The Power of Saying No: The Secret To Avoiding Work-From-Home Burnout

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many of us have had to adjust our lives to working from home which definitely has its benefits. I certainly don't miss commuting. That being said, working from home can get tiresome if not done correctly, that’s why so many of us face burnout. In 2020, a Gallup poll indicated that fully remote workers experience more burnout than the average on-site employee.

Work related stress, anxiety and fatigue are all very common things to experience, but this doesn't mean it should be normalised. Instead, let's normalise saying ‘no’. By saying ‘no’ more often not only do you establish boundaries in the workplace, but you're also able to set a healthier work/life balance. 

 No one likes to be difficult, there's always a fear that by saying ‘no’ you’re going to let people down and they’re going to think less of you, but there's so much power in that two letter word. ‘No’ lets people know that your time is valuable, that you’re not an infinite resource that anyone can tap into at any time and that your time needs to be respected.

We need to tap into that value and use it to our advantage because nothing is worth sacrificing our mental health for. 


In order to implement the power of saying ‘no’ we need a better understanding of burnout and its symptoms. The World Health Organisation defines burnout as “Chronic workplace stress that has not been properly managed”. This stress is a response to dealing with your working conditions, this stress can give you a low mood, make you feel lethargic, fatigued and restless. 

Depending on the nature of your work, the demands of your workload, if not properly managed, can make the times where you’re not working very stressful as you’re constantly thinking about work and the things you have to do. The anxiety that comes as a result of this stress can have some serious physical and mental effects. This can impact your sleep, causing stress induced insomnia as well as loss of appetite or overeating to cope. Some people turn to alcohol, prescription medication or over exercising to deal with their stress. 



Before saying ‘no’ you have to really ask yourself why you don't want to do something, is it to do with added stress? Are you scared of failure or are you just not comfortable with doing something unfamiliar? These questions are important because they’re going to frame how you communicate saying ‘no’. A clear understanding of your current workload and what you can handle is essential as it's going to justify your reasons for rejecting tasks. 

On top of this, you also need to ask your boss some questions before actually saying ‘no’ so that they know you’re not impulsively rejecting things and that you're taking the time to think about it. Make sure you fully understand what’s being asked of you, ask about the deadlines, the time frames, the resources available to you and their expectations. Once you’ve got the answer to these questions, you may actually want to reconsider saying ‘no’ if there are some perks, or if the time frame is a lot longer than you expected. 


The key to saying ’no’ correctly is all about communication, how you tell your employer ‘no’ is going to impact your relationship, that’s why we have to be careful about how we’re setting boundaries. If you’re rude in your approach then undoubtedly you’re going to start burning bridges which is not going to help you in the long run, especially if you aim for things like promotions and pay rises. 

There's an art to saying ‘no’ and it’s all about being confident, concise and thoughtful. When asked to take on something you can't handle, avoid  phrases like ‘I’ll have to think about it’ or ‘can I let you know?’ as these are vague statements that aren't very helpful to your employer and yourself. 

Instead, be specific and say ‘Thank you for the opportunity, but I want to prioritise my current workload as I've still got X Y and Z to complete and I want to give this my full attention’. This lets your employer know that you’re committed to the work you’re doing and encourages them to appreciate that. Alongside this, offer alternatives to help your employer by saying ‘I can't take this on right now, but maybe I could assist after my deadline’ or’ I'd be happy to recommend colleagues who would be perfect for this’. 

Make sure you maintain confidence with saying no, don’t be afraid to look abrasive, as long as you’re offering alternatives and explaining the reasons specifically why you can't take on more work, then you’re doing the right thing. 


It is essential to figure out the correct times to say ‘no’, if you’ve already agreed to take on a huge workload and you’re working under a deadline, then saying no two days before the deadline is just going to add more stress to your employer and colleagues. 

Instead, schedule meetings with your boss at the beginning of the month or before you even start new projects and tell your boss that you have a maximum working capacity. Letting your employer know prior to commitments that you have boundaries is going to prevent anyone from being overwhelmed, this also helps your employer manage their expectations of you and what you can handle.

 Remember, smashing a smaller workload is much better than doing a mediocre job with a huge task. By focusing on a smaller range of responsibilities, your chances of succeeding are much higher as you don't have to worry about dividing your energy between so many different things. Saying ‘no’ is the key to maintaining a healthy quantity and quality of work, so go at a pace you’re comfortable with. 

The key takeaway from this needs to be that nothing is worth sacrificing your mental health for. Our jobs are important, but so is our mental state. By avoiding the urge to say yes to everything we can become more productive and better employees, but this change has to start from within. Repeat this mantra, ‘Just Say No!’

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