Dealing With 'It's Not My Job' Protests
Employees Management

Dealing With ‘It’s Not My Job’ Protests

"It's not my job"

It’s the response that no boss likes to hear after asking an employee to step up and do something that he or she doesn’t normally do. “That’s not my job. It’s so gutting because it’s taken as a direct affront to your – the boss’s -authority. You’ve been challenged.

Undermined. And possibly publicly humiliated if the statement was made in front of others.

It starts innocuously enough, often like this;

Jean has been ill for several days. Her work is backing up and you need other staff to pitch in, especially as there is no immediate ETA for her return.

You: Hey, Joe. Can you file those reports? Jean’s been out for three days and we need to get those into place before they got lost.

Joe: That’s not my job (walks away)

You: (speechless, as Joe is usually a good guy).

Before you lose your cool and start angrily laying down the law and telling Joe in increasingly loud tones that, as the manager, your decisions, orders and do-as-I-says should not be questioned, think of why Joe or any other employee would use that line in the first place.

There are three possible reasons why Joe may have decided to make his stand and fail to pitch in.

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Unclear Job Descriptions

If it wasn't made abundantly clear when you or HR reviewed his job description with him that his duties can and will include anything that you need him to do for the benefit of the team then he may feel well within his rights to pass on the filing.

If this will be the case for your employees, which, let's face it, it probably will, this is for the benefit of the team, this should be made clear at the interview stage. However, it's too late for that for Joe (and others) now, so an office meeting to remind all staff, not just Joe, would be appropriate at this point.

It should be noted that you should emphasize that when asking people to pitch in and help you are doing so for the team. And you should also make it clear that you are willing to do so yourself too, as if you are not that will only be seen as unfair.

You Pick on People

Joe's a good guy. He usually helps out. Well, that may be the problem.

Perhaps without realizing it, because he is a good guy, you tend to pick on Joe when you’re looking for someone to fill in for an absentee or to pick up the workplace slack. If that is the case, and be honest with yourself about this, then at this point the simple fact is that the worm has turned.

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Joe feels the sting of unfairness when he sees that you never cornered Jean to perform extra tasks. Somehow, she and a few others are exempt. Joe feels like if he were to be out sick for a few days all he would come back to is a mountain of work and that no one would have helped in his absence. And now Joe's had enough.

This is something that has to be addressed. Employees pick up on inequity and will begin to see managers who seem to play favorites as manipulative and not to be trusted. What they see as unfair treatment will also damage individual and team morale. Make sure that everyone is on the list as far as possible and that, even if Joe is a good guy, he isn't the only go to you have.

Joe is So Over His Job

If reasons one or two don't seem to be the problem then it's likely that Joe is unhappy in his position and is planning an exit soon. As that's the case, he isn't all that bothered about pleasing you anymore.

This is a sticky situation. The only real way to deal with it is to have a calm, one on one meeting with him to determine where he, and the company, stand. Is he planning to leave? If so, is it to advance his career, which is often understandable? Or is it because he is just 'so over' his job that he's looking to get out however he can? Ask for a straight answer rather than beating about the bush and you are likely to get one.

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The fact is that an employee telling you 'it's not my job' is rarely a statement issued in a vacuum, unless the employee is generally insubordinate, in which case they are toxic and not suited to the team anyway. But usually there is a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.

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