It’s Not My Assignment


How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s not my job!” and then walk away to do something else.  Maybe you were at work and asked someone for help to solve an issue and they shot back at you, “It’s not my job!”  Maybe you asked the secretary to pick up a package that was just delivered to the mail room and you heard, “It’s not my job!”.  Perhaps you have been in a restaurant and accidentally dropped your fork and asked a passing waiter or waitress (not your original one) for a new fork and you got the response, “It’s not my job (table)!” as they continued to walk past you.

A recent article by Lyle Feisel in The Bent discussed this topic in which he maintains that your job includes everything that affects your customer, client, or whomever you are working for.  On the other hand, your assignments are the specific tasks that have been written down for you to perform.  He maintains that you get evaluated by your boss based on how well you do your assignments, but only you can evaluate how well you perform your job.  Job satisfaction is not based merely on assignments completed.  The problem with assignments is that no one can anticipate everything that you may ever need to do in your job.  There will always be additional tasks or perhaps new tasks that no one thought of before that should or must get done for your organization to be successful.  If you sit around and wait for someone to assign those tasks to you or to someone else, they may never get done before the organization loses sales, clients, or perhaps even goes out of business.

So your job might very well be to do whatever it takes for your organization to be successful.  However, there is a downside to this train of thought.  (Of course there would be or I would not be talking about it.)  Suppose there is a task that no one else in your company is willing to do, but it is a task that is important to the future success of the organization as a whole.  You could easily do the task even though it has not been assigned to you.  Maybe it only takes a few minutes each day.  Perhaps you think that by showing others that you are willing to pitch in to do these tasks, that others may offer to help out perhaps doing the task on alternate days.  Perhaps you think that management will reward you for your initiative to assume these tasks by giving you a bigger raise, bonus, or other perk to recognize your efforts.

But here is where things can and often do go wrong.  When management just assumes that you now own that task along with everything else you do, it can lead to a deadly spiral.  Other employees see this and stop doing other tasks hoping that you will pick up their slack as well so they can play solitaire, talk by the water cooler or take two hour lunches.  Meanwhile you burn the midnight oil getting your work done along with their work.  Management often does not care who does the work as long as it gets done so they don’t see this as a problem.  At least they don’t see it until something happens.  Suppose someone in your immediate family gets sick.  Perhaps it is your spouse, child, parent, sibling or some other close relative and you need to cut back on all of the extra work you have been putting in nights and weekends to care for that family member.  All management sees is that the tasks that you now ‘own’ by performing them when no one else will belong to you and they are not being done and therefore you are to blame.  You have become a ‘slacker’ in their eyes.  You are no longer a team player.  Forget the fact that Bill leaves a hour early each day.  Forget the fact that Doris plays solitaire for hours or shops on the web.  Forget the fact that Dan spends half a day each week working on his fantasy baseball|football|basketball team.  Management has come to expect you to do these tasks and you are not doing them.

This does not happen you say.  Management would never let others get away with playing games at work while you slave 10 to 12 hours each day.  Perhaps you are right.  Perhaps instead your company has been going through downsizing over the past several years during this recession.  As people leave the company, management has expected the remaining staff to pick up all the extra work that the other people did.  Now as the economy improves, they may be thinking that they can make bigger profits as sales improve if they don’t hire back those laid off employees because the existing employees have shown that they can ‘get by’.  In fact, they reward those employees who work the hardest and save the most money with more work and more demands to save additional money.  Soon those employees face a choice of either burnout or move-out.

Does this mean that you should never go the extra mile, or help others who may be going through some tough times?  No.  However, you may need to make it clear that performing these extra tasks does not imply that you now own those tasks.  Make sure everyone understands that you are just providing temporary help until someone else can take over those assignments.  Your job is to help make the organization survive and satisfy the needs of the customers/clients.  However, your life is not just about your job either.  Striking a balance between these two is the only way to enjoy life and your job.  Unfortunately, there is no one right answer other than to say that either extreme seems to be a poor choice.  So next time you see some small way you can help someone else out or perform a task that no one is doing, make a difference and pitch in, but don’t let others think that your willingness to help implies that you want to own every task either.

C’ya next time.

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