WORKPLACE / DEC. 10, 2015
version 9, draft 9

When You Should Say No to Your Boss

You have just come from work, and the day was hellacious. You have barely settled on the couch to ‘breathe in’ home, and there is an incoming email. It is your boss, and the task is urgent. You glance at your kitchen sink calling for your attention, your dog begging for a bath, and the wall mirror in front of you reveals your exhausted and baggy eyes. Balancing work and life is a fragile affair, and technology has ensured that a working day does not end when you exit the office. The American Psychological Association conducted a study in 2013, which revealed that more than half of employed adults check work-related messages during non-working hours and days. 54 percent admitted they check their work emails when they are off sick. Work is everywhere; your boss is everywhere you go. But in order to stay a healthy employee, you need to know when it is within your human and professional right to say no.

See Also: The One Thing You Can Do To a Bad Boss

1. It is an Illegal Task

Unless you work for the mafia or a drug lord, and illegal defines your trade, you have all right to say no to requests of the kind. Sometimes, a client may have asked your boss to do something illegal, such as faking a receipt or intentionally escalating the cost of your product, and their request ends up on your desk. Even though there is a business mantra that insists “the customer is always right”, anyone violating the law is not right. The pressure may be tight as your boss hopes to make a few extra bucks from the “deal”, but you have to say no, however difficult the situation may be. Keep in mind that if the authorities catch up with you, an obligation to follow your boss’ orders, if you knew what you were doing was wrong, will not protect you from criminal charges.

A good way to say no in such a situation would be to remind your boss of the company’s ethics code, what the company stands for and where you draw your lines. Should your boss insist, report the matter to your human resource department or use as the ethical hotline if your organization has one, or a governmental agency such the Department of Labor.

2. It is Not in the Line of Your Profession

Challenges provide an opportunity to grow, but attempting to do something you are completely clueless about can be your downfall. The tasks you undertake and how you execute them should be for your good and that of the organization. Attempting to fix a faulty electric cable when you can barely spell electricity could not only leave you dead, but your boss might never forgive you after his computer blows off. If your boss asks you to do something beyond your qualifications, you have a right to say no, with a valid explanation. Of course, your boss may try to flatter you into thinking he has confidence in your ability, but most likely at that point he is only looking up for his interests.

One way to say no in such a situation is to recommend another employee you know is comfortably capable of handling the task. You can also offer to call in a professional to do the job. The point is to show your willingness to help, but only in ways you are comfortable with.

3. It Compromises Your Values

Emotions such as anger, fear or confusion may come into play when your boss asks you to compromise your identity. Do not let them get in the way of making a sober decision. Experts, for example, identify the fear of losing a job as one of the reasons employees give in to sexual advances by their seniors. But the long term damages of giving in to such requests by your boss will far outweigh the “benefits”. If your boss asks you to do something you do not ascribe to, such as blackmailing your colleagues, you have a right to say no. Being true to who you are, regardless of the price, is critical to staying and growing in your profession. In one of the professional wrestling match types, the rules required the loser to kiss the winner’s butt. In one of the games, the loser said the act compromised his identity and reputation. The “kiss me arse” type of situations are still common at work, and it will take gathering your confidence to say no, especially when the rewards sound almost irresistible.          

Remind your boss of the values you stand for and that you understand your rights as an employee. Make it clear you are not intimidated by the possible consequences. Confidence is one of the surest ways to wade off a bullying boss.

4. There is Not Enough Time

In your career path, you will come across that boss that expects miracles from you. But remember that time and tide wait for no man, and you are no exception. Be realistic about how much work you have onto accomplish and the amount of time it will take you to complete your boss’ new task. If you are unsure about your ability to complete the task within the stipulated timeframe, be realistic and say no if an extension is not possible. While it sounds easier said than done, you are better off saying no to a task than under-delivering, especially if it is an important assignment. You will have wasted your time and that of your boss, and also tainted your reputation as a professional.

A polite way to do this would be to ask your boss to put the assignment on hold until you are free. You can also offer to give the necessary material and support for another person to do it. Remember to thank your boss for the opportunity and his confidence in you.

5. It Compromises the Quality of Another Project

angry boss

Your boss has called you to attend an urgent meeting and take notes for him, but the office has booked you on the next flight to attend to another project. You have a choice to impress your boss and be late. But very few people will understand that you messed up a project because you undertook another task in between. Your boss may also ask you to change some facts of a project, which influences the entire process. While there might be justified reasons to do so, it is in your interest that you consult with other people involved in the project to be sure you are on the same page. A good example is to edit the budget of a project that your colleagues are already working on. Especially when you know that the rest of the team is not aware. You have a right to say no in such a situation, or ask for time to consult or think the suggestion through.

One of the best ways to deal with such a scenario is to write your boss an email expressing your discomfort and copy the rest of the team. Your aim is to get everyone else on board. That way, should anything go wrong in future, the relevant parties will not hold you responsible.  

See Also: How to Work For a Bad Boss With Irrational Behavior

Most employees feel like they owe their companies more time, even after they have given their best in a day. But the Northern Illinois University researchers conclude that being constantly preoccupied with work texts and emails, results in what they have named workplace telepressure, which is bad for your health. Learning to say no to your boss is one way to guard yourself against unhealthy working habits. Note that in such a tricky situation, how you say it is as important. Pay attention to your body language and the tone of your voice. Do not let emotions get in your way of acting and communicating in a professional manner. If your boss catches you off guard with an inappropriate request, ask for time to compose yourself and think through a proper response. It is also possible that your boss may not understand how much you have on your plate, and sometimes it only takes a simple explanation to solve such a situation.

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