It’s not my job!

There are not many situations that irritate me more than people reacting to a request by words “It is not my responsibility” or “It is not my job, someone else should do it.” And sometimes it doesn’t even needs to be spoken but it is implied by acting (or not acting).

Let us consider a rather trivial example. You have a meeting with ten people. After the meeting everyone leaves and there is an empty cup on the table (someone just forgot it there). Now, what happens?

You have a person who sees the cup and decides to ignore it. It is not his job so why should he take it to the kitchen? It may be laziness, feeling of being too important for such a menial job, or just simple “I don’t care” attitude.

And now look at second person, someone who sees the cup and without a word grabs it to put it to a dishwasher. It is like a reflex for this person and she is not even thinking about who should do that. That shows a great sense of ownership, a desire to keep things neat, a way of thinking that will most likely show also in other aspects of her life and work. The way she works with customers, with the team, how is she approaching her job. She simply sees that something needs to be done so goes and does it without a word or thought whether she is the one who should do it.

Who would you rather have on your team?

The same can be seen in software development. A developer may say “It is not my job to test the code I just wrote, QA department should do it.” “It is not my job to review code of my colleague I need to focus on my own code.” Or manager saying “Why should I talk to this person who needs help, he is not from my department.” If you have culture like that you are in troubles. It shows a lack of ownership for the product, the company and the job. It shows very low team spirit and it is something you want to fix.

So what do you do? If this is happening you need to get back to basics and talk about values of the organization, why they are important and what does it mean to do things the right way. And obviously, you don’t just talk. You lead by example. Even if you are a team lead, a manager, a director you still need to be able to get your hands dirty when you see a job that needs to get done regardless how menial it may seem.

And if someone still doesn’t see why they should do work that is outside of their job description then reminding them that only by expanding their current tasks can they learn new things, develop and grow, should do the trick.

Let me finish with a personal story that illustrates what I’m talking about. I was heading an office of more than hundred and fifty people. On the team I had an office admin who was among other things responsible for accepting mail and deliveries. What happens when such a person takes a day off? Well, mail is still coming, someone has to take care of it, and no one else has it in a job description. What did I do? I just sit for a day at the reception desk and handled the mail, welcomed visitors and other small tasks that needed to be done. At the end it had a negligible disruptive effect on my day and my ability to get my real work done. And the best part? By doing it, I was more visible to the team. I lead by example. People would talk to me more as I was the first person they saw when coming to the office. And I learned something small about a job of a receptionist…

What does this mean for you? Do you see similar situations around you? How do you react? And how you do to improve the environment when people just don’t care?