Many companies encourage employees to “go above and beyond”, and banish the phrase “it’s not my job”. It’s a well-meaning attempt to encourage collaboration and customer service, but sometimes it can become too much of a good thing. Unbeknownst to some eager employees, there is a right and a wrong way to go above and beyond.
I personally wasn’t aware that there was a right and wrong way to do this until I was a manager and became responsible for a team of my own. After several discussions with my team as well as others to better understand this oddity, I was able to identify two main problems with going above and beyond the wrong way.
Problem 1: Shadow Work
At the same time that employees are being told to go above and beyond, their managers are being asked to do more with less. This almost always ends poorly, because the managers need to figure out how to get more work out of the team while they are doing a lot of extra work that the managers don’t know about. Aside from the risk of burning out, your manager will never know how much you can truly support the work you are expected to.
Before you commit to going above and beyond, make sure the extra work won’t impact your ability to complete your core responsibilities. Will this extra little something put your assigned work at risk? If yes, either skip it this time, postpone it, or suggest someone else who could assist.
As hard as you try, you’ll never be fully recognized for the “extra” work you do if you can’t perform your core responsibilities properly. You’ll be in a more advantageous position if you get your regular work under control before you really show others how you can shine.
Problem 2: Confusion on Roles and Responsibilities
This is a tricky problem, because the very request of removing the “it’s not my job” mentality leads people down a path of confused roles and responsibilities. At best, employees end up absorbing small tasks into their role that their managers never intended for them to do. At worst, employees will take this as an opportunity to do whatever they want. This may be ok in a small, bootstrapped company with 5 employees, but the larger the company, the worse the possible impacts. Managers can’t make the case for more staff, because the work is magically getting done (or people don’t even know it needs to be done!). Managers can’t hold their own or other employees responsible for their roles, nor can they diagnose whether people are in the right role.
Rather than agreeing to the extra work right away, step back and think about who should be doing it. If it’s clear that it’s someone else’s job, connect and/or enable the people who are responsible for the work, then entrust it in their hands. If it’s not clear who is responsible, consider raising this with your manager first. Your manager will prefer having the right of refusal, so long as you provide options and rationale for whether you should be doing it.
Rather than a reputation of being the “go-to person”, approaching the extra work this way can build you a reputation of connecting the right people or solving the problem of a task not having an owner. It also shows that you have skills to collaborate, without having to be the one to do all the work yourself.
If you can sidestep these concerns, going above and beyond can become much less stressful for your workload, as well as your manager’s ability to meet their expectations for the team.