“It’s Not In My Job Description!” – Resistance in Your Team Members

“It’s not in my job description” is a phrase you’ve probably heard many times as a leader. Whether you’ve asked a team member to cover for someone or take on a last-minute assignment, “It’s not in my job description” can be a default response in the workplace.

How do you feel when you hear this? Frustrated? Exhausted? Disappointed?

Getting to a place of understanding and empathizing with your employees when they use this response will help relieve these emotions, and also allow you to communicate and approach them in a more successful way.

I recently experienced a situation at home that made me reflect on this dilemma that we often coach to in the workplace. My husband was prepping the laundry and asked our eight-year-old son to bring the basket of clothes downstairs. My son, who was lying in bed, responded with, “I can’t do that right now.” Though this was upsetting and frustrating in the moment, talking with him and getting a better understanding of where he was coming from was eye-opening. He was simply tired, comfortably snuggled under his covers, and felt it was unfair to do the task right now – essentially, “not in his job description.” This conversation allowed my husband and I to understand that his response wasn’t coming from a negative place. Rather, he wanted to be heard and understood for what was important to him in that moment. We could certainly relate to that need for empathy and understanding, as those were our needs (as well as teamwork!). The conversation allowed us to create a plan in which we all got our needs met, with less emotional expense.

As leaders, when we let go of preconceived judgments we have about our employees and are more sensitive to why they say “no” in response to our requests, we allow for more open, honest communication and connection. Resistance from your team members can stem from many places. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at various sources of workplace resistance. Today, we look at how the emotion of fear ties into these types of scenarios.


Fear of the Unknown

In life, the workplace included, you will be faced with new and unexpected challenges and tasks. Though it is often worth our while to take these on, fear and resistance to the unknown is totally normal. If the work you’re requesting your team member to take on is something they’ve never done before, it may be daunting or even full-blown scary for them to accept. The confidence you have in them being able to complete the task may not coincide with their self-confidence. Have you ever found yourself encouraging (aka – pushing) someone (child, employee, spouse, etc.) to do something that you’re certain they can do, and notice it’s clearly outside their comfort zone? This is fear showing up. They may have fears of doing things wrong and being penalized for it, fear of rejection or humiliation or fear of taking on too much and not meeting their commitments. These feelings can be uncomfortable for them to talk about, so simply saying “It’s not in my job description,” can be an easy way out.


Before you approach your team member, take some time to self-reflect. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • What is the end result you’re looking for and does it align with this person?
  • How do you recognize your team member’s efforts to support you?
  • How does that benefit them?
  • How will you support them to be successful at this?
  • What if your employee says “no?” How will you react to that response?
  • How can you avoid punishment or shaming?
  • What’s your backup plan?


Once you’re ready to approach the team member, communicate to them where you’re coming from with your request– consider the following:

  • Why did you approach them specifically?
  • What do you want them to understand?
  • What skills or talents have they previously showcased that would be valuable to the task at hand?
  • Why do you trust them?
  • How does this help us all win?



The key is to create a comfortable, common ground where no matter how overwhelmed you and your team member may be feeling, you can be on the same page and level of understanding of where each other is coming from. This is conscious communication.


With peace and ease…