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How to Say No in Public Accounting Without Killing Your Career


It’s the thick of busy season, you are swamped, and one of your managers comes by your desk to ask, “Can you pick up this job for me? It should only take 10 hours.” What should you say? You are already stressed out but you want to be seen as a team player and a dedicated employee.

There is a delicate balance between always saying yes and always saying no. Always say yes and you run the risk of being taken advantage of and going into one of the stages of burnout. Not a pretty picture. Always say no and then you run the risk of not being seen as a team player or having the lowest billable hours in your department. Also not a good thing.

So how do you balance it? How do you say no so you can avoid burnout without killing your career? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give a realistic timeline for when you can deliver — In this situation, you are not saying, “No,” you are just saying, “Not right now.” Stay up to date on your deadlines. This is when knowing the amount of hours and the internal deadline for each job is vital. If you have 4 projects that take priority, communicate that and say you could work on the job next week. Your manager may or may not be fine with this timeline and it is up for her to decide. Or find someone else. That is much better than saying yes to the job, reluctantly agreeing on a timeline, and then not being able to deliver on time. That is the worst.
  • Offer an alternative solution — Most of the time, a handful of staff get asked to do everything. This can create an uneven distribution of the workload. Stay connected with your colleagues so you have an idea of who is slow and who is slammed. Even though this person wants to work with you specifically, you can offer an alternative solution when you are unavailable. By saying, “I can’t pick this up today but John just told me he is slow and looking for work,” you are creating a potential win-win solution. If she really wants to work with just you, reference back to number #1 above.
  • Make sure your billable hours are solid Most firms these days send out billable hour reports. Look at yours to review your yearly goals and compare to your colleagues. As long as you are in the average range, then it is OK to say no without feeling guilty about it.

By learning how to say no, you are actually helping your career not killing it. You are setting realistic boundaries, avoiding burnout and communicating effectively.

Post your best stories and suggestions on how you have said no. What was the result?