For most pharmacists reading this blog, our specialized training and commitment to work mean that we are high-achievers and take pride in doing our best. It also means we often already have a lot to do on our plates in our career. For the community pharmacist who is juggling accurately filling prescriptions, phone calls, and training new technicians, to patient counseling about new medications and new services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We notice pharmacists who barely have time to eat lunch and there are new COVID-19 vaccination or testing demands while coping with an already demanding schedule.
While the tasks may be different, clients from all disciplines from hospital to academic settings can all relate to an increased workload and the internal struggle to refuse doing work. However, when does it become too much? How can a pharmacist employee say “no” to tasks without feeling guilty? What about when you have no choice but to do the extra work? Where do you draw the line on work tasks given to you by management?
The reality is that there will always be a task to do. When you commit to more of it, you are doing so at the expense of something else, such as your family or personal time. It places you in a situation where you have so much to do while not having enough time available to do them. A situation Leslie Parlow describes as “time famine.” The inability of saying “no” to more work will only put you at risk of exhaustion, burnout, and depression. How you refuse work can also negatively impact your work relationship with management, clients, or colleagues. While it sometimes may be necessary to say “no,” how it is said is also important. You do not want to be seen as the individual with whom everyone avoids working with. You also do not want to give off the impression that you are a lazy pharmacist.
We realize this can be daunting and have come up with guidelines on how to say no while maintaining a healthy professional relationship. It is not a one-size-fits-all, but it may help you take small steps to making a change. For those of you who are already on the verge of burnout and also trying to make a career change, you may need this the most. You don’t want to burn any bridges on the way out, yet you also can’t afford to take on more work while you are figuring out your next steps in life.
Check out our recommendations:
1. Be clear on your goals and priorities
The key to getting comfortable with saying “no” is an awareness of what your priorities are. Make a list of your priorities and goals for both your work and personal life for the next few months. What area of your life is currently deficient and needs your attention? Are you comfortable with the time you currently spend with family? Are you devoting enough attention to your professional development? Once you can set your priorities right, it is easier to say no to any other thing that undermines your priorities. Your list is now your natural sieve to sift through extra requests.
2. Provide an alternative
Once you are clear that you do not have the time or desire to commit to a project, you do not want to come off as mean or simply unwilling to help. One way to achieve this is by making room for a soft landing by suggesting an alternate arrangement. The aim here is to meet halfway where you are not committing to the full request but offering to help in a little way that is convenient for you. You may also ask the requester to put off for a little while you clear your current schedule. It would help if you showed empathy to the person making the request in your tone of communication and body language.
3. Be candid and clear with your feedback
In looking for an easy way out of a request, there is a tendency to say “no” using the most superficial reasons. The problem here is that management or colleagues may see through the camouflage to discern that you are not sincere. It can get awkward when they see you idle for an extended period after you decline a request because you need to attend to a task. You can avoid all this by being straightforward with your reasons. Highlight the other activities you need to do or your reservations about the task clearly.
4. Deliberately practice saying “no”
Exercise and practice is the best way to grow a muscle or learn a habit. Making the switch will not be smooth, especially if you have already made it a habit of taking up more work than you can normally handle to your personal detriment. You have built a reputation with clients and colleagues as the go-to person for additional responsibilities. However, just like any other skill, it can be learned and practiced. Say “no” often to yourself and watch out for your tone and accompanying mannerisms. With the passage of time and repetition, you will get comfortable doing it! Also, learn different ways to say “no” nicely.
5. Be prepared to accommodate other’s feelings
Despite trying your best to follow these guidelines in your daily interactions, you may still be misunderstood. That is no fault of yours and is bound to happen. Allow yourself space and time if the person who asked you to take on more work does not respond kindly. Don’t take their reactions personally. While your reasons may be genuine and you have communicated in an empathetic manner, the other party may still feel upset. You cannot control that reaction, and you should get comfortable with that. The other option is to allow emotions to color your rational thought process and try to please everybody. But if you go down that road, it leads back to not meeting your personal and professional goals.
We understand that work situations are unique, and certain scenarios cannot be avoided. However, with these suggestions, we hope you have some ideas on how to cope with the various work requests moving forward. Always remember your goals. You must remain effective in your role while ensuring your credibility and mental health are not negatively affected by avoidable circumstances.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.