We have all, at one time or another, felt exasperated when our boss comes to us asking us to do more work. Again? Doesn’t anyone see what we’re already doing, how full our plates are, and how hard we’re working?
The chances are, however, that they do see that. And that’s why the boss is asking: they think you can handle it, and that you can handle even more than that besides. It’s a test for whether you can be trusted with more responsibility, which is the test for more promotions.
And it’s also why you need to say yes to some requests for more work.
People only get promoted when they can be trusted with more responsibility. With more work comes less free time, but more power, better skills, and, in the future, salary increases. Coming in and punching a clock — doing only what’s in your job description — will not get your career to advance.
Recognize that too many blanket ‘no’s’ change managers’ perception of you. Employees with successful careers become known as the people with a solution, not just a complaint. And that means saying yes, even when you have limited time, experiences, resources or bandwidth.
When it makes sense to say ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to more work
There are many good reasons to set firm boundaries and say no. If you’re being asked to do something unethical, definitely don’t be pressured into a yes.
Another reason to speak up: If a project is never going to happen with the resources given. Don’t just say no, however: treat it as a negotiation and make a case for what you need. Saying no marks you as an obstacle to progress. Politely pointing out what resources are necessary to make a project successful marks you as a careful, strategic thinker.
How to politely decline: If you’re a people-pleaser on the verge of burnout, graciously decline with reasons about how your contributions to the team can be better spent. “I know that revenue is one of our biggest priorities, and I can provide much more value by focusing on client pitches to bring in more revenue rather than taking on these spreadsheets.”
Another reason to say no: if you’re on the verge of burnout and you want to make a conscious decision to scale back in your career. Pay attention to signs of burnout, like fatigue and snappishness.
But recognize that too many blanket ‘no’s’ change managers’ perception of you. Employees with successful careers become known as the people with a solution, not just a complaint. And that means saying yes, even when you have limited time, experiences, resources or bandwidth.
Here are key moments in your career when you’ll need to be a yeasayer.
Say yes to learning a new skill you want
Your boss comes over to you with a promotion. It’s not exactly the promotion you wanted. It will mean working with people you don’t enjoy during long hours you won’t enjoy.
But with your increased scope of responsibilities, you will finally get management experience and the chance to try out all the ideas in your head. This is a yes-moment. Successful people know they should always take responsibilities that stretch their definition of what’s possible in their jobs and make themselves uncomfortable enough to learn.
When you’re considering a new project or promotion, consider: will it teach you some new skill or experience that you can carry with you past this job or this boss? Then it’s worth it.
Saying yes means getting used to being uncomfortable. Our brains need new challenges to grow. According to Keith Rollag, the author of “What to Do When You’re New,” he believes that “if we can change what we experience, we can change our brain, and all the things that our brain facilitates, including intelligence, personality, habits, and attitudes.” You’ll never get that valuable experience if you keep your head down and repeat what you’ve always been doing.
Say yes to being tested
When your manager comes over to you with a request for a job outside of your usual responsibilities, understand that you might be being tested for a new role or more responsibility. You’re not just saying yes to your managers’ request, you’re saying yes to your future at the company.
If you turn down that responsibility, you may think you’re holding out for a better set of responsibilities. In truth, however, when you say no to more work, your boss may hear that you’re not ready for any new responsibility and won’t come to you again.
Media mogul Shonda Rhimes knows this. After being known as a naysayer, Rhimes challenged herself for a year to say yes to challenges she had been to afraid to try. She practiced going out of her comfort zone led her to become a doer and not just a dreamer.
“You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new,” Rhimes advises in her book “Year of Yes.” “It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring, and dreams are not real. Just . . . DO.”
Say yes to being a team player
Your colleague asks you for your help on their project. Making yes possible may mean staying at work later and putting off your own projects, but being helpful won’t just help the team, it will build your social capital in the office. When you make your own big request for help, your colleagues who have all been the recipients of your help will remember your long hours and will back you up.
Of course, if you’re being asked to do the work of three people on one’s person’s salary, you shouldn’t be blindly saying yes. In those cases, you should make sure there’s a time limit to the extra scope and update your boss regularly —maybe even weekly— on every major thing you do, so he or she knows the level of your contribution.
Part of being a successful person means letting people know how great at your job you are. It means letting them know exactly what you’re doing, so they know what you can and can’t do. Your job is to communicate that your yes is a measured decision. When you agree to a project, it will get done, but on your terms.