The harm of saying “that’s not my job”

I’m sure we’ve all been in the position at work where we wanted to say “that’s not my job”. We’re tempted to say it when we’re frustrated about all the extra stuff that comes our way that’s way beyond our remit, and certainly not what we signed up for. Some of us actually say it out loud.

But whenever I overhear this, I cringe. Not necessarily because of my work ethic (I’m very much “sure, let’s give it a go!”) but because of the negative impact it can have. For starters, it’s not very helpful in a discussion; saying it in a different way that offers a solution or alternative option is the more mature approach. It also paints yourself in a certain light, someone who sticks rigidly to set parameters, refusing to adapt or exercise discretion or flexibility.

But more importantly, in most cases, it denies you of three huge opportunities.

The opportunity to grow in your role

Whenever new and unexpected pieces of work come your way, it’s always important to understand its context. Getting to grips with why you’re getting this work will give you a better understanding of the bigger picture which can provide helpful insight into your normal duties. For instance, do you consider the work beneath your salary? I don’t personally like to see work like this but if you do, getting back to the roots of your work can help you appreciate the foundational elements that feed into your work. With the insight of your work, i.e. the result of the root work, you can begin to discover new ways to improve processes and working relationships. If, on the other hand, you consider the work above your salary, think of how much good this stretch can give you. You get to develop not only your role and how you do things, but the skills you need to progress in your career. If, to you, this means a promotion, taking this work on means that you can develop the capabilities required of you in the promoted role before you’ve got it. Remember that when you go for a promotion, you need to demonstrate you can already do the stuff required of you, not just have the willing to give it a go if you were given the chance.

The opportunity to reassess your current career

This opportunity is a little less easy to experience but it saves a lot of future aggro. Sometimes when we’re given stuff we’re uncomfortable to do, it could mean these are expected of you at some point in your career in the future. This is similar to the first opportunity we looked at above, but rather than seeing it as a way of developing, it could be seen as a wake-up call for you to re-evaluate what you want in your career. For example, if you’ve been happily doing duty A, and a change of management or processes means you have to also do a less enjoyable duty B from now on, it’s worth checking if this is something that features in future roles. Job adverts for your desired roles for the future are good indicators of what is expected of you – if duty B is expected of you, and you don’t like it, you might want to decide what to do next. Changing careers is more common than you think, and as I’ve written on loads of times before, you have plenty of transferable skills that can be re-packaged to suit a new field.

The opportunity to discover an alternative career option

In addition to the previous two opportunities, you may also be given the opportunity to discover an alternative career option entirely. If you’ve been asked to do something that’s beyond your current skillset and/or not usually associated with your career, you might find that, when developing these new skills, you begin to really enjoy them. The serendipity this brings allows you to indulge in a new side of your career, and yourself, by experiencing new skills. For example, if, as an accountant, you’re asked to build new webpages for your organisation’s intranet, and you’re willing to give it a go, you might realise you really enjoy applying accounting methodologies and ways of thinking to HTML coding and logical layout of data for better user experience. You can always choose to add this to your accountancy career which may come in handy in the future, or you can choose to explore further down the field of web design for an eventual career overhaul.

It can sometimes feel demoralising if you’re given new, unexpected duties that you didn’t sign up for or can’t see how they’re associated with your existing role. For some, this might mean that you could consider looking elsewhere if you know exactly what you want and where you can get it. But for others, just think of how all of these opportunities could have passed you by if you simply folded your arms, pursed your lips and said “that’s not my job”?

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