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Are you committing at work more than you should?

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Saying 'yes' at work instead of 'no' could be killing both innovation and productivity.

How often do you say ‘yes’ to something at work, when you know you should really say ‘no’?

You’re not alone.

Perhaps you’re already working at capacity. Perhaps the idea is a terrible one, but you think saying ‘no’ will make you look bad — so you commit anyway. Either way, it’s a bad idea.

According to a 2016 survey by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, every year full-time Australian workers put in, on average, more than five hours a week in unpaid overtime — including staying late, working through breaks, taking work home and answering emails out of hours.

That’s not insignificant. Collectively, it’s worth $116 billion to the national economy. For each overworked full-time employee, it equates to about $10,000 a year in lost income. That figure averages $7,500 a year for part-time workers.

Apparently, we just find it really hard to say no. We just don’t want to disappoint our bosses and colleagues — or tell them their idea isn’t a good one. But that’s not a healthy thing — and it’s about more than just stress and our capacity to do the job.

An article in the Harvard Business Review recently explained it like this:

When we overcommit ourselves, we spend our time checking things off a list rather than actually creating value. This problem has ramped up in recent years, as likability has become a key determinant in landing jobs and other professional opportunities.

“But here’s the trouble with having a corporate culture built around likability: When people are afraid to turn down noncritical projects, good ideas get smothered. Without the ability to say ‘no’ to low-level tasks in order to say ‘yes to groundbreaking ones, people stop innovating. This misuse of talent is rampant in large organisations today.”

So creating a culture where your team feels unable to say ‘no’ is actually bad for business, too. It can have a direct and negative effect on your results, output, bottom line — however you want to measure your success.

Harvard suggests cultivating a healthier mindset for your organisation. Here are the key points.

Assess the value of every project

Rate initiatives on a scale of one to 10, based on criteria like costs, potential revenue, and so on. It removes subjectivity and makes the value of each project or idea objective.

“The next time an executive asks the team to change course, it can be measured against these criteria,” the article explains.

Measure failure metrics as well as success

Most of us measure the success of any project, but how often could we have known a project was going to fail if we’d set failure standards, too? Don’t let your team waste time on projects and ideas once they’ve got to a point where it has become clear they are not worth the time, expense and effort. Everyone is better off and more efficient if time can be rationalised to ensure they’re only working on worthwhile projects.

Remove the taboo

Make it OK in your workplace to say ‘no’ — whether that’s to bad ideas and projects, or good ideas that aren’t actually good enough, or to taking on extra work when you’re already working at capacity. This creates space for innovation.

“Encourage your departments and individual team members to determine their cutoffs, and observe how that changes the quality of their output,” the article recommends.

And finally, reward initiative

Learn when to say ‘yes’, too. If there’s a really good idea with fantastic potential, don’t stifle it. It could be just the innovation you need. If you’re saying ‘no’ to ideas and projects that don’t quite pass muster, then your team should have the capacity to take on more work for the right idea when it comes up.