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It’s Not My Job: The Attitude That’s Killing Your Career

This article is the second in a 10-part series on the topic of overcoming career-limiting habits.

In a recent study identifying the most common career-limiting habits, “It’s Not My Job” came in second place.

This attitude is so prevalent in the workplace and, if you’ve ever worked with a person like this, you know how frustrating it can be. This is not the mindset of a team player. This is someone who is simply checking the box—doing the minimum required to collect a paycheck and unwilling to stretch beyond their tiny little bubble.

Okay, perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. But that’s how it looks.

Here’s the truth: We all have to set limits in the workplace. You have a job. Your tasks and responsibilities are clearly defined. You can’t simply take on everything people throw at you. There are some things that truly are NOT your job; it’s your responsibility to set appropriate boundaries when needed.

I think this career-limiting habit is referring to the overall mindset of people who unreasonably resist taking on additional work even when it’s truly needed for the success of the team. There are times when we all have to do a little more to support others, even if it’s not specifically a part of our job description. That’s what it means to be on a team. Ultimately, at some point in the future, your teammates will do the same for you.

So how can you appropriately set limits without falling victim to the “It’s Not My Job” mentality? Here are some tips:

Pitch in and help others out when you can.

If you have the time and capability to do a little something extra to help out a team member, do it. Remember that there’s no harm in acknowledging that you’re doing him or her a favor, but don’t expect a perfect one-to-one exchange of favors. It won’t always happen that way.

Set limits for the right reasons.

It’s perfectly okay to say “no” in the workplace. However, there are good reasons (I’m at full capacity already, I’m not trained on that procedure, etc.) and there are bad ones (It’s not my job). Make sure that you’re setting limits for a valid purpose, not simply because you don’t feel like being a team player. Give a heartfelt and honest explanation about why you can’t help right now, but also avoid making overly lengthy excuses.

When setting limits, be helpful.

“It’s not my job,” is probably the most unhelpful sentence uttered in the workplace. It’s like a toddler screaming, “No! I don’t have to and you can’t make me!” It doesn’t do anyone any good. If you have to say no, show a sincere desire to resolve the problem. Offer alternatives and help find solutions. Come up with a few suggestions of how the work can get done without you.

Make it your job.

If you find that you’re constantly being asked to take on a task that truly isn’t in your job description, address it with management. Perhaps this should be your job. Perhaps you should have some authority and responsibility for it. Maybe you deserve a little added compensation as well. What a wonderful opportunity to discuss your role, re-evaluate your contributions, and demonstrate your willingness to go above and beyond for the team.

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8 Responses to “It’s Not My Job: The Attitude That’s Killing Your Career”

  1. Eli says:

    Excellent points – what ever happened to being a good team player? Ultimately, the success of your co-workers means success for you, too. When you help, you’ll also find that help comes easier when you need it – not that that’s the reason we should be helpful!

    This is a nice reminder, Chrissy.

  2. […] let me also be clear: Voicing a dissenting opinion, speaking assertively and saying “no” are not inherently negative. You can—and should—embrace your individuality and your […]

  3. Karen says:

    it would be nice to know how to deal with people like this…we have one person on staff – everyone else wonders what she actually DOES do –

  4. Gina Yeagley says:

    I will agree to disagree on this one. Having been in this position personally (currently at a very small company), I have a lot of meticulous repetitive tasks that take up a lot of time, and restrict me from having the time to be a part of the business development and grow in the future. My role is vital, but my voice in the company is almost non-existent.

  5. jayappleseed says:

    I know this post is late, but I thought I would add my two cents. This can go both ways. I’m all about being a team player, but don’t disguise it as that if it really isn’t. What if you have a job title of FILE Clerk and the other task your being assigned is something your boss was actually hired to do (IT) and it’s not even in the same department, not even close to your regular task. But, you are having to do these task more than what you were even hired for. I went from temp to perm, they kept the same title and job description, but still gave me that “other” work to do. Which, I’m technically suppose to be paid more to do. This is their way of getting more work done for less. I’m being screwed and there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t mind helping out at all, but when it over takes your real job and things you really need to get done, that’s when it becomes a problem of the company taking advantage of the employee.

  6. […] when there are gaps, it is best to fill that gap by lending a hand. The ‘that’s not my job’ attitude causes problems in every situation but it is more so needed when products are delivered at high […]

  7. Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article.
    Many thanks for supplying these details.

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