If you’re trying to figure out whether or not it’s okay to say “That is not my job” at work, you’ll likely encounter conflicting opinions. One article may claim it is admirable and important to say no at work and protect your boundaries. In contrast, another may claim it is a sign you lack abimition and are trying to evade responsibility.
In reality, though, there is not a precise answer. Everything from your industry to your organization, to your department to your boss, to the situation at hand, will impact your decision to say it or not.
Given that, the second-best thing we can do is provide you with a few practical tips on how to tactfully say “that is not my job,” as well as two real-world examples to highlight how important it is to have sound judgment and to use discretion when this type of situation arises.
An Example of When It Was Appropriate to Say “That Is Not My Job”
I was once an individual contributor at a multinational company. I was on a team that had 10+ employees and each person’s roles and responsibilities were strictly defined and even more strictly followed. Part of my job was to work closely with a remote senior leader who was not intimately familiar with the culture of my team and who often asked me to do things that were not within my set responsibilities and boundaries.
In this case, I had to say “that is not my job” in the politest way possible and then connect them with the right person on my team. Did this make them happy? Not necessarily. But given my knowledge and experience with my team members and the team’s overall culture, I determined this was the course of action with the least amount of fallout.
An Example of When It Was Not Appropriate to Say “That Is Not My Job”
In this example, I worked at a family-owned company with less than 100 employees, had a very close working relationship with my direct leader, and interacted with the c-suite almost daily. So, it was not uncommon for executives to approach me with tasks, projects, or ideas.
I quickly realized I couldn’t drop everything to respond to every request. So instead, my team leader told the team to ask ourselves, “Is what they’re asking going to affect the bottom line directly?” If the answer was yes, then it didn’t matter that it was not my job. My mandate was clear. I was to support the bottom line of the business. Once I started taking requests from executives through this lens, my team leader rarely, if ever, disagreed with my decision and either personally helped me get it done or secured the resources I needed to do so.
3 Tips on How To Tactfully Say “That’s Not My Job”
If you find yourself in a situation where you want to tell someone, “That is not my job,” but don’t want it to negatively impact your relationship with that person or the outlook of your career at that organization, then you’re going to need to find a way to do it tactfully. Here are a few pointers to consider applying the next time you do so:
- Be Polite and Honest
When you’re overwhelmed, caught off guard, or struggling under the weight of a heavy workload, you may find yourself briskly brushing someone off with a “That is not my job.”
Unfortunately, in these situations, you may unknowingly or unintentionally deliver your message in a way that sparks tension or animosity, leaves a bad (but lasting!) impression, or even negatively taints an otherwise healthy working relationship.
To avoid this in a situation where you have deemed it appropriate to say no to a given task, be keenly aware of your tone, word choice, delivery method, and body language. These elements can make the difference between seeming polite and honest and tactless or downright rude.
- Offer to Help Them Find a Solution
If you want to be sure saying “That is not my job” isn’t going to hurt your career or reputation around the office, then you need to go beyond just politely saying no. Rather, take it a step further and offer to help the other person find a solution. While you might not be the person to help them with their task or request, you can likely introduce or connect them with someone who can. The extra time you take to do this will not go unnoticed and will reassure them that you genuinely want to help, even if you can’t be the one to do the work.
- Defer Them to Your Leader
There is a chance that the person you said: “that’s not my job” will be upset with your answer or persistent that you should do it. At this time, it is fair to defer them to your boss. Granted, it’s best to promptly hop on the phone, pop into their office, or send a quick instant message to your leader explaining the situation and letting them know your response and rationale, so they don’t get caught off guard.
It is hard to say no at work, which is what you are doing when you tell someone, “That is not my job.” You have to show sound judgment, discernment, honesty, strength, and tact, which can be a tricky combination to balance. While time and experience are great teachers in this regard, you may also find a communication course helpful. It provides you with communication tools and techniques, while also building your confidence, which you need to say no at work without it negatively affecting your career.
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