Setting Boundaries: How to Tell Your Team NO When You Don’t Have Time to Help

Setting Boundaries in the Workplace

Sometimes just saying “No” is the hardest thing. But at work, it’s critical for setting boundaries that can help you avoid burnout and overwork. If you say “Yes” to everything the chances of burning out, not to mention not being able to fulfill your commitments is high. So, here are some tips for saying “No” to your team when you simply don’t have time to help.

Learn to Say “No” Nicely

If you want to help but understand that you don’t have time, you can feel pressured or perhaps even guilty for not going above and beyond to help a coworker. So, you may end up saying “No” in a way that comes across as gruff or otherwise unprofessional. Or, worse, you may waffle on your answer and say, “I don’t think I can” or “Maybe.” We would encourage you to be clear, straightforward, yet professional in your approach. A simple, “I’m sorry, I’m not available,” is clearer.

Be prepared; the coworker may ask why you can’t help. Or, to soften your answer, you could say that you’re not available because you have your own deadline looming. You don’t have to make your explanation long, but it’s polite to share a detail or two about why you can’t help right now.

You may even suggest an alternative. For example, if you have a deadline this week but next week you’ll have more free time, suggest that as an option. This shows that you’re willing to help but you can’t right at the moment.

But what if the coworker isn’t asking you about work at all but instead wants you to meet up with the team or happy hour or an after-work event. It’s okay to say that you can’t attend. You may have had a hectic week and need to get some rest. Maybe you haven’t seen your family much this week and want to check-in. Set boundaries by feeling comfortable saying you can’t attend and briefly, why. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to get a little time away from work when 5:00 hits, either.

Also, try to stick with your decision. If you waffle and give in by changing your answer to “Yes,” you might regret it later. Stay firm on your answer and don’t be persuaded, which is a great way to set boundaries between you and a coworker. Be confident in your choices and keep moving forward.

Here are five sample ways to say, “No.”

  1. I’m sorry, but I have too much going on at home and can’t attend.
  2. I have a deadline of my own that I’m working on but next week I have some free time.
  3. Unfortunately, I have another commitment but invite me again—I would love to go next time.
  4. No, I can’t fit that into my workload this week. Next week is definitely better so let me know if I can help then.
  5. The timing isn’t good for me right now. Please keep me in mind for next time!

Setting boundaries is hard. Sometimes the best boundary you can set is to get away from your current job and find a new one. That’s where PrideStaff Thousand Oaks can help. Call on us when you’re ready to make a change.