Non-Promotable Tasks And A Successful Career

Hard work is important, and it pays off. Sometimes. It pays off only when you work on the right things. Have you ever considered what your working day consists of and how many things you do that are critical for the company but go without notice and appreciation?

Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart talk about so-called non-promotable tasks. This type of work is important for the organization’s success but has a negligible or nonexistent positive impact on your career.

“When it comes to non-promotable tasks, everyone in the organization benefits. Except for the person doing the work.”

Non-promotable tasks often share a number of characteristics:

  • They are critical for the organization’s success yet don’t directly relate to the top or bottom line, like running an internship program. Thus, they don’t have the attention of management.
  • They are often done behind the scenes, and everyone either assumes that they somehow got done by themselves or that they were not needed at all, like onboarding new employees or helping out a colleague.
  • They can be done by pretty much anyone as they don’t require specialist knowledge, like taking notes during meetings or keeping the office clean.
  • They are often not in the job description of any particular person, and they are essentially done by volunteers who either enjoy the work or feel it needs to be done, so they step up and do it.

Everyone loves volunteers

There are so many things in the organization that needs to get done that often don’t have a clear owner or don’t belong to a specific department. They are usually picked up by employees who care about the success of the company and the team more than they care about their own success and well-being. These employees walk around the office collecting dirty coffee cups and putting them in a dishwasher. They meet and greet candidates when they come for an interview. They are volunteering to run internship programs. They are training new hires. They are organizing social events for the rest of the team. They are always there to help out new employees. They are volunteering to take notes on meetings. They do many things that are not in their job description but need to be done for the organization to function.

Everyone in the organization benefits. Except for the person doing the work.

The problem with having too many non-promotable tasks is that they are often urgent and can push out more important long-term goals you may have. So the more visible long-term task where you can deliver value that will be recognized suffers as you are working hard on urgent things no one will even notice you are doing.

“Many non-promotable tasks are urgent and can push out more important long-term goals you may have.”

What’s worse, as it turns out, women are more likely to volunteer or be volunteered for this type of task. This then contributes to a difference in promotion rates between men and women.

It’s not your job, and yet there can be benefits

I believe that everyone should do what needs to be done for the team to succeed. People shouldn’t be limited by their job description. If you constantly hear everyone on the team saying, “It is not my job,” it often reflects a dysfunctional organization where people care only about themselves.

It is not only the official recognition that can be rewarding. Every time you are tempted or asked to do work that clearly won’t get noticed, ask yourself what you can get out of it. Maybe you can learn something new and develop new skills. Maybe you can build relationships with people, and that may make your job easier in the future. Maybe it is something you love doing and brings you satisfaction. Maybe it is simply part of the job you signed up for.

However, over-volunteering for things outside your job is not healthy, as your actual job suffers.

What to do?

There is no shame in making your work visible to others, especially your manager. It is essential that your boss knows all the small things you do day in and day out as it helps with discovering where the organization needs more resources are, and it will lead to a conversation about your priorities. You can call it the overhead of keeping the organization running. Once your manager understands the number of additional tasks you do that don’t show up in your job description, they can help you prioritize it, and more importantly, they can reward you for your efforts. They can also distribute the overhead work more fairly across the team.

However, if you consistently do things that are not part of your job, don’t bring you anything, and may cause you not to have time for more important tasks, then you should seriously consider saying “no” to the task.

It is no good for you or the organization in the long run if you spend your time on tasks from which everyone benefits except you, the person doing the actual work.

What is your take on the topic? Do you volunteer for tasks that are not part of your job? Are they being recognized and rewarded? How does it impact your main job? Do you believe that this may impact your chances of promotion? What is your advice on how to deal with such scenarios?

Photo: mohamed_hassan /

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Categories: Career

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1 reply

  1. when the cause/purpose is clear, a good volunteer will do it. but whe the volunteering is a tool, to scam the workers and taxes, nothing else to expose.

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