6 Better Ways to Respond When You're Thinking: That's Not Part of My Job Description

No one likes to be taken advantage of at work. When your manager asks you to do something that seems to be beyond your usual responsibilities, you may want to tell her you can’t do it, but no matter the request, never respond with the phrase, “That’s not in my job description.”

Managers have outlined how to evaluate and respond to requests to perform tasks outside the normal scope of your work.

“I would be aghast if someone responded to me, ‘That’s not my job,’” one company owner says. “The way I train my people, the way we work as a team, we never go into a situation thinking, ‘That’s above my pay grade.’ Instead, our thinking is, ‘What’s the solution?’”

1. This request may actually be part of your job

Consider, is your boss’s request truly outside your job description? Take a minute, and review what your job entails. “I had an employee say, ‘That’s not in my job description,’” one boss says. “I politely produced her job description and asked her to read aloud the last line, which said ‘and other duties as assigned.’ That line is in virtually every job description I’ve ever seen and had me, as the boss, covered.”

For the record, the boss hadn’t asked the accounts receivable employee to clean the toilet or lie to customers. The boss had simply requested that the worker do a task related to her current job—cover for a billing clerk who was out sick.

Best response in this type of situation: roll up your sleeves and get to work.

2. You don’t feel capable

If the task is one you don’t feel prepared for yet, tell your boss you need a helping hand. “If you feel the skills required are beyond you, ask your boss if she or someone can mentor you until you learn the needed skills,” one boss says.

Best response in this type of situation: Say yes but ask for help to make sure you perform successfully.

3. The requested task is personal, not professional

In some cases, the task is clearly personal, such as picking up the boss’s child at school or buying a present for the boss’s spouse or partner. If you’re not comfortable becoming a part of the boss’s personal life, state your case diplomatically.

Best response in this type of situation: I’m not comfortable with that responsibility. 

4. A colleague, not your boss, wants help

If this is the first time your colleague has asked for help, look for a reason to say yes—especially if the task won’t take too long. Banking a favor for later is a good idea.

Best response in this type of situation: Sure thing. I know you’ll return the favor when I need help.

But if your coworker has made a habit of asking you, and others, to bail her out, it’s time to set boundaries.

Best response in this type of situation: I’ve helped you out in the past, but I’m too busy to help this time.

5. You don’t have time

In this case, not only is the task beyond your job description but you’re also slammed with tasks that are part of your job. Now’s the time to empower your boss to set priorities.

Best response in this type of situation: This is beyond my job description, but I’m happy to pitch in. Here’s what I already have on my plate. Can you help me set priorities, please?

6. Going beyond your job description offers opportunities

Look at the big picture. Sometimes, the request truly is beyond your job description. But the new duties may give you a chance to learn new skills and prove you’re ready for more responsibilities.

“Extra responsibilities today mean getting jobs with those responsibilities, and pay, when those jobs become available,” one manager says. “However, it’s not out of line to say something like, ‘You’ve always taken care of me at raise/bonus time. There’s no reason you wouldn’t remember my extra efforts going forward.’”

Best response in this type of situation: Pitch in, get the job done and document your extra effort.

If you speak tactfully and pitch in when asked to go beyond your current job description, you can transition from feeling taken advantage of to gaining an advantage—and set yourself up to be promoted beyond your current job.

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