How to Avoid Dead Ends at Work (Without Risking Your Job)

Every job comes with many expected responsibilities, some of which may be beneficial in the long run for your promotion, and some of which will never be. For example, if you are a teacher, developing and implementing a new curriculum may help you advance in your career, while voluntarily participating in extracurricular activities will likely not help. While both are important to the overall functioning of the school, one is more likely to directly benefit your career than the other. Economists refer to dead-end targets as “unforwardable targets”.

Unpromoted tasks are important but do not lead to promotion

Like doing housework in an office, such as planning parties, taking notes, or making sure there is a good supply of coffee in the break room, these are tasks that, while important to the smooth functioning of the workplace, will not contribute to your long-term success at work.

“It’s all the work we do in an organization that helps the organization, but doesn’t help the person doing the task,” said Liz Westerlund , an economist at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of No Club: Ending Women’s Dead Jobs . This may include working with a low-income client, working behind the scenes to improve the presentation, or help with onboarding.

Women do a disproportionate amount of this work

Studies show that women perform a disproportionate number of tasks that do not require promotion. “In every organization we looked at, women do a much larger part of that work,” Westerlund said. “In one professional services firm we worked with, women spent 200 hours more on non-promotion work than their male counterparts. We’re talking about the equivalent of over a month of work a year.”

Women end up doing a disproportionate amount of these tasks for a number of reasons, including being asked more often and being treated more harshly when they say no.

“Women do this work not because they are better at it or enjoy it more, they do this work because we all expect them to do this work,” Westerlund said. “In one of our studies, we found that women were asked to do this job almost 50% more often than men.”

It is important to recognize that this is a widespread problem that occurs in every workplace, which means that fixing it should not be the responsibility of one person, but of the entire organization.

At the system level, this would mean finding ways to evenly distribute these tasks, or assign them to people for whom completing the tasks would advance their careers. For example, hosting a conference will not result in a promotion if you are a teacher, but a promotion if you are in administration. “Awareness can really make a big difference,” Westerlund said.

Determine which tasks are dead ends

However, when it comes to these dead ends, there are certain strategies you can use to keep them under control. For starters, Westerlund and her colleagues recommend taking a good look at how you spend your time at work.

Write down all the tasks and responsibilities that take up your time and then categorize them in terms of promotions. Some tasks will be directly related to promotion, others will have a moderate degree of promotion, and still others will not have it.

“There’s a whole spectrum of promotions,” says Laurie Weingart , professor of management at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the book’s co-authors.

In general, you want to aim for a good balance. Everyone will need to do a certain amount of non-promotion work as it is essential to the overall functioning of the workplace, but you don’t want it to crowd out the work that will get you promoted.

Focus on using your skills wisely

Once you have an idea of ​​which tasks are better to advance than others, the next step is to determine which ones to complete and then discuss it with your boss to make sure you spend your time in the most appropriate way for your skills. .

“This is an opportunity to sit down with your manager and review your portfolio of work, and also ask them to help you balance that work in the portfolio,” Weingart said. “The leader wants to get the most out of all his employees. They are often unaware of the cumulative effect of all these non-promotion tasks on each individual.”


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