With more and more understaffed teams, chances are you’ve been asked to take on more work. Top performers are a prime target for additional requests. But you have to be careful what you agree to take on. In this article, the author explains when it’s best to say no to more work: 1) Whenour main professional responsibilities will suffer. 2) When it’s someone else’s job. 3) When there is no clear exit strategy. 4) When the request is unreasonable.
Consider your average work week. What percentage of your daily tasks matches your job description? If you’re like most high achievers, chances are that over time you’ve taken on many responsibilities outside of your primary line of work. But to what extent do these new obligations contribute to your professional advancement compared to a management in tatters?
In the wake of the Big Resignation, Silent Resignations and Significant Layoffs, many professionals are being asked to do more with less. When organizations are understaffed, the workload is usually redistributed to the remaining team members. Although an increase in range may increase temporarily individual commitment and performance, in the long term, this can lead to burnout and negatively affect the results of the organization as a whole.
Top performers are a prime target for additional requests. Not only do they relish challenges and opportunities for growth, but in my experience as an executive coach, I’ve found that many high performers are driven by the need to please and earn the proverbial gold star. to go beyond. .
Take Irene, a project manager whose team size was recently reduced by 15%. Kind, generous and loyal (sometimes wrongly), Irene wanted to look like a team player and ease the stress of her boss in this moment of crisis. She volunteered to take on three major initiatives within 48 hours of her co-workers leaving, making her overcapacity. Irene soon found herself living on the job, moving around each day with a cloud of terror hovering over her head, unable to find time for herself, family or friends.
While there’s usually nothing wrong with helping out when the organization or your team is short on staff, you need to make sure you’re saying yes for the right reasons. If you’re someone who, like Irene, tends to accept any extra demands that come your way, here’s how to assess when it’s appropriate to push back and how to do it with grace and professionalism.
Say no when… your main job responsibilities will suffer.
Let’s say you work on the product team, but have been asked to help with marketing. You may soon find yourself spending so much time reviewing promotional material that your core job responsibilities — things like user research or strategy — will suffer.
If an assignment takes you away from your primary responsibilities or compromises your ability to consistently deliver high-quality work without any significant learning or skill-building benefit, it’s best to decline and focus on what’s already on your plate.
Avoid saying “Sorry, that’s not in my job description.” A better approach is to use a strategy known as the relational account, or explaining why your refusal is in the best interest of everyone involved. In simple terms, it means that you say “If I helped you, I would let others down”. Or more precisely “I would be unable to do a good job on your project, and my other work would suffer.” Research shows that this strategy can help you come across as caring and conscientious. For example, you might share, “I have to say no, because if I spent time on marketing activities, we would miss several key product launch dates and our revenue goals would suffer.”
Say no when… it’s someone else’s job.
In an age of matrix teams and highly collaborative workflows, it’s easy to get sucked into a job that isn’t your job, like the sales rep who finds himself answering customer service calls. Irene, the project manager whose story I shared earlier, found herself dragged into solving problems that her operations manager should have overseen. She approached her boss to find a workable compromise and explained, “It is not possible for me to continue to perform these operational tasks, and it is not my responsibility. Continuing to do so only creates confusion. I am happy to put detailed documentation in place so that the operations team can take over.
If you don’t mind doing the extra work or if you feel it contributes to your growth in a meaningful way, clearly state what you expect from the new responsibility, such as better assignments in the future, moving to a promotion or a mention to the board of directors. Consider a compensation adjustment to reflect your added value. You might say, “Over the past six months, I’ve taken on responsibilities A, B, and C. What’s the best way to ensure that my compensation is commensurate with my increased scope?
Say no when… there is no clear exit strategy.
Only take on additional responsibilities when you understand the scope of what is involved. You want to avoid misunderstandings down the road and you don’t want this to be an open-ended arrangement. Maybe your boss asks you to participate in a new initiative. Get details. How long will you be needed on the project? What meetings will you need to attend?
If after receiving clarification, you determine that it is not appropriate because the opportunity to say yes is too great, you can lead with gratitude and say, “Thank you for the opportunity. It sounds like an interesting project, but it would be lacking in integrity for me to go into it knowing that I wouldn’t have the bandwidth or resources available to accomplish the goal.
You can also offer to help in a more modest way. Could you attend brainstorming meetings or agree to consult on draft business plans? Showcase where and how you can prove you’re a do-er and show you’re a team player.
Say no when… the request is unreasonable.
Maybe senior management requested a business plan from scratch within two business days. You know it’s not possible, but what do you do? Try one positive no, allowing you to protect your time while fostering the relationship. In response to senior management’s request, you could explain what you can do in the time available. For example: “It is not possible to deliver the full report before Friday afternoon. What I could do is have a first draft of the first section. How does that sound?” Or, you could offer to adjust the timeline, saying something like, “I heard it’s important. Friday’s not possible, but I can have it all for you from now on. here Monday afternoon.
Perhaps you offer to introduce the person to a colleague who can help you or to a contractor they could hire. It might look like, “This is not my area of expertise, but I will email you the name of a colleague I would suggest you work with.”
You can’t say no to everything, but saying no for the right reasons can help you feel more confident and empowered.