Today’s workplace is rife with titles upon titles, and with those wonderful titles comes a neatly defined set of duties we are each assigned to accomplish: “organize this,” “lead that,” “manage them.” Nowhere in your title or set of responsibilities does it say “take out the common room trash,” “clean up the shared kitchen” or “vacuum around the shredder.”
After all, 90 percent of that mess isn’t yours. Why should you be responsible for cleaning it up?
And you’re right. It may not be your job to take out the trash. But “It’s not my mess” can be one of the most destructive mentalities an organization’s culture can have. Why? Because this type of thinking ends up affecting the “real work,” too.
Think before you utter the words “That’s not my job”
This doesn’t only apply to the disgusting excuse for a kitchen and the microwave with spaghetti sauce splatters all over it. “It’s not my mess” can quickly turn into “Why should I help Janice with her project deadline? It’s not my responsibility.” With this type of thought process, not only are we unwilling to take out the trash; we also won’t lend a helping hand to a coworker when it’s needed.
Plus, by telling your boss it’s not your job to take out the trash, you might as well wear a sign around your neck saying “I only care about myself” (made with poster board and markers from the company office supply, because someone who’s too important to take out the trash is also too important to supply their own sign).
This phenomenon has been studied as far back as ancient Greece and was finally coined as “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the late 1960s. Simply put, it means that with respect to shared resources, we all act in our own self-interest. We all have blinders on and can’t see past the next hour when it comes to the expenditure of effort.
Let’s say you’re on your way out the door at the end of the work day, and all you can think of is getting home to play with your dog. As you look at the overflowing trash can by the door, the last thing you want to do is take an extra minute to take out the bag and bring it down to the dumpster.
But ask yourself this: do you like working in a culture where everyone is looking out strictly for themselves, only willing to do what’s explicitly stated in their job duties? What we fail to realize is that our best interest in the long-term is to create an environment where a helping hand is lent freely and accepted with gratitude—an environment where the team thrives even when individuals fall short.
So what can we do to change this mentality?
Noteworthy culture change can start with just the tiniest spark. (Think of a little old lady refusing to give up her seat on a bus, and you’ll get the idea.)
If the trash is full, take it out. If there are coffee grinds all over the counter, clean them up. If Janice needs help meeting her project deadline, give her a hand.
Start helping out beyond the bare minimum that you’re required to do. Take a vested interest in the team’s best interest, instead of the next two minutes of your life. A better team will lead to a healthier work environment and, just maybe, a job you enjoy waking up for every day. (Plus, you’ll become everyone’s favorite coworker.)
Above all else, stop focusing on job titles and their associated duties
It doesn’t matter exactly where you start to shoulder the load, and the organizational culture isn’t going to change with one bag of trash. But with consistency and a couple of minutes each day devoted to helping out the team, you’d be surprised at what can happen.
Be the change you’d like to see in your world.