When An Employee Says “That’s Not My Job”

We can say with almost full certainty that no one has ever applied for the job “Stuffed Giraffe Masseuse.” And yet, when a young man left his favorite stuffed giraffe “Joshie” at a Ritz-Carlton, an employee of Ritz-Carlton went well outside his job description to prove to the young man that his stuffed pal was safe. The employee sent a series of photos to the young man, depicting Joshie relaxing by the pool, walking the beach, and yes, being treated to a spa day, complete with a giraffe massage.

Because an employee went above and beyond his job description, Ritz-Carlton generated tons of positive press which in turn created hundreds, if not thousands, of new customers.

For entrepreneurs and managers who understand the importance of going above and beyond, one of the most frustrating things an employee can say is, “that’s not my job.” Success in today’s market requires flexible, adaptable, and agile employees who care. When one or more employees aren’t on the same page as an organization’s leadership, it can be frustrating, cause conflict, and will inevitably impact the bottom line.

The way your managers respond to resistant employees will have long-lasting repercussions. Ordering an employee to do something that he or she believes isn’t his or her responsibility can breed resentment and toxicity in the workplace. Here’s how managers and coaches can create productive compromises with their employees:

Address the Root of the Problem

When you take a car to a mechanic because the engine is “making noise,” the mechanic doesn’t open the hood and start taking apart the engine to look for problems. Instead, the mechanic looks at your vehicle history and sees when you last had an oil change. To save yourself extra, unnecessary work, like the mechanic, start with the most logical explanation and move down the list.

When entrepreneur and radio host Dave Ramsey was asked on-air how he’d handle an employee who doesn’t care, Ramsey responded with this:

“I’m the leader here. I’d hopefully never hire someone in the first place who [doesn’t care.] The first thing you would look at if you’re the leader is ‘what’s wrong with my hiring process, that I’m hiring someone that’s this unmotivated?’ The problem to start with is that you’ve let a donkey into the building, and you should have been hiring thoroughbreds.”

As speaker and business leader Simon Sinek once said, “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.”

The fact is, if an employee indicates they are unwilling to cooperate, or they don’t care about the company’s performance, it is most likely an issue with your hiring process. Look at how you can attract better candidates, filter out the donkeys, and identify the thoroughbreds.

Have a Candid Discussion

We always recommend that when dealing with interpersonal conflict, assume the other person has the best intentions. Your employee could be having a bad day or feel overworked. Let your employee understand that people at your organization are expected to care and to deliver. Point out how important it is that he or she is willing to go above and beyond the job description.

If they have a deeper understanding of why they should care, how that impacts the organization, and how it benefits both them and your company, they are far more likely to become engaged.

Look to Management

If getting employees to care is a difficult task for your organization, it is a symptom of a deeper problem.

If employees feel they are being treated unfairly or taken advantage of, problems like low employee engagement, or even disengagement, can occur. Ensure your managers make it quite clear that employees will have duties outside of the job description that exist for the benefit of the team. In addition, make sure your most motivated employees aren’t experiencing burnout due to managers always assigning them extra work. It can be tempting to push extra work on reliable, efficient employees; but for them, this can be a burden, not a reward for their hard work.

If your managers are effectively distributing extra work equally and communicating the importance of additional responsibilities, then the responsibility lies with the employee to perform. However, if your managers aren’t effectively doing these things, consider coaching them on how to get the best out of their team.

An employee who doesn’t care can be problematic and disruptive to your company culture. If you want your company to perform at the highest level, it requires hiring engaged employees who want to succeed. If you hire motivated people, communicate expectations, and treat them fairly, positive results will follow.

Looking for more ways to impact employee engagement? Check out the definitive guide for strategies:


Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.