Why It's Harder For Women To Say 'No' To Extra Work

Would you mind covering for Bob next month while he’s out?

Could you help me out with this project? I could really use your expertise. 

Can you take the lead on that? Thanks.

It’s hard for anyone to say “no” to extra work, but it’s especially difficult for women, new research finds

Katharine O’Brien, a postdoctoral research associate at the Baylor School of Medicine, and Eden King of George Mason University conducted a series of studies, which concluded that women find it harder than men to decline assignments that aren’t part of their normal jobs. They discovered that it wasn’t a difference in personality but that social norms guided women’s behaviour. 

While we all want to be seen as team players and help out when needed, there’s only so much time in the day, and sometimes requests aren’t realistic. But when women turn down requests from bosses or colleagues, not only are they more likely to feel guilty, they also face real backlash from managers. 

“Women typically are regarded as nurturers and helpers, so saying ‘no’ runs against the grain of what might be expected of them,” O’Brien said in a statement.

In the study, women who did say “no” fared worse in performance evaluations, received fewer recommendations for promotions, and were considered less likable, according to O’Brien.

Of course, some additional assignments can be good for your career. Taking on high-visibility projects and leadership responsibilities — and executing them well — can give you the leverage you need for a promotion or raise. 

The problem comes from accepting routine or administrative work that others would prefer to avoid, or trying to do so much that you can’t finish it all or excel in your actual job. 

The key is to strike the right balance in your workload and to respond to coworkers’ requests gracefully, so that you maintain strong professional relationships and control of your schedule.

O’Brien suggests two strategies that could help both women and men handle requests for their help. The first is to say, “I’ll think about it and get back to you,” which can save you from a knee-jerk reaction. The second is to consider what you would advise your best friend to do in the same situation, which may help you be more objective.

Another tactic is to learn to say no, without saying “no.” Career expert Miriam Salpeter writes on AOL Jobs that instead of turning down a request flat out, it might be better to remind your boss what else you have on your plate. She suggests saying: “I can see how important this project is. Can we sit down for a few minutes so you can help me prioritise my work? I want to be sure to focus on the most important things.”

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