how to tell your boss “that’s not my job”

A reader writes:

I’m feeling a bit stuck at work recently. I have a new department head and he keeps periodically asking me to do things that are very much not the normal responsibility of my role. These are always very simple things, things I am certainly capable of doing, but should fall outside of my purview. We even have documented methodologies indicating this sort of thing is not the sort of thing I’m expected to be responsible for. The trouble is, I’m not sure if when he’s asking me to do this it’s because he’s still new and not completely up to speed on who does what, or if this is a situation where he is The Boss and if he’s telling me to do it then now it is my responsibility, if not permanently, at least on these specific occasions. I’m also disinclined to just run with it without saying anything because then it really will become my responsibility, and there are good reasons why it currently is not.

I am having difficulty thinking of a way to bring this up that doesn’t sound like I’m refusing to do it. On the one hand, it’s not my job, but I also know that going around saying “that’s not my job” is not appropriate. The situation is not quite that I don’t have the authority to do the task, but that’s closer to the type of reasoning for why my role isn’t responsible for the thing, and it’s always restricted to people in a different role. Part of the internal rationale was a sort of “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation in the past, but there are also other logical reasons why staff in my role are not intended to be involved.

I’m also hesitant to push back at all since I can’t tell if the boss is coming from a place of not knowing or one of reassigning. I don’t want to seem difficult (but also reallllly don’t want this added to my plate). I don’t know the new department head well enough to guess whether it’s more likely a misunderstanding vs a change in policy. I’m struggling with finding the words for how to bring it up without sounding like I am saying “that’s not my job”. Is this the sort of thing that is better handled in the moment, or waiting for a time separate from when he’s making the request to talk about it more generally? Help!

My money is on him not realizing that he shouldn’t asking you to do this stuff.

If he were aware that these projects traditionally have been specifically designed not to be done by you and had made a deliberate decision to change that, it’s pretty likely that he would have acknowledged that to you — to have explained it was changing. Not 100% certain, but highly likely. Since he hasn’t, I’d work from the assumption that he just doesn’t realize that there have been clear and strategic reasons for handling these things differently in the past — and moreover, that you really don’t want that work added to your plate.

So, speak up! Since it’s now become a pattern, you’re probably better off doing this as a separate conversation rather than handling each one in the moment, at least to start.

Sit down with him and say something like, “I wanted to mention — you’ve asked me to do some projects recently like X and Y. I was of course happy to help out in a pinch, but since it’s come up a few times, I wanted to let you know that historically that type of work has been done by the llama groomers and we’ve actually got documentation about who should and shouldn’t do it. The reason that people in my role aren’t supposed to do that work is (fill in logistical reasons). I figured you didn’t have that context yet and that I should fill you in.”

Assuming your boss is receptive, you could also say, “If something like that comes up again, I’ll flag it for you so that you’ve got that context.”

But if your boss pushes back a bit — like saying that it may have been done that way in the past but he wants to change things up — you could say, “I’m of course willing to try that out if you want to change that. But I want to make sure you know that it would be a pretty significant change to my role, which would concern me because of (reasons). Before we make the change, could I tell you a bit more about why we ended up dividing things this way?”

And if it’s work that you’d really hate to take on permanently, it’s okay to be honest about that. You can say, “To be honest, I took this role in part because it didn’t involve X” or “To be up-front, it’s not a change I’d be thrilled about because of (reasons)” or so forth.

The key to talking about this without being insubordinate is that you’re not saying you won’t do it. You’re just giving him relevant context that he may not have … some of which might be that it would significantly change your job satisfaction, which any sensible manager will want the chance to factor into their thinking, even if they ultimately decide to make the change anyway.

{ 164 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Lena Clare

      I’ll say that what I find difficult is thinking of these things to say in the moment when somethimg happens.

      The example above is not too bad because it involves sitting down at a prearranged time to chat about it so you can prepare, but – generally speaking – for little things that need confronting in in the moment, you can’t plan.
      That’s what I struggle with.

      Reply
      1. Sabine the Very Mean

        Me too, Lena. I stumble and fumble and get anxious. I want to be able to say these things articulately in the moment, not on the drive home.

        Reply
      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        Here’s a script that you can tuck away for the ‘in the moment’ requests.

        Boss: Hey I need to you compile the whatsit report by Friday.
        You: Sure, I can get that request off to the whosit team who normally owns that, unless there’s a specific reason that you need me to do it?

        This accomplishes 2 things. Let’s the boss, who may not know, know that there’s another person or group that owns that thing. And it keeps the door open in case there is a reason your boss needs you to do it. If the latter is the case they will probably let you know the reason.

        Reply
        1. Hills to Die on

          I really like this. I have had particularly good luck with saying ‘here’s how I will proceed unless you say otherwise’ because it puts my preferred option first. If I said ‘do you want me to do x or y’ and I am hoping for x, then it’s a toss up. If there’s no good reason why we can’t do it my way, I am far more likely to get things organized in the way that’s best for me.

          Reply
        2. CM

          I wouldn’t use the “unless there’s a specific reason” part — I would just say, “Sure, the whosit team owns that, so I’ll send them a request to get it done by Friday.” The boss can then let you know if he specifically wants you to do it instead, but you’re not volunteering — I find that with your script, the boss is more likely to say, “No, I’d feel more comfortable having you do it.”

          Reply
          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

            And sometimes this is a valid reason for a boss to give you a task owned by someone else. Honestly even if it’s not I’m hardly going to tell a boss “Hmm… sorry but that’s not a compelling enough reason for me to do this task”

            At the end of the day if the boss has a reason (good or bad) they want you to do something, it’s best just to do it. But if you get a reason why they want you to do it, you may find a way to convince them now or in the future that there’s a better way to get it done.

            It will especially help someone with a new boss understand how they tick. Which will help them understand how to manage them in the future.

            Reply
        3. Lena Clare

          That particular comment wouldn’t work in the team I’m in unfortunately, however I think it’s a *great* idea to have a stock phrase to use (along the lines of what other commentators suggested) e.g. “Y is also due Friday. I can do X or Y before then; is X what you’d like me to prioritise on?” so I’m going to work on that for future reference :)

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          1. GreenDoor

            My in-the-moment protest sounds something like, ‘I can do that…should I also advise Co-worker? She usually handles these things and I don’t want to step on her toes…” or “…should I advise Other Team? They have some pretty strick prototcols on this and I’d hate to mess up their system.” This usually works to gently advise the boss that this is Not My Job and let’s them save face by either taking back the assignment or giving me more context for why I’m being asked to do it instead without it feeling like I’m questioning their authority.

            Reply
  1. Snarkus Aurelius

    In the past two years, I’ve had three bosses who all started brand new and all automatically assumed we took no action on anything ever until the bosses came along to tell us.

    The best part? My current boss tells people who don’t work at our agency to do stuff for him like getting meetings on his schedule. You have an assistant!

    AAM’s advice will show you whether you have a boss who doesn’t care or one who doesn’t know.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      A variation on that is the new boss who sees routine institutional reminders and immediately starts contacting people and ordering them to do this stuff when it is something you have done routinely for years and are on top of. Nothing makes you look incompetent like a boss doing your job with subordinates or colleagues and of course it undercuts the procedures you have in place to make sure things are done properly.

      Reply
  2. animaniactoo

    I favor an approach of “Is there a reason you want(ed) me to do this instead of X who usually handles that?”

    and then depending on the answer, you can give context of “Okay — I wasn’t sure if you know the history of why X is supposed to handle that, and I’m not an approved person for it, do you need me to fill you in on that?” or pushback with the implication that it’s not so easy as he just wants you to do it now: “Hmmm. Okay, I can understand that. Can we clarify with X/divisional structure/assigned handler/etc. since this will be a change for them as well?”

    Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      My only caution is you have to be really really careful with tone when you go with your script. It’s super easy to go from information gathering to confrontational just by tone with this one.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        If your Boss is completely thin-skinned perhaps. Most adults will understand that you just can’t make an employee do something when they require a specific role, permission, training or background. Even if you are in management.

        Reply
        1. ChimericalOne

          No, that is actually really fraught language, and not just for the thin-skinned. “Is there a reason you did X?” is often heard as hostile or sarcastic, regardless of the intent. It reminds me of my dad saying, “Are you *trying* to make a mess?” when I was a kid. And it’s especially likely to offend or embarrass if the person DOESN’T have a particular reason (other than, “Well, I guess I thought you were the one who handled this stuff”) because it calls out the other person’s ignorance and forces them to admit it or get defensive. A very chill person or a very data-oriented person might take it completely at face value. But it’s risky, as many people will not.

          Instead of a question — which can sound sarcastic — I’d go with Allison’s script or rephrase the above as a statement. “I’m happy to help, but I did want to let you know that Susie has handled these things in the past. I wasn’t sure if there was a particular reason you wanted me to handle it, though?” (Not a question, just an upward lilt that invites a response.)

          I agree with the “Okay, I can understand that. Can we clarify with X/divisional structure/assigned handler/etc. since this will be a change for them as well?” part of the script, though.

          I think it’s also worth noting that the OP specifically says that the situation “is not *quite* that I don’t have the authority to do the task,” but it’s similar, so it’s a little more complicated than that she’s flat-out not approved/permitted/etc. (which would make it so much easier to handle!). I imagine it might be a little like the situation a relative of mine is facing in the military, where she technically has the authority to do the thing her superior is asking her to do (re: getting some urgent paperwork signed), but she doesn’t have the authority to put pressure on the necessary people, so it’s taking much longer to do than it would if her superior had assigned someone of the appropriate rank (i.e., someone who could’ve leaned on HQ to get it done). She really can’t say, “That’s not my job,” but it’s certainly true that it’s not smart to assign it to her!

          Reply
  3. EditorInChief

    I’m going to provide a different perspective. As a manager I would find these scripts off-putting and close to subordination. I know what my direct reports’ job duties entail, and if I’m asking one of them to do something, I’m expecting her to figure out how to get it done–whether it’s delegating it to the person appropriate for the task or doing it herself. If there’s an issue regarding logistics/process etc I expect her to bring it up and offer a solution. Not just complain how it’s not her job.

    Reply
      1. Hills to Die on

        It’s important to note this feedback because the reality OP has to deal with is that some people WILL take offense. I would suggest being super nice and polite about it so that there is no room to misinterpret.

        Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      I’m a manager and I wouldn’t have problems with this. Especially if I was a new to the team manager. I don’t want to be the cause of duplicated efforts or wasted time on my team. So if someone has a better way of doing it then I say go for it.

      I don’t think any here has said go with the “Not my job” approach. It’s more of the approach of “It’s the other guys job” in my mind there’s a huge difference between the two.

      Reply
    2. MusicWithRocksInIt

      But in this case the manager of the department is new and we are unaware of if they know what the direct reports’ job duties entail. How would you want a direct report to approach you at a new job if you were, in fact, in the wrong?

      Reply
    3. Health Insurance Nerd

      But if you’re new to the company or role, it stands to reason that you actually don’t have a complete picture of your direct reports duties, or who does what. Pushing back is not insubordination, and the LW isn’t just complaining they are looking for scripts to help them message a solution.

      Reply
      1. Dragoning

        I have always had a better understanding of my job duties than my boss did, after initial training–because they have a totally different job, and the nuances are lost to exactly what details I need to know.

        Otherwise they’d be doing my job AND their job!

        Reply
      2. Washi

        Agreed. Pushing back repeatedly after the boss has been really clear that it’s her task might be insubordination, but clarifying once or twice about who owns what projects should really not be seen that way by most reasonable managers.

        Reply
    4. McWhadden

      An important reminder that some bosses are just unreasonable jerks. But hopefully she isn’t in that situation.

      Reply
    5. AnonEMoose

      I think there’s a key difference here, though – it sounds like you’re experienced with your team, and so you know their roles well. The OP’s boss is new to the role (and maybe to the company?), and that makes the situation ambiguous in terms of “is he trying to change things, or does he not know my role vs X’s role?”

      Reply
      1. EditorInChief

        Yes, correct I know my team well. For a new manager these scripts are ok in the beginning when things are in flux. But I think it’s a different story for a more experienced team, and I think that should be make clear. I just don’t think these scripts are appropriate. On my team it’s perfectly acceptable to me for someone to say “that’s Cersei in teapot design who reviews that documentation. I’ll forward it on to her.” Fine. Forward it to Cersei. I don’t care who does it, I just need it done.

        And for the record McWhadden, I’m an excellent boss. I have high expectations of my team–I expect people to be able to communicate, problem solve and be resourceful. I go to bat for my team 100% and shield them from general corporate bs and nonsense as much as possible. Nothing makes me happier or more proud than to see them succeed. I get requests constantly for people who want to transfer into my department. I’m just not some hippy dippy boss who sings Kumbaya and holds hands around a drum circle as a way to cajole people to do their jobs.

        Reply
        1. McWhadden

          But who shields them from your BS when you accuse them of insubordination over pointing out something completely reasonable?

          Reply
        2. McWhadden

          “holds hands around a drum circle as a way to cajole people to do their jobs.”

          And, no, you are requiring them to do other people’s jobs and refusing to listen to the most efficient response possible. Alison’s responses would save you time in the long run and your employees. But your own ego would make you accuse them of insubordination. You don’t see a problem with that?

          Reply
          1. ket

            EditorInChief specifically says, “Ok, I’ll forward that to Erica who does the llamas” is a fine response, and that EditorInChief doesn’t care who does it as long as it gets done.

            I can see just from the writing that EditorInChief’s style would be gold for some reports and terrible for others. I think I’d be happy with it, but I had to quit waitressing because I couldn’t do small talk & feelings well enough :)

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            1. Pomona Sprout

              I hear you on the style issue. If I had to work for EditorInChief, I’m afraid I’d probably have a nervous brezkdown!

              Reply
            2. Lady Blerd

              I’ve worked for Editor in Chief types before and didn’t wilt from that experience as I don’t need a touchy feely boss whereas I’ve had colleagues felt personally persecuted by the boss’ communication style.

              Reply
        3. Close Bracket

          > But I think it’s a different story for a more experienced team, and I think that should be make clear. I just don’t think these scripts are appropriate.

          > And for the record McWhadden, I’m an excellent boss.

          Excellent bosses don’t arbitrarily rearrange people’s job duties and say it’s insubordination when they push back, *especially* when dealing with an experienced team. I guess it’s good that you have direct reports who accept a command-and-control management style. Teams tend to sort themselves out, and people who don’t appreciate martinets will quit and go somewhere where their talents are appreciated more than their compliance.

          Reply
        4. OP

          But the situation I wrote in about is a new manager. When I wrote in, the person had been with the company weeks, not months. I was also not saying I ever had any intention of responding with “not my job”. The point is how to A: figure out if NewBoss is intentionally making a change in process (in which case I probably want to explain to him some of the reasons why that’s a bad idea) and B: if he’s not making an intentional change, help inform him about the team structure, since he’s new and very easily just might not know yet, but doing so without pissing him off.
          You seem to be responding to a scenario that is not what I was asking about.

          Reply
        5. AnonEMoose

          But…this question is fundamentally about how to handle this situation with a new manager. So I can see pointing out “this would work with a new manager, but wouldn’t work as well with a manager who’s been with the team longer,” but it seems to me like you’re making it about making sure we all know your team needs to be sufficiently subordinate to you.

          And yes, we do all need to keep in mind who is the boss and makes the decisions. That matters. But the question isn’t about the situation you’re talking about, really.

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        6. Cat Fan

          You say you know who does what on your team. Isn’t it more efficient to ask the correct person to do something instead of asking whomever is around to figure it out?

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        7. Hiring Mgr

          If there’s one thing I really can’t stand, it’s hippie, long haired, Kumbaya singing managers We had enough of that at Woodstock, and look where it’s gotten us.

          Reply
        8. bunniferous

          If you misunderstand your team the way you misunderstood this question….it is possible you have mistakenly thought someone on your team to be insubordinate. Just a thought.

          Reply
    6. SheLooksFamiliar

      I don’t think the OP was complaining ‘That’s not my job!’ In fact, I think the OP has gone out of their way to NOT do that. They want the new boss to know why things were done a certain way – not to lay down the law about How Things Work Around Here, but to explain a smoothly working operation he probably didn’t know about.

      Also, whenever I took a management role in a new org, my SOP was to learn and (at least initially) work with the structure and division of labor that existed before I came along – there’s usually a good reason for it. Telling a new subordinate to do something without the benefit of context and history – and expecting them to comply without hesitation – is widely considered poor, autocratic management. I think secure managers know they don’t have to change everything just because they are the boss, and they don’t consider a question or explanation to be defiance.

      Reply
    7. Phoenix Programmer

      You sound like my old boss.

      He constantly held me accountable for tasks I did not own and tossed around the term “insubordinate” when I explained where the tasks belongedand why I thought they should stay there. Since I am not a manager I had no leverage to delegate the take to their proper home.

      The result? The team responsible for the items realized I was getting raked over the coals for them failing to deliver so they cut their FTE to maximize their P&L savings.

      Then we had an audit and my access to do the work was cut because – get this – my role does not need to do those tasks. So we were suddenly without the ability to get the deliverable. Complaince refused to budge and the other team did not have the staff to absorb it.

      It took 1.5 YEARS to get that deliverable back.

      Seriosuly reconsider your approach unless you manage a manager and even then if it’s inter departmental.

      Reply
      1. EditorInChief

        I’m high on the corporate food chain. I manage managers’ managers and I expect them to delegate. I have never once held insubordination over any of my direct reports’ heads at any point in my career, so this who scenario that I’m an ego filled bad manager is really off base. Sorry if I’m not towing the party line here.

        Reply
        1. BuildMeUp

          I’m not sure what party line you’re referring to; I think people are just confused because what you’re describing is clearly very different from what the LW wrote in about, and in many companies the scripts above wouldn’t be considered anything close to insubordination.

          Reply
        2. Phoenix Programmer

          I am responding to the facts on your comment. I also never made a value judgement on your ego and I even added the caveat “unless you manage managers”.

          Not sure what party line is either. I am giving a real world example of how this behavior hurt our business and team.

          Reply
        3. Mike C.

          You keep moving the goal posts.

          1. New manager vs experienced manager
          2. Specific (and improper) person assigned task vs “anyone” can be assign task

          Also you don’t seem to have experience with jobs where people cannot perform certain tasks for legal, regulatory, policy or best industry practice reasons.

          Reply
          1. Zombeyonce

            EditorInChief is also the person that brought up insubordination in the first place, seeming like they deal with that problem all the time, but is now saying they never have. They’re being really inconsistent here, especially since their original comment didn’t even cover the actual circumstances of the OP.

            Reply
          2. mark132

            Or efficiency reasons. Can I do this task that person X usually does? Likely yes, but it’s going to take me a lot longer and I’m more likely to make a mistake.

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            1. Julia

              This. I explained to my boss several times that me translating German to Japanese and my Japanese co-worker translating Japanese to German was not efficient and resulted in awfully unnatural language, but he never changed his approach.

              Reply
        4. LGC

          I mean, you’ve been told this multiple times, but…you’re not acquitting yourself well here. Just to quote your topline comment:

          As a manager I would find these scripts off-putting and close to [in]subordination. I know what my direct reports’ job duties entail, and if I’m asking one of them to do something, I’m expecting her to figure out how to get it done–whether it’s delegating it to the person appropriate for the task or doing it herself.

          (Bolded relevant, and added in the correction you made immediately after in brackets.)

          So it reads to me that if you were LW’s boss in this situation, you would feel that the LW was in the wrong, and possibly in need of formal discipline. On top of that, you’re consistently imposing your priors (you’ve managed your team for a while) when they don’t match up with the LW’s situation in a significant way (her boss has only been managing her for a short period of time).

          I know you’re getting a lot of heat from a lot of people (and some comments have been really harsh), but I think in this case everyone else is mostly correct. You’re right in that some managers might not like the pushback – but in LW’s case, that’s really a problem with the manager, not with her, and you seem to be presenting it as a problem with her (and tossing around your credentials while doing so).

          Reply
          1. ket

            “I’m expecting her to figure out how to get it done” is what EditorInChief said — not do it, but figure out how to get it done.

            Clearly EditorInChief doesn’t have a style popular here on AAM, but at some levels in some places this does actually work out. LW would pass the TPS report request to the TPS people and they’d tell her she needed to get the P&L done. When done poorly, this could be incredibly inefficient; when done well by someone with a lot of balls in the air, it could be fine. A lot depends on who is considered responsible and who is rewarded.

            For the LW, the question is, does new manager (1) not know what’s up and not want to change LW’s job? (2) want to change LW’s job? or (3) want LW to delegate?

            Reply
            1. LGC

              I mean, I actually agree that it’d be better if the LW did do some redirection (or even say, “I’m not usually authorized to do X, but I can hand it off to Lucinda if you’d like”). But also…I’m not saying that EIC is a bad manager – I don’t work for Vogue their team, and I’ll try to withhold judgment. I AM saying that they’re foreclosing option 1 because 1 isn’t relevant for them, and I think option 1 is the most likely explanation for the LW.

              (…okay, so I did kind of say they weren’t a great manager because I was put off by the credentials tossing. It read as EIC trying to impress everyone to me, and in my case at least it spectacularly backfired.)

              Reply
          2. NW Mossy

            “Insubordination” is a really loaded term, and definitely one that makes me wince when I see managers use it, particularly in a way that implies that it’s a broadly shared belief that managers look at their teams this way.

            When I see it, it makes me think of its military origins and it’s uncomfortable for me to think of someone running a business team like a military unit. The objective of a military unit (defend X, destroy Y, capture Z, etc.) is big-deal, life-or-death, don’t-dither-just-do stuff. In that context, strict adherence to hierarchy and severe penalties for violations is vital. But in a business, the objectives are different, so the reasoning for having a tight command-and-control structure is less applicable.

            There are certainly organizations that can and do thrive in a military-esque leadership culture, but they’re becoming less and less common, particularly in knowledge industries. Sticking with that model when it’s out of step with the prevailing culture of the industry and/or the people who work in the industry can become a liability.

            Reply
            1. LGC

              …I’m in management (okay, I’m a team supervisor, I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself) and it makes ME wince! It’s one of the options on our warning forms and it’s by far the citation I have the most issues with.

              On one hand, I do need to ask people to do things that they may not want to do, and I need them to do it because of X or Y. But on the other hand, “insubordination” always feels a bit like asserting power just because you can – you explained it better, but it’s had that stench (reasonable or not) of being a power trip to me, as if the boss can’t argue with the merits of the action so they’re just going to assert their status to win.

              (Which, again, is a little unreasonable. But that’s also how I feel.)

              Reply
              1. Yay commenting on AAM!

                As a boss, the only time I wanted to write someone up for insubordination was the time I asked someone to please move his group over in a common space to make room for another group who also needed to be using the common space, and he screamed back at me, “I’m 45 years old and you can’t tell me what to do! I will not move over the other group can move! Who do you think you are telling me what to do?”

                Yeah, don’t say stuff like that to your boss.

                Reply
                1. LGC

                  One of the rare times I can remember being okay with an insubordination charge is when I heard that one of my employees yelled at my coworker that another employee should be fired. In front of other team members.

                  (I was annoyed, but understanding the one time I questioned another employee about their habit of spending half an hour in the bathroom every morning right after clocking in and they shot back with (and I quote) “What do you want me to do, shit on the floor?” For perspective, I normally try to mind my own business, but also everyone is hourly non-exempt and our job is production based. And I was prepared for that conversation to go to…well, you know.)

              2. TootsNYC

                I have on occasion said to people who worked for me, “I’m not a particularly bossy boss;I like people to feel like they have control of their job, and some independence and autonomy. I also make an effort to explain my reasoning and priorities, so you can feel confident in syncing up with me. I also expect you to have expertise and input, and am willing to hear your arguments if you think I’m making a mistake. But when it comes down to it in the end, I am the boss, and there also will be a time when you will need to just do the thing I decided.
                “If I ever actually NEED to say out loud, ‘I am the boss,’ I will consider this to be a huge deal.”

                I came up with that attitude because of a person who worked for me who, when I asked, “Hey, remember that question the Big Cheese asked, that I passed on to you because it was your territory? What was the answer to her question?” she said, “I told Big Cheese,” with the tone that implied she didn’t need to tell me.
                And I said, “Now you can tell me.” and she doubled down: “it wasn’t your question.”

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            2. Formerly Arlington

              Agree—I would save this term for an employee being openly defiant. Like saying NO when asked to dos something. Have never personally used this word to refer to a direct report in my 15 years of supervising others.

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            3. MsSolo

              <i.The objective of a military unit (defend X, destroy Y, capture Z, etc.) is big-deal, life-or-death, don’t-dither-just-do stuff. In that context, strict adherence to hierarchy and severe penalties for violations is vital.

              It’s also because there’s a certain amount of responsibility you want to dissipate across a unit, to make sure people aren’t overburdened by the weight of what they’re actually doing. Hierarchy means you don’t have to think and you don’t have to carry the guilt = that’s the responsibility of the person who gives the orders. In an office, you want people to take responsibility and think for themselves, because if they run up against a moral quandary they should be questioning things!

              Reply
              1. Steve

                > The objective of a military unit (defend X, destroy Y, capture Z, etc.) is big-deal, life-or-death, don’t-dither-just-do stuff. In that context, strict adherence to hierarchy and severe penalties for violations is vital.

                > In an office, you want people to take responsibility and think for themselves, because if they run up against a moral quandary they should be questioning things!

                The irony is that militaries have become more complicated than “Aim – fire!” to the point where many countries’ soldiers are now trained to think for themselves and to have a strong moral compass.

                Reply
        5. Pomona Sprout

          I would humbly suggest that you go back and re-read all your comments carefully. There is a reason people are reacting to you the way they are, and it’s all based on the content AND tone of what you have written.

          Also, no one here really cares how high up you are on the corporate totem pole or whatever. At AAM, the things you say and how you say them count for a lot more than how much of a big shot you are in your workplace. People who make thoughtful, constructive comments that are relevant to the o.p.’s inquiry are respected for their contributions, regardless of where they are on their office food chain. The reverse is also true.

          Reply
    8. Steve

      I think the OP is willing to delegate, but would appreciate scripts to articulate this in a positive way.

      I also think these conversations are dependent on personality – I worked for a guy who quickly made it clear that he wanted to look good to senior managers, so he made an effort to agree to any task even if it was totally outside his team’s scope. So when he gave me a task which was clearly someone else’s work, I learned to tell him that it would get done and then I would quietly hand off the task to the appropriate team.

      In that case I knew the problem was with him (he was a bad manager), and it was a short-term thing. I have always thought of it as a likely case of insubordination, but it also kept him happy and kept me sane (I saw him years later and he commented on my good work).

      Reply
      1. JulieCanCan

        Totally agree that OP should take her new manager’s personality and general demeanor into consideration before proceeding. To me, that is really the key variable in her approach and which script to use.

        I’ve had (bad) managers who would freak out and intentionally create a *more* difficult situation if a report pushed back even remotely – the act of ANY “debate” or questioning of said bad manager’s knowledge would quickly be squashed and made an example of. All this does is create chaos, fear, and a blurring of once-clear responsibility division amongst coworkers. Ideally, OP’s new manager is logical and reasonable – like a manager should be – and OP’s discussion with him/her will be taken in stride, with an open mind and willing to learn more about their organization and how departments functions with one another and within the company as a whole.

        Reply
    9. LGC

      That’s making a couple of large assumptions, though: First, you’re assuming that LW’s boss is intentionally asking LW to step out of her lane, and second, you’re assuming that LW is generally authorized to work on it. The first is ambiguous (boss is new and he quite likely doesn’t know who does what by heart), and the second is false (general procedure dictates that LW should keep her hands out of those tasks).

      In other words – it is “insubordination” in the sense that she’s not doing what she’s told, but it sounds like it’s justifiable in this case. I do feel like it’d be a lot easier to take if LW redirected New Boss to the correct department/people – like, she’s not supposed to comb llamas because they were combing the llamas too much and their hair was falling out, but Arya, Michelle, and Jill in grooming would be able to handle any combing requests.

      Reply
    10. Kella

      “OP shouldn’t follow Alison’s advice because that would be an inappropriate response to this other situation that’s not happening.”

      I’m really unclear on how your advice–have your employee bring it up and offer a solution– is different from Alison’s suggestion? The only difference is that Alison’s version recommends acknowledging the disconnect between what’s already been worked out and what the manager is asking for in light of the manager being new to the company. If you’re not new to the company, then your employer wouldn’t say that to you.

      I’m also confused on how what Alison, or the OP, has suggested here equates to just complaining about how it’s not their job. The OP specifically says, “I’m struggling with finding the words for how to bring it up without sounding like I am saying ‘that’s not my job’.” So, I don’t know where you got that idea.

      Reply
    11. MissDisplaced

      “I know what my direct reports’ job duties entail, and if I’m asking one of them to do something, I’m expecting her to figure out how to get it done–whether it’s delegating it to the person appropriate for the task or doing it herself.”

      That is NOT the way things should be handled. Your direct report usually has zero influence/authority to actually delegate and give tasks or duties to another employee, unless you have already spoken to that other employee that this would be the case. That is YOUR job to manage (or at least communicate). For goodness sakes, people are not mind readers! This is precisely why there are issues in the workplace.

      Reply
      1. TL -

        That’s not necessarily true -I’ve worked in reasonable places where I can and did ask people to do stuff for me when I had no authority over them. Either it was their job to handle such requests, or they were unofficially the person who took care of such stuff because they had to expertise.

        But if there was an issue, I would go back to my manager for back-up or a plan B. And I’d generally say to the original request, “Sure, I’ll pass it on to Suzie.”

        There were times where I would just say “You need to talk to Suzie; I can’t/don’t do this and I’m not sure what she would need to get it done” and that was never taken as insubordination.

        Reply
    12. Ron McDon

      But I think the OP feels her boss may not know what her job duties are, hence she is asking for a script that addresses that situation. This may not be a situation where the manager knows what her duties entail.

      Reply
  4. MassMatt

    The general idea is good, though it will work for the type of boss that doesn’t know who does what, and likely not for the boss who has the “your job is to do whatever I tell you” mindset. The latter might go nuts hearing anything remotely like “not my job”. If the boss is new I would tread carefully on this at first until you know which type he is.

    Reply
  5. SadMidwesterner

    What would be your advice if there isn’t those sort of laid-out, formal structures for who does what? My position has traditionally been very flexible, with people helping out where their skills are strongest. Unfortunately, the last two people who held it apparently had graphic design backgrounds and loved doing GD work to help out. I am so, so bad at that stuff (and it wasn’t ever mentioned as part of the job) but I’m still being asked to do it, “Because X always used to.” Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      Can you offer another solution, like identifying a freelance graphic designer? “This isn’t my area of expertise at all, but Josephine does amazing work and it would be really easy to farm this out to her.”

      Reply
    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      hmm.. you must not be that bad if they keep asking you to do it ;)

      To your question. I’m not sure that you can push back on this since it’s now an inherited component of the job. What I would do is talk to your boss and say something like “Boss, I was wondering if the GD work might find a better home? I don’t think it’s my strong suit and don’t want to let anyone down with my work. I’ll keep doing it if we can’t find it a new home, but perhaps we can come up with some classes (honestly I don’t know if this is a thing that is possible) or maybe some outside help.

      Reply
    3. Sarcastic Fringehead

      You could also say “since I don’t have a background in graphic design, it takes me a lot longer to do these things than it took [previous person], which will cut into the time I have to do x and y. Does that work for you, or should we find [another employee/a freelancer/etc.] to take care of it?”

      Reply
    4. Episkey

      Can you feign ignorance, even if that’s not actually the case? “I’m so sorry, graphic designing isn’t in my wheelhouse and I don’t know how to [create a logo]!”

      Reply
    5. MLB

      Are you willing to improve your GD skills? If yes, just explain the situation, and offer to take some courses to improve.

      Reply
        1. MLB

          How is gaining knowledge that could further your career intensive? LW said she’s not great at GD, but if it’s something she’s interested in learning more about, and the company is willing to pay for her to take courses, she should benefit from it.

          Reply
    6. LGC

      I’m seconding and thirding the calls to suggest someone else to do that work – and possibly offering to take on another task in its stead! Like, are you good at data entry, for example?

      (I’m not sure what your job entails, but try to find a way to trade off some work if possible, since you have that flexibility.)

      Reply
  6. AdAgencyChick

    OP, you refer to this person as “my department head” and “The Boss,” but is he YOUR direct boss? Because I think the way you approach the situation is different based on the answer.

    If he’s YOUR boss, then in a 1:1, I’d say something like, “I’ve been doing the TPS reports lately because you asked me to, but in the past that was something that Sally’s group handles. Is this something you see as part of my role going forward?” If the answer is no, great! If the answer is yes, next step could be “Okay, then I would need to move the XYZ project to someone else to make room to do this on a regular basis,” or “Can we revisit that? It originally got assigned to Sally’s group because they all have master’s degrees in llama herding, and that’s not really my area of expertise.” Etc., etc.

    If he’s not your direct boss, I’d talk to your direct boss and let her know what’s happening. She may decide to talk to the honcho to let him know who handles what (then it’s not YOU telling Honcho something isn’t your job), or she may tell you that Honcho is really looking to shake things up and that you’d better do as he asks (but, assuming you have a good relationship with her, she should also work with you to clear your plate enough to accomplish these new requests without overworking you).

    Reply
    1. OP

      He is not my boss. He’s my boss’s boss. We do have 1:1s (albeit much less frequently than the 1:1s I have with my boss). Part of why I was finding the situation difficult has also been that a lot of the requests are one-offs and/or not hugely time consuming. That’s part of why I was wondering about dealing with it in the moment vs bring it up in a separate meeting. The meeting approach makes sense to me for all the reasons Alison laid out, but at the same time it sort of feels silly? Petty? Not quite the word I’m looking for but…I’d need to keep a tally of the things to then bring it up later, which feels like it might be a disproportionate response. Except that the frequency seems to be increasing so then taken as a whole it’s not so small. But I also think I’ve been agonizing a lot about exact word choices. That’s part of why I wrote in, because I knew there must be a way to navigate this that wouldn’t irritate most reasonable people, but I was feeling too in the middle of it to come up with what, and I know AAM is always a good source for exactly that.

      Reply
      1. Rezia

        I think you could soften the meeting approach by being more casual about how you bring it up. Stop by his office and say, “Hey, I wanted to ask you about something. I’ve noticed that… [Alison’s script goes here]” That feels less serious than “Can we schedule a meeting”.

        Reply
      2. EditorInChief

        Ah. It’s your grandboss making these requests. I would talk to your boss. He really should be the one to talk to his boss about making all these requests. Tell him the number of requests you’re receiving from grandboss has been increasing, and ask him how, in light of your regular workload, how he’d like you to prioritize grandboss’s requests. If you have a solution to offer or a process already in place, ie, Arya in accounting can handle his documentation request, make sure he knows that.

        Reply
      3. BRR

        Since he’s your boss’ boss, I might go to my boss and say frequency is increasing and flag it before it starts to take away from your real responsibilities (if that’s applicable).

        Reply
      4. Smarty Boots

        Bring it up with *your* boss first, who no doubt would like to know that you’re doing these tasks, and see how she would like you to handle it. I assume your boss does know why these things are not assigned to you, as you explained in your original letter. You may not need a 1-on-1 with boss’s boss at all.

        Reply
      5. Close Bracket

        If you are looking for good word choices, consider starting with, “Sally actually handles that,” rather than, “that’s not my job.” That’s assuming it is actually Sally’s job. If it’s nobody’s job, then it’s a bit trickier. You would want to start out making clear that you took the job bc it didn’t include X and talk about how large a part of your job X will be. I wouldn’t offer to unload any of your current duties, unless there are some you want to get rid of, bc you won’t get those back. Either way, have the conversation with your direct boss first.

        Reply
        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

          Nope… I wouldn’t use any of this with a grandboss. The entire dynamic changes. You wouldn’t push your grandboss off to someone else would you? For that matter it’s not generally a good idea to push your boss off on someone else.

          ___
          The best approach here is to go with “Sure I’ll get with Sally on this.” and leave it at that. OP can act as the proxy with Sally for the request.

          “Hey Sally, can you run that TPS report and send it me by Friday? Mr Spacely’s asking for it”

          Then on Friday when Sally sends you the TPS report OP sends it to Mr. Spacely with credit given to Sally.

          “Mr. Spacely,
          Please find the TPS that Sally ran. Let me know if there are any changes needed.
          Thanks,
          OP”

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            Or, “Sally, can you run that TPS report and send it to Mr. Spacely by Friday? He asked me for it, but I know that’s something you guys are in charge of (mention that to him when you send it?). Pls cc: me when you do, so I know it’s happened, since he brought the request to me first.”

            Reply
          2. VivaL

            Yes this exactly. Other ways just seem wishy- washy to me. There’s a reason other people do these tasks, then I would simply assume that grandboss is asking you to have those people do it. A simple “sure, Llama department usually handles that, I’ll make sure it gets done.” It give him the chance to say “ok” or “no you do it” in which case I’d launch into the reasons why your role typically doesn’t.

            This isn’t a situation for a boss’s preference. Boss can prefer what he wants, but if there are procedures in place (for good reason), just assume those procedures take precedence. He can fight the system if he wants, your job is to get it done, not necessarily do it yourself.

            FYI am I the only one that thinks this type of situation is part of the reason people (mostly women) get tasked with items outside their roles so often… and then don’t get recognition for it or are hamstrung (sometimes without even realizing it) in their roles bc they’re dedicating time to these other tasks. I don’t know… but I really don’t think it’s insubordination to let a boss know that there’s a way things are done, and you’re going to be doing them that way. Sometimes that’s a battle worth fighting.

            Reply
      6. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        This is a key piece of information.

        Typically a grandboss is farther away from the trenches and has less knowledge of who owns particular tasks.

        First advice is that you should be keeping your boss in the loop on what your grandboss is asking for as a general rule.

        Second, is that you could have the conversation with your boss that goes something like this.

        “George, I wanted to ask your thoughts about some of the requests that Mr. Spacely’s been asking me for. If there’s another owner of the tasks how best to approach that. Does he generally care who does the work as long as it’s done? I’m fine with requesting it from the other departments and follow up until complete, but I just want to make sure there’s nothing I’m missing here”

        George should be able to give you insight into what Mr. Spacely wants or cares about. Chances are though you are going to be expected to get the request to the other teams and follow up until complete and reply back with output to Mr. Spacely.

        One thing that managers tend to forget about is that non managers may not be comfortable with the idea of delegation. Chances are Mr. Spacely fully expects you to contact the other team and to have them do it. He just needs you to own getting the results to him.

        I’ve even had to remind my direct reports that yes, I asked you for X, but unless otherwise stated I expect you to delegate as appropriate.

        Reply
        1. Close Bracket

          > non managers may not be comfortable with the idea of delegation.

          There’s a good reason for this. Peers frequently don’t take direction from peers. If I give work to people at my level, even if it is their job, there are circumstances where they won’t do it bc I am not their boss. There is the occasional letter here from someone asking how to handle their coworker who seems to think they are their boss. If a manager is expecting a direct report to start delegating tasks to their peers, that manager needs to make that direct report a team lead or project lead or otherwise indicate that the person has authority to hand out tasks.

          Reply
          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

            This is crazy. Some people work in some crazy hierarchical organizations.

            I have never had a peer come back to me and say.. “This request needs to come through my boss” for normal requests that pertain to their jobs. Exceptions I can understand them asking to the request to go through their boss, but not for routine work.

            Seriously you have people at your work that you can’t ask for things from? Like, following up with you A/R department to process a run of the mill invoice? Holy cats your managers must be busy with all of the requests for normal work coming to them that needs to be sent down to subordinates. How does anything get done if peers can’t go directly to each other?

            Reply
            1. Mike C.

              It’s not crazy at all. My direct manager’s job is to manage the resources he’s been put in charge of. He has a limited amount of people to work various projects and has prioritized that accordingly. To just take on new projects without going to my manager first would be ridiculous.

              Reply
              1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

                Ok, maybe that’s the disconnect. I’m not talking projects. I’m talking things that a person is already responsible for and not large in scope.

                Surely you have a department that takes care of purchasing. If you needed a new piece of equipment would you not send the request to the person who does your purchasing with a request for that equipment? Or would you go to that person’s boss and request that they request the purchaser to order the equipment?

                If another person is responsible for the TPS report, and I need them to run it for me, I’m not going to go to their boss and request it from them. I’m going to go straight to that person.

                I get requests all the time from people who need information that I ‘own’ I’ve never once thought to push back and say, I’m sorry you’ll need to go to my boss with this.

                As for larger projects, yes, that can go one of two ways. It’s very common for people to go to their peers to request a project. IME, that person who I approach will either say, hey I need you to request this from my boss because of the time commitment or Hang on, let me talk to my boss and find out where we can fit this in.

                Reply
              2. animaniactoo

                In our case, it’s also a question of managing information flow.

                Our sales team has had a habit of taking anything they can get their hands on, including non-finalized/not-approved-by-necessary-out-side-source images and showing them to buyers. Which would repeatedly kick off an entire cycle of undeliverable deadlines and penalties for not meeting deadlines and so on and so on.

                As a department, we were not able to get that under control DESPITE highlighting the issue repeatedly until my boss had us re-direct all requests for our work through her so she could stage manage who was getting what when and could be involved with the buyer around what deadlines were possible.

                Eventually that evolved into a standard process where the sales team doesn’t even attempt the end-run anymore – but you can bet they kept trying after she originally instituted that procedure on our end for handling their requests. She had to fight an entrenched culture that was actually supported even by the owners of the company “if we’re not in first somebody else might be, you do what you have to do to make the sale”, and it took a good couple of years but she eventually succeeded. The first line of defense was cutting them off something that was actually in the scope of our jobs and took 2 seconds to do.

                Reply
              3. TootsNYC

                But I would expect my colleague to take the project to HER manager.
                “Toots asked me to produce this info for the Big Boss; where do I fit it in?”

                I don’t need permission to ask the accounting department to handle an accounting thing, and managing workload is on all of them.

                (and yes, as Randomusername points out, I’m not normally passing whole PROJECTS to people, so much a discrete tasks. I’d take a whole project to a manager)

                Reply
            2. S-Mart

              Yeah, my organization is not remotely a strict hierarchy, but I still have to go through a peer’s manager. We have far far more tasks than man-hours available to do them, and generally neither I nor my peer has enough visibility on the (constantly shifting) corporate priorities to decide which tasks are being worked on today/tomorrow/in the far future. I can give a peer a task and they’ll take it, but it’ll be one of 10 things on their plate, and if I want it to be one of their priorities, I have to go to the person responsible for setting said priorities.

              For quick requests (<30 minutes or so), sure, I can go direct. But those are kinda rare for us. Most of our task durations are measured in days or sometimes weeks.

              Reply
              1. Elfie

                Do none of you work in matrix management? I always have MY boss, who manages my development and objectives, but I work on projects. The project manager is my peer, as are most of the people on the projects, but I don’t have all requests go through my line manager – that would be ridiculous in my org. Thankfully I’m at the stage in my career where I pretty much decide what tasks I’m going to do myself or delegate to others, but we all ‘assign’ each other tasks on a fairly regular basis. We’d never get anything done if we had to adhere to strict hierarchies!

                Reply
      7. AdAgencyChick

        Oh, definitely not a 1:1 if it’s your grandboss! Get your boss to help you out — she can discreetly talk to the big boss about who big boss should be directing these requests to, and saying things like “it’ll really help if you ask Lucinda for that, because I need OP focused on [things that are your job].”

        Reply
      8. ChachkisGalore

        I think if this were me, in the moment, I would say something like “oh, Sally usually handles that. I’ll get this over to her – unless you wanted me, specifically, to handle it?”. Said cheerfully. Typically I’d try not to waste much of my Grandboss’s time, but since they’re new I think a few clarifying questions while everyone is settling in is ok. Assuming they confirm that it’s ok to pass this on to Sally, if it happens again leave off the “unless you wanted me to handle this” part and just go straight to “Got it. Jack in accounting usually fields these – I’ll get it to him right now”. That still might be too much info for a long-term arrangement, but again, I think its ok during the adjustment period. Once Grandboss gets the lay of the land he’ll either start sending requests to the correct people or you’ll start to get a sense of how much info he wants.

        Now if Grandboss did indicate that he wanted you to handle the task then I’d do it, but talk to you direct manager about it.

        Reply
  7. Queen Anon

    Many years ago (well over 20), I read an article about a CEO at some big, successful company. I no longer recall the CEO’s name or the company he ran, but I’ve never forgotten one quote from that article, in which he said that if anyone, in any position, at his company ever told him that something wasn’t their job, he fired them on the spot. Scarred me for life, seriously. I’ve literally been afraid of saying anything remotely resembling “not my job” ever since. (Add that to “any other duties that might be required” that appears on most job applications and that fact that I’ve usually been in an admin position of some sort, I’ve never felt that I had the agency to say “not my job” – even if it was true. Yuck.)

    Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      I feel very much the same way as the CEO. That being said there are ways to get the sentiment across without actually saying ‘That’s not my job”.

      Reply
      1. Dragoning

        My go-to is “I’ve never been trained on that/not up-to-date on the procedures. Diana was taking that over.”

        Reply
        1. Who the eff is Hank?

          My boss recently asked me, a project manager, to create a marketing email campaign complete with a customer banner (I’ve never done graphic design in my life). My response was, “I can do that, but it won’t be very good!”

          Reply
          1. Dragoning

            “I don’t have access to the software needed for that, so you’ll have to get me approved for that first–”

            That tends to stop them dead in their tracks, too.

            Reply
      2. Mike C.

        Do you honestly believe that everyone is a replaceable cog in a machine?

        I don’t hold a PE, would you expect me to sign off on the plans for a new bridge? I don’t have a legal degree, should I represent you in court for a DUI? I don’t hold a medical degree, would you like me to perform your heart bypass?

        Reply
        1. So long and thanks for all the fish

          I think Random’s point was that someone just saying “that’s not my job”, ignoring you, and going back to what they were doing, is very different from saying “actually you want Fergus next door! He’s much better equipped than me for that!” or “I would, but I need to get this report done by 5- I think Wakeen might be between projects right now?” I feel like the first person is probably someone you don’t want on your team long-term.

          Reply
    2. Rusty Shackelford

      But there’s a huge difference between “I’m not gonna do that cause it’s not my job” and “Okay, but you need to be aware that we have a Llama Wrangling Division who is supposed to do this, and there are many reasons why it’s generally preferred they be the ones who wrangle all the llamas, which doesn’t mean I’m not willing to do it, it just means I want you to know about some decisions that were already made on this topic.”

      Reply
      1. BRR

        Yeah this letter is a little different from the usual situation when people as this question. It sounds like there are very explicit reasons for the LW to not these tasks. There have been a few times someone else did one of my duties and it wasn’t done correctly because it wasn’t usually done by them.

        Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        Or, there’s “Sally normally handles that.”

        But if you literally say, “that’s not my job” and stop, you just sound resistant.
        If you say, “I don’t know how to do that” or “I’m not authorized,” that’s very different.

        Reply
    3. irene adler

      I remember hearing some company big-wig quote about the “not my job” = fired on the spot. I thought that was very short-sighted thinking.
      Maybe ask why the employee was indicating this. Perhaps they already have a system, or process, in place for the job which is far more efficient and expedient than just tasking a random someone with it.

      It made me wonder if the big-wig’s company did not have established procedures and the like. In which case, it might be a not very well managed company.

      Reply
      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        I can only answer for me, but since I agreed with the CEO’s position I can offer my perspective.

        For me it comes down a single truth, every company (organization, department, non profit, etc) has a single mission, whatever it may be. It doesn’t matter what your particular job is, you are being paid to support that mission. If someone decides that the best way for you to do that in a particular instance is to do this thing they have asked you to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s your job or not, it’s what you need to be doing to support. Unless it’s a situation that is analogous to a janitor being asked to perform brain surgery, then everyone needs to step up and get the job done without worrying who’s responsibility it should be.

        The other thing that I have noticed is that sometimes when people say this, it is because they have been asked to do something they see as ‘beneath’ them. Nothing sets me off more than that attitude (This is one of my hot buttons).

        Does the above mean that aren’t situations where ‘not my job’ is appropriate, of course not. But those situations better have damn good reasons if you are going to play that card.

        And again all that being said, it’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable to me for someone to respond to a request with “So and So usually does that and I can get this request to them”

        Reply
        1. Close Bracket

          I’ve heard coworkers say “that’s not my job” bc it both wasn’t their job and it was beneath them (eg, a tech asked an engineer for batteries when she should have asked someone else). I told the engineer to chill out and just tell the tech where to get them.

          I’ve also had coworkers tell me “that’s not my job” when it was their job and they thought it was beneath them. That one I asked a person who had been there longer what the deal was with that person before making a judgement.

          I’ve had people say, “that’s not my job” followed by “this other group does that.” That was actually really helpful bc at that point I was used to:

          “That’s not my job.” End of discussion.

          Lesson is, there is lot’s of nuance in “that’s not my job.”

          Reply
        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

          I mean, depending on the org, the “janitor being asked to do brain surgery” is not an inappropriate metaphor for an awful lot of things.

          My firm tends toward hyperspecialization. X task must be done by X team and X team only, because every step of what we do is burdened with a metric ton of red tape and compliance pitfalls. If you ask me to take money out of someone’s retirement account, for example, not only do I probably not have the correct system accesses for it, but I’m not up-to-date on the precise disclosures we have to give or the processes we have to follow, and the chances of me doing something wrong that will result in a client’s account and possibly tax return getting faffed up is… uh. Higher than it would be if the correct department did that. I can best assist with a retirement distribution by saying “hey, the right people to take care of this are Retirement Distribution People, let me loop them in on this.”

          Supporting the mission properly means knowing when you aren’t actually the right person to do something, and when trying to do it is likely to actually impede the mission rather than help it.

          Reply
          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

            “I mean, depending on the org, the “janitor being asked to do brain surgery” is not an inappropriate metaphor for an awful lot of things.”

            Of course it can be, which is why I added the caveat.

            Reply
              1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

                I think you’re reading that into my post. Nowhere did I say exceptional. But if helps to move past it, I’ll explicitly say it here.
                ___
                Unless it’s a situation that is analogous to a janitor being asked to perform brain surgery, then everyone needs to step up and get the job done without worrying who’s responsibility it should be. Even if it’s not an exceptional case.

                Reply
                1. Short Girl

                  On the surface I agree with the sentiment of doing what it takes to meet the mission, but we do have to remember that people are hired to do certain tasks and at the end of the day, as a manager you have to balance meeting the mission with ensuring that your reports return tomorrow.

                  I don’t mind taking on extra to move the mission forward, especially on a temporary basis. But if there are tasks I don’t want to perform, I’m likely to decide to seek other employment.

          2. Clorinda

            Yes, you don’t want to make the janitor do brain surgery OR the brain surgeon mop the floor, for different reasons, and if someone actually tells a manager that the thing is ‘not part of my job’ then maybe the manager should listen. I doubt that many employees would make such a declaration out of laziness or spite. People have different responsibilities for good reasons! Most retail shops don’t even want one cashier to step over to another cashier’s register to run a couple of sales, even.

            Reply
            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

              “I doubt that many employees would make such a declaration out of laziness or spite. ”

              Sadly this is not my experience. My favorite example was a manager of, let’s call it, the Teapot Management Team, that I worked with who said on multiple occasions. “Well my group doesn’t have time manage all these teapots…” The first time she said it, in front of our shared boss(!), I asked the question before I could stop myself “So what team besides the Teapot Management Team should be managing teapots?”

              I mean apparently it wasn’t her job to do her job or her team’s job to do their job!

              That was the most blatant. The other ones I’ve run across haven’t been as blatant, but there wasn’t a technical/regulatory/system/etc. reason.

              ” brain surgeon mop the floor”
              Now you don’t want the brain surgeon mopping the floor when 90% of the time. But yes, I’d expect a brain surgeon (or whatever equivalent you want to come up with) to mop the floor if there is a particular need at a particular time.

              Sometimes VPs need shovel the front walkway. If the facilities person is doing something critical for the organization and can’t get out to shovel, then there’s no reason the VP shouldn’t step in and throw some salt.

              If I have my team working on a critical issue and something else comes in, you bet I’m going to take that new thing on so they can keep focused. Or if my boss comes to me and says they need help with another department, I will absolutely step in and lend a hand.

              I have done all kinds of things because that’s what the organization needed at that particular moment.

              Reply
              1. Catsonakeyboard

                Except if the VP is doing facilities work and slips and falls on the ice, there can be lawsuits (and I’m not saying that lightly, I used to work with a facilities management company). Or the job may be unionized. There are lots and lots of reasons why a job shouldn’t just be assigned to a random person.

                Reply
              2. pony tailed wonder

                There are limits. There is a librarian with many advanced degrees and has quite a following in her specialty who has been asked to stand at the door of her library welcoming people in for 6 hours a week. Asking her to do that when a minimum wage employee can do the same thing is wasting her salary. If it was just a one time thing, I wouldn’t see a problem. But she makes around $85,000 a year and that is what she has been assigned to do.

                Reply
              3. TL -

                At my last job, I initiated and completed several long-term projects and I earned the right to opt out of short-term projects, which had been the thing I was originally hired to handled. I still stepped in when it was needed, but the payoff for my time was much greater if it was spent on my projects, so (with discretion) I could say no.

                My coworker who handled the majority of the short-term projects had much better results with them than I did, so the payoff on her time was greater if she handled them. When she was asked to help with long-term projects (by me or manager), she absolutely could opt out because she needed to focus on short-term projects.
                My long-term projects meant she spent less time on her short-term projects and could handle more, including her own long-term projects; her prioritizing the short-term projects meant I could see a multi-month project through to completion.

                Reply
        3. NotAnotherManager!

          Yeah, this, pretty much.

          Outside of unauthorized practice or law or someone’s trying to send one of my folks for a latte or to pick up their dry cleaning or some other non-work-related nonsense, “That’s not my job.” is not something I want to hear. Even if it’s *not* your job, you need to either connect them with the right person or just taking care of it. (I am upper-management and got a request to do document editing yesterday – that’s not my strong suit, and I had about 12 meetings to go to, so I called the best person I know at that sort of thing and facilitated a hand-off.) I work in a client services industry with tight deadlines, and sometimes, even if the Llama Groomer would be the ideal person for the job, we have to ask the Llama Stylist to step in and take care of some shearing. The Llama Groomer may be taking a vacation, out sick, on another tight deadline project, whatever – the client/court/agency deadline is still today.

          We cover that in interviewing, though, so if someone really wants to work somewhere that they have a bright swimlane of job responsibilities from which they rarely deviate, it’s not a good fit on either side.

          Reply
        4. Ask a Manager Post author

          Hmmm, I disagree. There are lots of situations where what’s best for the organization would mean saying “Actually, Jane is much better equipped to do that because X” or “Jane mentioned she has lots of capacity right now and I don’t — okay to ask her to handle this instead?” or “Oooh, I have to be honest, I took this job in part because it didn’t involve X and I feel strongly about that because of Y.”

          It’s true that “it’s not my job” is a crappy thing to say if you’re just sticking to the letter of your job description and refusing to ever deviate from it no matter what. But there are lots of other cases where I’d argue that a good manager *wants* to hear the kinds of things above.

          Reply
        5. A Teacher

          I hold a license in a medical field and have had to use “it’s not my job” literally with several bosses. One wanted to argue with me and I finally had to say to him, “I’m not willing to risk my license and my national certification for that.” Maybe he didn’t like that I wasn’t meeting the mission, but I didn’t like that he was asking me to violate federal law either-knowingly violate it.

          Reply
        6. TootsNYC

          to me it’s the “dead stop” that results in communication, and the attitude.

          If you say, “That’s Sally’s job, I can take it to her,” you haven’t stopped everything the way “it’s not my job” does. And you have shown that you are willing to be part of this effort.

          If you say, “I don’t have that software, so I don’t know how to handle this,” we can keep moving forward.

          But to literally say, “It’s not my job,” is like walking along and suddenly stepping 6inches deep in treacle. And it’s really dismissive.

          Reply
    4. King Friday XIII

      I’ve already had shoppers threaten to get me fired from retail stores where I wasn’t sufficiently helpful – even when I told them it wasn’t my job because I didn’t work there. The CEO of Target is also welcome to fire me for the crime of Shopping In Khakis.

      Reply
      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        haha… yeah it was for this reason I systematically eliminated khakis from my wardrobe.

        I made that red shirt/brown pants mistake once at Target. Never again!

        Reply
      2. LurkieLoo

        I was very helpful to a PetSmart shopper once because I was wearing khakis and a blue shirt. After my spiel, she said “I’m sorry, you don’t work here, do you?”

        “Nope, but the bettas are one aisle over and you really should pick the smallest most active one you can find. Ours is much happier in the 5 gallon tank than the small ones.”

        Reply
    5. MusicWithRocksInIt

      The guy who owned my last company was like this. He fired a few people for saying that in the time I was there. They were all lower level factory workers – he would go out on the floor without knowing what was going on and demand people do things he thought should be done and if they said “That’s not my Job” he would fire them on the spot. It was not a big successful company, so I know the article wasn’t about him, but we were all super careful to just quietly re-direct anything he gave us that was outside our ability. We lost a couple really good workers too.

      Reply
      1. The New Wanderer

        That last bit is a really important thing to consider for managers who make snap decisions about someone saying “that’s not my job.” There’s usually more to consider when an employee pushes back, it’s not always (or even usually) about the employee’s reluctance to pitch in or some attitude problem.

        Reply
  8. McWhadden

    It sounds like a lot of thought went into the policy of who does what. Which suggests some sort of bureaucracy in place. Would it be possible to bring it up to the people whose jobs it typically is to do this? Then they could raise it to their bosses who could raise it to your boss.

    Or, if you want to be more passive, you could say “Happy to do it but I know when the policy that Jane handles this was enacted there was a lot of concern about too many cooks in the kitchen and overlap of responsibility so I just want to make sure I’m not ruffling any feathers.”

    I don’t remotely disagree with Alison’s advice. But I think a lot of people might feel uncomfortable saying even these reasonable and well thought out scripts.

    Reply
  9. Meteor

    At my company, my team has 3 random responsibilities that ended up on our plate because no one ever had the conversation Alison suggested. And now that we’ve managed these responsibilities for a couple of years, the team that REALLY should handle them (due to their expertise, logistics, really every reason points to them) won’t take them on. Don’t let these just end up on your plate without a good reason, or else you’ll set a precedent and maybe get stuck with them forever.

    Reply
  10. MassMatt

    …And can I mention their should be a special circle of hell for managers that assign lots of additional tasks, often very time consuming, and then wonder why your productivity on your main responsibility is lower. If you want me grooming llamas don’t expect me to be painting teapots at the same time.

    It’s especially bad when they are unrealistic about the time required. I had a manager that assigned me a report to do every week, OK I can do that, trouble was he was convinced it would take “a few minutes”, when it took over 2 hours. He didn’t believe me until I had him do it, it took him 3 hours. “You’re WELCOME!”.

    Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        I think teapots with grooming-brush streaks might actually be the next big thing, though. Don’t let the higher-ups hear that idea. ;)

        Reply
    1. iglwif

      I had a boss like that at one time. They routinely asked people to “spend 15 minutes or so pulling together a report on X” or “spend a few minutes putting together a quote for Y” … and those tasks always took at least hours and sometimes days, and often required the participation of other people. So meanwhile your *actual job* was not getting done.

      And if you tried to explain what the problem was, Boss would say something like “You don’t have to spend that much time on it! I just need a quick [thing].”

      No. There is no quick thing. This is a Not-Quick Thing, and the only way to do this 5-hour task in 15 minutes is to *literally make everything up*.

      Reply
    2. ThankYouRoman

      I had this happen to me last year. I’m happy to accept more crap on my plate but I need the understanding, respect and pay that comes with a heaping load.

      That guy sucked. And when I asked for help or reassigned tasks to people who were better suited, he flipped out.

      I bounced.

      I just found out recently he threw in the towel on the business less than a year later. I hope he is got enough to sulk into retirement and never try his hand in business again.

      Reply
  11. SaffyTaffy

    For a long time I was the only person in my department, and then we hired a 2nd person who sits in an office behind me, so I am still much more visible than her. Many people do to me exactly what this manager is doing. At first I felt that I needed to do what people ask me, period. Over time I’ve gotten good at saying, “Ooh, Banana can help you with that! She handles all that work,” or even, “Hm, I don’t know how to do that, but Banana does it all the time.” And sometimes a person will forget, but that’s okay. I just smile and say it again as if this is the first time.

    Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      That’s a loaded question. I think you’ll need to give some specifics to what the new manager is asking for and why you think it’s their job. Mostly because things can get fuzzy and maybe not as straightforward when delegation is at play.

      Reply
        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

          Hmm, sorry if I’m not being quick on the uptake today, I’m trying to understand :)

          Your manager is asking you to find your own coverage when you are gone?

          I’m not sure what mandating standard training practices is?

          Reply
        2. Meteor

          If there is another manager of a different team who you can use as an example, gently point that out. “On the X team, manager Y usually handles these tasks, because….”

          Reply
        3. BuildMeUp

          Hmm maybe something that points out that it isn’t something you should be handling without explicitly saying “This is your job”?

          Like “[Manager’s predecessor] usually handled this, so I’m not sure what the procedure/requirements are,” or “Training practice guidelines would probably be in the documentation [predecessor] left behind”?

          And/or something like, “Managers usually take care of assigning coverage here; [manager in other department] would be able to let you know how it’s handled,” as long as that’s actually the case.

          Reply
    2. MusicWithRocksInIt

      I would say something like “Oh – actually previous manager always handled that – I don’t have the authority to authorize that kind of thing!”. Or maybe “I’m sorry – I haven’t been trained to do Y – Old manager always handled that because of X reasons”. Sound very matter of fact. Maybe direct them to another manager who knows how it was handled and could walk them through it?

      Reply
  12. LurkieLoo

    I went through similar shortly after we expanded (hiring several more people with actual job titles). I was no longer the “go to” for every thing. My boss and uncle boss had the hardest time making this transition even though they were fully aware that they had hired people. At the same time we also wrote job descriptions and made clear lines of who should be doing what among the previous staff. I would tell boss (interchangeable with uncle boss) almost daily “Uncle Boss does that. If he isn’t able to for whatever reason, I am more than happy to help.” or “Jane handles our marketing now. Creating ads is a marketing. If Jane is having trouble meeting the deadline. I’m happy to pitch in.” or “why are you asking me instead of our accountant?”

    My job is, has been, and likely always will be whatever needs to be done. My entire intention was to get everyone out of the habit of asking me first for everything. It is not (usually) my job to delegate to my bosses or to the new members of our group so I needed to at least get the person who SHOULD be doing the job touching it first. This was also frustrating because it was combined with everyone telling me I needed to let go of those duties. Hello, you can’t have it both ways!!

    Now when my boss asks for “not my job” things it’s always “I know this isn’t your job, but can you please do this because reasons.”

    Reply
  13. Bowserkitty

    I am in a weird situation of having the opposite problem. I need to figure out how to tell my Japanese boss “actually that IS my job” without offending him. :/ My position here is fairly new (a few years) and my job is to promote international relations and be on hand for translation work. I am a translator, but some of my other distant colleagues (we all work for the same organization) don’t speak a lick of Japanese and need my help from time to time if their English-speaking supervisors aren’t around. After I helped them set up their bank account and phone services shortly after they arrived he told me the next day at the office that it wasn’t my job.

    Sorry if this is considered offtopic…

    Reply
    1. LGC

      So wait. There might be two possible issues: that you translated for your coworkers (which I don’t think is an issue), and that you possibly have access to their bank account details (which I do think is an issue). I don’t know your boss, but do you think asking for clarification on that would work? Or is he more the kind of person whose word is final?

      At any rate I’d be a little more cautious if stuff involves personally identifying information going forward.

      Reply
      1. Bowserkitty

        No, I just translated. Normally one of the English-speaking teachers goes with them to help but it was obon week (kind of a vacation week?) so literally nobody else was around and they had just gotten here. My own Japanese-speaking coworker actually helped me get my own bank account so it definitely doesn’t have to do with PII! I think he is just misunderstood about what my job actually should be because it is relatively new to this area.

        I talked with my predecessor and my coworkers in the same line and they all said “actually, it IS your job to do that.”

        Reply
    2. matcha123

      If you are a CIR and hired through JET then I will give you the unfortunate news that your job is whatever your CO decides it is. Apologies if you are not a JET, but it kind of sounds like it based on what you wrote.
      A lot of us got annoyed over that, but since we are not ‘real’ staff in the way the Japanese are, there was/is no room for pushback.

      Reply
      1. Bowserkitty

        Heyoooo yeah that’s me XD And if that’s the case, it’s fine! But when I have been told by my other JET coworkers who have been here longer that it IS my job, I start to get confused. I think what he was more worried about was that I was being taken advantage of at that time and forced to do something I shouldn’t normally have to do? I don’t know where I’m going with it. hahaha

        Reply
        1. definitelynotshachou

          He probably was worried you would get trampled on with too many requests if you helped too much but it’s okay to say, “actually, I don’t mind helping out if I have the spare time. If it gets too much I’ll push back”.

          As matcha says your job is what the CO says it is but even in a rigid work environment like the government you still have space to voice your thoughts. Whether or not they accept your suggestions is another thing – like if there is a valid reason like a previously bad situation for them to push back which you see quite a lot.

          Some CIRs have more success than others in expanding or changing their roles so in the end it’s up to your boss and how open he is but it’s better than saying nothing.

          Reply
  14. Surrogate Tongue Pop

    This resonates SO MUCH. I’m currently on a team where 1) I have the same title as my peers, but we don’t all do the same type of work and 2) my new boss is leaning toward making us all llama handlers, even though we are all really llama co-op managers, even with the nuances in what each of us do. He wants this only because his comfort zone is in llama handling from his old company (as he has said many times). I had to explicitly say in my last touch base that while I *can* do llama handling and have in my past career life, I was hired at a higher role to manage llama co-ops 2.5 years before he came on board. And I also had to say that I’m not keen to do llama handling at this company. So…we’ll see how this goes!

    Reply

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