Even if you don't identify as a 'yes' person, it can still feel difficult to say no, especially to your boss. Many can find themselves in an uncomfortable position when a manager or supervisor asks for volunteers. Particularly if you are balancing a cancer diagnosis and treatment with work, you may feel as though you need to 'make up' for something. The fact is, setting boundaries in life, and specifically at work, can instill confidence and put you in a better position to be in control of your own time and energy. When navigating cancer, this position of control can be important when so many things, your health for example, are simply out of your control.
An article in CNN Business outlines how to know when it's appropriate, and beneficial, to say no at work. First, it's important to recognize non-promotable tasks. These are tasks that are not tracked, evaluated or even thanked for. Ultimately does completing this task add anything to your professional value in your role? Does it assist you in moving up? If the answer is no, it may be a good idea to rethink whether you want to be the one to volunteer for the extra responsibility. Studies have also found that these types of asks are more commonly made of women than to men, and that women are more likely to say yes to them, whether they have the space on their plate or not. This puts yet another obstacle in the path of professional upward mobility for women.
Setting professional boundaries can be really challenging. No one wants to say no to their boss, so unfortunately, those with a diagnosis may plan beyond their bandwidth to keep employers happy. The dilemma here is, if you don't have the capacity (energy-wise, mentally, physically, etc.) to take on the extra work, you may start seeing a decline in the responsibilities that actually are required in your role. The key to setting effective boundaries in the workplace is crafting language that feels natural and communicates the "no" message in a way that is still professional and team oriented. Cancer and Careers refers to this as "Professional No's". An example of this may be that your boss asks you to set up the conference room for an upcoming board meeting, but that's not part of your job and you are unable to come into the office early that day due to a doctor's appointment. You can say "I appreciate that you thought of me to help out with preparing for the meeting, but unfortunately with the way my schedule is currently set up, I'm unable to assist with this task". While it can be nerve-wracking to deny a request from your boss, it's important that they are able to respect your time and energy as well.
For more approaches to setting boundaries in the workplace, join us for our upcoming Balancing Work & Cancer Webinars on Communicating Effectively (Part 1 and Part 2) on Wednesday, September 13th and Wednesday October 4th, respectively. Additionally, be sure to check out the recording of our Setting Boundaries webinar held in 2022. And always, feel free to reach out to staff at Cancer and Careers at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or would like to talk through a specific scenario!