How can you say no when your boss wants you to do something more?
I’ve been talking about saying no this week, and I know this particular issue is a big challenge for a lot of us. It’s certainly something I’ve struggled with in previous jobs.
In terms of approaching this issue, the first step is determining why you want to say no. If it’s a situation in which everyone is taking on new tasks, an all-hands-on-deck sort of deal, that’s a harder sell because you’re not being singled out. In that situation, you will have to take a hard look around to see if you are being asked to do more than other people. If not, or if there isn’t something you can argue that someone else is better at, you might just have to swallow your “nope” and do a little grinning and bearing it.
But in many situations, you really are being asked to do too much, and these are the situations in which to roll out your refusal. Of course, you need to do it respectfully and professionally. One approach I like is to write down the tasks you’re already doing, with how long you spend on each one each week. You’ll likely see why you feel overwhelmed by a new task—your current duties may well add up to more than 40 hours a week! If that’s the case, your argument just got easier: bring that sheet to your boss and ask what you should get rid of in order to take on the new task.
If you’re not spending your full allotted work hours on those tasks, you may need to dive in and see what’s going on in your head. It may be that your concentration is shot because of the pandemic (and as I’ve written before, that’s completely normal), or maybe you just dislike some of the tasks you’ve been given, and those are taking up too much headspace. Either way, a conversation with a trusted manager or colleague is probably a good starting place. If you don’t like your tasks, is there someone else who might enjoy them more? Could you then take on some of that person’s tasks that fit you better? If your brain is just not working as well as normal, I recommend talking about it through the lens of depression or anxiety. You don’t have to call it either one of those, but use the ideas to talk through what you’re feeling now. You can say something about struggling to focus and feeling the stress of this situation, for instance, or that isolation is hard on you and you’re having difficulty. Think about what you need before the conversation so you can ask for it specifically. Some ideas include some vacation time, a more flexible schedule (presuming you don’t already have one), a lightened workload for a set period, some sort of tech to help you, or more frequent check-ins with a trusted colleague or supervisor.