When is it appropriate to put your foot down with your boss, and when should you take one for the team? Though it’s not always an easy call, we’ve compiled some key considerations to help thoughtfully guide your approach.

1. Is it an exception or the rule?
When determining whether a request is reasonable or not, take into account whether similar requests are being made on a regular basis. If you are asked to stay late, or work on a weekend every so often, that is quite different than if you’re expected to do so all the time. While it is difficult to say how often is too often, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether you are feeling resentful. If you are, it may be time to set a limit.

2. Is it a major sacrifice or a slight inconvenience?
Careercast.com recommends evaluating your employer’s request based on the following criteria: “Does the request infringe on your rights as a person, your religious or cultural beliefs or traditions, or is it simply something you don’t like doing?” Giving up that Friday after Thanksgiving you’ve taken off to spend time with close relatives may constitute an infringement on family traditions, so this might be an appropriate time to put your foot down. On the other hand, staying late on a night when you have no plans, is probably something you should do, as long as it isn’t becoming the norm.

3. Are you up for a raise or promotion, or at risk for losing a job?
Timing is an important consideration when it comes to deciding how to handle a burdensome request from your employer. If you have just received a poor work evaluation or have said ‘no’ recently to your boss, perhaps it’s not the best time to buck the system. Alternatively, if your past performance has been praised and valued, you have more leeway.

4. Will agreeing to what is being asked of you jeopardize relationships with loved ones?
For example, if working late will mean you’ll miss your child’s birthday party, or wedding anniversary dinner and you know that your child or spouse will be crushed, the consequences of working late may be too great.

5. Are they taking advantage of you?
For instance: A co-worker resigned and you were asked to cover his responsibilities for a few weeks. Six months have passed, you’re still covering for him and you’ve heard through the grapevine, that he is not being replaced. This is probably a good time to sit down with your boss to explain, politely, that your workload has become unmanageable. If and when you decide it is time to put your foot down, here are some diplomatic ways to go about it.

  • Ask your boss for help prioritizing
    Let her know you’re happy to chip in, but also make her aware of all your other assignments. Perhaps she has forgotten about everything else on your “to-do” list. Once you remind her, she may decide to give the new project to somebody else, or to take something else off your plate so that you can focus on the new priority.
  • Help your boss problem-solve
    “The key is not saying to your boss, ‘No, I can’t,’ but rather, it’s to pitch an alternative solution and present it as a better way to solve the problem your boss and your company face,” says Marcelle Yeager, a blogger for On Careers. Perhaps this assignment is a good learning opportunity for the new intern, or maybe you can Skype into that last minute meeting, instead of attending in person.
  • Think it over before you say, “Yes” or “No”
    If your boss asks you to take on an additional project, ask if you can have some time to think it over. Saying something like: “Can I just have a few minutes to figure out my schedule before I let you know? I want to make sure I have time to meet all my deadlines.” Reminding your boss about those other deadlines may be all you need to do to convince him to give the extra project to someone who isn’t as busy as you are. Otherwise, you’ll buy some time, while you deliberate about how you’d like to handle the request.
  • Use this as an opportunity to review and possibly change your job functions
    When you are asked to take on something new but don’t feel you have the time to do so, it could be the right time to discuss making changes to your portfolio. Maybe it’s time someone else attended the monthly community relations committee meeting. How about that client who requires hours of attention, but always complains she is being short-changed. Perhaps a colleague can help, and in turn, learn how to handle more challenging business relationships.
  • Ask a colleague to pitch in
    In some environments and with certain assignments, colleagues may work interchangeably. In this situation, ask a teammate if he will cover for you this time, and promise to reciprocate when he needs someone to relieve him. In many cases, as long as you and your colleagues work out the coverage, it won’t matter to the boss who stays late.

    If you are a hard worker and a team player and still feel subjected to unreasonable demands, you can seek advice from your human resources representative or even contact a recruiter to help you find a job in a healthier environment.