“It’s not my job!”

What do those four little words do to YOUR insides? Some tell me it rivals the shrill sound of fingernails raking slowly across a blackboard. It doesn’t matter who the recipient of this toxic phrase is – whether an employer or a co-worker – it is irritating to the senses to say the least. It is also why many doctors I work with are reluctant to create written job descriptions for their practice. The concern is that assigning a fixed list of duties puts limitations on their staffs’ efforts; so (in their minds) it’s better not even to have one. Well, I couldn’t disagree more.

Allow me to clarify. One of my functions when I go into a medical practice is to determine if tasks are well delineated and assure that each employee contributes to a seamless workflow. Among the documents I ask to see are staff job descriptions. What I hope to receive are well-composed, updated narratives for each job title that includes the salary range, educational requirements and necessary technical and soft skillsets for that position. What I am given instead, is either an outdated list of tasks or nothing at all. In either case, it’s never surprising to find there exists, as a result, a redundancy of duties, system breakdown, confusion, imbalanced workload and unqualified personnel (often not their fault); not to mention disgruntled staff (and docs).

It is at the initial hiring interview, that employees need to be informed of what the job entails via a well-written job description that contains a distinction between primary and secondary tasks, responsibilities, expected outcomes, and protocol associated with the position. It is far more sensible to make applicants fully aware of job expectations BEFORE you hire them and avoid any potential surprises after they have accepted the position. This is the perfect time to also discuss the workplace culture; explaining that regardless of their “job position” their “role” as a team member requires them to step in and help where and when they are needed. Sharing a job description with them at this point provides insight into whether or not they are suitable for the position based on the specified requirements and prevents any misunderstanding down the road. They also serve as a guideline, helping the new employee to familiarize themselves with the criteria on which their performance will be evaluated.                                                   

Now, about that nasty phrase, “it’s not my job.” I have come to realize that it is either the product of an unsupportive work environment or the poor work ethic of an employee; neither of which are related to a written job description. Given the importance of an employee’s work ethic, it is the first thing I question to determine whether or not they fit into the culture. If they are not team-oriented, do not align with the practice culture or see their employment as a “job” not as a career, red flags go up. On the other hand, if the employee has a decent work ethic at the onset that turns bitter once on board, it’s likely due to an uncooperative culture. For example, maybe they were getting a disproportionate number of extra jobs dumped in their laps that prevented them from getting their primary tasks done – while other co-workers seemed to always get a pass. Perhaps they were given additional tasks that they were not properly trained in, or not within their skillset or comfort range. Their soured demeanor could also have been the result of poor management. Who was overseeing staff to assure that assignments were properly carried out?

Many employers add “and any other duty required of me” as a “catchall” phrase at the end of each job description figuring it will cover all bases and destroy the “it’s not my job” mentality before the mentality destroys the practice. I actually endorse this concept as long as it is duly pointed out and acknowledged by the employee. Above all, it is critical that you set hiring standards; establishing what type of people you want working for you. Don’t settle for just anyone. Hire someone who has goals, aspires to contribute to the practice, aligns with your culture and shares your values because to them, performing an extra job or two when called upon is part of their DNA. In fact, these employees realize that going over and above their written job description puts them on a path forward; one that enables them to broaden their experience and develop their role in the practice.

After all is said and done, if you still find that your employee succeeds in making the claim “It’s not my job” as a rational position, it’s (quite simply) because they can. And if that’s the case, the bigger question is…who lets them?