How to say no to your manager at work

Imagine you are bench-pressing at the gym.
(in simple words – lying down horizontally on a bench and moving the bar with weight up and down) and you can move up and down the standard weight easily – let’s say 70Kg (154lbs)

Next week you try some extra weight – 10 kg (22lbs) more.
You manage, but with some difficulties.

The following week, you give it a try with more extra weight – 10 kg (22 lbs) more.
You take the bar from the rack and the 90 kg (198lbs) ends up in your chest with an injury in your wrist and support from other people at the gym to take the bar back to the rack.

Do you see the situation?

imagine the standard weight is your normal workload,
and the extra weight is your manager asking you to take on an additional workload.

A fair amount of extra workload can be good for extending your scope and targeting the next promotion, however, too much workload can be fatal for your health and well-being.

How to avoid that? Saying No more often.

I show you in this post how to avoid such situations at work and how to effectively say no to your manager at work.

How to say no to your manager at work

Saying no to your boss,
it does not necessarily mean not being considered for future promotions, making enemies, or even getting fired – far from that.

How to say NO,
this is a skill that you can learn.
A must skill to have both in professional and personal life.

Here we will focus on the importance of saying no at work.

But first, why is it important to learn how to say no?
We all would agree that saying no, is not easy.
Especially if you tend to be a people-pleaser.
I bring you here a few reasons why it is important to learn how to say No.

Time and Energy:
Saying no is the best way to set up boundaries. By saying no, you choose where you want to put your energy and your time.
Remember the priorities of other people do not necessarily mean that are our priorities

Healthy body – Healthy mind:
You only have one body – make sure you look after it.
Do you remember the example of the extra weight at the gym?
Saying no to that extra weight – can help you to avoid burnout and keep a healthy life-work balance.

Be in control & improve relationships:
Saying no gives you power.
The power of making your own decisions and choices on what you want to put the effort and time into.
You may think how saying no, will help in improving relationships.
By being honest about what you are and what you are not willing to do, you will earn trust and respect in your relationships.

How to say no to additional work

One of the common scenarios in corpo life is when your manager approaches you to ask you for doing some extra job (normally on top of the standard responsibilities)

“Hey MisterPaton, could you take ownership of this weekly report and do backup for Julia”

How to manage step by step:

  1. Don’t commit at the moment
  2. Take your time to assess if you can or cannot absorb the workload.
  3. If you can absorb the workload, go for it and put value in eyes of your manager for the effort you are doing.
  4. If you can’t absorb the workload,
    list the list of tasks that you are owning and proposed priorities.

What not to say:
I have so much workload, I am not able to

What to say:
Thank you for thinking of me, I am afraid if you really want me to take this extra workload, we need to call priorities on what you want me to own and what you want me to drop.

Nowadays I am owning:


Based on priorities I would propose I can focus on:

New workload1
New workload2

Meaning I would need to drop Task2 and Task4.

Saying No – in a way it is all about negotiating.
If you are passionate about negotiating and understand how getting a No can help you to achieve your business results, I would strongly recommend the book Start with No, by Jim Camp.

Examples of how to say no to your boss via email

Whenever possible,
I would recommend you say No to your boss either on a phone call or face to face,
if this is not possible,
I bring you some examples of how to effectively say no to your boss via email.

When you have other high-priority projects running in parallel
Thank you for considering me for this task.
Unfortunately, now I am not able to take it due to the fact of being currently involved in other high-priority projects.

When a very good opportunity pops us, but you are fully booked
I appreciate the opportunity and I would be very much interested, however, I am currently unable to commit to this project due to other priorities. Could we discuss in one-to-one potential alternatives? Delay the project? Redistribute workload?

When the deadline is very tight
In order to manage your expectations, I want to share that I am not able to complete this task by the requested deadline. Being realistic, I could have it completed by end of next week. Let me know if okay for you, if not happy to discuss it in a call and work out alternative options.

When you need team support
Thank you for the proposal. The reality is that I am not comfortable taking on this task as it falls outside of goals for this fiscal year – I would propose to find someone in the team who could take over this task.

When you already have too much on the plate
I’m so sorry, but I am unable to take on any more responsibility currently.
I would propose to connect in a meeting to discuss how to redistribute my current workload so that I can better manage my scope.

How to say no to your boss asking you to come in

After the pandemic, more and more people are working from home and this increases the chances of clashing with your boss. (One at home the other in the office)

Imagine your boss is in the office, you are at home,
and you are requested to go to the office on very short notice.

No panic, this can happen. (And already happened to me!)

How to manage step by step:

  1. List for yourself the reason why you stayed at home (ie: doctor appointment, looking after the baby, waiting for a courier, not feeling good, private plan after work).

Try to be as sincere as possible. Don’t lie. Trust is key.
Of course,
if you decided to stay home for a job interview in another company, you will need to be creative.

Instead of: I stayed home because I have a job interview in 2 hours.
You can say: I stayed home because I have a private appointment in 2 hours

  • Call your manager and kindly explain the reason:

“Unfortunately, I will not be able to make it to the office due to [include the reason here], I am happy to connect on the phone as soon as possible”.

  • Set the ground for the future:

“Going forward I would propose that we can arrange the time at the office so I can plan accordingly”

If a call is not possible, you may need to manage it via email or Teams/Skype/Zoom.

In the same way it is important to say No, it is important how to say thank you to your colleagues at work.

Examples of how to say to your boss via email that you are not coming in

Some principles to consider while professionally saying no to your boss via email:

  • Keep it professional – don’t make it personal
  • A Reason – whenever possible provide a clear explanation of why you could not go to the office.
  • Looking to the future – suggest alternatives to how to manage the cooperation remotely.

When you are not able to go:
Thank you for the proposal request to come into the office.
Unfortunately, I am unable to do so currently due to [include reason]

You see it, but you don’t see it:
I see the need for in-person collaboration; however, I am currently unable to come into the office due to [include reason]. Could we manage the topic together remotely?”

Teams are always an option:
I am so sorry, but I am unable to come into the office at this time due to [include reason]. I would propose connecting on Teams to discuss the project and the next steps. Once again, so sorry.

It is 2023 – let’s go remotely:
Thank you for the request for an in-person meeting, but due to [include reason] I am not able to come to the office today. Would be possible for me to continue working remotely for the time being otherwise I would need to take the day off in-demand

Going to the office is important, but working with pyjama is more:
I understand the importance of going to the office, however, I am currently unable to come into the office due to [specific reason]. Could we schedule a meeting later today to discuss how we would like ot cooperate going forward?

Your boss may think that you are not being productive when working from home, show him/her you are following these tips for staying productive when working from home.

FAQ How to say no to your boss

Is it okay to say no to your boss?

Of course, it is okay to say no to your boss. Try to keep it polite, and professional and bring the relevant arguments why you are saying no.

How do you say no professionally?

Keep an open attitude, explain the reason why you are saying and try to offer an alternative.

How do you say I don’t want politely?

Thank you for the proposal, but…
I wish I could but …
I am afraid that …
I don’t see this happening …

Memes on how to say no to your boss:

When your boss is changing his mind

When you did not say no on time to your manager

When you just need to say No to your boss

Of course I can help with more workload

When you say No to your boss, but there is no impact.

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