When to Say Yes at Work— and Where to Draw Smart Boundaries

When you first started out in your career, you likely jumped at every opportunity to take on new projects, lead initiatives and lend a helping hand around the office or your team to make it hum. Proving yourself to be resourceful and dedicated is often key to earning your first raise or promotion and being deemed that warm and fuzzy “team player.” 

But after you’ve progressed professionally, resourcefulness and dedication look different and you should no longer feel the need to be a ‘yes woman’ all the time in order to get ahead. Instead, you should feel like you have the authority to choose when to say yes, and the self-awareness to know where to draw boundaries and firmly decline. 

With so many responsibilities as working moms, the concept of “balance” is downright impossible—and there comes a point when it’s no longer feasible (or healthy) to say ‘yes’ to all  demands work and family throw at you.

But, then faced with the decision of who gets told ‘no,’ it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘yes’ to avoid letting someone down. Moms shouldn’t have to constantly say ‘no’ to their families and personal lives because we feel obligated to always say ‘yes’ at work. And the reverse is also true. 

▶️ Watch: Unity Hour - Fair Play Your Way to Work-Life Integration. Eve Rodsky, author of New York Times bestselling book FAIR PLAY,  shares her insights on how couples can work together to achieve an equitable balance of domestic work and better manage their families.

There should be a balance between the two, and the only way to get it is by knowing what’s worth saying ‘yes’ to at work, and feeling empowered enough to say ‘no’ to the things that aren’t. 

Here are some tips for deciding whether or not to say ‘yes’ in common work situations. 

Taking on new projects

There are always going to be new projects and initiatives popping up at work, and being asked to take them on can feel really rewarding. However, before accepting the request, you need to evaluate whether or not it’s worth saying ‘yes’ to. 

When to say yes

  • There is a clear professional benefit to taking it on, such as a promotion or developing a new skill-set that will help you move forward in your career
  • You have the personal and professional bandwidth to take it on without burning yourself out
  • You will be fairly compensated for the work in some way, either monetarily or with a desired benefit like work-from-home approval

Where to draw boundaries

  • Taking the project on will compromise your quality of work on your existing duties, and your boss is unwilling to redistribute work 
  • The work isn’t stimulating or challenging for you
  • It will develop expertise, but it’s in an area you aren’t interested in specializing in

Tasks that won't advance your career

There is no shortage of tasks and committees in any organization. This kind of work is typically beneficial to the organization as a whole, but it may not necessarily align with your career goals or benefit you personally in another way, so you need to carefully consider agreeing to take on these kinds of tasks.

When to say yes 

  • You are genuinely interested in the work, such as developing philanthropy and outreach programs 
  • It’s working toward a broader organizational benefit that you care about and/or would improve your day-to-day life
  • You’re at a point in your career where you’re content in your position, and you’d rather coast for a while instead of push for a promotion (there is no shame in this!)

Where to draw boundaries 

  • Leadership never asked you to take on the task, they just assumed you’d do it
  • The commitment would take away from your personal time outside of work
  • It’s entry-level or “housekeeping” work that you’re not interested in, such as planning parties or other administrative tasks

Work that impacts your personal life

As a mom, your life outside of work is busy and people rely on you, so any work you do outside of your standard office hours needs to be worth it in some way. If it’s not moving your career forward or it’s compromising your quality of life, you probably need to draw boundaries, but there are times where the long-term professional gain is worth the short-term homelife loss.

When to say yes

  • The extra work will bring you closer to your desired goal, whether that’s a promotion, transfer, raise or some other benefit that will ultimately improve your quality of life professionally and personally
  • You are able to maintain a sense of balance between home and work, the extra hours won’t lead to burnout or leave you with gut-wrenching mom guilt

Where to draw boundaries

  • If more time at work will put your mental health or well-being at risk, now is the time to focus on yourself, not your career growth
  • You already feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water between family and work obligations
  • You’re feeling unfilled at work as a whole and a promotion or raise is unlikely to change that

As your career advances, so does your authority to have a say in what work is or isn’t beneficial to your overall goals, where your career and home life are likely intertwined. Saying ‘yes’ at work is still as important as it was back when you were just starting out in your career, but now, like your expertise, those ‘yeses’ should be more specialized and focused than they were back then.

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