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Why saying “That’s not my job” can harm your career

The phrase “other duties as assigned,” meant as a catchall for minor tasks in job descriptions, has been used and abused so often that it’s become fodder for memes and workplace blogs. Although there are limits on reasonable requests on the job, hauling out “That’s not my job” as the default when asked to perform outside of your everyday routine can actually set you back in your career.

“Job” versus “role”

Let’s take patient experience as an example. Patient experience is everyone’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s job to ensure that our patients have outstanding interactions with our organization. However, everyone has a different role in making that happen. Your role might be that you register patients. But if wayfinding is difficult at your facility, you could be asked to escort a patient to an ancillary area.

“But transporting patients isn’t what I do,” you might think. You might be tempted to push back. But consider this: It is your job to ensure the patient’s needs are met. It is your job to uphold the goal of providing an exceptional patient experience. In short, it’s important to understand that you may be asked to use your skillset outside of your role to contribute to the success of your organization.

The risk of saying no

In the short term, refusing to take on an additional task that isn’t a normal part of your day-to-day might seem like a good idea, especially if you’re already overloaded. Refusing to step outside of your scope might even help you complete the tasks in front of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a winning strategy.

People who seem unwilling to help can bring down team morale and productivity. Not only that, it could earn them a reputation as not being a team player. On the flip side, a willingness to accept extra tasks could provide evidence of reliability and a “can-do attitude.” Those qualities are what leaders look for when hiring and promoting. Furthermore, engaged employees tend to be more satisfied at work.  

When to push back

A willingness to go above and beyond is a great trait, but there are limits to what constitutes an acceptable request. There are times when pushing back is a good idea for you and your organization. Here are some examples of times when saying “no” (or at least not saying “yes”) might be helpful:

  • Performing the task could put you at physical risk. Let’s say you’re asked to take on a task requiring heavy lifting, which isn’t part of your daily work and which you are unable to do. This is one scenario where speaking up is a good idea—employers don’t want to risk their people getting hurt.
  • You don’t have appropriate access and/or training for the technology you’ll need to perform the task. For example, if you’re asked to input data into a computer system, but you don’t have a username and password, let your manager know so he or she can either help you get a username and password or reassign the task to someone who has one.
  • There’s already a person who does that task, and they have availability to do it. Going back to the patient access example, some hospitals have volunteers whose job it is to escort patients where they need to go. In this case, if you’re asked to escort a patient, you should escort them to the appropriate desk or call the volunteer while they’re with you. Going above and beyond doesn’t always mean doing exactly what you’re asked, but using your resources to meet the needs of your patients while responding to the request at hand. 
  • You’re asked so often to step outside your role that you’re ignoring your core tasks. This can be a tricky one, but here again, the response should be to escalate the request rather than say “no” outright. This is a good time to talk with your manager about how to prioritize—or even whether it’s time for a promotion. Keep in mind, you are sometimes asked to take on duties above your role for succession planning. It’s a chance to prepare and position yourself for future opportunities.
By Susan Milligan
Patient Experience Director
Ensemble Health Partners
By Gwen Collins
Manager, Patient Experience
Ensemble Health Partners

These materials are for general informational purposes only. These materials do not, and are not intended to, constitute legal or compliance advice, and you should not act or refrain from acting based on any information provided in these materials. Please consult with your own legal counsel or compliance professional regards specific legal or compliance questions you have.

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