Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is It Ever Okay to Say ‘No’ At Work?

Hey Edsters,

Yesterday, I received my mom’s monthly magazine package in the mail. The package is my lifeline: My mom graciously forwards me 7 pounds worth of magazines every month so I can keep up with my 10 different subscriptions that are each equally necessary to my growth as a savvy magazine industry individual (despite everyone else’s addiction suspicions).

I cracked open Marie Claire and flipped through to my favorite section, Marie Claire @ Work, when a particular headline stopped my flipping fingers dead in their tracks. It was an article on the “latest type of workforce discrimination;” apparently, single girls are finding it harder to retain a work-life balance then the married-with-kids set. Work is getting delegated to the single people who are assumed to have more time to toss around at the office, while parents are rigidly retaining a 9-5 work schedule.

I’m not sure how valid the argument is, because I know that if I was a working parent, I would be a whole lot more likely to lay down rules about when I can and can’t be in the office vs. if I’m single and looking to work my way up the ladder. As a non-married person, I’m probably much more likely to take up extra work, whether I need to or not, because I don’t have the same commitments and I’m eager to show how much chutzpah I’ve got. What struck me most in the article was what one woman said who was countering the discrimination argument. “No one respects people who are slaves to the job. Build the muscle to say ‘no.’”

I said “no” for the first time over the Fourth of July weekend.  The day before I headed home to visit family and take a much-needed little vacation, my editor emailed me. She confirmed that the office would be closed that Thursday and Friday, and then casually, at the end of the email, she slipped in that if I still had time to complete a Friday features article, she’d assign it to me. Since it was a holiday, the choice was mine.

I knew she was expecting me to say yes. We’ve worked together on and off for over a year now, and she’s accustomed to my dog-like work ethic. I stared at the email for a couple of minutes, imagining the hours that would take away from the family (and boyfriend’s family) gatherings that had been pre-planned and packed into my three-day vacation. And, even worse then that would be the prickling feeling of stress in the back of my mind that would set up camp as soon as I accepted the assignment, and wouldn’t dissipate until I had turned the article in.

I know I’m not even an employee of the company yet and, as interns, the competition is way too fierce these days to make any serious wrong moves. But maybe there is something to that woman’s quote, that no one respects people who are slaves to their job. I don’t have enough industry experience to assert whether that’s true or not, but I do know that I never want to be considered a slave to my job. At the end of the day, even though this industry would beg to differ, I refuse to let my work define my life.

So, I said no. Specifically, I apologized for not being available, and said I was traveling home over the holiday so I wouldn’t be able to complete the assignment. And, at least over email lingo, she seemed totally cool with it. I’ll watch to see if anything’s changed over the next couple of weeks due to my decision, but I’m willing to bet that it’s really not that big of a deal to say no every once in awhile.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you given the opportunity to take on extra work and refused? How do you determine the work-life balance?

Until next week,

Ed’s Entertainment Intern

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