How to Say No to More Work Without Getting Fired

Know how to respond to your manager when you feel overwhelmed by your demanding workload.


It happens all the time. Your boss wants you to take on a new project. It's often in the guise of a great career move. "It will look good when a new opportunity opens up" kind of thing. Or, someone leaves the company and you inherit part of their work. Or, one of your lucky ass coworkers is going to Croatia on a 14-day vacay and you're staying behind to fill in for her. Lucky you. Or, my fave,  your boss has a big project, is behind the eight ball and needs you to handle a few of the details.  Well, most of the details, but covertly, of course. You won't get any of the credit.

If you feel work overload now, you don't want to take on anything else. Period. "It's not fair!" you scream inside. And, the thought "Give me a raise and make these other people do their damn jobs" runs through your head at times. Often the best, most talented, most reliable get the most work. But, you already know that. You're living it. And, sometimes there's just too much work and management needs to know that. Especially since twenty-three percent of 18-35 year olds say they are too busy to take time off and leave vacation time on the table. Here are Your Office Mom's suggestions on how to say no to more work and not get fired. It's possible you might be able to get a more equitable workload in the process too. You're welcome.

Craft your approach

It's all about crafting your approach. You aren't saying no, but you aren't saying yes either. The next time your manager gives you a new assignment, or new responsibilities, listen and reply with "Okay" and "I'll get back to you if I have any questions." Only after you have an opportunity to review your To-Do list, your schedule (factoring day-to-day minutia + your mental breaking point) should you go to your boss to discuss an alternate plan. Here are some options for saying no:

Ask for more time

When you get a new project or assignment, and it will be difficult if not impossible to complete, say no to the deadline. Here's how:  "Usually, I would jump at an opportunity like this. After looking at the assignment more closely, is it possible to extend the deadline by another two weeks? With my other responsibilities, I don't see how I can give you my best work within the existing timeframe."

Ask for additional help

If the boss is insistent that you are the best person for a project, here's the best way to say no to doing it yourself and get help. Here's how: "I'm trying to finish the Anderson project. If I could get help completing that, or with ____ and ____ while I'm working on this new assignment I feel confident doing it."

If it's a permanent assignment, try to permanently unload other tasks.  "Normally, I wouldn't hesitate to take this on, but after carefully reviewing my schedule and workload it's going to be difficult. If someone on team can take on ____ and ____ it will be more manageable." New projects or assignments always take longer than expected. There's always a learning curve, or a glitch, to slow you down. So, ask for more help than you might need. And, in case your boss asks who you recommend, be ready with a name. That's a compliment, and she respects the job you've done.

Ask for help prioritizing your workload

If you can't get more time, and there's no one to help, your best option is to get clarity from your manager to prioritize all your tasks and projects. Here's how:  "I've taken a look at the new assignment, and I need your help. Can we schedule some time to talk about the Q3 priorities? I think your perspective will clarify what's most important." Once your boss clarifies priorities and sees how much work you do, it's possible you will get some help after all. So keep that in mind as you prep for the meeting!

Learn how to comfortably approach your boss because you'll have these conversations many times! Have you said NO to more work? What tactic did you use? Tell us about it at on the blog!

Dory Wilson, Your Office Mom

Blogger, advice columnist & freelancer

Dory Wilson, Your Office Mom Photo by: Lacey Seymour Photography

Dory Wilson, Your Office Mom Photo by: Lacey Seymour Photography