Learn To Say ‘No’ At Work

There are very few things our education system prepared us for – the current work-from-home situation during a pandemic wasn’t one of them.

It has been a year since I shifted home and began working out of my study. And while there are plenty of uncertainties about what will happen next: if we will survive the second wave and what  consequences lie ahead of us – there is one thing that I have been certain of.

Work-from-home has taken a toll on our ‘well-being’. I say the term ‘well-being’ with bucket loads of sarcasm and a heavy dose of shade to throw over employers who have pretended to care about the interest of their employees. We have all received email after email that reiterated that as employees, we are valued. And as I said earlier, I beg to differ.

If it is not my experience, then social media stands as an evidence to how exploited employees have felt over the past few months. With longer hours, infinitesimal work-life balance and a crisis in the making – it is hard for anyone to believe that a virtual yoga-session is going to resolve our problems. The pay cuts and layoffs were hard hitting to the people of this country. The very real people.

For those of us who stayed at our jobs with our salaries in place, we are thankful. But we are also enraged at the excessive exploitation that has taken place since March 25, 2020.

In situations such as these, it is crucial to take a stand for yourself – no matter how tough or scary that might sound. Learning to say ‘no’ is an important workplace skill that most of us have not learned yet. Despite the outrage, if employees learnt how to skillfully say no at their workplaces, they would be less stressed and more excited about the work they do.

So during this mental health awareness month, I decided to teach you to say ‘no’ to those at work.

Monday, 3:42 pm

Linda: Hey Anna! How have you been doing?

Anna: I am doing well, hope you’re alright too.

Linda: Yes, things seem to be fine on my end. Except for the crazy deadlines lol

Anna: Tell me about it. Ever since we adopted the wfh model, it feels like I sleep with my laptop.

Linda: I agree. Anyway, my manager told me you didn’t have work today and could spend 8 hours taking something additional.

Anna: Well, I had informed our managers that I could take up 8 hours of work starting 10 AM.

Linda: Don’t worry, I will send you some simple files. It shouldn’t take you longer than 6-7 hours.

Anna: …

Anna: Sure. Send it my way.

The above situation is an example of an unreasonable request made by a colleague. While Anna did raise her concerns, it was done in a way that was easy for Linda to ignore. Let’s look at ways to say no without jeopardizing our careers and workplace relationships.

Consider the request

A long day’s work might often leave you feeling frustrated and want to knock anything that comes in your way. Balancing your professional and personal lives during the pandemic is a difficult feat to achieve. The blurring of boundaries has left us feeling helpless, irritated and in need of a year-long sabbatical.

This makes it important to consider the request presented by your manager. The nature of a request and if it is reasonable enough to take up can only be decided by the employee who plans on working on it.

So think about it – does it seem like a fair request? Is this something you can truly wrap up within minutes? Is your team ready to assist you in meeting the deadline? Will you actually be able to meet the deadline if you took up the request?

Ask yourselves these questions to decide if you truly wish to refuse or take up the work.

Take some time to reflect and respond

One of the greatest advantages and losses of the work-from-home model is that face-to-face interactions have reduced. While this may cause some issues, in this situation, the absence of a real-time conversation can help you gather your thoughts.

Construct a meaningful message or email that raises your concerns and makes your team leader understand them. Words have great power and writing a well-drafted email can raise your chances of being understood. List down reasons why you believe completing an ad-hoc request will not be possible for you and explain it to them.

It is important to make your team leader understand that your decision is in the best interest of the firm. You might be refusing a request sent at midnight because you believe you won’t be able to deliver quality work at that hour. It might be because you are pre-occupied with your family.

Whatever the reason be, ensure your boss understands.

Consider resistance and ask for a re-assessment of priorities

It might also happen that your boss understands what you say and is empathetic to your needs, but still needs the work done.

Suggest re-assessing your priorities with your boss. Hop on a call with them and discuss your upcoming deadlines and what impact the ad-hoc request might have on them. Ensure that they realize that you are human and with limited number of hours to perform certain tasks.

If something gets added to your list of responsibilities, something needs to be taken out to ensure productivity and avoid burnout.

Rehearse different situations

Grab your work best friend by the collar and rehearse different situations where you need to turn down work. Confidence plays a key role in asserting that you understand the situation and have come up with an appropriate plan.

The more you practice, the better you get at saying no to requests that you cannot accommodate. It is important to draw your own boundaries. Just because you can see your laptop and the flood of emails at all times does not mean you need to always address them.
The pandemic has taken a toll on all of our lives. Everything has changed and it is time for us to adapt. While the world has done everything to make the work-from-home model work, the onus of not letting it stress us out falls on the employees.
If you have an understanding team, leverage that and converse with them. Ensure flexibility and a deep sense of empathy that runs within each of you. Ensure this in practice and not just on paper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s