office and working site. If one is asked to offer a little assistance or monitoring on something, there should not be a big deal out of it. Especially if someone volunteers and is totally fine offering a hand, most often, it can be regarded as a genuine assistance. A recognition and acknowledgement of the effort done would suffice.

However, in special instances that extra amount of effort and skills are required, an incentive must be willing to be provided. When your expertise on some work is requested to be applied, specifically, if it is not included in the primary job description, the management ought to give you compensation for doing extra work. An appraisal, a token – whichever could be considered as equivalent compensation for a good job done must be awarded, particularly, if this happens on a regular basis.

Should you feel not acknowledged and compensated enough for the additional workloads you take, even after raising this concern, then it is high time to decline and say ‘no’. Everybody in the workplace is and should be paid for the skills they offer and apply in the field.

5. Requests To Do Extra Tasks Are Becoming Frequent

According to recent research from Duke University, it reveals that “other people believe it is more legitimate to take advantage of passionate employees over dispassionate ones. Passionate employees are more likely to get asked to do unpaid work, work on the weekends, and handle unrelated and demeaning tasks that are not a part of their roles. This tendency springs from two beliefs: that passionate employees would have probably volunteered to do that extra work anyway, and that extra work is its own reward for someone who loves their job.”

This only shows and confirms how top performers are usually the target and recipient of additional workloads. Unfortunately, this does not happen just once, but most of the time, regularly. Specifically, if you are a fresh graduate who landed a job you hold so dearly and are always passionate about, you might find yourself caught in this kind of situation – requests from supervisor and colleagues are becoming more and more frequent.

This is why early on, it is important to gradually establish boundaries. Remember, it is not a bad thing to accept and take responsibility for certain additional demands in the workplace. However, in reality, when supervisors see that an employee is always available and ready to say ‘yes’ always, it creates an impression that the employee would never refuse and just be submissive to not speak up and decline requests.

Saying ‘yes’ to their requests once, twice, or even thrice, could be harmless, depending on how long it takes before they ask you one request after another. But if you notice that it has become a habit of asking you to do things or maybe even passing their work to you, ‘no’ should be the answer.

Abusive colleagues and supervisors should not be tolerated.

6. Verge Of Burnout

Among the listed items, this is the most important. One should decline additional workload if it means compromising physical and mental health. It might seem counterintuitive, but saying yes can actually decrease productivity. That’s because the more one has on the plate, the harder it is to focus and prioritize the work that matters.

Not saying ‘no’ can result to the following leading to burnout:

  • You become less productive and more overwhelmed because you have too much on your plate.
  • You might become bitter or resentful if you’re consistently saying yes when you know you need to say no.
  • By saying yes to this “one thing,” you are effectively saying no to everything else you could be doing in that time, even if those tasks are more important.
  • You’re working on someone else’s priority, which—while important—might not be what needs to get done first.

Saying ‘no’ should not be a difficult and daunting task. It is a vital factor in setting boundaries at the workplace. No one wants to be part of an abusive environment wherein colleagues and management are not looking after one another.

Requesting an employee to do additional work is common and normal in the workfield; the same with employees accepting requests from those in the higher posts. What is not common and normal is that – pushing one person to the edge and not giving them the freedom to say ‘no’ to the things they cannot do for the time being.

A workplace is more productive and engaging when both the management and employees are for everyone’s well-being. Establishing boundaries at work is a must; and ‘yes’ should not be the default answer.