Saying “no” to working late

A reader writes…

Dear Anita, 

My boss regularly hands me a stack of ASAP work at 4:45 in the afternoon, as I’m getting ready to wrap up my day. I’m happy to work after hours, but I also have a family.  How can I politely tell her “no” to working late?

Dear “Worker Bee,”

I completely understand your predicament.  On the one hand, you’re grateful to HAVE a job these days and are presumably a hard worker and a dedicated employee.  On the other hand, you have your other “full-time” job waiting for you at home – that of tending to meals, helping with homework, and being actively involved with your family.  So how do you tactfully say “no can do” to your boss?  Worse yet is seeing HER leave for the day as you’re left with a stack of “to-dos!”

Should you:

1. Throw the work back at your boss and tell her to shove it? 

  • ABSOLUTELY NOT! (Even though you’d probably love to!)


2. Politely accept the work, stay late into the evening, and let your family know you’re going to be late… AGAIN.

  • Hmmm… tough call. The fact is, in most jobs there are occasions when you have to put in those extra hours and plug away at something.  For some people, this is EVERY DAY. The point is, you don’t want this to become the norm.  Work-life balance is essential – not only for your own well-being, but for the people around you.  Productivity suffers when you’re feeling stressed and overworked.  It can also have a huge impact on your personal relationships.

It’s important that you have a heart-to-heart with your boss and make sure there’s a clear understanding of the job and expectations of your time.  At some companies, you “clock in” and “out” with a set schedule – no overtime.  At others, you need to work as long as it takes to get the job done. It can vary from place to place. Keep in mind that in some instances overtime is unlawful (exempt vs. non-exempt).  If you’re being asked to put in extra hours, make sure you are being compensated according to the law.  For more information, visit: 

Frequently receiving a stack of ASAP work at the end of the day, sounds pretty rough.  If anyone, it sounds like your BOSS could use some time management training!  Perhaps you can suggest ways for her to filter projects to you earlier in the day, set reminders, or be more proactive about what’s to come.  

Remember to always remain professional, but do your best to open up the lines of communication… before you start feeling resentful!

Hey readers…  Are you working in a similar situation?  What about the bosses out there… do you find yourself doing this to YOUR employees? 


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diana
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 17:43:41

    It is just awful! My boss does the same to me. He expects me to be there and probably keep him company for the night or something. The worst thing is (and I am not saying that because I hate him- it is just the reality) that my boss is smelling so badly. He is 34, fat and wears the same clothes every day. He smells so badly, I mean anyone can feels it- it’s POOR Hygiene! And coworkers feel it too, but they just mind their paycheck and that’s it.

    Yes, I keep refusing him politely every end of the day. I told him nicely that I am not using my break (one hr), I am eating at my desck working- I am an accountant_ and I am offering one more hr here and there,, but I am trying not too. I am divorced mom with 2 children, and I just do not want to stay late. The company already gave me a letter with the last day of work- which was Sept 30th, and that day, they offered me 3 more months until December 31st. Regardless, I have no reasons to stay. They don’t have the funds to afford me there. :0 But I qualify for Unemployment Ben for a while. – I mean few months.



  2. m.capriola
    Jul 11, 2011 @ 10:59:38

    Regarding D. Johnson’s comments:

    Yeah, the corporate beast tends to treat people as cogs in the machine, or as Scott Adams pointed out, “It’s called Human Resources because it’s meant to be strip-mined.”

    Just this morning I read an article in the “Economist” pointing out that excessive workloads and “multi-tasking” tend to
    1. increase worker and workplace stress levels,
    2. decrease creativity, and
    3. decrease productivity.

    Number Three should raise some warning flags with management, assuming that the ostrich in charge pulls its head out and takes a look around.



  3. m.capriola
    Jul 11, 2011 @ 10:52:58

    If the boss hands you a pile of work at 4:45 pm and then heads out the door, ASAP must mean first thing in the morning. So go home at 5 and come in 30 or 60 minutes earlier in the morning.

    If the boss is unhappy with that simply point out that you can’t do overtime on 15 minutes notice because of family obligations.



  4. kitty
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 10:47:50

    Ask her if you can take it home and fax it to the office… If she/he says no then Ask her is it ok to stay a extra 2 hrs but I can’t stay all night. If they say no then ask what would be reasonable for her/him to do. Then if they say you have too work late then continue staying late but look for an other job so that way you have a job to fall back on if your boss fires you when you ask her/him again that you have a family and can’t keep staying late for ever.



  5. maria
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 06:43:39

    My husband went through a similar situation. Human Resources told him work or your family…. My husband told HR “you are putting me in a position that you are going to loose”. Even though in these tough economic times my husband was able to get a job that pays him way more than the previous job and only works M-F… and some overtime which is rare. My husband is more happy. Keep the faith… family comes first… of course we need work in order to survive but we don’t need to suffer and neither does our family either. Good luck.

    P.S. The company that gave him such hard time end up closing their doors to business.



  6. Eric G.
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 06:25:49

    –Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance–
    –Lack of planning on Your part does Not equate a emergency on My part–



  7. Guest
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 15:23:13

    Speak you mind about the situation. If your boss can not respect you enough to be open with her then it is no place you want to work for the long term. I never let anyone hold my job over my head, I have too many talents to be mistreated by anyone.



  8. D. Johnson
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 09:33:16

    This story has become the norm in most companies today. As our economy has suffered so has the way companies need to operate to stay profitable. I know it sounds as though “worker bee” has a boss that needs to post a time management matrix on the way in his/her office, I wonder if it’s due to the pressure s/he is under due to downsizing, expense cuts, corporate pressures, etc, etc.

    I was a media director with a 20 employee department that was cut to 7. I was also one of the top 3 people in the company responsible for P&L. And I too had a boss that couldn’t find a time management skill to save his soul and we all suffered for his flaw.

    I cannot count the amount of times that he would email, call or text me during the evening (one time at 11:30 pm) and say that we have a fire drill because corporate needed a report NOW! And there were times we found out that he had known about these reports days prior but due to his poor time management skills, we always ended up at the ‘back end’ of the deal.

    Nonetheless, the same amount of work had to get done. I found myself taking on most of the responsibility as the cutbacks and changes were thrust upon us. There was one other person, my #2, that also was burdened with this responsibility and together we did the best we could to hold things together. We were both working in excess of 70, and sometimes 80, hours a week, both day and night and many weekends. I know that may sound excessive but it’s more than true.

    At one point my boss asked me if something was wrong. “You just don’t seem like your normal self lately. Is something wrong?” Really?! I responded, that meeting the expectations of the company for the past 18 months since the cutbacks and changes took place had finally taken a toll on me and that I was exhausted (And I was too). He said, “Was there a problem?” And there are several other examples I can provide you of the same nature.

    At the end of the day we were expected to get the job done; period! And regardless of the hours, time of day duties were expected, who it affected, how bad my bosses time management skills were, etc, that’s just the way it was. I tried to suggest to my boss ways that he and I could work closer so we could expedite these expectations in a less stressful more timely manner, stating how it was affecting not only me but the associates throughout the company as well. And again, neither he nor our corporate entities, cared. This was a matter of getting the job done and if you didn’t like the system you could leave and they’d find someone else to do the job that wouldn’t complain. Needless to say, I voluntarily left that company not long after that as they simply beat me into the ground. FYI, my #2 left the company 30 days after I left and so did many others.

    I think “worker bee” should just do what she has to in order to retain her job as long as no laws are being broken. And I agree with you that she should try to tactfully offer suggestions on how they might come to an accord on when the duties are presented to her (When possible – understanding that fire drills and mistakes do sometimes happen). If this doesn’t work then I would say it’s time to move along. But “worker bee”, don’t quit the job before you find something to replace it with because the market is extremely tough right now. Trust me, there are a lot, A LOT, of “worker bees” out there that would do your job, with overtime, and never say a word about it and your boss knows that. Careful.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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