Dear Molly, How Do I Tell My Boss ‘No’?

So this is a little different than some of the questions I’ve seen you get, but I think I remember you work in business or marketing? I was hoping you could help me with something. My boss is always asking me to do things on off hours and I don’t get paid overtime. Like I’ll have to come in on Saturdays or weeknights. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the job or lazy, but I also need my weekend. How can I tell her “no” without coming off the wrong way?


First, what your boss is doing could be illegal in your state. I highly suggest investigating further.

Second, this is definitely the right place to ask those kinds of questions! Context, in my 9-5 I’m a Director of Business Development and Marketing for a digital back shop. I always advise my friends on how to negotiate a contract or raise, how to advocate for yourself in the workplace, and how to say ‘no’.

If you consider yourself a millennial or Gen-Z then you’ve likely been told for the majority of your professional career that you are “too entitled”. We all know that the boomer generation thinks that we take everything for granted, but the truth is that we (and clearly you) do not. Instead, in an effort to prove that we aren’t entitled we allow ourselves to be overworked. In my first year as a salaried employee I used less than five (of my 15) PTO days. It took a little time for me to realize that you don’t need to justify not constantly being at work. You don’t need to check your work email before you brush your teeth in the morning and after you’ve had dinner each night. You don’t need to spend your weekend’s tethered to your inbox. You are allowed and free to take time away, and you should.

Next time your boss comes to you with an off-hours request that you don’t feel comfortable taking simply say:

“I won’t be available.”

It’s that simple. You don’t need an excuse, a fake doctor’s appointment, you don’t need to say you’d “rather not give up your off-day”. You don’t need to give a why.

Simply stating that you “won’t be available” is a clean way of expressing that you are not an option. Be polite, be sympathetic, you can even phrase it as “I’m sorry, but I won’t be available”, but don’t make an excuse. If your boss is professional they will respect this as a “no” and move on. However, they might not be professional. Here are a few follow-ups that you may get and how to handle:

/ “Why?” “I have a prior commitment.” Even if that commitment is just to you and refreshing yourself for another week of work. You matter and are allowed to take time for yourself.

/ “Can you reschedule? We really need you.” “I’m afraid not. Maybe someone else can come in?”

/ “Are you sure you’re not available?” “Sorry, but yes I am sure.”

/ “What is your prior commitment? What will you be doing?” “Sorry, but that’s personal.”

If you don’t provide a why you distance yourself from any pressure that an unprofessional boss is going to attempt to lay on you.

You need to learn how to say ‘no’ in a professional space just as much as in a personal space. 




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