Episode 51 - Office Housekeeping - Are You Doing Too Much?

Do you volunteer for tasks at work that aren’t your responsibility, to the detriment of your success? Are you spending too much time on things that simply won’t get you the recognition or promotion you deserve?

If you feel like you’re getting stuck with unimportant tasks at work, or your major projects don’t seem to be of value to your colleagues, boss, or organization, this episode is for you.

In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:

  • The concept of “office housework” (or non-promotable tasks) and how it holds women back disproportionately
  • How saying “yes” to the wrong things too often can slow or halt your career growth
  • What questions to ask yourself to gain clarity and control over your calendar

Today we’re going to be talking about administrative tasks, emotional labor, and gender role expectations that comprise “office housework”. As you learn more, consider whether you may be perpetuating the impact of this on your own career.

In this episode I’m going to give you examples of non-promotable tasks, explain how completing more than your fair share can hurt your career, and what control you have over the office housework expected of you.

“There are ways to make sure that your work is framed with the importance that it deserves.”- Marjorie Stiegler

In this Episode:

[1:44] – Learning the term “office housework” – it’s the stuff that isn’t your job (although someone has to do it)
[2:20] – How much are you assigned or volunteering for non-promotable tasks?
[3:12] – Examples of office housework
[5:55] – How saying yes could be detrimental to your growth
[6:25] – Doing more than your fair share
[8:00] – Declining housework for women everywhere
[9:40] – The hierarchy of office housework – where do you fall?
[11:15] – Understanding your potential promotional pathways
[12:40] – Framing your work with the importance that it deserves
[13:40] – Struggle with an overloaded schedule? Detox your calendar.
[14:25] – You can still be a team player by not always volunteering
[15:40] – Stopping the cycle of less important work being for women
[16:58] – Ask yourself these questions about everything on your plate

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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 51 – Office Housekeeping – Are You Doing Too Much?

Hey there, welcome to The Career Rx. I’m your host, Marjorie Stiegler. This podcast is all about the important stuff. They don’t teach you in medical school, about how to treat your career, like the business it really is, and how to be strategic about your success. I’ll show you how to use modern strategies to get ahead, create your own path and do more of what you love. Every episode is inspired by questions from listeners just like you. So be sure to subscribe. And of course, send me those questions, so I can use them on a future episode. so you don’t miss anything. Be sure to always check the show notes on my website. Are you ready? Let’s get into it.

Hey, there, welcome back. In this episode, we are going to be talking about office housework and how to know if you’re doing too much. So office housework is a term that I can’t believe I only just learned in the past week or so. But it’s certainly a thing I’ve recognized my entire career. And if you are like most women, you also are well familiar with office housework, and you’re probably doing a lot more than your fair share of it. And you but you may not have known that there was a term for it. And you may not have realized that it goes beyond sort of detrimental effects to you all the way through to your entire company. So it’s really important to know which of the things you’re doing or how much of your work really is dedicated to this concept of office housework, so that you can be more mindful and strategic about the things you say yes to, and the things you decline.

So first, what is office housework? Well, this is essentially just your non-promotable tasks. These are the kinds of things that everyone needs to do sort of in order to keep the company or the department moving forward. And so therefore, it’s not really your job. It’s sort of everyone’s job. So though it’s no one’s job, there is a perception that this kind of work is women’s work, women are nominated for it more often recommended for it more often and say yes to it more often than men do. So what are some examples of this? This is the sort of administrative type of work like scheduling a meeting room, or perhaps these days putting together a zoom conference, you know, finding out when it’s convenient, sending out that doodle poll, or whatever it is taking notes or distributing minutes after a meeting. And making sure that people have, you know, a clear action item list afterwards. So this is sort of administrative and it may be your role, if you’re the one planning the meeting, and you are the one who is, you know, dedicated and responsible for those action items, those outcomes, but it might not be something that’s your responsibility. And by default, you’re asked to do it, you say yes.

Another example of office housework is sort of the emotional labor that goes along with sort of smoothing out frictions between coworkers who don’t get along, or going to, you know, quote, unquote, fix something that is more of an interpersonal relationship problem that you’re being brought in for your EQ really, and again, what a great asset to have definitely not something that is a problem, but also not something that’s going to make your career.

So just, you know, keep in mind, for context here, as we’re describing each of these things, that this is, these are all things that are valuable and need to happen. But they aren’t the kinds of things that get you promoted or that make your career. So you just want to be mindful how much of this you’re doing. And also, which I mentioned, but I think it bears repeating, although this could be perceived to be everyone’s job, everyone isn’t doing it. And not everyone is asked to do it, this fall’s much more squarely on the shoulders of women and women are more likely to offer. But women are also more likely to be asked and women are more likely to say yes. And maybe some of you even find that surprising that men just straight up say no to some of these things. And many women don’t even think that’s really up for discussion. Is that even an option on the table?

Okay, what are some other examples of office housework? So it could be things like planning little birthday celebrations, birthday cards, retirement cards, right, those kinds of social gatherings, working on relatively low level committees. And it can depend upon your industry and your seniority, what’s really considered office housework. In industry, many industries for example, it does need to be tied directly to revenue generation in order to be perceived as valuable work so anything that is not directly tied to revenue might be considered household work in the office. If you are in academia, for example, there is often a very high amount of value on research and other academic productivity. Whereas things that are generally a service to the department very often this includes education of trainees is thought to be a lower level importance. And then you have to consider yourself and sort of your own seniority because certainly there are things when when you are a more junior person, they are opportunities for you, where you can make a contribution and be recognized. But if you continue to do some of those same activities, as you become more senior than they are less and less important, certainly less promotion worthy, and may actually be detrimental to your growth.

So that’s one of the important things to know about this so called office housework is that it’s non promotable, right, it’s not going to get you ahead. And that’s important to keep in mind, because you have a finite amount of time and you have a finite amount of energy, there’s only so much you can do. So you should be of course, a contributor, a fair member of the team, you want to do your part. But you don’t want to do more than you’re part of things that aren’t actually your job.

When you think about this from the big picture, your company or organization has hired you, because of a certain set of skills and expertise. And if you’re spending a fair amount of your professional time doing things that are not consistent with that skill and expertise, right, that that’s not, that’s not your paygrade. Basically, that’s a bad deal for the company. It’s great to have team players, and it’s great to have individual contributors, but it’s a bad deal for them. It’s also a bad deal for you, and not just because it’s not going to get you promoted. But because it is reinforcing an image or sort of a reputation of view of you that might not be consistent with your skill set. And it may not be consistent with your goals and aspirations. So it may harm you not only in the short term, in terms of taking up your time when you aren’t doing other high visibility, high priority projects. But also it is perpetuating this view of you in the trivial roles, right doing things that are not leadership material and not a high level high visibility, high stakes and and it is going to get more and more of that.

It’s also not good for all of the other women with which you work or for women in general, you know, depending upon the specific research that you source and cite, the numbers may vary a little bit. But in general, you know, it’s certainly more than half more than 50% of these types of activities are done by women. And sometimes I’ve seen it cited as much as 70 to 80% of the time when there’s a request for a person to do this, it’s requested of a woman. And those women almost always say yes, so it’s really troublesome. But it’s a bigger deal than that. It’s not just how you choose to spend your time because there is this sort of subconscious perhaps or implicit bias, some of these types of activities should be done by women, right? Women can get the coffee, women can close the door, women can take the notes, women can do you know these other little sort of menial tasks. And if that’s perceived to be women’s work, and then women are asked, and then women say yes, then they do the work. And this perpetuates in this cycle and is reinforcing those activities as being sort of women’s work. And therefore then women get asked, right and around and around we go.


So it’s important that you do what you can to try to change that norm and shift that culture so that it’s not always women being asked to do these things. And importantly, so that you are not always doing these things at the detriment to the other contributions you could be making to the other value you could bring to the organization, the value that the organization has hired you to bring. And so again, depending on the type of work that you do, the exact tasks that might fall under this sort of office, housework will be different and not all of it will resemble housework. I know I just rattled off examples of you know, party planning and getting coffee. But if we go back to the academic example, and this, you know, being a podcast primarily for physicians, many of you can probably relate that, you know, in your academic departments, the people who get the grants and do the research, are held in really high esteem. And the people who generate a lot of our views are also really important, right? That’s where the money comes from. So then what happens to the teaching the teaching the training of the residents And the clinical service that is being done that’s not highly revenue generating, those two things are important, very important pieces of work that somehow are not clearly linked to prestige or to promotion, they aren’t clearly linked to you getting ahead being compensated fairly. And they aren’t viewed through the same lens.

And so recently, I had a colleague say, you know, she works so incredibly hard. And she is such an amazing teacher. She’s an anesthesiologist, and so she spends a huge amount of her time teaching residents and a lot of that teaching goes on in or so she’s not over there lecturing at the Medical School. So anyway, investing a ton of time, doing really, really hard work. And she was really struggling to figure out how to represent this in her portfolio for consideration for promotion and tenure. That’s obviously incredibly important. If you’re in academics, you’re in academics to do academic work, and you do want to be promoted. And you do want to move up those professorship ranks and eventually become a full professor. And you certainly deserve it. If you’re doing that level work. And many places do have a teaching track, right or clinical track, they have some type of promotion pathway for that kind of work. But it’s much less clear, it’s much more ambiguous, it’s a lot harder to figure out how your activities fit into those kinds of things.

I’ll take a moment here is a little sidebar to just say that just because these are, these are considered to be sort of non promotional or unimportant tasks, overall, but you have some degree of control over that. And if you have not yet, you should pop over to my website, or to the rest of this podcast and dive into some of the material that I have on professional branding, because you’ll see that you really can control the narrative and the perceived relative importance of the work that you’re doing, in a way that if you don’t sort of take charge of it there, it might fall into this bucket and this bucket of office housework. So I put that out there as both a word of encouragement that there, if you are doing a lot of this kind of work. First of all, you can stop doing something that’s outside of your fair share. Second of all, you can begin to look at how you frame these activities so that they do have their due value. And they’re not just perceived to be well, they don’t generate a lot of revenue, or they aren’t linked to grants and prestige. There are ways to make sure that your work is framed with the importance that it deserves. And that is least in my work, what I’m calling professional branding, although not everybody uses that terminology. So it could be framing, it could be message mapping, but whatever it is, it’s important for you to take ownership of the narrative of the importance and the magnitude of the work that you’re doing.

For a lot of people saying no is really hard. And so I will also take a second to just offer you guys to come on over to my website. Go to www.marjoriestieglermd.com/detox, that’s “detox” D-E-T-O-X. You’ll get a five day program that I’m calling a calendar detox, it’s basically to you know, get things off of your plate that don’t belong there. And it’s five days, five mini lessons really short, highly actionable, totally free for you to learn how to get stuff off your plate that doesn’t belong there. So five different strategies. If you’re a person who struggles with saying no to things, or even knowing if you shouldn’t say no, when you should say no. When you should say yes. How you should say yes. Come on over and take that at www.marjoriestieglermd.com/detox, I think you’ll really enjoy it totally free, as I’ve mentioned, really high value. And there is a follow up webinar to that email series in which we interview someone who did use some of these tactics, deployed them at her workplace, you will not believe the results she got it was amazing. So if you’re interested, I strongly recommend you kover and sign up for that now.

But that’s all a little bit of an aside, that sort of how to say no to things, including office housework, or to maybe get out of some of what you’re doing right now saying no is hard. But there are strategies to do it.

And again, I’m not suggesting that you not be a team player and may not be a fair contributor. But I do want you to be very, very mindful of how much of your work is non-promotable office housework. How much of it are you saying yes to? How much of it are you volunteering for? And maybe reconsider whether or not you’re doing that and ask yourself about just about everything that’s on your plate. Is this growing your reach within your organization and your network? Is it enhancing your reputation and showcasing your professional skill set? That’s an important follow up question because the answer to that, is this growing my network or increasing my visibility, sometimes is yes. But it’s increasing visibility in a way that is detrimental because it really undervalues or underplays it’s not showing you for your professional skill set, it’s showing that you don’t mind you know, cleaning up the office break room, which is not something for which you want to be known. And does it reinforce the sort of power dynamic that would be fair, and demonstrate gender parity at your workplace? That’s another question.

And I realized it’s more societal rights community, it’s bigger than just you. But it’s important to remember that vicious cycle that occurs when work that is perceived to be less important is also perceived to be women’s work. And then women are asked to do it or volunteer to do it. They say yes to doing it, they do it, and therefore it continues to be perceived as women’s work, even though it continues to be undervalued, and non promotable. So that’s the episode for today. I hope if you have not heard that term, before that this was a little bit eye opening for you. Again, I know this is the kind of thing that many of us recognize, we know it’s around us, but I didn’t really know it was a thing. I didn’t know it had a name.
And once I started looking around, I saw that there were articles and interviews and many, many resources using the same term, going back decades. And I thought, Wow, I’ve really I have missed out on understanding this completely in this way. So if you also haven’t really fully appreciated, how doing your unfair share of office housework might be holding you back professionally and holding back women in general in your workplace professionally. I hope this episode has been a little bit eye opening. So go sign up for the five day detox and also go through your calendar or your CV or whatever makes the most sense. And ask yourself which of these activities is growing your reach and your network, enhancing your professional reputation giving you that professional skill visibility for which you were hired. If you have a lot of things on your plate that are not doing that, it’s time to reconsider whether they belong on your plate at all.

Thanks for joining me on this episode of The Career Rx. Be sure to leave me a review on Apple podcasts or whatever podcast player you’re using to listen today. And definitely send me those questions so I can answer them and give you a shout out on a future episode. Bye for now.

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