How to Say No to an Employee Request

Published: Jul 18, 2018
Modified: May 20, 2020


Every manager will be forced periodically to refuse a request made by an employee. But there are different ways to say no, and you want to do so in a manner that sustains the relationship and keeps the lines of communication open.

The manager's job when refusing a request is to prevent hard feelings between you and the employee. You also want to ensure that the employee will not fear asking you for something else in the future because of the refusal.

Turning down an employee request

An effective refusal consists of three steps:

First is the refusal itself. You can say something to the effect of “No, I cannot do that,” or “No, I will not do that.”

The second step is to say something that will prevent the employee from thinking of you as an unreasonable and arbitrary autocrat. To this end, you can give the employee a reason or an explanation for the refusal. You might say, “I cannot give you a raise because…” and provide the reason.

The third and most important step in the refusal is a statement that overcomes the employee’s feeling of rejection. As the manager, you need to demonstrate that the team member’s needs are important and that you would like to try to meet them. This can be done by offering the employee an alternative course of action or a solution that will meet his or her needs in part. You can say, “I can’t do that, but I can…” and then offer an alternative.

For example, if an employee asks to take off three days to attend a work-related event at a time when he or she cannot be spared, you could say, “No, I can’t give you days off now because we have to complete our advertising campaign by Friday, but you can attend the event that’s scheduled for the spring.”