I read it over and over again in business books: "Say 'yes' to everything, but know your worth and when to say, 'no'". The problem is, that's so much easier said than done. Whether you're an intern, the newbie at the office or a veteran in a cut-throat industry, being willing to take on a little extra can sometimes lead to getting walked all over.
When I worked in news, I'd get called in to fill-in for the morning weather guy. I despised getting up at two a.m. driving into work I threw myself one heck of a pity party imagining people still sound asleep in the houses I drove past. I was brand new to weather though and it was clear as a cloudless day on the 7-day forecast -- this was an opportunity.
Fast forward a couple years and my friend who I'd worked with at that news station told me about her "opportunity". A woman who taped intros for a movies-on-demand program was taking maternity leave and my friend's boss needed someone to fill-in. Great! My friend was excited for the chance to expand her demo reel from news into entertainment but questioned why she wouldn't be getting compensated for taking on the extra work. It may sound similar to what I experienced filling-in for weather, but it's not the same thing at all. My friend was the lead anchor for one of her station's newscasts and had years of on-air experience. Now, her boss wanted her to do the hosting work, outside of her normal work schedule pro bono.
Because TV is an industry where 'yes' opens doors and 'no' slams them shut, my friend agreed to do it. Considering her boss would have needed to hire someone freelance to fill the role if she hadn't done it, I don't think it's fair she wasn't compensated for her time or talent. Life is anything but fair though, so everyday we're faced with a decision to make. You're the protector of your time; any sentence starting with, 'Could you...' or 'Would you...' or even 'Would you like to...' needs to be evaluated.
My guess is you probably know someone who is always saying, 'yes', maybe it's you? Here a few things to consider the next time you're offered an opportunity.
1. Who's asking?
Consider your past experience with the person who's offering you the opportunity. If they've always been on your team and they could have given the task to anyone but chose you, it's more likely to be the right kind of opportunity. Does your co-worker [who never talks to you] want to give you her shift because she forgot she had an "appointment" on the first nice day of Spring? Before you agree to, think about this: what will the domino effect be if you do? Will you have to cancel your own plans? It's okay to simply say 'Thanks, but no thanks' and leave it at that; don't worry about explaining yourself. Giving her a made up excuse will only make you feel guilty and you have nothing to feel bad about.
2. Time commitment:
What are you going to have to give up to follow through on what you're being asked to do? Is it a one time, do it and be done with it deal or will it slowly steal away time from things you'd rather be doing. If you dread doing the task, that's a huge red flag. Taking it on just so you don't feel bad about saying 'no' will make you feel worse in the end, you'll start to resent the person who asked you the favor or gave you the task.
3. Have you paid your dues?
Everybody knows when they've crossed the threshold from the new guy or girl to 'regular' employee. If you're not there yet, it's probably best to just say 'yes', you never know where the opportunity will lead you. If nothing else, it will solidify your status as a team player. It doesn't matter what industry you're in, team player will always be a better title than diva.
4. What would you tell your BFF to do?
I love using this scenario in just about every aspect of my life. From the guilt of not working out to deciding whether I deserve that new shirt... I try to imagine what I would tell my best friend, then I tell myself the same. It was easy for me to tell my friend, "Of course they should pay you for filling in! You're fantastic and that doesn't come for free"; but I wouldn't have been so quick to tell myself the exact same thing if our roles were reversed. We never give ourselves enough credit because it's so much easier to dole out praise to other people.
5. Speak up or you can only blame yourself:
If you have the experience and you're asked to do something outside of your everyday tasks, speak up. Yes, your heart will be pounding as you sit across from your boss and state your case, but think of those nerves as a good thing. They're a sign you're not being a silent bystander to your life. You're taking initiative and being a go-getter (isn't that how you described yourself in your cover letter anyway?). The worst thing that can happen is your boss will be a complete jerk and tell you, you don't deserve it. That's highly unlikely, but if it happens it may be a sign it's time to move on. Every time I've spoken up, my bosses have told me how much they appreciated it; did they immediately hand over a check? No, but if they couldn't give me what I wanted, they had a good reason why and I felt better going forward.