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Stay in your lane, don’t work on extra projects!

stay in your lane

Why you should stay in your lane

Stay in your lane!

Since this blog started, I have preached that we must do more than the assigned job description to get ahead at work. I have stated:

  • “Sweep the parking lot if you have nothing to do.”
  • “Make your manager’s job easier by doing the work they don’t want to.”
  • “Work on efficiencies within your department and your company.”

Most likely, none of the above are in your job description. I don’t think I have ever said, “Stay in your lane.”

This blog has been a big proponent of working after hours and on the weekends. I have suggested we work “after hours” because we all have a 40-plus hour-a-week day job. And if we want to get “extra” work done to show proof of additional qualifications, this will probably have to happen after hours.  

Today, I adjust the reins on this advice. Stick to your job description and nothing more. Don’t do any extra work, don’t help others, and don’t come up with any new “ideas.”  Stay in your lane peoples! Sound anti-HRNasty?

Time and place for changing lanes

Lately, I have been working with a very smart individual. This individual is a recent graduate who earned strong grades with very little effort in both high school and college. They are wondering why they are working a lot of hours, yet not being promoted at work, not receiving raises, and why their manager doesn’t recognize their talent.

This person was referred via their parent, so I had credibility. I helped the parent earn a couple of promotions and increase their salary over the years, and the hope was I could help the young graduate navigate the corporate world. Within five minutes of our first meeting, I could tell that this was a very talented individual. They were articulate, well-read, and had social skills to boot. You usually get two of the three, but you don’t get all three. So, what was going on?

I asked a few open-ended questions:

  • Tell me about how things are going with your manager.
  • Do you have regular meetings with your manager?
  • Are there metrics that can validate your work quantitatively?

After a short conversation, I had some suspicions

This individual was bored at work, so they worked on several projects outside of their job description to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, the time spent on extracurricular projects had two results:

  1. Diluted efforts on their day job. They were doing a passable job with their role but were not knocking the job out of the park.
  2. Perceived as not spending enough hours on job requirements listed in the job description.

It sounded very similar to his educational history. They earned decent grades but could have been valedictorian if they had applied themselves. Not all the topics in school were interesting. They focused on what was interesting and added non-educational activities to fill the day. They were not paying attention to the sign that read, “Stay in your lane.” The priority could have been education. Instead, they wanted a “school-life balance,” which was heavy on “life.”

Lather, rinse, repeat

Work-life became a repeat of school life. They were doing OK on most of the items in the job description, but not all. Because there is a perception of work being done outside the scope of the job description, the conclusion is that they could show better results on what was required from the role.

We are paid to focus 40+ hours a week on bullets listed in the job description. Working 30 hours a week on the bullets and 10 hours on projects outside the scope of the job description is not a good look.

You can work on extracurricular items at work, but we must knock the job description bullets out of the park!

We don’t get dessert if we don’t finish the main course and salad. You don’t get to say, “I’m full,” and then ask for chocolate cake.

We don’t have the luxury of determining when to work on extracurricular activities. We show mastery of the job description, and then we can work on the extracurriculars. Our manager is the customer. We need their buy-in before we work on outside projects.

The customer knows the best

The manager created the job description and hired a team player to master the role. The understanding is that no individual will love every aspect of the position, but they understand the role’s requirements.

I suggested my “distraction” theory. The undergrad’s response was two-fold:

  • “I am helping the company! I am helping my manager!”
  • “The manager doesn’t have the smarts to appreciate what I am bringing to the table”

The manager wrote the job description based on the department’s needs. Our manager is paying our salary. The manager is the customer, and the employee is the service provider. If we go to a restaurant and order a cheeseburger with fries, we don’t want to be served a cheeseburger with a salad substituted for the fries. The chef doesn’t get to come to our table with a finger in the air shouting: 

“You don’t know what is best for you. A salad is healthy. Deep-fried foods are not healthy. Eat your vegetables!”

The chef can add a salad (on the house) to the cheeseburger and fries. But they don’t get to arbitrarily swap items. It is okay to work on extracurricular activities outside of the job description. Just confirm that you are meeting your manager’s needs first. 

It’s not what you do. The perception of what you are doing, and more specifically, what you are not doing, is what matters. 


Stay in your lane, man!


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone good at something. “He has a nasty forkball.”

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