How To Deal With Unreasonable Demands at Work (With Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 17, 2022 | Published September 2, 2021

Updated October 17, 2022

Published September 2, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One way to ensure you have a sustainable and positive work environment is to set reasonable boundaries with your supervisor and colleagues. When you first set limits on how you spend your time at work, it's important to understand appropriate ways to respond when someone asks you to do a task that you're not comfortable accepting. Learning how to deal with unreasonable demands at work can help you maintain positive working relationships with your coworkers and ensure you use your time in a productive manner.

In this article, we explain what counts as an unreasonable demand in the workplace, then share strategies for setting boundaries when someone asks you to do something outside the scope of your abilities or professional boundaries.

What are unreasonable demands?

Unreasonable demands are requests or assignments in the workplace that are far outside of your job description, require you to expend an excessive amount of effort or involve unrealistic expectations. Some examples of unreasonable demands in the workplace include:

  • Deadlines that don't allow you enough time to complete the work

  • Low budgets that can't meet project requirements

  • Requests to run personal errands for your manager

  • Mandatory overtime beyond contractual agreements

  • Project assignments that involve knowledge and skills outside of your abilities

Demands can also be unreasonable based on the person making the request. For example, it may be reasonable for your direct supervisor to ask you to pause on a project and switch to another assignment. If a coworker demanded that you stop your work to finish one of their projects, that may be unreasonable because they lack the authority to make those kinds of orders.

Related: Best Way To Decline a Request (With 10 Examples)

Why is it important to address unreasonable demands?

By addressing unreasonable demands in the workplace, you establish a precedent for a positive, healthy working relationship. When you bring up that a request is unreasonable, you discourage people from making similar requests in the future. This allows you to focus on your main responsibilities and maintaining a positive experience in the workplace. Limiting certain types of demands at work can also preserve your work-life balance and prevent workplace burnout.

Related: 10 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance Now (That Actually Work)

How to deal with unreasonable demands at work

Here are some instructions on how to deal with unreasonable demands in the workplace:

1. Review the assignment

Before deciding to talk to your manager or colleague about their request, think about the assignment to make sure it's something truly unreasonable. If your supervisor gives you an assignment that seems difficult, start by asking them for more resources to learn how to approach it instead of immediately assuming that it's outside of your capabilities. It may surprise you about what you're able to accomplish if you decide to agree to a challenge.

If you're unsure if a request is within your job duties, review your job description and consider if the assignment is similar to your other responsibilities. You can also talk to your team members about whether the demands are standard for the workplace. Regardless, if a request from your manager truly crosses one of your personal or professional boundaries, it's important to have a conversation to ensure your comfort.

2. Determine the reason for the order

Think about why your manager asked you to complete that specific task. Some managers give certain team members more challenging tasks to see if they're ready to move to leadership positions, while others may simply not realize how stressful it is to have extra assignments. If you can approach your manager from a place of understanding and empathy, they may be more receptive to feedback. Reflecting on why your supervisor made a particular request can also help you brainstorm possible solutions or other ways to help them achieve their goal while upholding your personal limits.

3. Process your feelings

Take some time to process any feelings of frustration before approaching your supervisor about their request. When someone makes a demand that feels unrealistic, you may feel frustrated or uncomfortable. If your manager asked you to complete a task not related to work, such as running a personal errand, you may even feel disrespected or devalued.

By pausing and working through any feelings you have, you can talk to them in a professional and respectful way without having to manage the initial shock of a surprising request. It can also give you a way to talk to your manager about the impact of their behavior.

4. Write out your thoughts

If you're worried about how to discuss the situation, consider writing a script detailing what you want to say. Writing an outline of your thoughts can give you the confidence to approach a conversation about your professional boundaries and what kinds of requests you're comfortable with in the future. You can adapt your outline to a professional email or reread it a few times to mentally prepare for an in-person conversation.

5. Acknowledge the request

Start by mentioning the request and recognizing that it's an important task to the person who made the demand. By opening the conversation with an acknowledgment of the situation, you introduce the subject in a neutral way and provide your supervisor with validation that their needs are important. Here are some ways to recognize a demand before explaining you're unable to fulfill it:

  • "This morning you approached me about handling your dry cleaning. I understand it's important for you to look professional for meetings as the head of our team."

  • "I noticed you requested that I take over the Johnson account. I'm flattered that you trust me with such an important responsibility."

  • "I see that the project now has a deadline of tomorrow instead of next Friday. I realize that this is an important deliverable and you want to check everything for quality."

Related: 8 Strategies for Dealing With a Difficult Boss

6. Set your boundary

Be firm with your boundary about the unreasonable demand. Explain that you're not comfortable or able to commit to that specific task. When setting this limit, consider including information about alternative tasks that are within your abilities and boundaries. For example:

  • "I feel that my time is best spent working on the graphic design duties in my job description, so I'm unable to commit to picking up your dry cleaning."

  • "As a junior accountant, I feel that my current workload already fills my schedule, so, unfortunately, I can't accept the lead on the Johnson account, but I'm happy to assist with any bookkeeping duties within my skill set."

  • "I'm happy to rearrange my schedule to move up this priority, but to maintain the quality, I feel the soonest I can submit the assignment is Monday."

Related: How To Say 'No' To Your Boss (With Examples and Tips)

7. Explain the reason for your limits

Explain why you have that specific professional boundary or why you can't comply with your manager's request. Having a valid reason can make your manager realize that their demand was unreasonable and work with you to find a solution. Discussing the reason why a demand is unreasonable can open a productive conversation about your duties and job description and set a healthy precedent for future interactions.

8. Offer resolutions

Even if a demand is truly unreasonable, it shows teamwork and problem-solving to help your manager find an alternative way to meet their needs. Consider talking to them about ways to readjust the team workload to achieve their goals or accommodations they can provide to help you meet their expectations. Brainstorming resolutions and having ideas about alternatives before the meeting shows you put thought into saying no to the request and are willing to share responsibility for the situation.

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