It’s time to reevaluate how women handle conflict at work. Being overworked or over-committed at home and on the job will not get you where you want to be in life. It will only slow you down and impede career goals that you have set. Did you know that women are more likely than men to feel exhausted? Nearly twice as many women than men ages 18 to 44 reported feeling “very tired” or “exhausted” (15.7% vs. 8.7%), according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
This may not be surprising given that this is the age range when women have children. It’s also the age range when many women are trying to balance careers, as well as the home front. One reason women may feel very tired is that they have a hard time saying “no.” Women want to be able to do it all—volunteer for school parties, accept new business projects or cook gourmet meals—and so their answer to any request is often “Yes, I can do that.”
Women struggle to say “no” in the workplace for similar reasons, including the desire to be viewed as a hard worker and team player or simply be liked by their colleagues. Unfortunately, this inability to say “no” may be hurting women’s health as well as their career.
More women than men (37% vs. 33%) reported feeling “tense” or “stressed” at work, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. Job-related stress can lead to health concerns such as impaired sleep, depression, substance abuse, diabetes and heart disease. In addition, having employees work late into the evening or pull all-nighters is not good for a company’s bottom line. According to studies, working extra hours does not yield more productivity. The opposite may actually be true. If your job centers on communication or reading people, then being tired makes those decisions more difficult and can lead to careless mistakes.
Most people realize working long hours will take a toll on their health, home life or ability to properly do their job. Yet, they still struggle to set boundaries. Women, in particular, may believe they have to say “yes” to earn the respect of their boss. Or, it may be the result of a fundamental gender difference in how men and women handle conflict.
In general, men use conflict as a way to position themselves. Whereas, women often avoid conflict or strive to be the peacemaker, because they don’t want to be viewed as aggressive or have the disruption at work. For example, there is a problem at work that needs to be addressed immediately, resulting in a dispute over who should be the one to fix it. Men are more likely to face that dispute from the perspective of what benefits them the most—stepping in to fix the problem because it’s a crucial component to the business and may get them accolades or pushing the problem off onto someone else because its grunt work. Whereas, women may approach the same dispute from the perspective of what is the easiest and quickest way to resolve the problem—even if that means doing the grunt work themselves or taking a backseat on a key element of the business plan.
This difference in handling conflict could be the deciding factor on who gets promoted to a leadership position and who does not. Leaders have to be able to delegate and manage resources wisely—including staff expertise. Shouldering more of the workload may not earn you that promotion. Instead, it may highlight your inability to delegate effectively.
If you struggle to say “no” (and, yes, men struggle with this as well), here are three tips to help you evaluate work requests and decline them in a manner that won’t hinder your career.
1. Follow Your Gut Instinct. Most people have a good sense when a work request should be turned down. The key is following your gut. Ask yourself whether or not the request is reasonable by evaluating if it will help your career, if you have the time and expertise to do it well and if it will negatively impact your work-life balance. Once you have your answer, you can accept or decline the request. If you are asked to take on project that is not a company priority, be honest and say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t commit to this right now and give it my best effort.”
2. Know Your Job Description. When you are asked for help on a project for a job that you used to do or for something that is grunt work, it’s important to know your job duties. Then, you can refer the request to the correct person or respond that it will impede your ability to do your current job. You can say, “Jane Doe handles that job component now,” or “Unfortunately, that does not fit into my current role and I don’t have the resources to manage that right now.”
3. Be Realistic On Time. When your boss or co-worker asks you for help on a last minute project, it’s important to be honest regarding any time constraints—especially if it will impact the quality. You could say, “I know this is a high priority, but the end result would be superior if I can have another day or two to complete it,” or “I am already working on another project that is also a priority. Would you prefer me to finish this first?”
Only 14% of the top leaders at companies are women. In order for women to break that barrier, they need to be strong, courageous and know when to say “no” so they can perform at the top of their game.