Episode 603 : “That’s Not My Job!” Let’s Talk About Job Descriptions

Job Descriptions… way more important than a lot of us realize. When you ask an employee to do something and get the “that’s not my job” response, what do you do? Your biggest tool that you can use to combat that – A solid and well-thought-out job description! Find out how job descriptions not only play into the culture of your workplace but also how having an improper job description can make your employees’ lives more difficult. Listen to this week’s episode of What the Hell Just Happened?! which is inspired by a listener-submitted question to hear Paul Edwards and guest Ally Dagnino talk about the topic of using your job descriptions as a tool to help you manage your employees.


Voice Over: You’re about to listen to an episode of What the Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss interesting HR topics and solve some of our listeners’ submitted questions. 


Paul: And occasionally I’ll go off HR topic and talk about whatever I want to talk about. Think barbecue. Space exploration. Technology. Money. Managing. Business. Things that interest all of us.


Voice Over: We get a lot of emails with questions. Stay tuned for details on how you can submit yours to the show. And now let’s get started. 


Paul: So in today’s podcast, I’m going to talk about something I actually have a lot of passion about. It’s job descriptions. I know. I know. You’re all laughing with me as I’m laughing at me saying that job descriptions are near and dear to my heart, but they actually are for a small business, even a large business, they are way more important than I think any of us are giving way to. So today we’re going to talk about the importance of them, how they can help you. We’re actually going to take on a specific question where we get the, “It’s not my job,” response from an employee and how to handle that and why they’re saying that to you and I bring Ally over from CEDR and she just knows a lot about job descriptions and is constantly helping us keep them updated and stuff. So enjoy today’s podcast as I go into the importance of job descriptions today. We’re going to start the show. All right. So, you know, today’s topic is obviously going to be job descriptions. Ally, let’s just kind of jump in here, because I think the premise for this for this podcast, What the Hell Just Happened in HR?! is that you’re told, you’re talking with an employee and you’re trying to work through things with them, and they say those words to you and those words are what? 


Ally: That’s not my job. 


Paul: That’s not my job, that’s not in my job description. Yeah. And I think it’s a sign, it can be a little bit of a sign of overwhelm. But it can be a sign of all kinds of other things, too, that are going on, but it highlights the importance of having a job description in the first place. 


Ally: Yeah, because having that job description is going to be the easiest and most direct way you can immediately deal with that problem. 


Paul: Yeah. 


Ally: There may be other elements that will involve further conversation and we’ll talk about that a little bit later, but that job description is kind of point number one. 


Paul: So we pulled out an Ask Me Anything kind of question. Do you mind reading it? Just give everybody – Okay this also kind of goes with Backstage HR, our new software, you know, and how we’re naming it – Sort of setting the lights, the stage. We’re setting the stage. Microphones on, boom! The spotlight comes on, and Action!




Ally: I’m picturing, like, a front office. 


Paul: Yeah. 


Ally: Employee walks in.


Paul: Yeah.


Ally: So this employer has a fairly new employee. Things are not really going how they’d hoped. Employer says, “I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job at trying to address the issues and their performance as they come up. However, it’s getting exhausting as it seems like as one thing corrects, the employee is somehow able to fall short in another area.”


Paul: Right. 


Ally: “I can tell the employee’s getting frustrated because today when I pointed out that she needed to fill in whenever she saw a need and she could have walked a patient back, she said those words. That is not my job. The problem here is that that employee was cross-trained on that very job last week and it’s all over our culture discussion regarding putting the patient experience first and helping one another out.”


Paul: Wow. Well, they brought in the culture thing, too, which I like a lot. 


Ally: Yeah, and that plays an important element, I think, in doing this conversation.


Paul: Yeah. So, look, the first thing in a very literal sense is that we’ve never written a job description that doesn’t include the bullet point, “And anything else that we assigned you and need you to do.” You know, also the problem with this kind of mentality is it prevents growth and advancement and improvement at an individual level with employees. If somebody is in a mindset where they’re really going to do what they’ve been told to do or whatever’s in their job description, then they’re probably not going to go the extra mile. 


Ally: I think it prevents advancement, but it also can make the employee’s job harder. Like if their job description, you know, if they say, “My job description says I’m only meant to answer phones,” sometimes answering that phone call involves that employee going somewhere else to find out information, and it can be a real detriment to even getting the job that you say you’re supposed to be doing if you’re not, you know, taking the initiative to explore a little more. 


Paul: And while the job description should be comprehensive, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later on in the podcast today, it can’t be exhaustive. It’s not meant to list every single thing that you might have to do, but for me, it just triggers a little bit of emotion for me because I kind of think as soon as an employee says something like that, I well, these are the emotions that it triggers: The first one is self-examination as a manager and am I micromanaging this employee so hard that they’re constantly in a defense mode and those words come out of their mouth because they’re being defensive, because you’re micromanaging them. You’re not constructively giving them redirection and saving all of your thoughts and stuff to address them in a constructive way during one on ones. It’s like every time they do something, you have something to say about how they can improve upon what they’ve done. Well, you should expect to hear this come out of a new employee’s mouth at some point, I think. So, first level is to look at it from a micromanaging standpoint. Is this my fault as a manager and my style? You know, but once I hear it come from someone, then I begin to worry that I’ve messed up in hiring and then I haven’t gotten the person who fits our culture, right? 


Ally: Yeah. 


Paul: Like they’re not going to go the extra mile and I’m going to spot things and just take care of them. 


Ally: Or that they don’t value working, they don’t see value in working as a team for the team. 


Paul: Right. So they just kind of focus on the job description. You know Ally, I have a lot of passion  around job descriptions because it’s essentially, it’s kind of like a checklist. 


Ally: Yeah.


Paul: Right? Like while a lot of people are like, “Ugh. Job descriptions. Do we have to talk about that? Because I hand them out and then I never look at them again or the employee never looks at them again. I don’t even know where they are.” And I understand all those things. I do understand that sentiment, but I believe that you’re doing yourself a disservice as a small to medium or even a giant business to not be going back and revisiting your job descriptions every now and then and then as an HR professional, if you’re listening to us as an HR professional right now or the office manager who also has the HR responsibilities or the owner, who also has those responsibilities, I just want to kind of give you a quick list of not everything that a job description can help you deal with, but i kind of want to go through this thing with you all. So let’s start when someone asks for any kind of an accommodation. So there’s medical accommodation. I’m not going to go all the way down the rabbit hole. All the kinds of accommodations that could be brought to you, but you use the job description, particularly a lot of times the physical parts of the job description, to send it to the doctor, to be able to return someone to duty. So it’s very, very important that you have it. It’s part of the interactive process. 


Ally: It is, and it makes it a lot harder when you don’t have that because then you’re kind of left scrambling to think, well, what are you – 


Paul: What are you asking me to do?


Ally:  You might possibly be responsible for this and you might possibly be responsible for that and makes it a little messy.


Paul: Well, even at workman’s comp level, if someone comes back in before they should and they get reinjured on the job, it is now your problem. So this is one of those things you use a job description for, and a very real example of it is just returning to work from maternity duty. We’ve had more than one mom want to return to work immediately or as soon as possible and the reason why is because she has no income coming in. There’s nothing in this country. There’s very few instances in this country and it’s usually by state whereby there can be any kind of support for someone who goes out of work to have a child. So she’s trying to come back to work as quickly as possible because she needs to pay her bills and, you know, as an employer, you wanted to return, but you don’t want her to return too soon. So you send her out for fitness for duty, and, you know, we have a lot of instances where the doctor’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. That was a tough delivery. I think you shouldn’t go back to work. Your job is to stand. You’re supposed to lift things here.” And, you know, you kind of go down, he goes down or she goes down, the doctor goes down that list with the patient, your employee, and says, “Yeah, I can’t return you to your job right now.”


Ally: Yeah, and that protects the employee and it protects the office it represents.


Paul: It does. Not helpful for the income solution but that’s another discussion. So another way we use job descriptions is to write job ads. So if you’d like to ask for someone to fill a position that your company, it would be a good idea if your job descriptions played a role in your understanding what it is that you should be communicating out to the people who may want to apply. It’s also one of the ways that you would fight an unemployment claim. They could say, “No, this was good, instructive discharge, yada, yada, yada. They did this, they’re retaliating,” you know, people bring all kinds of accusations to those things. Your reason for terminating someone can simply be they weren’t able to do the job and then you can use a job description in that. Let’s see: soft skills. I put soft skills in here. There are a lot of skill sets within the job descriptions that we write, and it begins to go ahead and communicate something else, some other level of importance about how you do your job. So it’s kind of the cultural stuff and being able to communicate, do stuff like that. Believe it or not, when you do a job description and you place education or an experience requirement in it, it’s part of a background check because now they’re saying, they’re representing that they have these things that you require of them. It was in the job description, it was in the job ad and now in a background check you discover that they don’t have those things. So again, the job description: Ta Da! It comes up again. It will help you create skill testing. You know, obviously you want a skill test against the primary functions and stuff that you have to do for the job. I think it is also a kind of a checklist of the position for the manager. Like every time you go to refill the position, at least every time you go to refill the position, you should stop and look at the job description and see if it’s still accurate. Did you add more things to it? Did you take something away? Did you reassign it? 


Ally: Yeah. That was a ton of information and I think employers often overlook what usually one sheet of paper, one list really encompasses all of that. 


Paul: And there’s ten more things that the job description can do, I’m just not going to go down that whole list. For everybody who’s listening, for our one listener in North Carolina, I hope that was helpful for him. All right. So what do we do about this person who’s just communicated to us that this is not their job? You know? 


Ally: Yeah. So like I said, I mean, the job description is you can come first point to point of access. So you have a conversation with the employee and one of the – It might have not been here but we’ve had a similar ticket where the employee said, “Well you know, none of that was discussed in my job interview.”


Paul: Right. 


Ally: And that’s kind of what you mentioned, having the job description, but then adding, “And any other duties that may come up under this position.” It’s entirely not possible to be sitting in a job interview and list out everything that the employees are going to be responsible for. That’s simply not going to happen. 


Paul: So, you know, really what you have is first you want to look at your own style of what you’re doing. Like are you over managing this person? And they’re being defensive and saying that, “You never communicated to me that that’s what I need to do.” The other thing is, is like we just said, this to me, a lot of time is kind of a cultural issue and it’s something that you need to kind of nip right now and address and say, ‘You know, that’s we just don’t use that language here. If you want to come to me and tell me you’re overworked, you’re overwhelmed, you don’t have training on it, you don’t understand how to do it. You feel like it’s somebody else’s job and they’re not doing it and therefore it’s falling on you.” Which, you know, we were talking before the podcast, you pointed that out. That’s a really good one. 


Ally: Yeah. 


Paul: This is about trying to teach your employees to use their words and in a very objective way, as opposed to a subjective way. Subjective is, “That’s not in my job description. That’s not my job. Objectively, look, I get it, but I don’t even know how to do that.”


Ally: Right.


Paul: “No one’s ever taught me how to do that. I didn’t want to walk her back because the last time I walked a patient back, I got yelled at and told it wasn’t my job.”


Ally: Yeah, or like you were saying, “Sally’s supposed to walk them back. I walked back the past 20 patients. What’s going on?” 


Paul: “Where’s Sally?”


Ally: “Where is the person who’s supposed to be doing this?”


Paul: So it’s not always…Sometimes it’s you. It’s you listeners. It’s you as a leader, as a manager. You really still want to hear what people are saying, but when they kind of weaponize it and point it at you, then that’s a different story.


Ally: Sometimes it is the employee, sometimes it’s you, but sometimes it is the employee who really does not want to take any steps outside of the A, B and C that they think that they’re responsible for, but you really won’t get to the bottom of that without having that conversation with the employee. We kind of playfully say, “Have a heart to heart,” but that’s kind of really what it is. Because you’re saying, that’s not my job – 


Paul: Tell me, why do you think that’s not your job? 


Ally: Yeah, because it can be a kind of a detrimental phrase to use, like you said. So, yeah. What are you feeling? Are you feeling like you don’t have the tools?


Paul: I just heard a collective groan out there in podcast world where you said, “Ask them how they’re feeling.” 


Ally: [laughing]


Paul: This is not what doctors and office managers typically want to lead with, but this might be a good place to actually say, “Well, okay, let’s break down what you just said.”


Ally: And you don’t have to use those exact words. Yeah, you don’t need to ask how they’re feeling. You don’t need to pull in the couch for them to lay down and you’re sitting behind them, but that open line of communication is really what’s going to help get to any point to solving it. 


Paul: Another point here to make is when they say that you need to hear it, like I think I said it before, you want to take into account maybe that they are overwhelmed. Maybe it is somebody else’s job that’s not getting done. So, you know, I think that’s a very important point to be made. 


Ally: Yeah. 


Paul: Okay. I don’t want to take too much of people’s time today in the podcast. I did want to kind of run down what I think and what we believe should be in a job description, just like the category headers. Right? I think it might be helpful maybe for people who are listening. 


Ally: I think so. Absolutely. 


Paul: We see a lot of really poorly written job descriptions out there. If anybody hears a dog in the background, that’s just what goes on here. 


Ally: That’s our new hire. 


Paul: That’s our new hire. I know. Corrective action. We’re going to go out there right now. So a job description starts with the position summary. You want to list the primary functions of the position of the job. You want to ask, make sure that you place that experience and education thing in there that was in the job ad because this is another opportunity for them to attest that they have these things so that when you do the background check, you know you have something to lean on there. Then there’s duties and responsibilities, which I don’t want you to get confused with the primary functions of the position. Then finally there’s the essential functions, which is what we refer to internally as the soft skills. These are the things that you must be able to do, and that includes to be able to articulate, to be able to travel 25% of the time, if that’s a part of the job, to be able to be able to listen –


Ally: To be able to lift over 50 pounds.


Paul: Or 20 pounds, if that’s what the job is or write well, communicate well over the phone, must be able to memorize scripts, must be able to follow sequencing and follow SOPs. These are all kinds of soft functions, but essential for the position. As we wrap up today’s podcast, I don’t know that job descriptions is the most exciting topic on the face of the earth, but it’s like the most overlooked for small businesses. The last little nugget that I’ll give you, is that you’ll hear me talk about this occasionally, especially when we’re talking about HR strategic planning, which is taking an inventory of what everybody’s doing. An inventory looks something like this: you’re putting everybody’s name on the board, you’re putting all the things that have to get done in the business in another column. (When I say on the board, I picture a whiteboard everybody.)

And then you’re matching up who’s doing what, where, and then you’re looking at the skill sets of the people that you’ve assigned to things. A lot of people get assigned responsibilities based off of their availability as opposed to their past training, their experience. The other thing that it’s based off of that you obviously always do, is need. Immediate need. “We immediately need this. Pick somebody. You’re standing there. You look like you could do this. Let’s give this to you.” So when you take an overall kind of inventory of what everybody’s doing, I got to tell you, if you do it every three years, you’re probably going to end up changing job descriptions for some people and realigning what people are doing and also realizing where someone’s overloaded and also realizing where you’re asking someone to do something that they shouldn’t be doing.


Ally: And going through that inventory is what can help employers not reach the point where they have one or multiple employees saying, “That’s not my job.”


Paul: Yeah, that’s not my job. So What the Hell Just Happened in HR?! is someone told you that’s not my job and it set me off. [laughing] Not you off, but me off when they said it. Ally, thanks.


Ally: Yeah, thanks, Paul. 


Paul: I appreciate it.


Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What the Hell Just Happened?! If you have an HR issue, question, or just want to add a comment about something Paul said, record it on your phone and send it to podcast@wthjusthappened.com. We might even ask if we can play it on the show. Don’t forget to Like and Subscribe and join us again next week.

Dec 29, 2023

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