February 15

How Many Hours of Non Promotable Work are you doing?


How much non-promotable work are you doing?

Before I even launch into my rant about non promotable work maybe you haven’t heard this term before.

Non-promotable work are tasks that help an organisation (or someone within it) but don’t help advance your career, or are not recognised. It tends to have 3 characteristics;

  • Doesn’t directly contribute to organisations mission, maybe organising the office holiday party or planning for an upcoming conference. These take away time that you are able to work on tasks help you reach your KPIs or goals & ultimately elevate your perceived performance.
  • It tends to be work that is invisible. For example, you get all the hard work of preparing slides but don’t get to present and no credit is given (invisible work) 
  • It’s work that doesn’t require your skills set…such as taking minutes at a meeting…busy work but ultimately come time for your performance review no one cares (or don’t give you any allowance on the time away from your main KPIs)

Within the book ‘The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-Ended Work’ their findings show that women spend up to 200 more hours a year on non promotable activities….that’s an ENTIRE MONTH of work. 

You can look at this one of two ways…either you are working an extra 200 hours a year, or those 200 hours are not being put towards completing tasks that are more impactful and valuable to your organisation. What is non promotable work costing you today?

I am not saying men don’t ever do non promotable work but all the research supports the view that women are doing more (and a lot more in some cases)

The research also shows that women are 48% more likely to volunteer for tasks no one else wants to do. 

Managers – both men and women – are 44% more likely to assign women non-promotable tasks.

We could debate all day long why this happens…but I think most of it is tied into our social conditioning, and bias in the workplace. From a very young age girls are taught how to people please, how to put other’s needs first and told that we just need to work hard and we will get the careers we want (without sharing there is much more to it than that).

If you are in any doubt that bias in the workplace continues at an alarming rate I highlight recommend you read this article.

Harvard Business Review Gender Report 

If I look back at my 20+ year career in banking I believe I was both a victim and perpetrator of non promotable work….without even realising it.

In the ‘victim’ capacity I heard the message so many times to just do more, build my profile, get more exposure etc etc…which led to me volunteering or being volunteered for so many committees and projects. It actually made it difficult to focus on my day job, which was obviously the key KPI at the end of the year to whether I had performed. 

That is not to say that none of those committees or projects were helpful to my career…but only when I made more strategic decisions about the ones I wanted and needed to participate on.

When it comes to being the ‘perpetrator’ the findings show that we all have a tendency to delegate tasks to those we know will do a good job, and will take it on without too much complaint – sound like anyone you know?

I wish I had been more aware of this at the time. This was clearly an unconscious bias that given the learnings I have done I am now aware of. 

Generally, when we talk about problems such as this we tell women it’s up to them to fix it. 

However, I have an alternative option. How about Instead of telling women we have to adopt the behaviours of men in the workforce to be successful (learning to say no)….how about we ask men to adopt some of the behaviours of women (start saying yes volunteering). In addition, as per the HBR report above women’s behaviour is not the issue, it is how it is perceived. 

I don’t think there is an easy fix to reduce your non promotable work but here are my thoughts to help you navigate through it;

  • Be aware; now that you know about non-promotable work (if you didn’t already) pay attention to how this might be showing up for you.
  • Identify some items that you could remove from your plate…calls that you don’t need to be on, tasks that you could delegate to a more junior member of the team or other activities that you don’t think are essential (more to follow on the craft of essentialism in the next few weeks)
  • If you are someone who has influence as a manager take some time to think about whether you could be falling into this trap when delegating. Find ways to ensure you are delegating work equitable…both in terms of time needed and ability for an individual to showcase their value & impact.
  • If it is psychological safe to do so I recommend pushing back. This is a practised skill and can take some time to master. Start small and you can build up over time. There is a difference between saying no and negotiating. An example would be to say I am happy to take the minutes for this meeting but I would appreciate if we could rotate this amongst the team in the upcoming meetings. Or maybe…I really appreciate you thinking about me for this project / committee but I don’t think I am the right person right now. My time is focused on getting xxxx completed – and if you know of someone who is trying to get more opportunities for exposure or learning then you could always recommend them.
  • Following on from psychological safety….if you are in a position to do so for others, call out biased behaviour

In addition, a tactic that helped, and continues to help me today, is when I think about this type of work (or any part of your work for that matter) is that everyone time I am say YES to something I am saying NO to something else. 

Instead of figuring out if you are comfortable with the yes, are you comfortable with the NO?

What might your NO be? 

If I say yes to this work I will have to stay in the office late, which means I am saying no to time with family, going to the gym, meeting friends or even just a chilled night relaxing.

If I say Yes then everyone will like me (people pleasing anyone) but I am saying NO to creating the time, space and energy to work on impactful and valuable activities.

Every decision we make has trade offs…so remind yourself to be aware of what you are getting from these work and what you are giving up!

P.S. None of this takes into account any invisible work you might also be doing outside of work…raising children, running a household, caring for an elderly parent and so many more tasks that often fall in unequal quantities to women.

P.P.S I will be including content such as this in the online course I am busy creating behind the scenes. If there are any particular topics that you think would be helpful to include let me know!

Harvard Business Review Gender Report


career, gender equality, gender inequality, navigate your career

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  1. This article provides a valuable perspective on the non-promotable work that we do in our jobs. It encourages us to evaluate how we are using our time and ensure that we are not spending too much time on tasks that do not contribute to our success or advancement. It's an excellent reminder that we need to focus on the activities that will bring us closer to our goals.

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