Is “Office Housework” holding you back?

What do I mean by office housework?

I describe office housework as tasks that are important and need to be done, but are not directly moving your career or business forward. Very often, it comes in the form of PowerPoint presentations.

Things like preparing for business reviews, building budgets, department plans, business planning templates, responses to corporate initiatives…

Someone needs to do this stuff, but does it need to be YOU?

Falling into the trap

I don’t often talk about gender in my work, but I can say that based on my own interactions with clients, women are more likely than men (but by no means exclusively) to fall into this trap.

From my modest data sample I have collected over the years, when I ask, “What is your primary goal or challenge?” …

Male executives are more likely to ask for my help on their business initiatives, their career, their brand, their team…and female executives look at me and say, “I’m exhausted!

And it’s not because they are somehow less tough or capable. It’s because they’ve taken on a mountain of extra work that their peers are not stuck with.

…and then they proceed to tell me about all this extra work they feel like they must do to make sure the boss looks good, communication is effective, and that the department is running in an organized fashion.

When I ask, “Who is asking you to do this, they will often say, “It needs to be done.”

Someone recently asked me, “But what if I gravitate toward the office housework? I kind of enjoy it…

“I like getting things organized, and making sure we have clear plans and are communicating well, and don’t mind doing this for the department. How do I know if it’s holding me back?”

Recognizing the trap

The easiest way to think about it is to check yourself on these things:

1. Is this work taking away time and energy from my primary operational responsibilities?

2. Are my peers doing an equal amount of this type of work?

3. Is this work getting me up a level to serve my career goals? Is it giving me useful connections and exposure to a higher level or bigger scope of the business?
or…Am I just organizing things within our own department?

Then look at your peers who present themselves as too busy, not good at, or unavailable for this type of work–and look at what they are doing instead?

If you feel like your peers get to spend more time than you on their primary, higher value work, then you need to question this housework.

As the manager, please take care…

If you have a big enough organization that there is regular need for this type of highly informed administrative work, preparing budgets, business reviews, presentations, client and partner templates, business plans, etc. the best way to think about this is…

You should NOT give these tasks to a person who also has operational responsibility

When you give this work to a person who also has operational responsibility it’s torture, and it’s unfair.

You’re giving them an extra job, and then asking them to compete with their operational peers who don’t have this extra job.

I get it. You are not doing this maliciously.

You have a smart, hard working person who you trust with these types of plans and communications. They always do a good job for you. You can always count on the quality of the output.

You choose these people because they deliver for you. And they don’t complain about it.

You might have tried giving this type of work to someone else, only to realize that they didn’t come through for you.

So it turns out that you gravitate to assigning this work to a person who is willing and capable of doing it — And they will kill themselves to get it done for you in addition to their day job.

But it’s important to realize, that since they don’t complain about it, it might not be fair.
You might want to think about finding a different solution.

Who should do the Office housework?

The ideal approach is to look down into the organization and find someone for whom this is a genuine opportunity instead of a drag.

So it would give them connections, visibility and scope they would not otherwise have. And it would be someone who can be 100% focused on chasing after all these tasks, without risking the delivery of an important operational outcome.

Find a super-smart, talented, organized, good-communicator, up-and-comer with no operational responsibility, and give this work to them.

You’ll end up with a great solution, and the person can use it a career springboard.

How do you get out of doing Office Housework if you feel stuck?

This is why I often counsel people who have operational jobs, and are stuck doing office housework, to find a way to ditch the housework.

The best way to get out of this is to show the cost of it.

Keep track of the time you spend on it, and show what it takes away from other more valuable work.

When you can show the cost, you are standing on more solid ground to negotiate this work away. Suggest that this important work would be better done by someone without operational responsibility who could focus on it fully.

Patty Azzarello

Patty is available to speak at your company, annual meeting, or customer event. She can also deliver a custom workshop on Leadership or Strategy Execution for your leadership team. Contact Patty.

Or if you would like some personal help on your own professional development, check out her Executive Mentoring Group. It’s filled with insights, resources and support to build your executive confidence, advance your career, and includes direct mentoring from Patty.


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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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