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Is there a general term that describes people/employees/coworkers who tend to say "it's not my job" when asked to do something slightly beyond the responsibilities of their role? Not necessarily those who only say it when they don't have time (although in those cases there are certainly better ways to say it), but perhaps those who tend to use it as a crutch to prevent extraneous exertion of effort.

Lazy, may certainly describe these folks, sure. I'm looking for a noun though, not an adjective.

Analogous to a "that's not my job" mindset is that of the knowledge hoarder who tends to believe that any special knowledge and skills that they possess that no other coworkers possess are not to be shared, and they believe that tasks requiring the use of such special knowledge or skills are their job alone. They are often referred to as "heroes" and can be the same people as those who tend to refuse work outside of their role's established responsibilities, but "hero" is not the term I'm looking for. Is there a similar term that plays more to their work-refusal side?

10 Answers 10

72

You could also consider jobsworth.

Wikipedia's entry is illuminating:

"Jobsworth" is a British colloquial word derived from the phrase "I can't do that, it's more than my job's worth", meaning taking the initiative and performing an action that is beyond what the person feels is in their job description.

In my experience, it has two overlapping meanings:

  1. Refusing to do anything other than what is absolutely required of them by their job description
  2. Deliberately using technicalities of a rule or job to obstruct reasonable activity

It may be British English only: I'd be interested to hear whether this is in use in other English-speaking nations.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Oct 30 '16 at 15:45
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Shirker comes close. From Dictionary.com:

a person who evades work, duty, responsibility, etc.

The term doesn't necessarily specify a particular method of avoidance, though, so your not-my-jobber would be a sub-class of shirker.


Edited to add this great little poem from a 1921 Railway Signal Engineer issue (attributed to Selected):

THE SHIRKER

“That's not my job, and it's not my care,”
When an extra task he chanced to see;
“That's not my job and it's not my care,
So I'll pass it by and leave it there.”
And the boss who gave him his weekly pay
Lost more than his wages on him that day.

“I'm not supposed to do that,” he said;
“That duty belongs to Jim or Fred.”
So a little task that was in his way
That he could have handled without delay
Was left unfinished; the way was paved
For a heavy loss that he could have saved.

[etc.]

which sounds very much like the kind of individual you've described.

  • @AndrewLeach, thanks for the edit. For future reference, how do you impose line breaks and single spacing within a quote? I always end up with a long, smooshed-together single paragraph. – 1006a Oct 2 '16 at 15:46
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    Two spaces ⌂⌂ on the end of a line forces a single-height line-break. – Andrew Leach Oct 2 '16 at 17:54
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    Someone who refuses to go above and beyond his job description is not necessarily shirking on the responsibilities that are part of his job description. It’s quite possible that someone is both, but the two terms are independent. – KRyan Oct 3 '16 at 17:10
  • @KRyan but a shirker isn't necessarily avoiding a duty; as it says in the definition, it can also apply to just avoiding work in general. And the OP specifically asked for someone who tends to use it the phrase "not my job" as a crutch to prevent extraneous exertion of effort. – 1006a Oct 3 '16 at 22:28
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To tell you the truth, I call such people problem employees.

I like @1006a's answer, but I'll offer up slacker as an alternative word, if not meaning.

From Dictionary.com:

slacker: A person who evades his or her duty or work; shirker

A slacker is a person who will use any means necessary to avoid work. A slacker would certainly use it's not my job "as a crutch to prevent extraneous exertion of effort".

8

time-server The Oxford English Dictionary has several definitions of time-server. I reordered the two definitions I quoted to better answer the OP's question.

A person who serves in a post or office for the required time while expending the minimum of effort; a person who merely fills a job or position, without showing commitment or enthusiasm.

[Two Examples]

1924 Amer. Jrnl. Nursing 24 1025 Those..who have given me their best service, altruistically as a physician is supposed to do;..who were not time servers.

2005 Spectator 22 Oct. 5/3 The government has ensured that a generation of time-servers will deprive the economy's wealth-creating sector of able workers for decades to come

The second definition I quote (from the OED, same link as above) helps to explain why the timeserver of the first definition keeps his or her job:

A person who out of self-interest adapts his or her conduct or views to suit prevailing circumstances

Example: 1945 H. L. Mencken Diary 24 Oct. (1989) 388, I added that Hamilton..was a time-server with no more principle in him than a privy rat.

That is, the time-server of the first definition keeps his job because he is also a time-server of the second definition, which includes sucking up to whoever is in charge.

Not all supervisors are fooled by the time-server, however clever he may be at avoiding any but minimal work -- and it takes cleverness to avoid work successfully. But if it is difficult to fire someone, even a perceptive supervisor may decide to work around the time-server rather than undertake a massive and possibly risky effort to fire him or her.

5

A person who thinks they are above doing certain lower level tasks (especially due to the perception of their own status or importance in relation to someone associated with those tasks) is called a primadonna, after the term for the leading lady in an opera company or production. The "heroes" referred to in the question are often primadonnas, which ties in with how they jealously guard their special skills. While eager to shine in the spotlight, the flipside is that tasks not requiring those skills that "anyone" can do are beneath them.

4

This is not perfect, but it's sufficiently close to be worth suggesting. How about work-to-rule?

From Merriam-Webster:

work-to-rule: the practice by workers of refusing to do any work that is not strictly required as a part of their jobs in order to protest something (such as unfair working conditions)

From The Free Dictionary:

work-to-rule: job action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of a workplace in order to cause a slowdown

I've known many people who are not part of organized labor who work-to-rule. That is, they won't do anything they don't consider part of their jobs, they won't work a minute longer than their standard tour of duty, etc. In my experience, the term has assumed broader applicability.

3

A little informal perhaps, but the term that springs to mind for me is "Slopey-shouldered"

The phrase does a great job of describing the kind of person who, when given a task, seems to let it slide off them and onto someone else.

References:

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    This suggestion also reminds me of 'Teflon Shouldered'. Which is more about someone avoiding the consequences of their actions. – AJFaraday Oct 5 '16 at 12:03
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    I have never heard this before, but I love the image. – Jeremy Nottingham Oct 5 '16 at 12:31
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The slang term "goldbricker" describes ... "a person, especially a soldier, who avoids assigned duties or work; a shirker."

(Definition from The Free Dictionary)

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Wally

Wally

Perhaps not yet part of the language.

  • It is not yet a part of the language, but maybe it should :-) – Peter M. Apr 17 at 14:36
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job-filler (inspired by time-server but without the prison connotations)

hardly-worker (inspired by working hard or hardly working)

weaselly-worker (inspired by weasel words)

laggard (perhaps not specific enough)

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