When and How to Say No at Work

Learn to say no to prevent becoming too overwhelmed on the job.

A common challenge many employees experience is knowing when to say no. Saying no can be difficult—it can make you feel guilty and uncomfortable, or like you aren’t a good employee, but the truth is, sometimes saying no is the right thing to do. This year, learn when and how you should say no at work.


When should you say no?

  • Say no when you don’t have the time. This seems obvious, but so many of us will accept additional responsibilities that end up overwhelming an already large workload. If accepting a new project means you won’t have time to accomplish what’s already on your plate, it’s best for everyone if you say no. If taking on more works means that quality will be diminished, or that you won’t be able to finish everything, say no. Also, keep in mind, if you say yes to a project once, you’re bound to get asked again.
  • Say no when you don’t have the tools. If your coworker or supervisor asks you to do something that you don’t have the resources for, say no. In order to accomplish a task, you may need access to certain equipment, support staff, information, etc. You can’t do a task well if you don’t have all the supplies you need.
  • Say no when you’re not the best one for the job. Occasionally someone will ask you to do something that isn’t part of your job responsibilities. In some cases, it’s okay to venture outside of your comfort zone, but if someone else has more expertise on a subject, it might be better to refer them to the project. Similarly, if you disagree with the assignment’s objective, you won’t put your best effort into it; in this case, it would be better to recommend a colleague.


How do you say no?

  • Be honest. As with most things, honesty is the best policy. If you’re saying no because you don’t know how to do something, say so. Others will understand, and it could even open up an opportunity for you to learn something new or expand your responsibilities.
  • Explain your reasoning. Instead of just flatly saying no, let the person know why you aren’t able to help. If you don’t have time, tell them about the other projects you are working on. It will help them see the bigger picture without being offended.
  • Use your manners. Saying no can be difficult and awkward, but it’s all about how you say no. Be sure to thank the person for thinking of you for a project and let them know you may be available for a different project at a different time. Most people will understand.


For more workplace tips, check back on the Penmac blog each week!