6 Times When You Should Say ‘No’ At Work


No matter where you work, being a team player is important. Helping your colleagues out from time to time or taking on a side project can be beneficial for your career. Sometimes though, going that extra mile doesn’t do you any favors. There are times when you should say “no” at work, but knowing when that’s the case can be super confusing. Here are six instances when you should (politely) pass and say, “Maybe next time!”

1. When you’re not qualified to complete an assignment.

Let’s be honest — we all want to think we’re qualified for major-league stuff. But it’s not smart to take on a project or position when you don’t have enough expertise or training to be effective. In an extreme example, if your boss asks you to take on an important coding initiative and you’ve never coded in your life, you should be upfront and say that, unfortunately, you’re not the right person for the job. Your boss should respect your honesty.

2. When you’re asked to do something that will compromise your work.

Everyone has a job to do, and you were hired by your company to fulfill specific responsibilities each day. There are times though when your colleague will ask you to help out on a side project that isn’t exactly in your job description. That’s okay. But if that project requires more time and effort than you’re able to give without compromising your own core responsibilities, say you wish you could help, but you have a lot on your plate at the moment. (Of course, if it’s your boss asking, then that’s a different story.)

3. When it’s not “ethical.”

This one’s murky, because everyone has their own standards of ethics and morals. The best case scenario is that your ethics and morals align with those of your colleagues and company, but you may come across a situation in which you’re asked to set your own standards aside to accomplish a task. If a colleague asks you to work on a project that makes you personally uncomfortable in this context, politely pass and tell him or her to keep you in mind in the future.

4. When something would compromise your mental health.

Be honest with yourself on this one. If someone asks you to work on something that compromises your mental health, it’s not worth it. To diffuse the situation, explain in as much detail as you’re comfortable with why you can’t help. Your goal is to be honest while looking ready and eager to take on any other tasks that aren’t problematic for your wellbeing.

5. When you’re asked to engage in office politics.

Chatting with your coworkers and developing a friendly banter is great. What’s not so great? When there’s bullying in the office, or you’re asked to throw your colleague under the bus. If that happens, respectfully decline and explain that you want to keep it as positive and professional as possible so that everyone’s empowered. The last thing you want to do is get sucked into a hole of toxicity.

6. When you’re repeatedly asked to cover your colleague’s ass.

We’re the first ones to tell you that helping a coworker is just good practice. It shows that you’re a team player and have your colleagues’ backs. But there’s a difference between doing a good deed and doing someone else’s job. If you find yourself covering your coworker’s ass all the time, say “no” and explain that you need to focus on your own work. Don’t let others take advantage of your good nature. Everyone on your team is responsible for their own jobs, just like you’re responsible for yours. Keep it that way.