Be more punk – how to avoid the office housework trap

Are you the office busy bee? The workhorse who keeps the team engines rolling with a smile? The one who is always happy to help with the coffee run, lunch arrangements and birthday cards? The one who writes up the best meeting notes and is so great at mentoring the interns? 

Trying to keep all those balls in the air is exhausting, isn’t it? I bet you are super-stressed about your own work, too, right? And you’ve probably been seeing others cruising past you while your own career prospects just don’t seem to be going anywhere. Sad.

If this sounds familiar, then it looks like you have been pushed into one of the most insidious traps in the working world: office housework. Actually, you probably weren’t just pushed. You more likely jumped in voluntarily, thinking that your enthusiasm for collaboration and helping the team would give you an edge on the career advancement track. Sorry, but no. 

Every manager loves having a go-to person to take care of the office housework, but it doesn’t have to be you.

In the office and at home, housework is an important internal service, but highly under-valued and can require a substantial time commitment. Such work often happens under the radar and unnoticed by the people in the organisation who would be likely to recommend you for bigger responsibilities. Even a nice-sounding assignment like running the culture programme is a trap. You’ll clock endless hours for an initiative that is likely to be dropped at the next round of cost-cutting. Compare that to managing a projects with significant impact on revenue, market share or innovation.

So how can you make sure that it is not always on you to do the chores while still being a team player? Here are five tips:

Stretch, don’t sweep

Yes, someone has to do the dull office chores, but don’t keep raising your hand when the team is asked. By declining the low-value, low risk work that has been blocking your schedule, you will be freeing up time you thought you never had. Use this time for new stretch challenges which will bring you the high-value experience, recognition and visibility to help you progress. 

Say no, more

This is not a call to dodge every office chore. Do your bit every once in a while but make sure that others in the team are just as involved. Also, watch and learn from those team members who are notoriously good at shying away. Best of all, have a damn good reason to decline by focusing on the stretch challenges that will advance your career prospects.

Call it out

I have to play the bias card here, but it is true that women and people of colour are the ones most likely to be called upon or to even volunteer themselves to take on office housework. It. Will. Not. Advance. Your. Career. Don’t wait for your frustration to build up before you speak up. Instead, learn to respectfully call out unconscious bias in the moment with a suggestion for an alternative process.

Be more punk

If you tend to seek harmony or are risk averse or prefer to avoid confrontation, you need to push the boundaries of your personal comfort zone. Being nice today may feel safe, but your long term career progression and job satisfaction will suffer for it. So dare to venture out of your comfort zone and release your inner punk.

Shake the system

Office housework is an integral part of office life and dodging responsibility is not always a good look. It is a leadership responsibility to ensure a level playing field, but as a team member, you can play your part by suggesting a fairer way to shoulder the tasks. 

Are there ways to reduce the number of chores? Which ones are held by the team and which can be managed on an individual level? How about a rota system? Everyone in the team can benefit from a common solution.

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