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How to Say "NO" to Extra Work
Sitting at my desk waiting for all those concerned parents to come in during parent/teacher conferences, I look up to see our communications director walks through the door instead. He is carrying a stack of papers with small print that approximately equates to 16 pages. It looks like a 1930’s newspaper with narrow columns and small print. I look at it with dread knowing what is about hit. He asks, “Could you look over this?” Translation: “Will you spend several hours of your personal time to proofread and edit this?”
I try to joke with a tinge of reluctance in my voice, “Are you coming to me because I am the first English teacher in the hall way or is it because of my great skill as an editor.” I wish I had the nerve to say, “No, I will not do it because I already have several stacks of papers to grade, a college course to study for, and a family to take care of.”
“Honestly,” he states, “it is because the assistant administrator recommended you for the job.”
Obligation and Ego
The job? Doesn’t some form of payment come with a job? This is the part where I am supposed to say, “No, I have parents who will be coming in and papers that need to be graded. I am sorry I cannot help you, but you caught me at a bad time.” People do not realize how much English teachers must do in order to teach our children how to communicate properly, in oral and written form. There are constant stacks of papers waiting for our attention. Many people picture English teachers as little ole ladies with reading glasses attached to a chain riding down the tip of their noses ready to pounce to correct any bad grammar that is spoken.
Since I am the college level instructor at our high school, the administration believes I am qualified to edit and proofread either work for their graduate and/or doctorate work or work that will go to the public. Most of our experienced English teachers could have taken on this task, but he came to my door first. Many do not realize how time consuming it is to edit and proofread, especially when you have to wade through a piece produced by a poor writer or several poor writers, which constitutes most cases. It is not that I mind helping them, but it bothers me when it is simply taken for granted that I will do it.
I could easily write this as a commentary on the lack of emphasis that has been placed on language arts the past decade because math and science has taken precedence, but the truth is that the issue is far too large for me to take on in a mere article. No, this is about having the backbone to say no even when you have been recommended by a superior.
Once our communications director said the assistant administrator recommended me, yeah, I admit, I was flattered and felt my ego growing with pride and self-adoration; this was short-lived. These feelings of grandeur lasted until he left the room about two minutes later and I was holding a thick stack of small typed articles that were due to go into the county paper in two days.
The Reality of the Work and No Appreciation
What I should have done was look at the reality of the situation: there were stacks of papers I needed to grade, there were the parent/teacher conferences I had to deal with, there were other areas in my personal life that needed attention, there was lack of sufficient time, and there would be no compensation for my effort or time - - either monetarily or verbally. Instead, I said yes to a job that took me 5 hours to complete - - there were many punctuation errors and diction problems in this parent-oriented paper that administrators across the district wanted to go out to the public.
The next afternoon when I had completed editing each article in the paper, I took it to the communications director’s office because I wanted to clarify some of my markings and express my concern over some statements that would be understood by educators but might cause offense to some parents. He was not in his office. The secretaries did not know where he was, the administrators did not know where he was, and other office personnel did not know where he was. I went back to my room and e-mailed him, expressing my need to speak with him about concerns and clarifications. He did not reply to my e-mail. I placed the paper on my desk and went about my work hoping he would drop by so we could discuss the paper.
After returning from lunch, I noticed the paper was missing from my desk. I assumed he had dropped by to pick it up. I thought that he had some audacity to enter my room and take the paper. He left no note and did not e-mail me later to let me know he had taken it. I was irritated. The time and thought I had put into the editing was disregarded and my concerns were treated as unimportant. At the end of the day, I went to the office area to look for him one more time. He was not there. Because some of the concerns I had were valid in keeping parent/school relations on a positive note, I felt I needed to discuss the paper with someone in charge. I went to my head administrator and told him my concerns and ended it with, “I have done everything I can do.” Still, I did not have the nerve to say, “I will not edit work again because of lack of time, lack of respect, and lack of consideration for my professional opinion.” The backbone I needed failed me and I melted away.
Being asked to do something because you are gifted with a specific skill is not enough of a reason to say yes to the job. We cannot be doormats. We must decide how and when to say no.
Some helpful questions to ask yourself may be as follows:
- What is the purpose of the task?
- Is the task something that only you can do or can someone else just as capable and less busy do the same task?
- Is there a time limit and is the person asking you to perform the task giving you a reasonable amount of time to complete the task?
- What else do you have on your plate at the time?
- What inner motivation do you have for doing the task? If it is for your ego, remember it will probably be short-lived once you are emerged in the task.
- Are you going to be compensated or appreciated for your work? If not, is it worth it? Our time is worth something to us.
- Are you being taken for granted or taken advantage of by the person or persons asking you to perform the task?
With all the things we must do in this life, we should have respect and consideration for ourselves even when others do not. If you are asked to go beyond your job requirements which seem to be more and more demanding, then you must weigh the mental and timely toll it is going to take on you. Most of us want to do the good and right thing for others, and most of us go above and beyond without being asked, but we do not want it to be at our professional expense or the expense of our health or family lives. Our lives are filled with all different types of stress and details, and we have to learn our limits which means we must learn to say no at the appropriate times.
Yes or No to Extra Work
Do you have problems saying no to extra work?
© 2011 Susan Holland