Protect Your Personal Life: 10 Ways for Saying NO at Work

Protect Your Personal Life: 10 Ways for Saying NO at Work

By Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever

For some of you, the tense and demanding workplace environment depicted in The Devil Wears Prada may hit a little too close to home.

If an annoying boss or colleague is ruining your work day by adding to your stress or intruding into your personal time, you’re not alone. According to an online job source survey, more than half of workers say they work under a great deal of stress, with nearly 77 percent reporting they feel burnout on the job. Difficult co-workers, unrealistic workloads and overbearing bosses are only some of the top workplace stressors mentioned.

As I point out in The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever, it’s important to distinguish between who at the office is a friend and who is no more than a 5-9 office buddy. A stressful workplace can also wreak havoc with a professional woman’s personal life as many always agree to stay late, attend co-workers’ weddings, baby showers, and weekend parties and Friday night after-work get-togethers. If you are clear about the people you consider personal friends versus those you view primarily as business associates, deciding whether or not to mix business with pleasure is less complicated.


When it comes to office peer pressure or bully bosses, finding the right words to say ‘no’ can be hard. In the world of work—and out of it—nervy people will ask just about anything of anybody, either increasing your workload, eating up your free time, or both. They continually overstep your boundaries and think nothing of it unless you stop them.

10 tips for refusing to be the go-to person

  1. Don’t make a habit of covering for the shirkers or you’ll be doing double duty on a regular basis.
  2. Be mindful when work and private life responsibilities compete for your time.
  3. Agree to requests only when the task is vital or necessary to keep your job or insure career advancement or you are willingly and happily able to help out.
  4. In order to reduce the chance of being perceived as unreasonable, accompany your “no” with plausible alternatives, such as splitting up the task, getting extra help, or rearranging due dates or priorities. Offering options voices your refusal without having to say, “Are you kidding? No way.”
  5. You can be just as effective in saying “no” without actually using the word aloud. Say instead, “Wish I could, but I am on overload;” “I want to help you, but it’s important to finish what I have to do;” or “What a nice opportunity—I can’t say yes or no, but will get back to you in a day or two.”
  6. Don’t agree to do things for which the learning curve is too steep or too time-consuming unless you see a strong and beneficial reason to do so. In other words, before you say yes, think about what advantage it holds for you.
  7. If you agree to too many requests, you jeopardize your efficiency and risk making errors that could hurt you in the long run.
  8. Carefully weigh each non-job related request before giving an answer. Ask yourself: If the person truly a friend beyond the boundaries of work? How much time will it take? Do I really want to give up my evening or a week day?
  9. Only youare in charge of you, and that gives you options. Exercise them. When pressured, tell yourself you will not be worn down.
  10. If you give in to the pressure and loyalty you may feel, work will always take precedence over your personal life.