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Assessing Less Desirable Tasks
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 04/04/2011

Shrinkingbudget “Why was I given this task?” On the face of it, this seems like a simple, straight forward question. But there may be more than meets the eye. Let’s delve deeper.

Let us assume that this question is posed by a hard-working grateful civil servant who knows the reality of shrinking budgets. Someone just happened to dump extra work on a solid, productive individual that gives cause to pause.

For some agencies, doing more with less has been a mantra for over a decade. With tightening budgets and fewer staff, unplanned extra work is more difficult to complete. Certainly, special projects crop up and need completion. But, it is very distressing when someone drops a vocational mess of their own on your desk. Inevitably, by accident or very deliberately, sometime soon, someone will dump on you.

The following example may seem less than professional, but I believe that it is apt. Recently, I saw a neighbor linger in the street in front of my house. I thought nothing of it until an hour or so later. Three bits of evidence indicated to me that I had literally been dumped on. In the snow I saw his foot prints, the foot prints of his dog, and the end result of dog food digestion in a malodorous pile.

I admit that I contemplated not picking up the offending matter and confronting him right away. Pragmatism prevailed. I buried the canine ‘present’ and tabled the issue for another time. True, it was an undesirable job to be done. But, it turned out to be a productive use of frustration.

At the risk of sounding too scatological, this example superimposed on a work model has some authentic roots and, incidentally, inspires some puns. With this sort of ‘dirty job’ let’s look at this from three different angles. We can get a more complete answer by exploring aspects of the task, possible motivations by the assigner, and your overall thoughts and feelings.

Nature of the task - Not all tasks are created equally. An added task may be imminent and necessary, such as a tedious records search for crucial information or for litigation purposes. The job that others will not do is a different kind of task. Another unwanted task is one that you performed well previously and others are all too willing to re-delegate it back to you.

Motivation to assign to you – Why were you given the special project, even though your desk is overflowing? The answers vary. Perhaps your work skills best fit the need. You, quite simply, are the best person for the project. Perhaps it is a test of your tolerance and patience. You might even feel that it is a bit of passive punishment.

In some cases, the task is a mess left by an unauthorized part, which makes the work less palatable. Whatever the case, I believe that it is best to perform the task well and inquire later if necessary. Still, it is important to separate the actual job from the motivation to assign the task to you.

Self assessment – You cannot generally control which tasks are give to you. You have no real handle on the motivations others have for giving you a task. However, you are in the Captain’s seat when you assess your reactions to both of these. I believe that it is best to be honest with yourself. Sometimes, personal feelings are in the way of completing a ‘dirty job’ and helping with the larger picture.

In any work setting, there is an ebb and flow of less desirable tasks. Some are necessary and are assigned in a fair and consistent manner. Others are unfairly heaped on unsuspecting hard workers. Hard feelings may result in either case. In corrections, it is especially important that we remain professional in the face of all eventualities. When we appear to interact positively with colleagues, we enhance safety. Harmonious work relationships are important in the face of doing more with less.

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