One of the most derided phrases in the workplace is “that’s not my job.” It’s been assumed that those who use this phrase are unwilling to help their colleagues for the benefit of the broader team and company and are indifferent to problems that don’t precisely fit their job descriptions. The lack of ownership captured by those few words has been labeled “not-my-jobism.”
But not everyone making this declaration is deserving of such scorn. Sometimes, the task at hand really isn’t a part of the job description. If employees were to concede to every request that came across their desk, they’d have no time to do the work that actually is part of their job description. There are plenty of employees just like this who end up being taken advantage of because they simply can’t say no.
What can managers and supervisors do to minimize the impact of not-my-jobism? Here, we offer some top tips.
Teach the Importance of Ownership
Ownership is a crucial concept in any organization. Ownership doesn’t necessarily mean being the one to do all the actual work, but it does mean being the one accountable for ensuring it gets completed satisfactorily and on time. Often, when there’s a room (or videoconference) full of people pointing fingers and disclaiming responsibility, it’s due to a fundamental lack of ownership.
Companies need to help their staff learn the meaning and importance of ownership as a foundational concept for any work they do, especially as part of a team.
Set Clear Expectations
It’s hard for employees to take ownership without clear expectations being set. Perhaps with long-established teams of seasoned veterans with a robust history of working together, certain expectations are simply understood. But in most cases, it’s a good idea to make clear who is responsible for which tasks and for the project as a whole.
Having everyone on the team agree in advance to those responsibilities through something like a team charter is a great way to memorialize those decisions, ensure explicit commitment, and drive home the importance of ownership.
Leverage the Escalation Process
Of course, managers don’t want team members tattling on someone who isn’t getting work done or serving as the referee in a finger-pointing match, but one of the purposes of an escalation chain is to help clarify roles and responsibilities. If team members can’t agree on who owns which tasks, it’s better to get clarification from a mutual superior right away than to point fingers after the ball is dropped.
Nobody likes making a request of a colleague or doing a post-mortem on a failed project and hearing “that’s not my job.” It’s seen as the classic duty-shirking phrase uttered by those who seemingly wash their hands of responsibility. But sometimes, telling a colleague that it isn’t your job may be justified because, well, it really isn’t.
Not-my-jobism is often a symptom of a larger lack of clearly defined job roles and ownership within the organization. The tips above can help you minimize this risk in your company.