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Tsk, Task: When Co-workers Feud Over Job Descriptions

You walk to the copier at work and find it's out of paper. Again. That's because the two co-workers tasked with taking turns to refill it now refuse to do it.

Um...yeah...that's not
my job...

Congratulations, you are caught between two co-workers who are trying to prove a point to each other. And that point is: it isn't my job, it's your job! In the process, they manage to make it everyone else's job.

So you do what any mature co-worker does. You shake your head and put more paper in the copier. It's a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. Have you just added another responsibility to your job description, though?

When Two Work Peers Won't Budge
Now replace copier paper with dirty dishes in the break room sink, taking turns answering the office phone when the receptionist is out, filing, sorting, emptying, putting office chairs back where we found them, replacing the toilet paper roll, returning emails, handling a difficult customer, ordering office supplies, putting gas in the company car, going to the post office, turning the lights on or off...

...the list of thankless-but-necessary office tasks is endless.

And these two equally-stubborn coworkers will not budge on That One Task they feel most strongly about not doing on a day-to-day basis. Like an episode of HBO's Game of Thrones, these two co-workers are always trying to out-maneuver each other. Winter is coming, but the air between these two co-workers can feel downright Arctic sometimes.

I've been there myself. I once worked alongside (between?) two clerical employees who would not budge when it came to filing paper invoices and, in general, helping each other out. The stack of invoices grew and grew and grew until it leaned and threatened to fall over. Finally, I thought, "Okay, I'll just file it myself before it falls over" and voila! It became my job (even though it really was not) until I left the company. But it needed to get done in the name of seamless productivity, right? Wrong.

So what can you do when you're the co-worker caught in the middle?

Stuck In the Middle With You Two
Bottom line: This is a management issue, and management must address two work peers who stubbornly refuse to do a task within their mutual purview that now sits virtually abandoned. Perhaps the job description isn't tight enough; perhaps the company threw out job descriptions in the name of team-driven workplaces or some other lost cause.

Perhaps too many employees view certain tasks as beneath them. It's not out of the question these days, unfortunately.

Tread carefully in this situation, since you risk making the disputed job task your own. On the other hand, there are times you will need to step in to take care of a customer, or to do your own job. In many cases, the more trivial the work task, the greater the mutual resistance can be to performing it. Focus on serving the customer rather than furthering your warring co-workers' paperwork vendettas.

As a frustrated work peer, you might lightly, and indirectly, comment in passing on the ongoing task standoff when both employees are present. "Wow, that's a tall stack of invoices!" you might say with a smile. See how they respond. Most likely, you'll get an eye roll or a sigh as both employees silently point at each other without using fingers. In some cases, one employee might say point blank: "Well, it isn't my job."

Then whose job is it? Anyone? Anyone? Pointing out the problem might not be enough to get these two employees to work it out, but at least you're not doing their work for them. By the way, when does the new intern show up? Good luck.


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