My employee has a bad attitude – they only do what’s in their job description

We are concluding our series on employees with “bad attitudes.” We’ve already tackled employees who have no sense of urgency as well as grumpy employees. In this post we are going to address another “bad attitude” pattern from employees and others – “That’s not in my job description.”

That’s Not In My Job Description

A few months ago, I was guest lecturing at another University and for that particular night, I was evaluating presentations. I needed to provide live feedback to the individuals presenting, provide detailed feedback via notes and, on top of all of that, the presentations were going to be recorded so someone had to man the camera. Finding myself in a bind, I walked out into the hall and I asked the IT support staff person (these individuals are assigned to classrooms to assist if there is any kind of technical difficulties) if he would be available to help me record the presentations. Guess what his response was? You guessed it: “That’s not in my job description.” As a result, for 4 hours I watched presentations, manned the camera, typed feedback and debriefed every individual after each presentation. My IT support dude sat outside at the main desk and read a book. Can you tell I’m just a wee bit bitter?

The “that’s not in my job description” employee is not a bad person, but they are definitely not helpful. In fact, they can leave one still thinking about the interaction months later (not that I know anyone like that). So let’s talk about what it gets them and costs them.

What they get from having a “bad attitude”

They get a decent payoff from their “bad attitude.” They are really clear at the end of the day, and come performance review time, what they did. They stuck to the prescribed list and they did those tasks as defined. There is little room for argument that they didn’t do their job as its stated on the official “job description” that resides in H.R. So, in that way they protect themselves. They make sure their job, and only their job, get’s done. There won’t be any “scope creep” with these folks. No boundary issues or workplace co-dependency. They do just what they are paid to do.

What it costs them and YOU

What it costs all parties involved is significant. Common with any form of “bad attitude,” it always costs the individual promotion opportunities. No one with this particular “bad attitude” is going to get promoted because they never show any willingness or desire to stretch beyond his or her role. As a manager, it makes your job tremendously difficult. They are so incredibly rigid that if a fire pops up, you will have a difficult time getting him or her to step up and take it on. You lose flexibility. You also run the risk that his or her attitude becomes contagious. If your whole team observes how things play out and begin to believe that their lives would be easier if they just stick to their job descriptions as well, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

How to manage them

Managing individuals through their “it’s not in my job description” attitude is not easy, but it can be done. Why?  Primarily because these folks do a good job responding to directness, clarity and specificity. So, as a result, you essentially need to “rewrite” their job description.

So what can you do? Following this simple plan:

  1. Rewrite their job description.  Tell them that based on their solid performance and the changing needs of the department, you are going to revise their job description to provide them more “stretch” opportunities.
  2. Be specific. Don’t just say, “be more flexible.” Tell them what you mean by flexible. Example: tell him or her that flexibility means that every time they see a co-worker struggling, they should offer to help. When a client comes and asks for something that is outside of their job description, offer to take them to the right resource and assist if you can.
  3. Ask them to keep track. Tell them that you want them to count how often they did things “outside of their job description” and report those to you once a month (or some other determined date). This provides accountability and a way for you to make something “fuzzy” seem more concrete for people who like the comfort that concrete provides.

And of course, there is a quicker option if the steps above seem too troublesome. Simply invite them to meet with you in your office and as they sit down, pull out their job description, light it on fire and exclaim, “Any questions?” A mildly dysfunctional approach to be sure, but very entertaining nonetheless…


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6 replies
  1. Luke says:

    There is nothing wrong with sticking to the job description, because that is the difference between regular staff and management. Both usually stick to their roles. Very rarely do i see management performing the hands on physical work or the dirty work in a warehouse. But they will handle the paper work and organising of the group of staff, so i wouldn’t expect the regular staff to have to be too urgent if they have enough on their plates in terms of the work already in front of them for the day.

    Also i am not surprised if staff become grumpy. Especially if the work is stressful, physical, and is constant for the entire 8 hours. Very common in manufacturing field which is a huge industry.
    Often you see alot of staff turn over and for good reason.

    Also consider the atmosphere and culture of a company, maybe there is politics, cliqueness, there are lots of reasons that can sway someone to be happy or grumpy in a job.

    I disagree with reporting how often staff extend themselves, though i agree on the concept that all staff should help out where possible. Sometimes people are just too snowed under with the basic form of work in front of them, the scale of it which can be different to each worker. If you start comparing everyone on the same slate then it isn’t going to be fair.

    so a bad attitude is obvious, but remember that maybe the job or tasks undertaken might be very uninspiring and repetitive work. For instance, try and working on a production line where you can’t even use the bathroom until 1 hour is over because the production line cannot be stopped. Compare that to an office worker who can use the bathroom whenever they want to and can go and get a drink whenever they like.

    So you must take into consideration the variety of jobs out there, the complexity of the situation and environment, they industry, the conditions, the culture, the politics, etc before we tag people with generalisations of having a bad attitude. First understand why that may be the case.

  2. Sumon says:

    This is my boos question by email ? Please help what the explanation?
    Report me all your job description this month.
    As I see you don’t do your work properly.
    It’s the question what’s your impotency in Company.
    Waiting you reply immediately.

  3. Brandon Smith says:

    It sounds like your boss either isn’t clear on what you are doing or isn’t clear on how well you are doing it. Either way, you’ve got a problem. You (and your boss) have allowed things to become vague and unclear. In that space, dysfunction can breed. Here’s what I propose you do. Say this to your boss:
    “I’m sorry that there might be any confusion on my performance and contributions. What can I provide you to help you get a better picture on my contributions in addition to my job description?” Or, if you are uncomfortable asking, come to the meeting prepared with a one-page description of your job AND all of your contributions to date this year. The more measurable, the better. Numbers always speak louder than words with a boss.

    Good luck!

  4. ConcernedAnon says:

    I do not agree with the premise of this article since it only highlights and promotes the fundamental dishonesty of a bad hiring manager. If a significant creep in job responsibilities is needed be upfront and include it in the job profile before the hiring process so the prospective employee has a chance to walk away if it does not suit him. Bad work due to poor skills and planning of the hiring manager does not mean an automatic submission and acceptance of job creep from the employee.

  5. Kimberly says:

    I’m curious.

    At least in your case with the example of the lecture and that person being part of IT, it makes sense that they probably could’ve help you out.

    I work as an administrative assistant/receptionist. My boss has me doing drafting work and noting revisions on them–on projects and material I know absolutely nothing about and am not trained/schooled for. Would it be bad attitude if I told them it isn’t part of my job description (in a less blunt way and more of “I don’t think I’m exactly the right person to be doing this” way)? He’s given me bonuses in the past, and it’s not that I’m ungrateful, but more of, “is this your way of making me say ‘yes’ to whatever task you make me do whether it be part of my job or not”? To be clear, they’re no way unethical tasks–just ones that are very far from what I’m supposed to be doing.

    He rather give us raises than hire new people since he doesn’t like people working for him for a couple of years and leaving, which is what has been commonly happening as we are a small firm, so everyone trained/schooled for those tasks are always experiencing heavy workloads, which is taking a toll on the whole office.

  6. Brandon Smith says:

    Hi Kimberly. What you described is “textbook” for a small office. In small offices / businesses / non-profits, it is very common that people wear multiple hats. That being said, it is understandable that some of the hats you are wearing aren’t fitting you well. In my opinion, the best way to phrase this to your boss is to say something like this: “I’m happy to do this task for you. That being said, I’m a bit uncomfortable with this particular task. Not only am I not trained in it, I also don’t see this as one of my strengths. My concern is that I’m going to produce something of lower quality than you are expecting, regardless of how hard I try. Perhaps you and I can think about another solution to getting this done.”

    Try that and see how it goes!

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