Just because you find yourself doing a massive shrug when debating whether or not you have the right to say no at work, that doesn’t mean you should neglect to do what comes naturally — sometimes your instinct to say “no” is spot on. And if you’re looking for someone to tell you that it’s totally fine to use that two-letter word on the job, you’ve come to the right place. We are all about saying “no.”
We won’t pretend that it’s an easy feat: Saying no at work makes many of us shudder. There’s an intense fear of getting fired. Also, in taking a stand for yourself, you run the risk of being viewed as unlikable, lazy, difficult, insubordinate, or not a team player.
But setting boundaries at work isn’t just a way to stay happy on the job — it is a crucial part of self-care that will help ensure that you stay healthy, balanced, productive, and fairly treated, which is the way we’d all like to feel in our professional environments.
It can be downright scary and uncomfortable, but here are six times when you should definitely say no at work.
1When you don’t have time.
Everyone likes an employee with a can-do attitude, but accepting extra assignments when your schedule is already bursting at the seams is a recipe for disaster. Turning down the additional work can keep you from burning out, plus we’re pretty sure your boss will appreciate not having to re-do work in the event that stress and fatigue keep you from completing your obligations in a satisfactory manner.
2When you’re not the best fit for the task.
As brilliant as you are, it’s perfectly fine to concede and let it be known that you’re not cut out for the job. Maybe an assignment has you feeling in way over your head, or you know that another colleague is far more skilled to tackle the task at hand.
Either way, saying no in this case helps keep the work flowing smoothly and gives you time to expand your skill set for future assignments that may come your way.
3 When something makes you uneasy.
If your boss or colleague asks you to do something that will compromise your ethics — whether that be illegal, immoral or something that just doesn’t feel right — it’s perfectly okay to say no.
“There are potential negative consequences for speaking up, as well as for complying,” Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, tells Business Insider. “It can feel like a lose-lose — but you should never comply with an illegal request.”
4When you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
One job title gradually morphed into three, but your paycheck bears no sign of those extra responsibilities. For some reason, it feels like your coworkers are totally coasting while you’re barely keeping your head above water. Just when you pick yourself up and get back to that growing pile of projects on your desk, you’re asked to add something else to do your to-do list. We’ll say it for you: NO.
Whenever you’re feeling like your willingness to go the extra mile at work is being taken advantage of, it’s definitely time to assert yourself and say so, even if it makes someone else feel a little uncomfortable.
5When you’re asked to work overtime.
Whenever the opportunity for overtime rolls around, most of us immediately think about how good the extra money will look on our paycheck. But it’s totally okay to pass if you just aren’t into it. Sometimes the need to unwind is far more important than the extra cash. When sticking to the 40-hour workweek helps you keep your sanity, gracefully declining is the way to go.
6When you realize saying “yes” was a mistake.
We’ve given you permission to say no at work, but here’s something else it’s okay to do in a professional setting: Change your mind. Sometimes you don’t realize a project is a nightmare until you actually take it on, you’ve convinced yourself that you have to agree to everything regardless of how it makes you feel, or you discover that you simply don’t have the bandwidth to execute it to your best ability after you’ve already agreed to do the work.
Whatever the circumstance, it will always be better to change your mind and back out of it ahead of time instead of doing an awful job because you were stressed/not into it/totally against it.
As intimidating as it sounds, it’s possible to say no at work and come out unscathed, but as with any message, the timing and the delivery can definitely make all the difference.