We all know how exciting it can be when you first start out in a new role, especially one that you like and enjoy. There is this great sense of satisfaction coupled with the determination to ‘prove yourself’ and prove that you are capable of doing the job at a high level.
During this time you may find that you’re more likely to accept the volume (and nature) of work that comes your way – after all, who wants to say no to something after just starting out? Not the best strategy career wise.
This ‘thing’ that forces us to say ‘yes’ early on in our career is also attributed to our need to belong and be liked by our peers. We try to over-please and over-deliver so that we can earn our stripes so-to-speak and are included and recognized among our colleagues as people of value.
Its equally true that as we grow into our role, and progress in our careers we become (ideally) better at saying ‘No’ to the things we cannot do or the things that put us above our capacity – and its great that we are able to identify what we can and cannot deliver based on our capacity, because this translates into a healthy work-life balance but we must be careful in how we do this.
Suppose you’re working at 100% when your manager approaches you about taking on an additional task, they say that its very important and they need your help to get it done. What would you say?
Well, here are your options:
1) You can elect to say ‘No’ I am already working at 100% and this would keep me in the office longer than I want to be. I have been working non-stop these past few months and this is too much! So NO! I can’t do it.
Let’s assume you choose this option, its well within your right to provide this answer and it may very well be a 100% factual description of your state at that time. But first you have to ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve? If I’m trying to convey that I am not planning on staying in the office any longer or a sacrificing personal time to do this, then you may have achieved your objective.
But what other effect does this statement have? It may tell your manager that you are unable to manage additional work and perhaps reached your capacity within your role. It may also communicate that you’re not a person that can be relied on in key situations or that perhaps you’re not someone they consider to be a problem-solver, someone that works around obstacles to achieve what is required.
You may not necessarily agree, and you may even object that such conclusions can be drawn from that statement, but these are possible conclusions, and if your managers come to any one of those conclusions they may not be enablers or positive reinforcement to your career.
Well then, how can we communicate our message of not wanting to work overtime without leading our managers to have a negative perception about us?
2) We could say “Sure! No problem, it sounds like you really need to get this done so we better focus on it. In the meantime I’ve been working on the weekly metrics report and the vendor project to meet this week’s deadline, which one do you think we should move-out to give me some time to work on this?
Ah! This response does 2 things. 1) It certainly communicates to your manager that your bucket is full and if they want to add something to this bucket then what are they willing to remove or takeaway? 2) It puts the decision back on your manager, now your manager must decide “is this something that really needs to be done now or can it wait until the other priorities are completed?” In either case, you won’t have to work beyond your capacity.
This option also gives your manager the impression that you’re always willing to help, and you’ll always find ways to get things accomplished. Even if your manager ends up deciding that your current priorities are more important, they will be the ones making this decision but at the end of the day you will come away from this situation as the person who was willing to help. We didn’t change WHAT was communicated; we changed HOW it was communicated.
In both scenarios above you will have effectively communicated that you are busy and running at 100% but only 1 of those scenarios positively reinforces your career in the long-term.
The biggest misconception that people make is that we need to have big career aspirations to communicate the way we did in Option 2, but that is simply false. Option 2 reinforces your character as a team-player, a person whom others can rely on, a problem-solver and someone with a positive outlook. Regardless of Career aspirations we all want to be regarded as supportive people, who are approachable and well-liked by our peers much like that day when we first started.
Take ownership over your career and continue to build yourself regardless!
“People will not remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.”