“That’s Not My Job!”

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01Oct2008

“That’s Not My Job!”

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By Jeannie S. Johnston, This Month’s Contributing Author

frustratedWe’re all guilty of either saying or thinking this once or twice in our careers (present company included).  The boss asks us to perform a task that we feel is a bit “beneath” us and the phrase magically pops into our brain.  However, what happens when the thought becomes an attitude and how much truth is there in the comment in the first place?

For example, Peggy Paralegal is hard at work reviewing and organizing a stack of medical records that she has received as a result of her latest document production request binge.  Suddenly, Betsy Boss appears in the door and states, “Peggy, Robin Receptionist is out sick today and I need you to cover her desk from 1:00 to 2:00 today.  Thanks.”  Before poor Peggy can even explain that she has a mountain of work of her own, Betsy Boss is halfway to her office secure in knowing the front desk will be covered.  You begin to feel your inner child stamping it’s feet and turning bright red just before it falls to the ground in delightful tantrum.  All of the sudden, out of blue…those words!!!!  “That’s not my job!!!”

Okay.  So technically, it’s NOT your job.  When you interviewed for the position there wasn’t ever a mention that you may have to cover the reception desk on occasion.  You’ve come to a fork in the road at this point and you have a couple of options on which direction you could travel.  To cover the desk or not to cover the desk?  That is the question.  Whatever the task, perhaps now is a good time to put things into perspective.

Is what you’ve been asked to do legal?  No one would ever expect an individual to perform an illegal task just because your boss has asked you to do it.  Not many employers would ask you to perform an illegal act, so let’s assume that you won’t be heading off to jail for doing this particular task.

How important is it really?  I’m talking about what you’ve been asked to do vs. what you normally do on a daily basis.  Taking the view that anything you do for the company will benefit the company, and ultimately you, is a good way to keep a positive spin on those not-so-important tasks.  This would fall into the “no job is too small” category.

Is this an obligation or an opportunity?  If we turn negatives into positives, amazing things can happen.  Don’t assume that your boss doesn’t notice how you react to anything and everything.  Chances are good that they do notice. How you respond when you’re asked to do something may play a significant part in your annual review and/or bonus.

Is your attitude showing?  You can fake the genuine desire to be an asset to your employer in a pinch.  They will recognize if you are sincerely glad to help or are doing something just because you were told to do it.  Instead of sulking like a child, try taking the road less traveled and whistle while you work no matter what it is you may be charged with doing.  Attitude is everything and can (and will) follow you throughout your entire career.

Team work is an essential part of working for lawyers (or working for anyone for that matter). Take a trip to your local library and check out a few biographies on those who have made it to the top of their professions.  Almost all of them started at the very bottom and to this day still perform what could be considered “menial” tasks.   In fact, most entrepreneurs are what is described as “systems thinkers.”   What is a systems thinker? A systems thinker is one who intuits and sees the whole of a thing, the entirety of it, the one-ness of it, the integrated unity of it, as opposed to merely the sum of its parts. A systems thinker:

  • Transcends the world in order to transform it.
  • Is an inventor as opposed to an engineer.
  • Sees purpose in everything, and sees the system as the realization of the purpose.
  • Sees meaning in everything and, if not, pursues everything until the meaning becomes clear, until the System reveals itself in all its glory.
  • Is possessed by the meaning of things.

The third quality of a systems thinker states they “see purpose in everything, and sees the system as the realization of the purpose.”  Again, no job should be too small to perform and what is good for the part is good for the whole.  Everyone benefits!

Interestingly enough, when polled, most lawyers and firm administrators prefer a positive attitude over experience when considering hiring a prospective new employee.  Individuals can learn to perform a particular task; however, attitude is not necessarily something that can be taught.

I’d like to conclude by encouraging.  Make your mark!  Take charge and ingest the concept of “no task too small”!  Don’t be a work snob but instead be a team-player.  You may be pleasantly surprised at the benefits you reap from such a change of heart.  If that’s not enough incentive to evoke a change, consider this: the next time the desire to utter the words, “That’s not my job” overcome you, remember with an attitude like that, it may not be for long.

About the Author

Jeannie S. Johnston obtained her Paralegal Degree from Athens Technical College and has been a practicing Paralegal for over 15 years.  She has written for Legal Assistant Today and is the Founder and President of Paralegal Gateway, Inc. (a/k/a ParalegalGateway.com).  Jeannie lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Daniel, and their four furry children Tricksy (the dog), Riley (the cat), Carson (the cat) and Mr. Smithers (the cat).

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