At a glance
By Jessica Mudditt
Job creep happens when a person performs tasks that are outside the agreed scope of their job. This happens for various reasons, often with tasks that should be done by other team members.
It is not unreasonable to say “No” if someone asks you to take on something extra at work that is not part of your role.
However, if not handled with care, a refusal can damage your relationships and reputation, potentially also stunting your career growth.
Instead of issuing a knee-jerk “No”, it may be worth taking a little time to consider the request, if possible.
“You don’t need to answer someone on the spot – you can ask them to book a time, so you can give them your full attention,” says Rachel Service, the CEO of Happiness Concierge and author of There Has To Be More.
This has the added benefit of allowing the person to feel heard and to empathise with them in a way that will benefit the relationship, rather than undermine it.
Be a team player
“If you can see that a colleague is struggling, and you’re not able or even willing to help them, then you’re not being a good teammate,” says Michelle Gibbings, workplace expert and the author of Bad Boss.
“If you acknowledge that they have a lot on, it will make a big difference. You could say, ‘I’ve got a heavy workload, and I can see that you do, too. Let’s see how we can help each other.’”
Pausing before accepting can also be useful in establishing boundaries. Unfortunately, those who are quickest to help others often end up overburdened with work, which can lead to burnout.
“There’s a big difference between a development opportunity and becoming the dumping ground for other people’s work,” says Gibbings.
When to say "yes"
Gibbings cautions that automatically saying “Yes” to everything can lead to resentment and bitterness in the long run.
“It becomes a vicious cycle, because you have set a pattern of behaviour where you always say ‘Yes’, so people expect that as a response.
"When you try to say ‘No’, it becomes much harder,” says Gibbings.
Service agrees, saying that managing expectations is a delicate art and a “career defining skill”.
Striking the right balance between being helpful and not being taken advantage of can be tricky, Service acknowledges. Ultimately, an assessment needs to be made about whether the request is reasonable.
Consider the context – who is asking and what is their underlying motivation? It could be a development opportunity worth seizing upon.
“If you say ‘No’ because deep down you are not confident, or you don’t think you have the ability to do it, then you’re blocking your chance to find out what’s possible,” says Gibbings.
“Saying ‘Yes’ is often a pathway to career progression.”
Often the decision will rest upon the basis of relationships and how valued you feel. A good manager will provide adequate rewards and incentives for taking on extra tasks, and colleagues will look to return the favour.
If it is clear that the whole team is flat out and you have the capacity to take on extra work, Gibbings recommends saying “Yes”.
By contrast, “If you’re in an environment that is chronically understaffed, and you are always expected to do much more than you’re getting paid for, then it tips the balance of no longer being fair,” Gibbings says.
How to get ahead at work by saying "no"
How to say "no" nicely
If your mind is made up to say “No”, remember that the way a request is declined matters. Tone of voice is important.
A curt response of “It is not my job” is likely to have repercussions that last well beyond the conversation.
“It can come across as defensive, confrontational and that you are being unhelpful,” says Gibbings.
“It’s better to have a conversation where you say, ‘I’d love to be able to help, but I have so much other work on. I really need to understand where this fits with other priorities. Before I commit, I need to see what else I can move’.”
Service recommends finding a way to protect your time while helping someone achieve what they need to.
“Focus the conversation on how the person who’s asking you for support can find a step forward – whether it’s with you, or someone else,” she says.
A matter of perspective
Another tip is to focus on the bigger picture.
What kind of work culture do you value? How will your decision affect it?
Finally, Service says that if your most important stakeholder is asking for a favour, be prepared to throw out the rulebook and do your utmost to help them.
No matter what, do not refuse repeatedly. People will stop asking you for help, and that will block off future opportunities.
Also remember that the day may come when you're the person needing an extra pair of hands.