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No. 86 – Being asked to do extra tasks at work? Here’s how to say ‘no’ the right way

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23 November 2022

I am constantly being asked to do tasks that are not in my job description. They tend to start out small, so I am happy to agree, but then they become more regular and get bigger and take more time. While I know it is sometimes necessary to do extra jobs, I feel like people take advantage of me because I find it hard to say no. Others in my team don’t seem to be asked – people just come straight to me. Any tips on how to say no?

Saying no can be extremely hard, especially if you are a people pleaser; you are a magnet to anyone looking for an easy fix. During my career, I have been on the receiving end of some magnificent “no’s” from people I may have asked to do something. Instead of being disappointed or annoyed, I was in awe by their ability to make it obvious they were saying no but they did so in a way that simply made you respect them more.

The best forms of “no” are when you thank the person for asking, indicate you understand how important the task or request might be, and then link that importance to why you are not in the best position to assist. This might be because you have deadlines you are working towards, other responsibilities you are taking on or there is someone else you think may be in a better position to assist. Setting boundaries clearly and respectfully is most definitely a skill we all need.

There is a fine line, especially when you are part of a team, between saying no all the time and choosing the appropriate time to say no. You need to be able to identify those red flags where a clear “no” is needed. If you don’t, as you are probably experiencing, many of the tasks you are being asked to do above and beyond your own role are thankless and of no benefit to your ongoing role or career.

I was recently asked by my employer if I could extend my maternity leave, and I was happy to do so. My current work can’t offer me a working-from-home position, or the hours I will need. I have also been offered a job that I could do working from home during that extra year of leave with the possibility of extending if I like it. Do I need to disclose to my current employer that I’m doing this? Is it unethical of me to do work during that time? I’m not sure what is my best course of action, but I would like to try this position out and see if it works for me.

First things first, your current employer has a legal obligation to return you to the same job and conditions you were on before your maternity leave. It sounds like the extension was something that worked for you too but if your current employer is saying they can’t offer you the conditions you need on your return, you are in a strong position to let them know this will be an issue for you.

Whether you can work with another employer while on maternity leave really depends on your particular HR policies and the arrangements you have made. Given your current employer has come to you suggesting the extension, I suspect you might be in a strong position to explain why you need to do this work as you wait to return to your role with them. Either way, honesty is always the best policy, so I would let them know you have this opportunity and get their thoughts. I would also ask what they can commit to at the end of your maternity leave period. Be honest with them about what you need and if they are unable to accommodate your requirements, you can decide if the new employer will be a better fit for you.

I fly interstate regularly for work and I am required to book economy class. I was on the same flight as one of my bosses the other day, and they were seated in business class. I don’t think it is fair – I was seething the whole flight. Is it standard for different travel classes to be booked for different levels in an organisation?

Have you checked your travel policy to see what it says? It may be that your boss booked economy too, but then used points to upgrade? Can you try and do the same next time? I don’t have an answer for you on what is standard practice – it will vary by organisation. I am confident there would be companies where senior executives or owners fly business class, and others don’t, whereas in other companies a travel policy will require consistency across the board.

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