There’s a saying in business: “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.” But is that fair to the busy person? It makes sense that organizations would want to give crucial work assignments to their most talented and productive employees. They know these workers will come through, having already proven themselves to be highly competent multi-taskers and the ultimate team players. These employees are great at just about everything—with the possible exception of saying “no.” But, “no” is not necessarily a bad word.
Is there a reason employees should be cultivating the fine art of saying no? As it turns out, there are several good reasons, but it’s often tough for employees to do. Some may feel the only way to advance is by taking on every work assignment the boss throws their way. Others may be reluctant to say no because of fear—fear they’ll lose their jobs or lose status in the workplace. They may also feel guilty about the potential of letting down a boss or a colleague. So, they hide their misgivings and take on the additional workload.
The Consequences of Saying Yes
HR executives should consider what the burden of such a workload would do to the prospect of keeping their best employees around for the long term. An organization’s most valued employees, because of their reluctance to say no, may find themselves buried under an avalanche of work. This could lead to burnout and ultimately may prompt them to leave for less stressful work environs.
So, how do organizations stave off this potential problem? The key is to cultivate a culture that eliminates the negative repercussions associated with employees saying no. Instead, companies should encourage employees, to be honest about their capacity for taking on new work assignments. HR executives should convey this message to employers and employees alike: Don’t just look at the repercussions of saying no; also, weigh the consequences of saying yes—namely poorer job performance and detrimental effects on employees’ job satisfaction—and possibly even their health.
The Benefits of Saying No
Saying no can have more benefits than people realize. Here are a few to consider:
It keeps employees from spreading themselves too thin. Employees who never turn down a work assignment may become overloaded to the point that they are no longer effective. Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong people Don’t Do,” captures this sentiment well in a video on the news website Business Insider: “Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else that you could be doing with your time.”
It helps employees focus on what they are already working on. By limiting the number of work assignments, you enable your team to concentrate on bringing individual projects to fruition. This is far better than expecting an employee to juggle multiple work assignments at once, elongating the time it takes to complete any of them in a satisfactory manner.
It lets employees know you value their judgment. There’s no one in a better position to comment upon the advisability of taking on new work assignments than individual employees themselves. If you value their ability to take on a project, you should also value their judgment in assessing their capacity for doing the work. Hallie Crawford, a contributor to U.S. News & World Report, explains how this reflects well on an employee: “It takes emotional intelligence to not just react to a situation or a request, but take the time to step back, reflect on the best course of action, then act accordingly.”
It encourages employees to set appropriate boundaries. Even the most dedicated employee deserves to have a personal life without work obligations regularly encroaching about their weekends and evenings. Employees should be able to spend time with their families without feeling guilty or stressed out about work.
It leads to happier, more satisfied employees. An excessive workload is a leading contributor to work-related stress, business experts report. Having too much work leads to another stressor—the difficulty of juggling work and personal lives, which can detrimentally affect an employee’s level of health and happiness. Giving employees permission to say no to excessive work assignments is a way to relieve such stress and increase their positive engagement in the workplace, which ultimately determines an employee’s satisfaction, commitment, and enthusiasm for their work.
A version of this was first posted on Huffington Post.com