The Difference Between “It’s Not My Job” and Knowing Your Boundaries

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Career Advice

No matter your workplace, there’s always the possibility that you’ll be pulled to some form of, as they say, “double duty.”

This phenomenon is particularly common in small offices, where staffs are shorter and have no choice but to become more versatile. There’s nothing wrong with learning a few skills outside of the realm of your job duties — in fact, those skills will help your resume in the long run.

But at what point does it become just too much?

A 2015 article from The Atlantic addresses the issue of what happens to competent workers who are thrown into a sea of lazier colleagues. The moral of the story? If you show expertise and initiative in the workplace, you end up performing everyone else’s job duties, too!

Now, there are upsides and downsides to this catch-22.


You’ll be noticed by your boss
Employee of the month? Meetings about your future with the company? Being kept in the loop about the happenings of the company? Yup. All of this and more will potentially be on your radar. Your boss is more likely to act as both your career mentor and sponsor, and as a result, can open doors for you.

You have reason to ask for a raise
You’re working extra hours. You’re helping to train the new employees. You’re the go-to person when the computer decides to have a mind of its own, or when dealing with a particular customer who you know best. You’re going above and beyond, and that should warrant a raise.

You’ll sleep easier
In both the literal and figurative senses. Sometimes a moral compass is helpful in the workplace, and you’ll know for yourself, if no one else, that you truly did the best you could. If there’s a chance that you’ll be reviewed, or your work will be looked at closely in the near, or even the not-so-near future, you’ll have confidence that your work is the best it can possibly be. You won’t doubt yourself in this type of surprise circumstance.


You might not be noticed by your boss
And, as a result, you may end up feeling resentful, angry, and/or hostile toward other colleagues who may get noticed by your boss when they don’t put in nearly the same effort that you do. Office politics are an unfortunate reality — and aren’t always put on the back burner in favor of the person who is, in fact, the hardest worker. Not to mention, you could feel resentful of your boss, too.

You could sacrifice self-care
Nothing, not even work, is worth giving up your well-being. If you find yourself waking up feeling nauseous at just the thought of going to work, that could be a clue that you’re a) working “too hard,” b) are not appreciated, or c) all of the above. When hard work is rewarded and acknowledged, you’ll wake up easier — to the point that work won’t interfere with your wellness. But once it does? It’s time to re-evaluate.

Your colleagues may take advantage of your nature
Unfortunately, we all have those colleagues who look to that hardworking employee — and say “oh, Susan will do it, she won’t be able to leave it alone.” And that’s not okay… that’s just lazy.


The trick to all this? Strike a balance. Always pitch in. Do your job, and go above and beyond. But don’t let yourself become the office doormat. You’re better than that.

Know what your boundaries are, and understand that your boundaries aren’t always the same as your colleagues’. If you’re working hard, being acknowledged for it, and not sacrificing your happiness, your employer quite possibly has a reasonable definition of “above and beyond.” If you’re working hard, anxious, tired, resentful, and feeling like your colleagues are parasites who depend on you to complete any task they just “don’t feel” like completing… those are clues that your limit has been reached, and possibly exceeded.

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