I recently heard a comment that brings back memories, “That’s not my job.” It’s especially memorable for me because the military taught me that term was absolutely taboo. As a member of the armed forces we were often required to perform a variety of different tasks, many which fell outside the scope of our actual job title. Thus begins my philosophy on today’s blog title.
I was a computer programmer. According to the commonly held belief, my job was to sit at a computer screen and knock out code. My first supervisor was quick to let me in on the rules though; my job was to do what I was told. There are trash cans that need to be taken out before the commander shows up, “Get it done.” We need someone to serve on the honor guard, “You’re up.” The sidewalk is dirty, “Time to grab the broom.”
At no point in my military career was I allowed to say, “That’s not my job.” I saw what happened to people who made the mistake of saying those words. Those people always regretted their choice of words by way of MANY worse tasks being assigned to them for a VERY long time.
Let’s think about this for a second. That probably sounds like abuse to some people. But take a step back and analyze what it teaches us. The situations I described are not life and death, nor are they ultimately that important. But, what happens when you are told to do something and it does mean life or death? If you’ve continually objected because, “It’s not my job”, then you become a danger to those around you. Following orders may seem like a demeaning task, at times, but you’re not always privy to the reasons for the task.
I realize that this may be an extreme situation and not applicable to your current job. So what do you do when someone asks you to do something that’s outside the boundary of your job? First, do NOT say, “That’s not my job.” I can guarantee that nobody likes that answer and it will always provoke hostility. But you don’t want to be walked on or turn into an individual that can’t say, “No.” (future blog post) Instead, think about what it is that you’re being asked to do and find a way to help.
A lot of times I will say something to the effect, “That’s not something that I handle regularly, but let me do some research and get you in contact with someone that can help you.” I’ve said, “No”, but in a way that doesn’t provoke hostility and also recognizes the needs of the person requesting the task. Is it outside of my job to help them? Maybe… But I’m taking on a small part of responsibility to help them accomplish their task and reaping large rewards for the minimal effort.
Taking on a small element of responsibility, even if it’s not your job, will show others that you are professional. It also sets the precedence that your job does have boundaries. You must be respectful, and in turn you are likely to gain the respect of others. There is a large portion of the workforce that seeks to hire veterans because veterans have these principles instilled into their core. Take a lesson from the military and get out of the habit of saying, “It’s not my job.”