The Power of No: How Setting Boundaries at Work Can Supercharge Your Productivity

The Power of No: How Setting Boundaries at Work Can Supercharge Your Productivity

Saying “no” at work can be hard. Especially at work. But while our natural inclination in the workplace might be to say “yes” to everything, this isn’t necessarily doing anybody any favors.

Learning to say “no” the right way will help you become more productive and foster employee engagement in the long term. Remember that saying “no” gives us the opportunity to say “yes” to what really matters.

Why most people can’t say “No”

Saying “no” at work isn’t easy. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it was. For many of us, the thought of saying “no” to additional responsibilities is almost unthinkable. So, what is it about saying “no” that we all find so hard?

1. Fear or rejection

A fear of rejection stops many of us from saying “no” even when we need to. Employees may worry that their colleague or boss won’t accept their choice and that this may lead to bad feelings between them.

2. Want to avoid conflict

We might worry that saying “no” will lead to conflict. Nobody wants to annoy the people they work with or be typecast as a difficult employee. For many, saying “yes” quickly becomes the default way to avoid conflict at work.

3. Scared of disappointing colleagues

If you’ve got good relationships with your colleagues, then you might be worried about disappointing them by saying “no” when they ask you to take on additional work. Saying “no” becomes even harder when you’re communicating with somebody you want to please.

4. Wants to prove commitment

This can be especially true for those who are new to a role. It’s natural for employees to want to prove that they are hard working and committed. But saying “no” the right way can actually be empowering for employees, and a clear sign of commitment to the quality of your work.

5. Believes it is rude to say “No”

Many of us are taught as children that it’s rude to say “no”. We are taught to be polite and obliging and, oftentimes, that means saying “yes” to that favor or chore. Unfortunately this seeps into our professional lives leaving many of us fearful of setting workplace boundaries.

6. Fear of hurting others feelings

Saying “no” can leave us feeling like we’ve hurt somebody’s feelings by not doing exactly what they wanted. But this is a misnomer, saying “no” the right way protects the best interests of everyone in the office.

how to say no at work

Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

How too much work can lead to burn out and lead to decrease in productivity

We often think of “yes” as the word most synonymous with productivity. But, increasingly, experts are realizing that this isn’t necessarily the case. When we say “yes” too much and “no” too little we’re actually putting ourselves at risk of the ultimate enemy of productivity – burnout.

Job burnout is a medically-recognized form of stress that occurs when employees become physically or emotionally exhausted as a result of overwork or a loss of personal identity and fulfillment at work.

Signs of burnout

Burnout manifests differently in individuals but there are some common signs and symptoms of the condition that we can look out for.

Signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling physically or emotionally drained
  • Thoughts of resignation
  • Feeling alone, detached, or helpless
  • Doubting oneself
  • Increased procrastination
  • Loss of productivity
  • Overwhelm
  • Worsening relationships in the workplace
  • Increase sensitivity to feedback
  • Making mistakes more frequently
  • Anxiety or depression

How leaders can prevent employee burnout

Saying “no” at work can help employees avoid becoming burnt out and reduce miscommunication in the workplace, but not all the burden should be placed on the individual. Business leaders can also help to prevent employee burnout by creating a workplace culture that supports the wellbeing of their employees.

Factors that reduce employee burnout include things like adequate vacation time, parental leave, and the provision of paid mental health days. Burnout can also be avoided by investing in employee learning and wellbeing, reducing unnecessary meetings, providing time for focused work, and advocating for healthier workplace environments.

Why is saying “No” a good thing

Many of us will have been taught that saying “yes” is the route to success. What many of us don’t realize is that saying “yes” to everything is actually detrimental to our progress. Hear me out. Being able to say “no” and turn down additional responsibilities when we are already overwhelmed is super important.

After all, taking on more than we can cope with is a recipe for burnout, employee disengagement, and sub-par performance. Instead, by learning to say “no” in a professional and polite manner, we give ourselves the opportunity to work better and smarter.

When to say “No”

You don’t need to decline every new opportunity that comes your way. What we’re talking about here is saying “no” to non-essential or distracting tasks that don’t get you closer to your goals. It’s about saying “no” to obstacles so that you can focus on what really matters.

Saying “no” at work isn’t the death of saying “yes”. It’s quite the opposite. Learning to turn things down means you’ll be able to say “yes” to the best opportunities when they do come along. Saying “no” is about focusing on the right “yes” – the “yes” that will help you achieve your goals.

how to say no at work

Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

Saying “No” at work and its benefits

Contrary to popular belief, saying “no” at work is actually beneficial for everyone in the workplace. Executed correctly, setting boundaries at work promises a multitude of advantages. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits.

1. Saying “No” will let you do other things you are better at

By turning down work that doesn’t best meet your skill-set you’ll be able to focus on things that you are better at. That means tasks get completed by individuals with the best expertise for the job and employees feel more satisfied carrying out work that they enjoy and excel in.

2. It will prevent you from being exhausted and burned out

Overload burnout is caused when an employee is burdened with an unsustainable volume of work. Being able to say “no” is one of the single-most important skills we can learn to avoid this and maintain a manageable workload.

3. You can delegate your time to other priorities

Being able to say “no” when you’ve got too much on will give you the space to focus your attention on high-priority tasks. For example, you might decline that additional request to schedule an Ad Hoc test on Friday if you’ve already got an important deadline.

4. You get to set boundaries

Saying “no” is essential when it comes to setting personal boundaries at work and avoiding burnout. Setting boundaries means being clear about what you can (and cannot) do, and how much work you can take on at any given time.

how to say no at work

Free to use image sourced from Freepik

How to say “No” at your workplace

For those of us who find setting workplace boundaries difficult, here are some tips for saying “no” the right way.

1. Evaluate the opportunity

Before deciding whether or not to take on a task, gather all the information you need to make that judgment. Consider factors like deadlines and skill requirements before making your decision. As well as helping you make the right call, this shows the person making the request that you take them seriously and want to help (whatever your final decision).

When you get asked to do something, you don’t have to give an answer right away. Take some time to think about it, then contact the other party in advance via email or a business text messaging app from Dialpad to set aside a time for an informal chat.

2. Set priorities

By identifying your own priorities, you’ll be able to consider whether or not to take on new tasks or responsibilities. Got lots of high-priority tasks on the go right now? Consider saying “no” to that enterprise cloud collaboration workshop that’s coming up next week.

3. Be honest and genuine

It’s important to be confident and authentic when communicating with your colleagues. This doesn’t mean being rude, blunt, or unapproachable. Instead, it’s about being honest and genuine.

Workplace communication styles vary, so be considerate of who you’re talking to. A short and assertive answer delivered with compassion is best. Communicate that you’re grateful for being considered for the opportunity but that you cannot take it on because of XYZ reason.

Never ignore a request outright (this can be tempting when talking via email or a team management app). Instead, aim to always acknowledge the other party by thanking the individual for the opportunity.

4. Offer other solutions

Once you’ve communicated clearly why you can’t take on that task right now, take a moment to consider if you can help in some other way.

If there is a viable alternative that aligns with your workload then be proactive and suggest this as a possible solution.

Perhaps you could offer to remotely assist employees and create a virtual phone number if you don’t already have one. By doing this you’ll reinforce team spirit without compromising on your own professional needs and development.

how to say no at work

Image Sourced from

5. Prepare before getting into the conversation

Oftentimes we say “yes” to things on a whim because we feel blindsided by a request. In a spate of anxiety and people-pleasing emotions we fail to consider whether what’s being asked of us is realistically achievable. Relatable, right?

By practicing saying it in private, you’ll be more prepared when you need to say “no” to a colleague for real. You don’t have to have an exact script on hand, but getting yourself familiar with the tone and vocabulary will help you avoid cracking under pressure in future.

The time to say “no” is now!

Saying “no” at work gets a seriously bad rep. But saying “no” the right way is one of the most important tools in our professional toolkit and an important part of managing workflows. Being able to say “no” gives us the freedom to focus on our own professional needs and avoid burnout.

Bunnell, Jenna


Author Bio: Jenna Bunnell is a Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides virtual receptionist services. Here is her LinkedIn.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *