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Our company has a new manager, who is eager to prove himself. During our regular meetings everyone is encouraged to take on more tasks and to grow. That's not unusual in any way but I don't have any more capacity. And, to put it mildly, the problem is that the manager is oversimplifying the tasks to make them sound doable like:

Manager: Why don't you get a software certificate in X?

Me: Project A is taking up most of my time, and I'm helping out with project B as well.

Manager: That's not a problem - you just spend an hour a day studying and in several months you are an expert and you'll get that certificate easily. It's very easy, isn't it?

Me: I cannot leave projects A and B.

Manager: Don't tell me you can't find an hour a day?

Me: ...

Please note he's not asking me to change priorities but to take on extra tasks, which I know will take time and effort.

In what situation is it appropriate to answer with a straight "no"? Any examples where you go straight to the answer without wasting time?

Edit: I'm talking about extra tasks, "walking the extra mile" thing.

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    You may want to edit into your little transcript where they said that you should not slow down work on projects A and B. At the moment, that looks like an assumption on your behalf. Oct 13 '21 at 4:21
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    You mentioned in a comment to my answer that studying is meant to happen on the weekend. You should modify your question to reflect that. Oct 13 '21 at 5:20
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    @user2139129 you mentioned cultural expectations in a comment to a question. Please edit the question if you are expected to do this in your freetime. a location tag might also help improve answers.
    – Benjamin
    Oct 13 '21 at 5:48
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    "That's not a problem - you just spend an hour a day studying and in several months you are an expert and you'll get that certificate easily." Several months not a week? I think you need to clarify your question cause there is a lot of conflicting information. Oct 13 '21 at 8:19
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    I'm voting to close this question as despite requests to clarify key points, the question remains ambiguous. Oct 13 '21 at 14:42
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Since you mentioned in the edit that this is expected to be done in your own time, a straight "no" seems entirely fine as an answer.

However, you don't need to start there. Your current answers are all related to your workload, but these answers are irrelevant. Your workload is during working hours; this is going into your free time.

Instead you need to answer that you simply don't have any free time available for this, because you have other things you'd rather do during the weekends/evenings. You can, but don't have to, go into some detail (family, hobbies, certificates you actually care about, etc)

You could also ask them why you should take a certificate into that specific software, but prepare for the answer to be a cleverly hidden "because that makes you more valuable to us and it costs us nothing if you do it in your free time". Also, be careful about asking for compensation if you're already working at load, because it'll still be paid work and you'll just be working more hours. Even if they're paid hours, that might be bad for your overall health.

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    "A straight 'no' seems entirely fine as an answer." Do you really think that?
    – LoremIpsum
    Oct 14 '21 at 19:47
  • @LoremIpsum as the answer says, you don't have to start there, but if my boss comes up to me for the third time after I told him twice "I don't have time for this, I have other things I want to do", then the answer is just going to be "no".
    – Erik
    Oct 15 '21 at 6:51
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I am very much sidestepping the issue of context-switching, and if an hour-a-day is an effective way of learning.

Your manager sets your tasks. If your manager thinks you should stop working on Task A and Task B, for an hour a day, in order for training, that is what you do. Because that is your job.

Of course, you should explain to your manager that work on Task A and Task B would necessarily be slowed down.

If they suggest that Task A and Task B won't be slowed down, you should indicate that you are working to your full capacity.

Then your manager would either be forced to dispute that you're working at capacity, which is important to bring to air, or confirm that they do want you to slow down your work on Task A and Task B.

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    Maybe it's a cultural thing but studying is always managed by the employee in the weekend. Oct 13 '21 at 4:46
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    @user2139129 I think general study, or keeping "current", there can be an argument for that. But if an employer requires a specific certification, they should really be organising the study time and cost to be worn by the employer. Oct 13 '21 at 5:08
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    @user2139129 Wait. You're the OP. If studying is managed by the employee in the weekend, your question doesn't make sense. Task A and Task B are red-herrings. It seems the whole question is: "My manager wants me to study on the weekend, but I don't want to". Which is a completely fine question to ask, but it's different to the one you have. Oct 13 '21 at 5:16
  • The way I read the OP's question, the manager wants the OP to study and additional hour per day, not stop working on Task A or Task B in order to free up that hour.
    – Peter M
    Oct 13 '21 at 12:48
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    [IANAL]: Note that depending on culture/country, a manager may not be free to decide what an employee has to do. If a task is not part of the work description (which is part of the contract) in Germany, there is (usually) no legal obligation for the employee to comply. That is also the reason why in Germany, employers often try to make the work description as non-specific as possible.
    – phresnel
    Oct 13 '21 at 13:54
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I ask what the incentive is. That usually if not shutting them up, at least makes it interesting.

I got a lot of certifications only because my employer was paying for them and giving me a pay rise for achieving them. So if it meant an extra 4k a year on my salary then I could find study time. If it didn't then I'm too busy.

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    The incentive is remaining employed? There is no suggestion that the manager wants the employee to work overtime or anything like that. Oct 13 '21 at 4:05
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    If the employer is playing for the certificate and the study is happening during working hours, I'm not too sure you have much of a leg to stand on. Oct 13 '21 at 4:07
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    @GregoryCurrie two legs to walk on, but there is no mention of study time being allocated. My reading is that the OP is to find the time while still performing.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 13 '21 at 4:10
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    I think the OP needs to clarify that the manager wants them to perform study outside of business hours before making demands for money. If the employer does what study to occur in personal time, I agree that some sort of compensation is in order. Oct 13 '21 at 4:11
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    Maybe there is a cultural aspect at play, but if a superior gives a direction which could be considered part of work duties and an employee goes "what's in it for me", then I consider that a demand for compensation. Oct 13 '21 at 4:20
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In what situation is it appropriate to answer with a straight "no"? Any examples where you go straight to the answer without wasting time?

Just saying "no" is probably not a great way to answer your boss.

Instead, something more like "Thanks for the suggestion. I'll consider it." could be dismissive enough, but equally effective at not wasting time.

That said, consider if your boss is trying to hint that you should put more effort into advancing your career, rather than just rejecting outright anything that will "take time and effort". Many managers are willing to help folks on their team advance and get promoted, but only if the worker shows that they want to do so.

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    "I'll consider it."? Why? You aren't going to consider it. You want to communicate to your boss that you cannot create more time, and thus will have to spend less time on projects if that is what the boss wants. Saying "I'll consider it" does not solve the problem but only makes the boss expect you'll do it.
    – Tvde1
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:23
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    -1. This is just plain lying to your boss. And your boss wil probably ask you "have you considered it" the next day. Oct 14 '21 at 11:12
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    @Tvde1 - the meaning might be lost in translation. "I'll consider it" usually means a minimally polite "no" in Anglo cultures
    – Pete W
    Oct 14 '21 at 17:45
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This conversation as you've characterized it sounds more to me like your manager gauging your desire to progress professionally and attempting to encourage that growth.

The "expectation" here is that you care about growing professionally in some fashion, the insistence is someone prodding you because they want to see their employee grow in value instead of stagnating and feeling too overwhelmed by daily tasks to stay current and gain new skills.

When you respond the way you do, you're communicating to your manager that you simply don't have the time to grow professionally, which they take to mean that you don't have the necessary time management skills to make that work. They find that concerning, which is why this conversation tends to be recurring.

Here are a few ways resolve this quandary:

  • Have a frank discussion with your manager about task priority, get their explicit blessing to shove some daily work aside and study what they suggest you study.

  • Suggest a counter proposal - maybe you have a different vision about how you'd like to advance professionally, that may or may not include study. Explain that plan to your manager, and get them on board with it. Extra points if you come up with a way to demonstrate progress towards specific objectives so that they can feel like they're watching you advance.

  • Explain that you don't see growing along those suggested directions fits into your vision of where you want to take your career. If you do this, you'll be expected to have a coherent vision of where you want to take your career, so be prepared to speak to that.

Part of your managers job is to encourage and report on the professional growth of their reports. So this concern will not "go away" if you refuse this suggestion enough times.

You have to address the root of the concern that's motivating your manager to ask the question in the first place by demonstrating that you have some kind of plan for your continued professional growth.

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Your manager obviously thinks that you would benefit from some self-training and that of course this would also benefit his team and the company as a whole. Don't dismiss "suggestions" like that: act on them.

It's the manager's job to know what the teams are doing, how hard they're working, how they're spending their time. It's also his job to help his employees develop. If you think that you are "too busy," that's a valid thing to say, and it's also something that your manager can do something about if he really wants you to do some training.

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