Career advice

Learn to say ‘no’ to excessive work

With many services stretched to breaking point, the pressure to take on more work than is good for you can be overwhelming. Mandy Day-Calder explains how you can resist.

With many services stretched to breaking point, the pressure to take on more work than is good for you can be overwhelming. Mandy Day-Calder explains how you can resist


Saying no to extra work can be difficult, but remember to take care of
your mind and body first. Picture: iStock

How often do you find yourself agreeing to last-minute overtime regardless of the impact it has on your personal life? With some trusts using social media and local radio stations to draft off-duty nurses, it’s now even harder to escape the demands on your time.

Unfortunately, your good will is not enough to solve the crisis the NHS is experiencing. However, by directing more kindness towards yourself and respecting your needs, you may feel more resilient and able to cope. So here we look at ways to stop saying ‘yes’ when your mind and body are screaming ‘no’.

Break the ‘yes’ habit

Many nurses are people-pleasers who get in the habit of saying yes to demands at work and at home. In the short term, saying yes can make you feel worthwhile or valued, but when commitments build up and your energy runs low, you can end up stressed, overwhelmed and less productive than if you had said no.

Catherine, a staff nurse who works in mental health, says: ‘I was once asked to work overtime in front of my colleagues who would be short staffed if I said no. So despite having personal plans, I felt pressured into saying I would stay on. However, I ended up feeling angry, frustrated and guilty, as it meant that, yet again, I missed time with my family. I spent the rest of the shift in a mood and probably wasn’t the nicest person to be around.'

You may initially feel that you are letting colleagues or family members down when you say no. It’s never easy to break a habit, so be patient with yourself. It may take you time and practice before you feel comfortable saying no, especially if your ability to put everyone else’s needs before your own has built up over many years.

  • Challenge your mindset: So often we put negative connotations onto saying no or looking after yourself. We think we are being selfish when in fact we are being self-aware. So focus instead on the positives of saying no to something, such as the fact that you are showing personal responsibility and professional accountability, displaying clear boundaries and committing to self-care.
  • Take a pause: Keep calm. When you are asked to do something, ask for some time to consider your options. This can be hard, especially if you are put on the spot or emotions are running high. But even a few minutes can help you gather your thoughts and see the bigger picture.
  • Listen to your body and your mind: Try to forget what you feel you ‘ought’ to do, and ask yourself are you able (e.g. energy-wise or time-wise) and willing to do it. This will help you feel more in control of your decisions.
  • Don’t beat yourself up: Once you have decided what to do, focus your energy in that direction. Try not to ruminate over other possible scenarios.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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