This happens often, especially to women. Managers often ask for volunteers or, in some cases, assign workers to take on responsibilities that are not directly related to their roles, performance reviews or career growth. But just because your boss is looking for help doesn’t mean you always have to step in.
“These unpromoted tasks…they’re important to the organization, but you don’t get rewarded for doing them,” said Linda Babcock, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of “The No Club: Putting a Stop women’s dead end work.” “Not everything counts on your performance reviews – there’s a lot of work that gets done that never gets tracked, thanked or evaluated.”
She said examples include serving on a company-wide governance committee — such as a safety committee — help with recruitment (if you don’t work in human resources) and help others with work or office disputes.
“It’s a big part of the job, and it can be important work that really helps the organization run, but it’s not at the core of your day-to-day work activities and the things you’re really measured on.”
Of course, a lot of that extra work is necessary to run a successful business, but it needs to be distributed evenly. And that doesn’t always happen.
Having a busy schedule of unseen or behind-the-scenes work can stunt women’s career growth and earnings, explained Lise Vesterlund, professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the co-authors of ” The No Club”.
“The fact that you spend time on homework not using your unique skills means you’re not really reaching your potential…it can hurt your pay, hurt your promotion and certainly gives you no leverage when trying to negotiate,” a- she declared.
Babcock recalls seeing a male colleague over a decade ago spending hours at his desk concentrating on his research when his days were overloaded with meetings. “I wasn’t doing my research, and that’s the #1 promoted task for me.”
She remembers comparing her schedules with him and realizing “we live in different worlds even though we have the exact same job”.
Make the call
Overloading these tasks can also hurt women beyond their wages.
“If you end up doing all these other internal tasks, you lose confidence in your own ability to demonstrate the skills you learned and were hired to do,” Vesterlund said.
To assess whether to take on a task, Vesterlund advised identifying what is considered promoted and unpromoted work for a role and how many workers are expected to take on.
“Within a week: Is the norm one day a week? Two days a week ? What is everyone doing?” She suggested talking to co-workers and supervisors and asking something like, “I want to contribute as much as possible to this organization – how can I do… what are your expectations ?”
Once you have an idea of the expectations, she suggested identifying the non-reward work where you can best leverage your skills and the non-reward work you value the most.
“Think more strategically about what is the unpromoted work that really makes sense for you to spend your time…find out where yours makes the most sense,” Vesterlund said.
You can also look for work that is more indirectly promoted, which could mean it gives you exposure to more experienced leaders in the organization or provides skills you can develop to benefit your career.
“Maybe it’s not promotable now, but it could lead to things in the future,” Babcock said.
Take the time to evaluate your decision and its impact on other areas of your life and career.
In 2016, when Kim Ling Murtaugh was balancing counseling work, teaching at UCLA, and working part-time at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at UCLA-Duke University., one of the department heads at the university asked her if she would be interested in teaching another class.
Although she thrived on teaching and bonding with students, it would have required starting a new class and adding many extra hours to her already hectic schedule, cutting part of his consulting work and the loss of part of his flexibility.
“Saying ‘yes’ to this class was like saying ‘no’ to other things,” she recalls.
Feel good to say “no”
But say “Nope“ may be easier said than done – and may have a greater impact on women than on men.
Babcock said his research shows that when women say “no” at work, they are often seen as not being a team player. “Women get locked up – they’re called difficult.”
When it comes to saying no, don’t focus on why you can’t.
“People usually give an excuse…that doesn’t help the requester…all they want is help,” Babcock said. “Try to think about who this might be a good job for…If someone asks you to do something that’s not promoted for you, is there anyone in the organization that it’s for? work could be promoted?”
If you feel like you can’t say “Nope,“ she suggested agreeing to take on the task, but asking your boss to reassign another unpromoted task. “Or you can say, ‘Can we split this task into parts and share it among the five of us in this unit?'”
To ensure that a recurring task is not permanently assigned to you, suggest setting up a rotating schedule.
It shouldn’t be up to employees to say “no”
But the responsibility shouldn’t rest solely with employees when it comes to ensuring that non-rewardable work is distributed fairly.
“It’s really up to the employer to sort this out…they shouldn’t give someone a job just because they think they’re the least reluctant to accept it. They should give employees the job they do best,” Vestelund said.
She said employers should be clear about what workers should be spending their time on and what will be included in their performance reviews.
“You can reward non-promotional work,” said Babcock, who noted that an organization she worked with added “helping others” to its performance reviews. “If it’s important, you want to reward it, and then it becomes promotable. And then it’s amazing that everyone wants to do it.”
Companies should also consider who is doing the most non-recoverable work and how the work is distributed.
“If we know women are more likely to volunteer, we shouldn’t be asking for volunteers. Take turns putting names in a hat and drawing one,” Vesterlund said. “Changing the practices for distributing this work is a key step.”