“Just Doing My Job.” Ouch!

“Just doing my job” is a phrase that suggests someone else has just thanked you for your assistance. In your attempt perhaps to be humble, you may inadvertently minimized your contribution and dismissed their thanks as unnecessary. I suspect that wasn’t your intention at all.

Think about it. For starters, if you are just doing your job, then are you saying you don’t go about your job with any effort above and beyond? That the only reason you did whatever it was that caused the person to thank you is because you were paid to do it? Oh boy I hope not.

For some people who are truly in need, their sincere thanks is the only thing they have to give. It could be that they aren’t used to someone really delivering on their behalf, and so saying thank you is a genuine big deal for them. The response they are looking for is nothing more than a, “you’re very welcome.” When you say, “just doing my job”, that expected, “you’re welcome”; a social courtesy and norm is not communicated. In its place is a statement that might be received as, “I only did it for you because I’m paid by my employer to do that. You’re no more special than anyone else I help. Don’t thank me for doing my job.” Said that way, doesn’t it sound odd?

Now there are many people who sadly do go about their day just putting in the minimum effort required to keep their job and nothing more. Those people are in fact, “just doing their jobs.” They work with the attitude that if the employer wants more out of them, they’ll deliver more when they are paid to do more, and ‘more’ gets written into their job description. They will tell you that do give more than the minimum required of them doesn’t do anything for them personally, so why bother; where’s the motivation?

You and I? We can tell can’t we when we observe someone putting in a minimum effort vs. someone providing superior service? Take two lines of people cashing out of the grocery store. In addition to choosing the shorter line of the two, I’ll be you also look to see who the people are who are scanning out the groceries. I know I sure look. One might look exasperated, tired, communicates the company line, “Member?” like it takes all their energy just to get out the single word. They go about their job like it’s a prison sentence; their mind not even on the items or the people standing in front of them.

Conversely, I hope you’ve experienced the opposite. You know, the Cashier who is bright, smiling, seems genuinely friendly and who says, “Thanks for shopping with us today. Are you a ______ member?” As they ask, they actually look at you. Their work and how they go about it make your own experience a positive one. Both are doing their job, both are memorable, but only one has a really positive impact on the shopper.

Have you ever looked at a job posting and one of the bullets under qualifications says:

  • Must smile, be engaged, like their job and make sure it shows

Not likely have you seen all these things, and perhaps you have! Some who read this might be rolling their eyes, scowling silently to themselves and saying, “For minimum wage? Forget it.” And unfortunately that’s how some people see their worth. If you want me to smile, if you want me to look like I enjoy my job, like I appreciate the work and the people around me, pay me and I’ll flick the switch to, “on”.

More money only works in the short-term however. A few days, a couple of weeks, and then the person is right back to what is their normal behaviour. If you really want employment, you’ve got to go about your work looking and acting like you are doing more than ‘just’ what’s in your job description. This isn’t some new phenomenon. Employers today want what employers have always wanted: people who are positive, happy, self-motivated and genuinely engaged in the work they do.

Most people can be taught the mechanics of how to perform the actual skills required in a job. What people cannot be taught by an employer is drive, a positive disposition.

So when some customer or client expresses their thanks for something you have done for them, a good response is to acknowledge that thanks with a sincere, “You’re welcome; my pleasure!”

Another common response if you break down the words people use and overuse, is the classic response, “No problem.” Problem? Who said anything about a problem? The customer or client says, “Thanks I appreciate that”, and your response is, “No problem”? Are you saying that the service you provided to the customer would be a problem for some people but not for you? What does that unintentionally say about your co-workers? The only thing you might have said that is worse is the complete combination, “No problem, just doing my job.” Yikes!

So it takes a small bit of effort perhaps to be friendly when it’s not your usual disposition to smile. Like most things, it’s a matter of choosing. Choose your attitude, work on your positivity just as someone works on learning any other skill.

JUST doing your job? How unfortunate for those around you.





One thought on ““Just Doing My Job.” Ouch!

  1. All just words, Kelly, so what’s the problem? 🙂
    Great reminders.
    I agree that the words/phrases we use send interesting and often unintended messages, changing both the listeners view of us and our capabilities as well as our view of ourselves.
    Choosing positive, intelligent and capable language sends powerful messages.


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