As eyes-on-the-prize, career-driven women, we're all familiar with taking on extra work at the office—but are we creeping into yes-woman territory? According to new research, it's more difficult for women to turn down extra work than men, meaning that we find it harder to bow out of assignments that aren't part of our job description. While this could be attributed personality, the data shows it's actually social norms that are playing a major role.
"Women typically are regarded as nurturers and helpers, so saying 'no' runs against the grain of what might be expected of them," says Katharine O'Brien, a postdoctoral research associate at the Baylor School of Medicine, who conducted three separate studies on gender differences in declining workplace requests.
But the real question is: Is this inclination helping or hurting us? The answer is both. "As might be expected, women who said 'yes' to requests were more valued and regarded as 'team players,'" O' Brien explains. "Women feel a stronger sense of guilt when they say 'no' and feel bad when they do. In addition, they do not want to be denigrated by managers and coworkers. Those are powerful reasons why women are more likely to agree to extra work."
It will come as no surprise that favoring "yes" can have its drawbacks—and not just in your personal life. O'Brien cites an example where a woman who was always the first to take on additional projects overburdened herself and made it so she was unable to complete everything she'd taken on. (Sound familiar?) It ultimately made her miss out on an opportunity to move up.
When push comes to shove, it's all about striking that elusive perfect balance. Participants in the study were advised to say "I'll think about it and get back to you," and to consider what advice they would give their best friend. O'Brien also suggests asking three key questions before agreeing to more work:
1. Will saying yes help me be successful in the organization?
2. Will performing the request be something I would enjoy?
3. Will it take time and resources away from my job?
Try them and report back. We're all ears.
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