Most job descriptions outline the work tasks expected of employees. However, there is still plenty of other work that isn't assigned to anyone but still needs to be done.
Tasks like helping others with their work, onboarding, resolving workplace conflicts, serving on different committees, or planning special events are all critical to the organization but are rarely rewarded or recognized.
In their new book, , authors Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart examine who performs this unrewarded (or as they call it, non-promotable) work. They find that women do far more of this work than their male colleagues and that it hurts women's advancement and job satisfaction by squeezing out time for more valued, or promotable, work.
If your organization is struggling to close the gender gap in advancement, or if you are eager to improve your work culture and morale, then you might want to reevaluate how you and other supervisors allocate and reward non-promotable work. I connected with the authors to better understand how organizations can improve how they manage work.
1. Create awareness of and identify non-promotable work
Non-promotable work has three identifiable characteristics. It isn't directly tied to your organization's mission, tends to be done behind the scenes, and rarely requires any specialized skills (that is, many people can do it). With that definition, managers can begin spreading awareness of the tasks that may not help employees advance. At the same time, they need to be clear that the work matters to the organization, needs to be done, and everyone is better off when there are equitable shares of the load of non-promotable work.
Peyser notes that it is relatively easy to identify this work. "Think about the assignments that no one really wants, the time-consuming ones. You don't need to identify all the non-promotable work--start with what you can see and add to the list over time."
2. Determine who is doing the non-promotable work
Once you know the tasks, you can see who is doing them. You will get an even better picture if employees report how much time they spend each month on the tasks (either by memory or by keeping a time log). Is one group being disadvantaged by doing too much of this work?
Weingart says that "in one organization, we found that women spent 200 more hours per year than men on non-promotable work."
3. Change procedures for allocating work
Vesterlund says, "Our work shows that supervisors are more likely to ask women to take on non-promotable work, and that women are more likely to say yes when asked." Keep this in mind if you want to change how your organization allocates work. Steer supervisors away from the default of asking women and encourage them to note who isn't doing their share.
A non-promotable task for one employee can be promotable for someone with less experience. Stop asking for volunteers and instead randomly assign a task or have employees take turns.
4. Consider changing how you reward tasks
During your review, you might realize that some non-promotable tasks should be included in performance evaluations because of their overall importance to the organization.
Babcock noted that "one company decided that helping others with their work was something they wanted to encourage and recognize. So, they asked employees to submit notes when another employee provided significant help or advice. These notes, saved in employees' files, were used as a performance metric at their next review."
These simple steps can help organizations ensure employees spend their time well. Ensuring that the right people are assigned to the right tasks can have a big impact on the bottom line.