At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to do something for our boss that went beyond the scope of our job, whether it was picking up a personal item from the store or weighing in on a non-work related matter.
According to a recent Career Builder survey, more than one in five workers say that their boss asks them to do things that are unrelated to their job. Some of the most unusual requests they had received included plucking a boss’s unibrow for a photo shoot, “liking” a boss’s Facebook photos, and coaching other employees on how to pass a drug test.
Another survey of 3,500 workers in Singapore by Job Central found that 40% of workers had been asked to complete tasks that had nothing to do with their job. A few of the bizarre things that these workers had been asked to do included waiting in an illegally parked car to keep an eye out for ticketing officers, and dressing up as Batman for a client meeting.
Even if you’ve never been asked to do something quite as “out there” as the above requests, if your boss frequently asks you to do things that really aren’t part of your job, or that you honestly can’t do for whatever reason, it might be time to start putting your foot down. But how do you say “no” to your boss without putting yourself in a precarious position?
1) Learn to say no without actually saying “no”:
Saying no to your boss can create an awkward situation at best, and cost you your job at worst, but there are ways to say “no” without actually sounding out that ominous word.
Rather than saying “No, I don’t have time for that,” or “No, that’s not my job,” try taking a more tactful approach by explaining your predicament.
For instance, saying:
“I’d be happy to work on that for you, but I have two deadlines coming up and I don’t think I can do it this week,”
…works better than an abrupt “I’m too busy,” because you are helping your boss to see what you are up against.
2) Communicate your reasons as clearly as possible:
No matter what reasons you have for saying no, it’s important to explain yourself clearly to avoid any misunderstandings.
If you’re swamped with other work and simply can’t take on another task, let your boss or manager know that you are open to doing it, but don’t think you’ll be able to give it your full attention. You could even ask for their advice on how to manage your workload and which tasks they feel should be prioritised.
If you feel uncomfortable with something you are asked to do, either because it could get you into trouble, is too personal or goes against your integrity, explain yourself, but keep it short and sweet.
A simple explanation like
“I don’t really feel comfortable doing that because…”
“Please don’t ask me to do this because…”
…will usually suffice, and your boss will likely be more mindful of your boundaries in the future.
3) Suggest an alternative:
The best way to tackle an unreasonable request is to come up with a solution that will meet everyone’s needs, and also demonstrate your willingness to help. For example, if you are asked to work through the weekend, but have already made prior arrangements; explain your predicament and offer to talk to some of your colleagues to see if anyone can step in for you.
Or if you’re asked to do something that is unrelated to your job or are given a project you don’t feel qualified to take on, you can politely suggest they speak to another person who might be more suitable for the task.
“I don’t have much experience with X, but I know that Jim has worked on similar projects in the past,”
…will come across much better than just; “I don’t know how to do that.”
4) Always frame your response thoughtfully:
How you respond is just as important as what you are actually saying. Pay attention to your tone of voice and don’t let your emotions get the better of you when voicing your hesitations.
If you find yourself caught off guard by a request from your boss, take a minute to compose yourself and formulate an appropriate response, or if necessary, ask if you can have a moment to think about it.
There’s a good chance that your boss simply doesn’t realize how much you have on your plate, so your first reaction should never be one of anger or frustration, even if that’s how you’re feeling at the time.
Author: Marianne Stenger is a writer with opencolleges.edu.au. She covers career development and educational research. You can connect with her on Twitter.