Where did this dreaded “Other Duties as Assigned” come from? I can only imagine this line ended up at the bottom of the majority of job descriptions because one manager who was incapable of delegating started throwing random tasks at anybody in the office (think Michael Scott fashion)…or it arrived from the 7th layer of HR hell and no one has found a way to send it back. I can’t find its actual origin but as a normal entity in today’s society it is important to at least understand. Here is my own insight on the topic.
Warnings for Those New, or Soon to be New, to Adulting in the Workforce
This is a warning for those applying for a new position or just starting out in their careers. Pull out that job description and take your eyes directly to the bottom of the page.
More than likely it states, “and other duties as assigned” or “as required”.
If it does not, than congratulations you won the lottery on obtaining a clear and straightforward set of job responsibilities! For the remainder of us, we are stuck with this abstract clause of who the hell knows what else you may end up doing in your position. For those entering the workforce it’s good to acknowledge this one line and take note about how you may approach it in your job.
The General Norm of Other Duties as Assigned
It isn’t out of the ordinary for supervisors to assign small extra tasks or ask for assistance outside of your core role. Often this can display your willingness to be a team player and build relationships with colleagues. Depending on the other duty given, it can provide exposure to new skills, new work environments, and new opportunities.
You should be concerned if any of these requests become outrageous, inappropriate, overwhelming, and if they take away from your real work priorities.
Legality of Other Duties as Assigned
Job descriptions themselves are not legal documents but serve as crucial center piece to the hiring process. It helps organizations maintain compliance with federal and state labor and employment laws. They help establish clear expectations through clearly defined written responsibilities. They serve as accountability documents for the employee and employer.
The statement about other duties as assigned on the job description isn’t legally binding. Although, it would be hard to plead the case that something wasn’t on your job description.
Reasonable vs Unreasonable
If it isn’t legally binding the next question to ask is if it is reasonable or unreasonable. Take this article for example, talking about a women’s tweet about picking up pizza for the meeting in terrible weather. It held a special place in my heart since it reminded me of some of the tasks I end up doing for my job. The one big thing that did pop out at me though, was the issue of safety or possible harm to the person. Other duties may be unreasonable if it puts someone at harm.
Reasonable requests should align with your specific duties in some fashion. Should not take up a large portion of your time. These duties should be infrequent and not require additional expertise.
When I think of “other duties’ it brings me back to a quote someone shared,”Good work is often rewarded with more work.” I am struggling to remember the actual author of the quote but it gets at my point. If you find yourself deemed as a highly reliable team member, beware. The success in completing certain “other duties” leads to being asked to do more. Especially if the outcomes are of high quality.
Putting your foot down
The definition of duty is synonymous with tax. “Other duties as assigned” has become an overused tax on entry level professionals. This tax is at times heavy burden to bear, especially over long periods of time.
If you are finding yourself getting close to burnt out. If the other duties are truly out of the scope of your position. You may need to put your foot down sooner rather than later.
How You Might Approach “Other Duties”
Here are a variety of methods you may be able to approach all of these other duties:
Outlining Core Responsibilities and Communicated Clearly
My first tip to you is to get a copy of your job description from when you were hired. More than likely you will have an employee file with HR. Call them up and ask them for a copy. Review it and make sure you understand your core responsibilities. Ask your supervisor for any clarifications if needed.
Now that you understand what you were actually hired for it will make it easier to know when you are responsible for something outside of the scope of your position.
My second tip, document any and all duties completed that are unrelated to your job. It will make it much easier to argue your case when meeting with your supervisor.
If at any time these duties impact you core responsibilities negatively, or they take up 20% or more of your job, then you need to set up a meeting with your boss.
My suggestion would be to inform your boss prior to the meeting about the broad subject manner. This will hep them prepare for a real conversation instead of possibly feeling blind sided. Show up to the meeting with the documentation you have been collecting (my second tip). Be clear, concise, and honest about how you feel but do so with your documented facts.
Learn When to Say No
This may be one of the more difficult approaches, but in today’s climate, this is almost a required skill for your sanity. If you can’t say no then what is stopping your supervisor from continuously handing you more tasks?
Next time you are presented with completing one of those “other duties,” ask yourself these questions.
- Will the time it takes to complete this task stop you from completing required core job responsibilities?
- Have you been asked to more than once to complete similar other duty responsibilities?
- Does this require additional knowledge or expertise outside of the scope or your position?
If you said yes to any of the questions above than it may be time to tell your supervisor no. In this process you also have to weigh the consequences of saying no. Will it impact your future career trajectory and if it does, is this the right place for you to work?
Laugh and Move On
Choose your battles. Depending on the unique situation you find yourself in, it may be best to just take the other duties “as is.” In life, it is also beneficial to learn the skill of moving on. It can apply quite well in these situations.
Do you think it will turn into a good work story to be shared at a later date? If so, possibly suck it up and do it for the story!
Manager’s Shoes of Other Duties as Assigned
Dare I say let us take a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of those in management. Those reasonable managers are often responsible for a large range of tasks which includes the supervision of multiple staff. Imagine one of these staff members is out sick on a day in which a large scale project or program is being implemented. On that very same day your manager is called into a unplanned management meeting. To accomplish the tasks that were supposed to be completed by the person out sick you are asked to help. Possibly make copies, send an email, carry files or supplies to a designated location, or actually implement said program or project. Is this unreasonable?
A Little Perspective
The line “other duties as assigned” helps to protect management from litigation as well as assisting to complete necessary responsibilities. Without that line, it would be reasonable for you to say no to your supervisor for anything that isn’t directly written on your job description. It not only would be too cumbersome to write down each and every duty someone may carry out in their job, but it is also impossible to accommodate any “what if” scenario that may play out in the work environment.
For example, I am currently in an office where a professional staff member took an opportunity to move up in her career elsewhere. In a budget deficit year that position is going to sit vacant for some time. The responsibilities of that vacant position aren’t going to just vanish into thin air. What is management to do in these circumstances? Take on all of the tasks themselves on top of their positions? Possibly, but more than likely it’s a spread the wealth as reasonably as they can situation. Temporarily adding small pieces of “other duties” to the surrounding individuals on the team. Adding larger chunks to those who may get a temporary increase in compensation (this is what good management does). All the while trying to strategize and take action on the long term makeup of the office.
A Quick Thought
So next time you are asked to do one of those menial tasks by your supervisor, take a moment and put yourselves in their shoes. Ask yourself is it a reasonable request in this moment?
If you answer yes than carry them out without holding a grudge.
If you answer no than document the occurrence and have a conversation with your supervisor. A good supervisor will acknowledge your perspective and attempt to help.
If you answer no and you have a horrible supervisor… good luck and maybe start a new job search.
Finally, for any manager reading this, please put yourselves in the shoes of your employees.
Love to hear from you!
If you happen to have any crazy stories about “other duties” I would love to hear about it in the comments.