There’s water shooting all over the restaurant kitchen because of a broken pipe. There’s zero water pressure to the dishwashing station, and there won’t be any until it gets fixed. The dishwasher complains about it, and the complaint is reasonable – after all, the dishwasher can’t do their job under these conditions, so their ability to add value has diminished. The manager calls a plumber.
There’s water shooting all over the restaurant kitchen because of a broken pipe. There’s zero water pressure to the dishwashing station, and there won’t be any until it gets fixed. The plumber complains about it, but the complaint is quite unreasonable!
Why is the same condition reasonable to complain about for one person, but not the other?
In this scenario, the answer is obvious: it’s the plumber’s job to fix this; it’s literally what they signed up for. So for the plumber to complain is sort of like the plumber complaining about having a job. In fact, it’s exactly that.
And therein lies the trap.
You see, “fixing the plumbing” is somebody’s job. But it’s not necessarily yours. If you don’t want to fix the plumbing, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re a lazy plumber. It could just mean you’re a very focused and industrious dishwasher.
Cases aren’t always as clear-cut as the hypothetical above. In more complex working environments, which things should and shouldn’t be your job can be far more complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to just have everyone do whichever work is closest or most urgent. People add the most value when they focus on tasks that they’re best at, and that means the organization itself needs good workflow management.
If the restaurant manager told the dishwasher to fix the plumbing, it’s possible it could get done. But it would be far from the best solution. The trap is that sometimes voicing that can make you feel like you’re just trying to complain your way out of work, and bad managers can double down on that and make you feel that way, too.
Ask yourself – are you doing the work that adds the most value, or are you fixing problems that are getting in the way of your work, even if fixing those problems is far outside of your area of expertise? Not all writers are skilled at fixing broken typewriters, not all bus drivers are skilled mechanics, and not all dishwashers know anything about plumbing. Be careful of being trapped where you don’t belong, and then being judged for how well you do there.