The No-Man

As far as I am aware, nobody has ever woken up one day and decided ‘today is the day I make CEO’. Every business owner and senior staff member that I have had the pleasure of meeting has described a long, grueling process to get where they are today. They sweat and bled as they worked their way up the corporate ladder.

It is for this reason that in the past, whenever I took on a new role – be it a new student signing up for private tuition, summer work, a new volunteering position, or a new class at university – I would become a ‘Yes-Man’. According to Merriam Webster (2018), a ‘Yes-Man’ is ‘a person who agrees with everything that is said’. Personally, I may not have a tendency so much to ‘agree’ with all that is said, so much as ‘agree to do’ all that is said.

I never consciously chose to behave this way, and it is something I am working on changing. Sometimes even the greatest Yes-Man needs to be a No-Man.


In a recent post I discussed the improved opportunity for flexibility that employers have gained through technological developments and the state of the labour market. I commented on the difference between the ‘ability’ to implement flexibility policies and the ‘practice’ of doing so.

No matter what I do, I give it my all. I would prefer to not sign up for something if I know that I will not be able to give it my full dedication.

However, this quality, if left unchecked, could be hugely exploited. Unfortunately, I felt compelled to leave one particular organisation – which I had loved working for – because the call for my flexibility was too high.

My ‘flexitime’ translated into being contacted several times a day to change my working hours of that day, by which point I would start work in the afternoon and finish late at night. I would also not benefit from my so-called ‘flexitime’ as I never had the time to do anything on my personal agenda – as a university student, this was a critical issue.

What’s more, the wonderful company mobile phone that was meant to provide a division between my personal and professional contacts – quickly became a device that rang all hours of the day and night. I was often expected to pick up the telephone at 12am or 1am. This was not only disruptive for my sleep pattern, but not beneficial for the organisation. I am never on top form at that time of night, and should not be making decisions with long-term impacts or even agreeing to take on new tasks. I am far more sharp from 6am onwards.

Open-Door Policies

Of course, had I spoken to my employer when I realised that too much was being demanded from me, rather than waiting and hoping my workload would decrease, perhaps I would still be working there.

My employer even had an open-door policy to encourage me to speak with him. He regularly addressed me at my desk (in the open-plan office) to ask how I was. So why didn’t I say anything?

It is so great that so many managers have similar open-door policies. They are willing to have employees knock on at any time and ask for advice, discuss any issues they may be having, etc.

In fairness, my manager’s door was open. He was just never in! My manager often worked remotely, and so it was very difficult to catch him. When I did, his requests would take priority and by the time he had reeled off a list of tasks, he was already bolting out the door again!

Dear managers, please, if you cannot leave your door ‘open’ to your employees, please do not say it is! Staff may need to rely on your policies and promises. While it is a wonderful ambition to be available all hours of the working day, if you cannot enforce this in practice, please have an alternative.

It is more and more common to hire remote HR management, for example. Your employees may be happy to speak to them when you are unavailable. But if you promise availability and let them down, you risk damaging the trust that keeps people in your workplace.

It is also acceptable to say your door is not open! You can be a No-Man too, so long as you provide some sort of alternative. I have heard more than once – in other organisations – words to the effect of: ‘I am sorry, things are a bit hectic at the moment, but bear with me and when they settle, I will be happy to talk to you.’ And ‘Please enact your independence, do not come to me to sign off on things you know the answer to.’ How wonderful to have such a strong relationship between employee and employer that this can occur!

Hindsight is 20-20

If I were to go back and experience the above-noted work placement again, perhaps I would do things differently. I know if I were to get a new placement in a similar situation, I would certainly tackle them differently.

There is a difference between being a ‘No-Man’ who rudely refuses to do tasks described in their contract and one who stands up for their rights in a polite and humble, yet confident manner. Isn’t ‘humble confidence’ an oxymoron? Not by definition. Confidence and humility can go hand-in-hand. If you are confident in your knowledge and humble in your delivery of said knowledge, you will likely achieve your desired result. The No-Man who is arrogant and forceful will likely not.

All in all, in a world where we are constantly being pulled in different directions and more is always being asked of us, it is important to know when to use that two-letter word which holds so much power. Whether you are an intern, work-experience student, or got your shoe in the door by offering administrative skills, you have rights and you have limits. In the short term, you may be able to handle work dominating your home-life. Long term, though, consider what you are willing to sacrifice for that job. Can you withstand the consequences of saying no?

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