Mental Health & the Power of ‘NO’ In the Workplace.

While scrolling through my Instagram feed today, I saw that an organization called Not 9 to 5 had reposted the following, which originated from an organization called Made of Millions.

I commented on the regram, and I’ll share that below, but first I want to tell you what I learned about Made of Millions:

  • They are a global mental health advocacy nonprofit based in NYC.
  • They’re committed to creating relatable and honest mental health resources to make the enormity of a mental health condition easier to understand, address and advocate on behalf of. [I'm quoting them with the preposition at the end of a sentence. Grammarly says "some readers may object to a preposition such as of at the end of a sentence. Consider rewording the sentence if your readers are likely to object." What's funny is that it also has a problem with its own feedback and says, "The word preposition doesn't seem to fit this context." Oh, artificial intelligence.]
  • They began an Instagram hashtag campaign called “DearManager” to spark dialogue in the workplace with an associated website.

From the Dear Manager website:

Dear Manager,

It’s time we start a conversation about mental health at work. Did you know that job-induced anxiety is on the rise? That when your people suffer, your company does too? Unaddressed mental health conditions lead to low productivity and missed work days. Both of which, cost you cash. That’s why we’re asking employees everywhere to stop suffering in silence, and ask for more.


The Dear Manager Instagram campaign has lots of good ones. Ones that I identify with include these:

Now, about the organization that I followed and that share it, Not9to5:

Not 9 to 5 is a Canadian initiative focused on mental health & addiction in hospitality the food and beverage industry.

Hospitality can be rough, regardless of whether you’re front or back of house. It involves long hours on one’s feet for little pay. I’m the partner of a restaurant/bar owner, and I work 2–4 shifts per week as a server there. I get it.

Chefs are overworked and underpaid, and they often don’t have time to eat. I HATE the phrase, “Never trust a skinny chef.” Chefs aren’t fat because they eat, they’re fat because they don’t eat or they eat poorly. Working a 16-hour day and then grabbing a pizza on the way home from work after eating either nothing or noshing on cutting board debris is not healthy.

And hey, did you know that one of the causes of “depression” (symptoms of) is inflammation in the brain? Inflammation is an immune response. If you eat something that isn’t agreeable to your body, it causes inflammation, which can inflame your brain, which can cause brain fog, anxiety and more. For some people, inflammation is caused by wheat products. For others, candy — with its sugar and “artificial flavours and colours” are the culprit. Beyond the obvious offenders, what’s perfectly benign to one person harms another.

If you start out with mental health issues, the industry can make them worse. We once had a cook with mental health issues that were interfering with his job performance, and it cost us. As compassionate, caring human beings we were torn between keeping him and letting him go. Letting him go seemed like the right thing to do for the business and also to take the stress of the job away from him, but maybe he felt that the job was the only thing keeping him going.

Sometimes people need to be forced out of their job so that they have the time and space to heal, but sometimes as an employer, it seems that the right personal feelings conflict with the correct business decisions. (In the end, he left on his own.)

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

That all said, here is what I commented in response to the post about accepting more responsibility:

When I was younger, I never said “No” at work. As I got older, I discovered that “no” is a powerful, and necessary word. Boundaries need to be set. Sometimes, declining a task to focus on what’s more important (e.g. mental health, but it could also be other work) can result in getting more respect. It leads to better productivity for many reasons. It’s win-win.

In an attempt to communicate a positive work ethic and ease to work with, I used to sometimes state in my resume cover letters that the phrase “it’s not my job” is not in my vocabulary. I thought it sounded good.

Not anymore.

On my resume under “personal traits/skills" it now states:

Strong Work Ethic:
“No” is only in my vocabulary when it needs to be. (And knowing when it’s appropriate to say “No” is a skill itself.)

There are times when all hands need to be on deck and you need to go above and beyond the job description, but there are times when it really is NOT your job and can’t be.

When we say no, we demonstrate the “ability to prioritize” requested in job postings. We show that we’re not pushovers, that we have boundaries and that we deserve respect. Saying no is an indication of respecting ourselves and the work.

When we say “no” we get more done, in and out of the workplace.

I experienced the need to say no in a previous corporate job. A colleague on another team switched jobs within the company. She offered to help her previous boss until he found a replacement. My colleague was learning and performing her new role but was still expected to perform part of her previous role. She’d become my friend, and I’m a helpful person in general, so for a while, I helped.

Together, the two of us executed some of the tasks from her previous role, even though that responsibility belonged to neither of us. I didn’t nudge. I accepted our situation for what it was.

When my boss questioned me during our weekly meetings about why the associated work wasn’t complete, I told him the situation, repeatedly. I tried to avoid saying, “It’s not my job.”

Eventually, I got the balls to do so. I insisted,

It’s not my job. It’s not hers either. [Her former boss] needs hire a replacement.

He agreed, with a facial expression that suggested that he was doing so begrudgingly. At least, that was my interpretation, after I explained to him for weeks why the process wasn’t being completed, without actually “blaming” anyone. People tend to forget that “blame” and “responsibility”, while similar, are not the same thing.

I don’t mind helping people, but a person shouldn’t have to accept responsibilities that don’t belong to them when those tasks compete with other priorities. Furthermore, my friend/colleague’s former boss was responsible for hiring a replacement. None of that was on me.

It wasn’t my anxiety and depression needing me to say no, but that job itself was responsible for the return of anxiety and depression which had been asymptomatic for so long. Piling on tasks that weren’t mine and should not have been mine contributed to my mental unwellness.

We need to advocate for ourselves, but as that job reminded me, it is SO hard to advocate for yourself when you don’t have the energy, and you feel beaten down. A few times, I had glimmers of standing up to my boss, but mostly, I only asserted myself in my head — those things that I wanted to say.

Organizations such as Made of Millions and Not 9 to 5 help give us a voice. They provide a script when we have trouble thinking of the "right thing" to say. They remind us that we’re not alone. These organizations are so important

Another woman responded to Not 9 to 5’s Insta-post about saying no with this question:

What do you do when your manager isn’t understanding?

This breaks my heart. I wish I had an answer other than “find another job”, which I know is not so simple.

As I said in my post about the taboos of talking about money and success, we need to develop our own coping mechanisms. We can’t expect the world to accommodate us. However, we can work with others. We can be partners in our success. We do our part, they do theirs, and we work as a team toward a common goal.

We can advocate for ourselves.

We can say no.

Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Coach for adults | Available for hire.

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