How to Respond When an Employee Says, ‘That’s Not My Job!’

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It’s bad enough when an all-hands-on-deck crisis hits your business; it’s even worse when one or more of your employees responds, “It’s not my job!”

You can tell your rebellious employee(s) to “Just do it,” and that may get you what you want in the short term, but that response will also lead to some negative long-term repercussions and resentment. You can only force staff members into submission for so long before you end up with an outright mutiny on your hands.

Go Deeper Than the Symptoms; Attack the Root of the Problem

But let’s back up for a second: If you do have employees crying “Not my job,” then you have to look at the underlying cause. Any team member who plays the not-my-job card could be actively disengaged, which means they’re unwilling to go above and beyond, no matter the circumstances. In fact, they may not even be willing to meet their everyday expectations, depending on how disengaged they are.

Forcing resistant employees to fall in line is a band-aid, not a cure. It treats the symptoms, but not the causes.

What are the causes of such disengagement? The particular reasons why any one employee is disengaged will vary, but it’s important to note that disengagement affects about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.

One strategy for dealing with disengagement in the long run is to conduct regular employee engagement surveys to find out how your employees are feeling and what grievances they may have.

Utilizing Engagement Surveys

Engagement surveys should touch on a number of working conditions, including pay, benefits, training, career progression, fairness, and flexibility. The goal is to find out how (un)happy your employees are and to identify the specific pain points that may be fueling disengagement.

You might find that employees feel their good work goes unrecognized or that they are being paid well below the market rate. The list goes on and on, really.

BulbOnce you have uncovered the reasons why employees are disengaged – and, therefore, unwilling to go the extra mile – you need to address these issues. That’s the only way to prevent feature cries of “Not my job!”

Adjust Expectations

But disengagement is only one reason why employees refuse to do work outside their job descriptions. Another potential cause: You never set the proper expectations for employee behavior in crisis situations.

Perhaps you write rigid job descriptions that don’t offer employees any flexibility. If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder your employees aren’t stepping outside of their roles: You’ve told them not to do that.

Take a look at your job descriptions; if they’re highly particular and don’t offer any flexibility, it’s time to rewrite them in ways that nurture and permit flexibility.

Leading by Example

Staff members may also be reluctant to go the extra mile if they feel that senior leaders get a pass in such situations. If the execs don’t pitch in, then why should they?

If you want to encourage your employees to be team players, it’s important that influential figures in your company also walk that walk.

Recognize Your Employees

Finally, staff members who feel they receive no recognition for going the extra mile are less likely to rise to the occasion.

How do you recognize your employees for going above and beyond the call of duty? It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it’s important to say “Thank you” and recognize your employees when they really pitch in during times of crisis. Failure to do so will make staff members feel like their effort is taken for granted – which is likely to discourage them fro making additional extraordinary efforts in the future.

SkyWhen an employee refuses to pitch in and help out with work outside their immediate job description, there’s almost always an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. You might be tempted to use the stick to “beat” your employee into submission, but that will only breed further contempt and disengagement.

Instead, the best way to combat “That’s not my job” attitudes is to encourage and incentivize teamwork by addressing employee pain points, educating staff, offering flexibility, and recognizing your employees for jobs well done.

Read more in Employee Engagement

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.