How To Say No to Your Boss

Respectfully Decline an Assignment

Young employee working at computer in office with folders stacked on desk
Photo: Jamie Grill / Getty Images

You've carefully considered it, and you're dismayed to realize that it would be best if you didn't take on a new assignment from your boss. You may have several reasons for arriving at that conclusion. Maybe you are swamped with other work, or the new project requires skills you just don't have yet. Your justification for saying no to your boss may seem entirely legitimate to you, but will your boss agree? Is it okay to say no to your boss under these circumstances? It depends.

  • Saying no without experiencing any negative fallout can depend a great deal on the reason you provide.
  • Take a moment to honestly assess why you don't want to take on the work.
  • Avoid using personal reasons as an excuse.
  • Be honest and try to put the business's interests first.

How To Decide If You Should Say No to Your Boss

There are some valid reasons for turning down an assignment, but your boss may consider other reasons to be poor excuses. Ask yourself the following questions before you take action.

  • Are you already working on several high-priority assignments that leave no time for this one?
  • Does this project have a higher priority than your others?
  • Can you delegate some of your work to subordinates or coworkers?
  • Can you put some of your lower-priority assignments on the back burner while you work on this new project?
  • If you don't have the skills that are necessary to complete this assignment, can you acquire them quickly?
  • Are you the only person in the organization who has the skills and the background necessary to complete this assignment? Is your employer relying on you?

Then there are personal reasons that you might want to factor in but not necessarily share. How happy are you with your job overall? Would moving on to a new position or a different company be the worst thing that could happen to you? Do you have an emergency fund to carry you over if your boss doesn't take your response well?


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that health care costs are almost 50% higher for individuals who experience a great deal of job stress.

The Wrong Reasons To Say No to Your Boss

Don't turn down an assignment from your boss on a whim. The reasons listed here may seem like good ones, but they probably aren't good enough for your boss.

The Project Seems Too Challenging

Don't turn it down because it will be difficult if you have the skills to work on an assignment. Your boss expects you to work hard and won't look kindly on you turning down a project because it's going to take a lot of effort to complete.

It's Not Part of Your Job Description

Turning down an assignment because it's outside your job description is just wrong if you have the necessary skills to complete it.

You Have Personal Reasons

Maybe you're in the middle of planning your wedding, or you're about to go on vacation. Keep that information out of the discussion. You do not put a personal event ahead of your job, at least under most circumstances.


There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if your employer has already approved time off for you and it conflicts with your working on this project.

The Right Reasons To Say No to Your Boss

Your boss should be able to understand some reasons for bowing out of an assignment if they're relatively reasonable.

The Time Frame Just Doesn't Work

It's imperative to speak up if you've put together a plan to complete the project and you've realized that there just aren't enough hours available in the day to meet the deadline. It's better to explain why a stated time frame is unreasonable than to stay silent and ultimately fail to complete the assignment.

You'll Have To Neglect Other Work

If taking on the new project means neglecting all your other work, say no to your boss. Just be sure to explain why. They may decide to lighten the rest of your workload to free up your time.

You Don't Have the Required Skills

You have no choice but to decline a project if you don't have the necessary skills to complete it. Talk to your boss about acquiring them in time to work on any future projects that are similar. Perhaps they'll pay for your training.

How To Say No to Your Boss

Thoroughly explain your reasons for turning down an assignment, and don't wait too long to do it. Give your boss the opportunity to assign the project to someone else. Make it crystal clear that you've given it serious consideration. Your boss may help you delegate your other assignments if you're qualified to work on a project, but you simply have too much else to do.

Be Prepared

Be prepared to present a progress report of your other projects if your reason for saying no to your boss is that you don't have enough time to work on the project. They may not even remember assigning them to you, or they might not be aware that someone else did.

Be Honest

If you think your other work will suffer from taking on an extra assignment, explain that to your boss. They'll probably appreciate your honesty and your unwillingness to neglect your other projects. Admit it to your boss if you don't have the necessary skills to complete this assignment. It would be worse to pretend that you can do something when you really can't.

The Bottom Line

It's almost inevitable in any job that you'll eventually be asked to take on a task or responsibility that you just don't feel capable of dealing with...or that you just don't want to tackle. The art of saying no begins with making an honest, personal assessment of why you don't want to take on the extra work, then framing your response based on that to the most reasonable degree possible.

And Harvard Business Review points out that depending on what's being asked of you, you might want to dive in and give it your best shot in an effort to further your career. Ask yourself what's in it for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I say no to my boss without sounding rude?

Be sure to thank your boss for the opportunity first before you get into declining their request. Offering other suggestions to get the work done can help you avoid sounding rude as well.

How do you say no professionally?

Consider framing your response as though you're asking for advice. Try something along the lines of, "I could do that, but what other responsibilities should I delegate so I can get this done?" You're putting the decision in your boss's hands at this point, but you may end up having to take on the unwanted task anyway.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "STRESS...At Work."

  2. Harvard Business Review. "How (and When) to Say No to the Boss."

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