What To Do When Your Employee Resists Doing Part of Their Job

Every job involves tasks that aren't our favorite things to do.  As the saying goes, there's a reason they have to pay you to do your job.  Once we gain more experience, the proportion of disagreeable tasks will hopefully diminish, but at the beginning stages of any line of work, there is usually a fair amount of "grunt work."  Employees who are in their first post-college job don't always expect this, especially if they haven't had much internship experience.  They lack the context to see why certain administrative tasks might be important, and they sometimes also don't see why higher-level employees couldn't do those tasks instead of them.  It can be helpful to question "the way things have always been done," but only to a point.  Sometimes, the work just needs to get done, and the reluctant employee just needs to do it.  But what about those times when an employee consistently tries to avoid doing disliked tasks, whether openly or surreptitiously?  Here are some questions to ask yourself and some options for you to consider in addressing this all-too-common management challenge.

How is the employee's performance on the other, non-disliked parts of the job?

If the employee is not performing well in general, the issue of their not liking part of their job is not your most pressing concern. If your employee is mediocre or worse, then you need to be focusing on the morale of the rest of your team rather than this person. You need to get their performance up to par or replace them, because right now they are dragging down the rest of the team.  

Put them on a structured performance plan, ideally with guidance from your HR department if possible.  It doesn't make sense to focus on what the employee likes/doesn't like if they're not contributing to the team in general.  

Define clear performance expectations for all aspects of the job, including (especially!) the disliked portions, and set a timeframe for meeting the required level of performance.  It's important to recognize that sometimes a warm body is actually worse than not having someone in the role at all.  Poor performers take up a disproportionate amount of your time and energy.  (Note: if the employee is a poor performer overall, there is no need to consider any of the following questions because it doesn't make sense to make changes before the root problem is addressed.  Put the employee on a PIP.)

Does the task have to be done, exactly as currently defined? 

If the employee is contributing well in other aspects of the job, it may be worth considering whether they have a point about the disliked portion.  Investigate whether it really does need to be done, and if so, whether it has to be done exactly as defined.  Are there options for modifying it to make it more appealing?  If not, what is the role the task plays in supporting the mission of the team and organization?  If the task doesn't play an important role and can be modified or eliminated, take action to do so.  This will improve morale and also free your employee up to focus on more meaningful work.

Does the task have to be done by this particular person or role? 

One of the great things about having a team is that there are sometimes multiple people who could do a task, and often one will dislike things another likes to do, and vice versa.  If there is someone else on the team who would find the disliked task interesting, consider swapping it with something they dislike that the employee in question might be willing to do.  

This should only be used if the original employee is otherwise a terrific part of the team and the receiving employee is enthused about taking on the new tasks.  Ideally, this should also be an arrangement that could outlive the current job-holders (that is, it could be a permanent change to the roles), but in many small teams that's not feasible.  This should not be used if the employee is mediocre or if no one else on the team wants to do the tasks, either.  It's important that you don't reward excessive complaining and punish those who do their jobs without focusing on what they like and don't like.

How willing are you to risk the employee leaving if they decide they don't want to put up with the disliked part of their job? 

It's important to clearly convey to your employees what the consequences are when they don't do portions of their job at the required level.  Not everything is a "must-do" requirement, though, and sometimes employees are critical resources for other parts of the job, so you'll need to get clear about where you want to draw the line.  For some things, it would be better to have someone else in the role who will do the required tasks, in which case you'll need to convey to the employee that doing the disliked portions of their job are a requirement of continuing employment.  You should probably formalize this with a performance improvement plan, as described in the first question above.

In some cases, though, you may not be willing or able to take such a hard line on the issue.  You still have options, though.  If your employee is interested in getting higher performance ratings (and thus higher pay increases) or a promotion, it is completely reasonable to let them know that they need to demonstrate success in their current role as a minimal requirement to earn such rewards.  It is also reasonable to withhold or withdraw perks such as increased flexibility and autonomy if they are not performing all aspects of their job at the level you are asking of them.  

Once you have clarified your thoughts and goals for the conversation, you can meet with the employee to discuss the situation.  For tips on how to approach the conversation, check out this post.