Is that Your Problem?

14556681_sThe NY Times article, Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, on doing “Office Housework” struck a strong cord with what I see in many of my clients.  Office Housework involves volunteering (or being volunteered) for mentoring, training, party planning, organizing fund-raising events, etc.  These activities, while helpful to the organization, often do nothing for your career.

The first example in the article tells of a woman who kept volunteering to do the office housework thinking it would help her become a shoo-in for a promotion.  Instead, her promotion was delayed for a year.

Women who help more benefit less. I highly recommend that you read this article as it can change your perspective on the virtues of helping around the office. The main take away is to volunteer only in ways that are more visible and make sure your help is balanced with actions that build your career.

There’s another aspect of office housework that we need to acknowledge which wasn’t discussed in the article.  I work with numerous women who do “everything” for their departments even though it isn’t their responsibility.  They take care of the things that fall through the  cracks.  If they see something wrong with a report, they take it upon themselves to fix it.  If someone doesn’t show up for work, they cover that person’s responsibilities for the day.

These caretakers strive to make sure everything runs smoothly, regardless of whose responsibility it is.

After all this fixing, they began to resent the people they’ve been covering.  They are frustrated that policies and procedures aren’t followed. They begin to resent their colleagues for not working as hard as they do.  They are  also frustrated because they don’t receive credit for all that they do to keep the department afloat. When they complain, the complaints fall on deaf ears.  The slackers aren’t reprimanded, and no one steps up to plan the next party, and no one seems to care.

When I have a women tell me her version of this same story, I ask her, “Whose problem is it?”

She’ll often stop in her tracks and say it’s everyone’s problem.  Then I tell her the truth, the only one who has a problem is her, because she’s so busy making sure that she’s fixing everyone else’s.

As Jo Miller says in her article, 6 Critical Missteps that Hurt Your Career Advancement, “If you are a hard worker and develop a reputation for hard work, guess what you’ll attract more of? More hard work! And not necessarily the visibility and recognition that is due to you for the work you do.”

If you want things to change, then the problems have to affect everyone.  People are more than happy to let you shield them from the day-to-day hassles of managing a department.  What’s worse, is that because the problems don’t affect them, you don’t get credit for making things run smoothly.

What can you do if you’re a chronic fixer, if you volunteer to help even when no one’s asking? Stop fixing things!

You want your department or practice to run smoother?  Make sure you boss has some problems.  Your colleagues need a few problems too.  Otherwise, they will surely out perform you based on the productivity that really counts.

Run an experiment and let something that is driving you crazy fall through the cracks.  See who notices and see if they begin taking action.

Why set yourself up to hate your job because you’ve volunteered to be the problem solver?  It helps no one.

More importantly, problems, challenges and disagreements are the best way to build collaboration.  When it’s everyone’s problem, people will come together to solve it.


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