Skip to main content Skip to bottom nav

Why can't I say 'No' to my boss when I'm buried under work?

14 Answers
Last Updated: 04/13/2020 at 8:13am
1 Tip to Feel Better
Moderated by

Jennifer Patterson, LMFT, ATR-BC

Art Therapist

Life can be messy. Sometimes you need a little support to make your way through it. I love to help guide people through their challenges & to find the beauty in our messes.

Top Rated Answers
April 27th, 2015 12:53pm
Don't be afraid to say NO, let your boss know that you are getting pressured from all the work. You have the right as an employee to let your boss know what you're dealing with.
May 18th, 2015 4:38pm
The short answer is because we feel we get paid to say yes. When someone is dedicated and takes ownership of a project, they treat it as their own. Unfortunately, you must envision the mess to be made long term if you burn yourself out. Time management is a very important skill and one that is rarely mastered. The best I can tell you is set priorities because not everything that is on the "to do" list is important though, admittedly, some bosses lose track of that. Also, note that if you are an outstanding employee, your boss is paying very little attention to your workload, just assuming it will get done. Bosses don't care how the sandwich gets made, they just wanna eat. Believe me, as a boss, I can tell you when good employees tell me that they simply don't have time, I understand and i adjust my priorities. That's what good bosses do.
January 2nd, 2018 4:08pm
Saying no is an option! We can give you some ideas as to why you are struggling with this, and some options to deal with it, but ultimately you're the only one who knows why you 'won't' say no. (I try to avoid the word 'can't' when it isn't accurate, because phrasing things like that can already put us in a negative mindset.) So why might someone have a hard time saying no to their boss, even under extreme circumstances? Is there something you're afraid of? What consequences are you worried or anxious about, and how realistic are those consequences, and how survivable are those consequences? The thing about fears and anxieties are they do not often account for all the awesome things you have already done or have to look forward to. We rarely worry that good things will happen. Some fears and anxieties that keep people from saying no at work are: not being seen as a team player or carrying their fair share, facing repurcussions like a hard talking to or worse, &c. But what about the benefits of saying no? Some bosses will respect you for it, it shows that you know your limitations and are firm on your boundaries, which are both respectable things, it shows that you are already giving your all to the company, which is a great work ethic, not to mention less stress and strain on you which means a healthier and happier employee. So what can you do about this? Instead of an outright 'no', consider some alternatives like compromises - you will do (a) but not (b), or you will do the extra work but at a time of your choosing, or say you understand the importance of the extra work but would like to refer it to another employee so you can focus on the equally important work you have on your plate. Sometimes we hvae to put our foot down and it is a sign of strength. Social anxiety can definitely interfere with this, but the more work we take on that we cannot handle, the more frustrated, stressed, and unhappy we might become. Personally, I feel for your situation because I am often overworked; I have said things to my boss like, "Choose one of these things because it is inhumanly possible for any one person to do both right now" and "I will do the extra thing next week if that works for you" or "In order to complete this when you want, I have to delay this other project. Is that okay with you?" I have even requested private meetings with my boss in which I have itemized every project I have been working on in the past month, so they can see how busy I have been. These things make the conversation about your desire to complete the work eventually, without making it seem like you are a negative employee. My bosses have respected me for standing my ground and I am happy to say that over time my workload has evened out and is not so stressful anymore. The same thing can be possible for you! If your boss threatens you or makes you uncomfortable, it is 100% okay to seek other employment (while still employed at this company). Good luck!
July 24th, 2018 1:12am
It's hard to say no to anyone who influences your pay. Instead of saying "yes" or "no" flatly try discussing with them what you will trade off to accomplish what they are asking. Which deadline will slip, or what responsibility you will give to someone else. Priorities change, but you have to have open open dialog with your superior about what will and will not get done.
June 9th, 2015 5:16pm
i do this too! i'm always trying to prove that i'm a great and hard worker. If you do this often then your boss probably knows you're a hard worker. It will most-likely work out if you say no and just let your boss know that you will be able to get to something when your work load is a bit less.
September 25th, 2015 6:18pm
Hmm.. That can be difficult. Everybody is different. But it seems like the only way is to be honest with your boss if this occurs. Talk with your boss about the workload that you have if you feel they are giving you more on top of it. Perhaps see if there is another person who can share the workload with you.
January 26th, 2016 8:53pm
I'm not sure. What do you think? Do you think your boss would be willing to talk about and would it be safe to raise it with him?
- Expert in Work Stress
March 22nd, 2016 2:00am
Never feel like you owe anyone anything. Even though you respect your boss and want to obey him. You have no reason to prove anything to him. If you are a good worker u just are, don't let the boss use u too much.
June 28th, 2016 5:08am
I think it's because you are afraid to hurt or displease people. Don't forget, it is important to respect people and help them, but you should respect yourself first! And if you think you have issues with your work or you think it overwhelming, you can consult someone to talk about it before it's getting worse. ;)
July 30th, 2016 2:32pm
There is a way to say "no" without saying "no" when you're already feeling buried, yet pressured to take on more: Jot down a list of all the tasks you're presently working on, and all the tasks that are already on your to-do list for later. Ask your boss/manager to review and prioritise the list. With your boss/manager's input, you should be able to reorder the tasks assigned to you so those most urgent and important are tackled first. If your boss/manager says that everything is a priority, don't be afraid to remind him/her that if *everything* is a priority, then effectively *nothing* is a priority (because no one task is more important than any other, even if they're all technically "important").
February 27th, 2018 7:20pm
Saying "no" to your boss is intimidating because they are your superior literally. You don't want to upset the hand that feeds. But you can communicate with your boss, share your feelings and you guys can come to a compromise.
June 19th, 2018 10:46am
Because you may feel like you will be judged harshly by your boss as being inefficient, underperformer etc. It's better to try and negotiate your workload to a standard that is acce ptable to your boss and that you can cope with. You can try being assertive and politely negotiate your work priorities with your boss.
October 15th, 2018 12:42am
Maybe you don't want to let him down and that isn't a bad thing but you should remember to take time for yourself because that's important too. It's ok to say no and your boss isn't going to think less of you if you have to say no sometimes. Im sure your boss will understand and will already see the work you put in. If you feel as though he/she may feel let down by you saying no, you could explain that you are already loaded with work (which i'm sure they will already know). Taking time for you is important so don't forget that
April 13th, 2020 8:13am
I think I can't say "No" to my boss to show him or her respect in workplace. He or she was the one who hired me and promised to give service on the company. It is inappropriate to reject a work he or she is assigning to me. Though, buried on work, we must accept and continue to work for the company. However, when we can no longer handle the tasks we are assigned to do, it is okay to take a break and tell your boss what you currently feel about it. He or she needs to understand because the welfare of his or her employees are important too.