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…