I said “no.” I finally said, “No.” No, actually, I finally said, “NO!”
And in the aftermath of my firm refusal to take on tasks at work that were patently unreasonable, and clearly not my responsibility to do, I felt guilty.
I felt guilty for saying, “NO”!
Ridiculous, eh? Thank you, Catholic upbringing for that.
I won’t go into the details. I will say, however, that before I said, “NO!” I offered some reasonable, practical, equitable and rational solutions to the issue at hand. None of these were accepted. I suspect that had much to do with the prevailing power structure, which exists in many workplaces; it’s the hegemony of one department over another, effectively crushing the non-dominant ones.
I imagine many of my readers have been in the same situation themselves at work. You’re the kind of person who wants to be helpful. You give freely of your time, without compensation, to do more than what is asked of you. And, often, that can mean a lot of extra work. But you willingly agree to be an extra hand, a resource, a helper, the go-to person.
And then, it seems, your workplace notices this deep well and THEY continue to dip the ladle into it. “It’s a bottomless well!” they think.
Worse than that, they believe that they own you. They own every bit of your 8 plus hours while you’re under their roof. They tap dance around and on top of your job description and land on the line that says, “Other duties as assigned.”
But this post is not about the expectation managers have that their sweaty little elves will continue to do more than required. It’s not about the endless requests that fall under, “Other duties as assigned.” Instead, it’s about saying and meaning, “NO!” and then feeling comfortable with that.
The first feelings I had when I found out that the powers above had accepted my refusal were ones of guilt. For crying out loud! But I didn’t cry out loud. I whimpered a little inside. And immediately after the guilt, came doubt and angst.
“Oh, dear,” I thought. “They won’t think highly of me anymore.”
“I’ve made them angry.”
“They won’t like me.”
“I’ll be punished.”
It sounds awfully parental, doesn’t it? And it makes me mad at myself. I can’t refuse to take on a role at work that’s entirely unreasonable, which actually constitutes doing someone else’s job, which reached far beyond my job description, without feeling guilty about it.
I’m mad at myself for feeling guilty. I’ll combine that with being mad at them for making this unreasonable request and for assuming that just because they give you a paycheck, they can keep demanding more and more without compensation.
Yes, I should be grateful that I have a job. Well, I am. But along with that gratitude ought to come the right to set limits and boundaries without fear of recrimination. And along with that right ought to come the ability to feel okay about saying, “NO!”
It seems to me that in this time of shaky, sparse employment, we workers are running scared. People my age who want to work have been out of work for years and are being passed over by younger people who’ll accept a smaller paycheck. Employers and managers have the upper hand. The rest of us are required to be grateful and stand ready to do more than ever before, even if the “more” is downright unreasonable, inequitable and inefficient.
And now I have to find a way to be comfortable with my “NO!” I have to keep reminding myself that I have the right to set boundaries, that just because someone hands me a paycheck doesn’t mean I’m enslaved to their every demand.
I’m more than willing to let my workplace take its pound of flesh. I’m no longer willing to let them have my soul, too.