You don’t have to do everything your boss tells you to

I have worked in a number of companies so far, both big and small.  And one thing that always annoys me are those people who think that they should … no, that they must do everything their boss tells them.  Like their boss is this ultimate human being, an absolute control freak, who will demolish the whole world if he ever hears a word “no”.  And he will sure as hell go a long way to make employee’s life miserable if he discovers that something he asked for hadn’t been done.

While you should do most of the things you boss tells you to do, that’s far away from everything.  And there are different ways of you can avoid doing something.  Here are just a few from the top of my head.

  1. “Thou shall not pass!” shouted Gandalf, the wizard, fighting on the bridge with the Barlog of Moria (watch some “Lord of the Rings”movies).  You can do something along the same lines. When asked to do something obviously stupid, or illegal, you can tell your boss straight back that you won’t do it.  You don’t have to shout, of course.  Be polite, but insist on not doing it and provide the reason. There are silly bosses who would fire you for that, but most won’t.  They will either give in on your not doing it, or will find a compromise, or will pass this specific job to some other employee.  A lot of bosses will actually appreciate your honesty and will respect your opinion.
  2. Boring routine that nobody cares about, can be skipped, sometimes, if nobody really cares about it. Every job has a part where employee has to perform routine functions.  Usually these are automated at some stage, but before that happens, there is some poor soul somewhere in the corner of the office doing things manually.  Often, these routine operations are performed because the procedure says they should be performed, not because they actually should be performed.  When responsible for some of such routines, you can skip them once in a while.  You should know the routine well first, and understand all the implications of you not doing it.  And you should also remember that even if it is totally unimportant and your boss finds out that you skipped it, you’ll most probably be punished for skipping it.
  3. Cutting corners, doing things your way, the better way. What most bosses out there want is to have the job done.  Most of them don’t really care how it is done, as long as it is done in time and with the resources that were allocated for the job.  If you know of a better or simpler way to do the given job, you can go for it without asking the permission or explaining the details of the implementation.  The thing to be careful about here is the full picture.  Do you really have all the information about the job at hand or were you given only the few details?  Sometimes there are reasons outside of the job specification to the job in a specific way (client request, cross-team or cross-project coordination, etc).  If you are not aware of all the factors and you choose a different implementation, you might end up in the crossfire, with you butt kicked, and the “redo urgently as discussed” order upon yourself.
  4. Silent strike or bureaucratic nightmare. This one is not usually on my menu, but once in a while things can lead to this approach.  If asked to do something you can “forget” to do it a few times, until the problem goes away.  Or you can simply ignore the request, hoping that it goes away.  Or you can bury the request in bureaucratic nightmare.  Just keep asking for more details, for answers to tricky questions, and so on and so forth, until the cost of the job to be performed becomes prohibitive and the request is cancelled or postponed.  This is one of those “last resort” methods, because every time you apply it, it greatly decreases your value as a useful employee.  You’ll probably have to work on something extra hard to counter-effect this approach.  But still, it gives you an option of not doing something that your boss told you to.

As I said before, you should most of the times do what your boss is asking you to do.  The above are only for those times when it makes a great difference for you whether you do the job or not.  Use them with care.  And if you know of any other ways of not doing things that your boss told you, please share in the comments.

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