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Stop Being the "Work Wife"! How to Say "No"

Image of potluck with blog post title

Let’s face it—most of us donor relations professionals are people pleasers. But often times, our kindness and can-do attitudes get us taken advantage of. In some communities it is known as unpaid labor, office housework, non-promotable tasks, and other items. I see it as unacceptable labor we are asked to do simply because we are women, and they know we rarely say no.

Here are some common ones:

  • Note-taking during a meeting

  • Filling in when someone is on leave for no pay

  • Serving on a committee

  • Organizing a potluck or holiday party

  • Ordering in lunch for meetings

  • Booking meetings

Women, especially, need to be mindful of how we are using our time at work. As a woman, are you raising your hand more often for office housework? Remember: work smart, not hard. Office housework should be divided equally among everyone. Be mindful of your time and energy, and spend more time in the strategy. You either work longer hours or, if you don’t have that ability, then you have to squeeze it in during the workday and it will squeeze out your other work and work that will advance you, your team, or your program.

It's time to say "no". Say "no" to this work and this lifestyle. But how do you say ‘no’? Here are some responses I’ve gleaned from research and articles on the subject:

  • For example, “I was hired to do X and doing Y would take away time from completing X well.”

  • For on-the-spot requests like ordering lunch, I’ve said, “I really need to be present during this discussion as it’s critical to what I’m working on.”

  • If you have a good sense of humor, you might use this as well — "Research shows that I’m more likely to get asked to do this kind of thing than you, and that you’re going to like me less when I decline. But guess what I’m going to do?"

Some of you might be saying, well this makes me look difficult or disagreeable, Lynne, and I like doing these things—it gives me a break from my work. However, I’m here to tell you there is an imbalance. Look at the people who complete these tasks—are they at the top of your organization? Do these efforts get rewarded? The pressure to be a good team player is not just an internal pressure women face. It’s saying no to things so you can do the things that you were hired for and really care about—that’s what it’s all about! So, your desire to focus on your own areas of expertise and work hard based on your well-honed skills should be viewed as a positive.

Organizing baby showers for teammates or mentoring new employees may or may not be enjoyable for those who take on these responsibilities. And honestly, it doesn’t actually matter. Regardless of whether someone enjoys doing these tasks or not, there can be a negative impact. An impact on how they are perceived, on the work they need to deliver, and ultimately, an impact on their career.

I love to hear from you all, so please, submit your most hated “office wife work”! Are there other tactics you use to say no? And finally, if you see a lot of yourself in this post, it’s time to empower yourself to say, "no!"


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