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It’s OK to Say No to More Work


Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.

I am a freelance copy editor and proofreader with a current gig that I like a lot. My problem: This department loves team building. During a biweekly meeting, the senior director paired us off to discuss a “fun” question and reported on it via a chat forum. Because I’m listed as an optional attendee for this meeting, I’ve stopped going. I hate this kind of corporate forced togetherness.

When I don’t attend these meetings, the other person assigned to me will contact me later and ask to do the discussion. I’ve agreed twice. That’s 30 minutes I spend in a nonwork discussion I do not feel I can ethically bill on my invoice.

This company relies heavily on contractors to get their work done and prides itself on treating us “just like employees.” I worry I’m going to be seen as “anti-team.” That’s not inaccurate, of course, but could it hurt my chances to keep going as a contractor on work I enjoy? The editing and proofreading I’m providing is valued; they’ve said so! Why is cuddling up to the team viewed as so important that I wonder whether I’ll be kept around for what I am paid to provide? I’m not sure I feel empowered to draw boundaries based entirely on what I am comfortable invoicing. What should I do?

— Anonymous, Chicago

Work is work whether it’s proofreading or participating in team-building activities. Power through your invoicing discomfort and bill the company accordingly for all time spent doing team-building and other mandatory fun activities. This sort of mandatory fun seems to be central to this company’s culture so you have to decide if you can tolerate it. You’re being compensated fairly. Your work is respected. You like your job. This isn’t so bad a circumstance. That said, your boundaries are important so if you truly want to freelance for companies where there is no mandatory fun, it’s time to find another gig.

I started a business 11 years ago that has become quite successful. The demand has been crushing. I have a few good team members but because the whole industry is surging, I can’t hire enough good people to keep up, and I don’t expect this condition to end any time soon. I say “no” to a lot of potential customers and I am already good at erecting boundaries around my weekends and pursuing hobbies but I still find myself resenting every new client request and trying to give fast solutions instead of creative solutions. I really want to step away.

My business coach, lawyer and most-trusted consultant all think there must be a way to do my work in a scaled back form where I charge more and set more limits. I am willing to try this but it will probably take me a year to dig out of the hole I’m in.

Should I quit? Take a sabbatical? How do I adjust my attitude so I’m not miserable and doing poor work over the next year while I wait to see if I can implement some changes that get this demand under control?

— Anonymous, Philadelphia

Congratulations on your success! It’s important to take burnout seriously. You can’t adjust your attitude to find your way out of burnout. You can’t kick the burnout can a year down the road. You’ve been working really hard and you need a break now, so take that break. Respite will allow you to come back to this job refreshed and able to do your best work. Take a sabbatical. Tell yourself, as often as it takes, that the business will be waiting for you when you are ready to return to it. The world will keep on turning while you are away. Throw money at the problem, by which I mean, if you offer a competitive enough salary, you will find people to keep the business afloat while you take some time for yourself.


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