How To Say No When Work Calls You In  

Do you know how to say no when work calls you in? Perhaps you get that nervous, lower-than-life feeling when you think about telling your superiors you can’t cover a shift. Maybe you’re an avoidant person who screens your calls and pretends you aren’t home on your days off.

You might also be someone who answers the phone call with a heavily accented, “Non comprende.” Don’t worry if that’s you, because you’re not alone. This piece will help get you on the right side of declining work requests.

Why You Don’t Know How To Say No When Work Calls You In

Difficulty saying no is more common than you think. According to C Hughes-Hammer, more than 40 million Americans received codependency labels from their mental health practitioners.

People-pleasing behavior is a subdivision of codependency. Thus, you may have trouble telling anyone no if you’ve adopted those traits and tendencies.

Your reluctance to deny work requests may also come from a desire to avoid confrontation. That’s very likely if you’re someone who ignores your boss’s calls when seeing them on the caller ID.

Your preference might be to escape the situation to avoid upsetting your authority figure. Alternatively, you could be a nice person who wants to help and feels terrible because you can’t.

Perhaps you’re genuinely unclear about how to say no without being offensive. All the above reasons are common, but you can still learn how to say no.

12 Tips for Saying No When the Boss Calls You In

These are some effective strategies for saying no when your job asks you to work. Learn the art of being ready when that phone call comes, or your boss stops you at the door.

1. Set Your Boundaries

Setting your boundaries is the gateway to knowing how to say no with grace. You must know your limitations, obligations, and time-management preferences first.

Think about your family time, meeting schedules, and other work tasks you might have. Then, consider your “you” time, since recharging is crucial to your wellness.

List a solid block of time when you are unavailable to work and stick to the blueprint. You can update your availability with your employer before you get an unfavorable request, and they will most likely skip you when they’re down a worker.

2. Think About Why You Shouldn’t Say Yes

Agreeing to work when you don’t have the time can get you into trouble with unspoken commitments. Most employers have go-to people they regularly call whenever another employee calls out or shows up late.

You’ll be that go-to person if you accept the shift. Thus, it would help if you think carefully before saying yes. Consider refusing the offer if you don’t want to be on their slot-filler speed dial.

That doesn’t mean you should always say no, however. It means you should choose your projects wisely and explain to your boss that all agreements are single occurrences.

3. Do Not Feel Guilty

You have no reason to feel culpable if you can’t work on your day off or stay late after a shift. It’s not your responsibility to ensure that your workplace has a full staff.

Don’t allow yourself to take the world’s weight because your boss is in a jam. Only agree to it if you can fit it into your schedule, and you don’t mind earning a little extra cash.

4. Answer the Phone

It’s courteous to pick up your phone if your job calls you to come to work. It’s also okay to give your superiors that courtesy. Answering your phone and telling them no will give them the green light to contact someone else.

You may be uncomfortable with confrontation, but this situation isn’t anything to flee. Besides, your superiors may continue to reach out to you if you don’t let them know you’re unavailable.

The worst thing that will happen if you decline is they won’t call you again that day, or they’ll avoid calling you in the future. Both scenarios are win-win deals for you.

5. Don’t Explain Yourself Too Much

It’s acceptable to give a brief explanation of why you can’t work the extra hours, but you don’t have to give your boss a figurative speech and a long eulogy for your relationship. An empathetic boss will understand and not hold the decline against you.

A brief answer like, “I’m sorry. I have a lot on my plate right now,” effectively clarifies your answer and informs your boss of the situation. It implies that you would have done it if not overwhelmed with other responsibilities. Therefore, it will likely leave a friendly residue.

6. Be Firm in Your Decision

Many people make the mistake of allowing their bosses to get in their heads. They fall for the person’s desperate attempt to cover the shift by succumbing to guilt trips, threats, and tears.

This part can be tricky if you tend to people-please or feel responsible for other people’s dilemmas. Committing yourself to upholding your boundaries is vital because you’ll set the tone for future “coaxing” if you cave once and lose respect.

7. Don’t Lie To Your Boss

It’s counterproductive to use a dishonest approach to back out of a request to come to work. It tarnishes your integrity and destroys your employer’s trust if it’s insincere or ridiculous.

Additionally, lies tend to bring bad karma. For example, don’t tell your supervisor you can’t cover the shift because you’ve come down with a horrid virus. You might find yourself in bed with the same condition a week later.

You can use the honest less-is-more approach to combat the urge to excuse yourself with a fictional tale. “I’d love to help, but I’m feeling under the weather” is a more truthful reply. It means you’re demotivated and have no desire to come to work.

8. Offer Alternative Suggestions

You can offer an alternative solution as a good-faith gesture to show your boss you care. Perhaps you know another worker who’ll be an excellent proxy. Maybe that person has financial issues and wants to be more involved in picking up shifts.

You could pass the name to your manager to help him fill the slot while maintaining your refusal. “I can’t make it, but have you tried Chuck? I heard he’s looking for overtime opportunities.”

9. Be Formidable About the Decline

Avoid being snappy or angry when responding to your employer’s request. Many workers use unpleasant tones because their boss has the gall to call them on their days off.

Leaders often leaf through lists to find emergency workers, and they have no malicious intent in their minds. Thus, there’s no reason to give your boss a caustic response.

A simple “no” is enough. You can apologize to add an element of compassion to combat your guilty feelings if you like. Don’t repent for not coming in, but offer sympathy for your supervisor’s staffing woes.

10. Don’t Try To Match Others

Avoid comparing yourself to other people, and you’ll be halfway to knowing how to say no when your job targets you for overtime. For example, you don’t have to say yes to every request because you believe your employer favors the workers who do.

People honor such requests for various reasons, and jobs favor certain employees for others. The “teacher’s pets” at your workplace might not hold the title for the reason you think they do.

Your coworkers’ special favor could be independent of their willingness to fill shifts on request. Furthermore, you’ll always regret doing things you don’t want to do. So, let your no be a no, and your yes be a yes to stay strong.

11. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Don’t internalize it if your boss gives you a little heat for refusing the request. It doesn’t define you as a person. It just means your boss might need additional conflict resolution training. Thus, it would be best to disengage and let the words bounce off you after saying your peace.

12. Disconnect Quickly

You must learn the art of disconnecting swiftly without seeming rude. You might struggle with this part if you tend to people-please, but don’t fret. You’re not obligated to continue explaining yourself once you’ve answered the question.

Tell your employer you’re unavailable and expeditiously lead yourself out of the interaction. “I’m sorry, but my calendar is full today. I have an upcoming meeting, but keep me in mind next time. I’ll see you soon.”

That dialogue comes off sympathetic, slightly explanatory, and conciliatory simultaneously. The most glorious part is that it gives you a clean exit and doesn’t seem impolite.

Use the above guidelines to teach yourself how to say no when work calls you in. Alternatively, you can practice saying no to less urgent requests from other people to get used to it.

If all other solutions fail, look in the mirror and rehearse saying no several times a day. It will become second nature eventually.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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