How to Professionally Say “That’s Not My Job”

August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023 Terkel

How to Professionally Say “That’s Not My Job”

Navigating tasks outside your job description can be a tricky endeavor. We’ve gathered six insightful responses from professionals, including a VP of Product and Operations and a CEO and Business Coach, to guide you through these situations. From defining your “sphere of responsibility” to referencing external negative consequences, discover how to professionally explain to a coworker that something isn’t your responsibility.

  • Define Your “Sphere of Responsibility”
  • Redirect Tasks to the Appropriate Team
  • Firmly Say “No” and Maintain Boundaries
  • Propose New Contract for Additional Tasks
  • Understand the Reasons Before Deciding
  • Reference External Negative Consequences

Define Your “Sphere of Responsibility”

We are a small company, so I often get asked to do tasks that do not necessarily fit into my job description. When asked, I am upfront and tell them that what they are asking is not something I am responsible for.

I call this my “sphere of responsibility,” and it’s important to be clear about it because it sets expectations between me and my colleagues. They have their own spheres, which I try to keep in mind when sending tasks their way.

After establishing your “sphere of responsibility,” you then need to decide if you will do it anyway. Some of the things I think about are:

  • Does it interrupt or interfere with my actual responsibilities?
  • Is it something I want to learn, and will it help with my growth?
  • Is there someone else that can do it? Faster? Better?
  • Will it benefit the company/team?
  • Who is asking and why? Can I teach them instead?

You must balance being a team player, growing relationships, and personal growth against doing something you are not necessarily paid for.

Daniel KrentzDaniel Krentz
VP of Product and Operations, Wireless Data Systems, Inc.

Redirect Tasks to the Appropriate Team

I witnessed a situation where I was asked to do a task related to the finance field. A fellow colleague was assigned a few tasks related to accounting. Since we work in the same workplace, I have seen him struggle with some financial ratios.

One day, he asked me to do some of his tasks because he had to take an early leave. I was surprised, but I thanked him for considering me to do his task. I informed him that my job description revolves around marketing projects only. I suggested that someone from his department or team handle his task more efficiently.

So, I upheld my boundaries to address him respectfully and redirected him to his appropriate team.

Brian HardestyBrian Hardesty
Owner, On Display Signs

Firmly Say “No” and Maintain Boundaries

Yes I have often been asked to do something that is not my job. As a self-employed person, it is easy to say NO! I used to have clients come to see me in my office for face-to-face consultations. Some men would be far too friendly—considering I work as a serious, full-time tarot card reader and psychic—and angle towards it turning inappropriate. They had this idea that psychics did not really exist, and it was a cover! Very insulting and sometimes difficult to deal with.

I’ve also had clients come to me for psychic work and ask me to put evil spells on people so they would die. Something I would never do in a million years for anyone under any circumstances. Such clients can get very insistent and difficult when you say no.

You have to say no, be very firm and if necessary get them to leave. One reason I refuse to meet clients and do all of my consultations on the telephone or by email now is because it makes it far easier to deal with such people.

Rosemary PriceRosemary Price
Psychic, Web Clairvoyant

Propose New Contract for Additional Tasks

As a freelancer or independent contractor, many requests from clients have been received that were outside of the initial contract, job, or project. Clear communication and effective boundaries are two things that help avoid this, but when it happens, the go-to response is always:

“I would love to help you out with that, but this would be outside the scope of my role. I’m happy to put together a new proposal to include this, but it would be an extra $XXX. Let me know if you’d like me to proceed!”

Tara ReidTara Reid
CEO and Business Coach, Tara Reid Marketing

Understand the Reasons Before Deciding

The first thing I do when this happens is ask why they are asking me instead of the person who actually has that responsibility. Often, there are valid reasons behind it, and understanding those helps inform how I respond professionally. For example, if the person who would normally perform the task was unavailable—and it’s clear that they expected me to step up and help—then I’m more likely to agree, even if it’s not my actual job role.

If, on the other hand, there’s no good explanation for why they’re asking me to do something outside of my duties, then I’ll express that politely but firmly by stating something like, “I’d love to help here, but unfortunately, this isn’t part of what I usually do,” or, “I don’t think taking on these responsibilities is within the scope of my current role.” It all depends on your position in the company or organization, as well as your relationship with whoever made the request.

Roksana BieleckaRoksana Bielecka
Community Manager, ResumeHelp

Reference External Negative Consequences

When asked to do something substantially outside of my job description, my go-to response always involves external negative consequences, ideally legal or financial.

Naturally, certain tasks require formal training, approval, or permission to conduct, and the organization leaves itself vulnerable if it ignores these requirements.

For example, when being asked to handle heavy objects, you are often required to undergo training for legal or insurance purposes. If you haven’t undergone this training, remind the manager about the legal repercussions of a workplace injury, especially from their perspective.

Managers will quickly change their approach when faced with indemnity, ending the awkward conversation while protecting yourself and your job.

Ben SchwenckeBen Schwencke
Business Psychologist, Test Partnership

Submit Your Answer

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