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How to Eliminate “It’s Not My Job Attitudes” At Your Workplace

The more client work I do the more creative I have to get.

I find my clients continue to offer unique opportunities to stretch my comfort zone as I try to stretch theirs. It’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship.

Last week I was confronted with a situation where a client was challenged with a number of employees, who questioned whether requests made of them by co-workers and/or superiors fell within their job descriptions.

Instead of pulling out the job descriptions and analyzing if the claims were appropriate (which is a losing proposition and does nothing to improve employee motivation and morale even if job descriptions include the catchall phrase of “all other duties as assigned”), I decided to take an alternative approach.

I realized that if an attitude like this exists in an organization, whether it be one person or multiple, it is an organizational culture issue, not an individual employee issue.  It must be addressed in that vein.

At my suggestion the client agreed to make this part of our regular cultural development program so I facilitated a discussion around the difference between an employees’ “job” and an employees’ “role.

A very interesting discussion ensued.

First I asked each employee to define each, their “job,” and their “role,” separately.

We then had everyone share their answers.  Each person’s take on it was both interesting and unique.

Yet, no one gave an answer that was going to transform the work environment.

Here’s the simple answer and why it is important:

In every organization everyone’s “job” is the same. Whether you are the CEO responsible for the entire organization’s performance or the receptionist at the front desk answering the phone, the “job” is the same.

That “job” is the company’s ultimate outcome or purpose.

To explain what I mean I use the metaphor of a professional sports team.

In sports, the ultimate outcome or purpose is to win the championship. Everyone’s “job” is to contribute to the team’s championship effort.

Yet, everyone on the team has a different “role” to fill in making that happen. Herein is the nuance in eliminating an “it’s not my job” attitude.

If everyone on the team’s “job” is to contribute to winning the championship, then anything they are asked to do is their job, regardless of how their unique “role” is defined.

That is why you get athletes playing out of position, when asked by their coach.

The coach is only going to ask that athlete to play out of position if they feel they can contribute to winning. If it were not going to benefit the team and contribute to the “job” of winning the championship, they wouldn’t be asked to do it.

The same holds true in business.

When everyone in the company understands its ultimate outcome or purpose, everyone’s “job” is to contribute to it by applying their unique talent and skill in their “role.”

And, when the time comes they may be asked to contribute to that ultimate outcome or purpose in ways that others believe may be helpful based on their skills and talents even though it technically may be outside their role as described, but it is their “job” to do it.

Thus, eliminating the “it’s not my job” attitude.

And, for those “devil’s advocates,” the “job” always supersedes the “role.”

If you’d like help in making this transition, which also raises the bar in commitment and motivation all around, click here for a complimentary strategy session.

’til next time, make it a great week,

skip weisman, transforming leadership and workplace communication to deliver champion level results

There are 13 comments. Add yours.

  1. Jill Adcock

    I’ve always believed this but never articulated quite as well as this. Everyone should understand how they help the company make money. It’s surprising – and unfortunate- how many people don’t make that connection.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Thanks, Jill,
      Employees don’t make the connection because the expectation isn’t set by the leaders in the company at the highest levels. Leaders don’t make the connection because they’re stuck in the autocratic, top down style of leading in a compliance culture. I’m on a mission to transform workplaces to offer employees more autonomy. Stay tuned for my next blog article that will build on this concept.
      Skip

  2. Jay Hansen

    Great insight, Skip! The “not my job” attitude has been a pet peeve of mine for over 50 years! You have given us a positive way to combat it! Thank you!

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Thanks, Jay. Look forward to hearing more about how you can apply this mindset and approach.
      Skip

  3. R. M. Paul.

    Very interesting……… explained in simple words. Probably, ‘Team spirit’ plays a great role in changing the mindset of an employee in doing his ‘JOB’ and not playing his ‘ROLE’.
    Thanks and regards.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      R.M.,
      You are absolutely right “team spirit” is huge, and the key is knowing how to build “team spirit,” most organizational leaders do more to undermine and kill team spirit than to build it. This strategy is one piece of building team spirit. Thanks, and please come back.
      Skip

  4. CN

    Hi Skip, I really like the professional sports team example. It is easy for everyone to understand how important is his contribution though is not his job. I believe this example able to give a kick start effect on those who still enclose within his RED tape boundary.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      CN,
      Thanks, for being inspired to leave a comment. I’m pleased you like the sports analogy and I think it fits very well in this and many other business contexts.
      Please come back and comment again.

  5. Michele Mourer

    This is very exciting! I have been struggling with this lately and you have given me an excellent place to start to motivate my team. Thank you. I look forward to your next blog article.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Michele,
      I’m so pleased you found value in this concept and you can apply it in your situation. Let me know if you have any questions as you move forward.
      Skip

  6. Much as you suggest here, Skip, my belief system and talents drive me to be responsible to take initiative beyond what I’m “hired” to do. I view the gaps between my stated job responsibilities and those of others in our organization as ‘opportunities’ for us to drive benefit to our customers (patients in my hospital in my case), those who care for them (doctors, nurses, etc.) the greater organization (other hospital employees/staff/volunteers) and the community itself (family members, friends, co-workers of patients).

    With healthcare being as complex a service to deliver as any other service I have ever been involved in, one can NOT draw lines around what “my job” is and be effective. Thus.. there is great value in the type of COMMUNICATION that your particular ‘role’ emphasizes in helping us define what our ‘roles’ are (or should be) in our respective organizations.

  7. Scott Forhetz

    Skip,

    While I agree with you that stretching oneself is important for personal and company benefit from time to time such as in the case of a special project, or employee growth, absence, etc… I disagree with your argument as a whole. In your example below:

    “The coach is only going to ask that athlete to play out of position if they feel they can contribute to winning. If it were not going to benefit the team and contribute to the “job” of winning the championship, they wouldn’t be asked to do it.

    So it is more incumbent upon the “good” coach to know the specific qualities of a team player and where those their particular skills most contribute best to the team winning.

    My fear is that some Managers reading your column might take your comments as an excuse to make everyone a “jack of all trades” and no one an expert in anything.

    Sure it might expand his skills, we could sit around and discuss what it meant to each of us to mix up our roles BUT that’s why you don’t see Tom Brady, (he’s the Quarterback for the New England Patriot’s) as a corner back.

    What a poor use of talent, ability, investment, time, energy, and ultimately loss by the team/company.

    That manager/coach wouldn’t last long.

    How foolish that would be.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Scott,
      Thank you for replying. All points you make are valid and I’m confused as to whether you are rebutting my strategy or supporting it.
      I thought I had clearly made the points you make around ensuring what the manager/coach is asking someone to do and that individual’s capability, skills, and talents. If they don’t they are not a good manager/leader/coach and its not going to be productive.

      I understand your fear of managers of making everyone a jack of all trades and that is something they will learn quickly that will not be the most effective approach. They will slow things down and get push back in short order.

      Thanks, again for your comments and please come back again.

      Skip

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