Feeling burnt out? You might need to adjust your ‘work-work balance’

The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work is a book written by four women – Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart – who realised that they all seemed to be working nonstop, without reaping the same rewards as their male counterparts. 

In this book, they reveal how women in the workforce are often unfairly tasked with “non-promotable work,” such as planning the office party, looking after interns, and providing extra (often emotional) support for high maintenance clients or colleagues. 

According to Linda, Brenda, Lise and Laurie, this imbalance “leaves women overcommitted and underutilized as companies forfeit revenue, productivity, and top talent.” Here, in an extract from their book, they share how to master your ‘work/work’ balance… 

Our research provides overwhelming evidence that women spend more time than men on work that goes unrewarded.  These “non-promotable tasks” (NPTs) benefit an organization, but don’t advance the career of the person who does them. 

No occupation or industry is devoid of NPTs and they come in a variety of forms, like polishing a PowerPoint presentation that a colleague will present, helping a new employee learn the ropes, screening summer interns, or taking on the time-consuming but low-revenue client.  And, of course, NPTs include the office housework of ordering meals and getting coffee.  

Time on these tasks mounts up and if you can’t spend more hours working, then handling too much non-promotable work drives out time for promotable work. You may not realize it, but gradually you are sidetracked from the work that matters the most. 

We all understand the elusive concept of work/life balance – the sweet spot where the division of time between our professional and personal lives makes us happiest. But we rarely discuss finding the right balance between the types of tasks we do at work.  If your share of non-promotable to promotable work is greater than your peers’, then you have what we call work/work imbalance and this can harm you and your career in five consequential ways.

1. Work/work imbalance can stall your career

Five years ago, Maria and her colleague Doug, began working as database analysts at a large fashion retailer.  Early on, co-workers asked Maria, but not Doug, to “help out” with tasks outside their core job responsibilities. Maria planned parties, completed projects that had fallen through the cracks, and served on the safety and the integrity committees. 

Several years into her job, Maria’s boss asked if she would coordinate projects for their team since he lacked support staff. While he would do the high-level managerial work, she would organize the weekly team meeting, help others with their work, and ensure that the team met its deadlines. 

 She wanted to stay on the technical side, not organize or correct other people’s work, but her boss needed her help, and she felt she had to provide it.  When the VP praised her boss for his success in managing the department, the large role Maria played was never acknowledged. Her colleague Doug received a promotion and she was passed over.

2. Work/work imbalance can undermine your sense of self.  

Maria’s original tasks were interesting and challenging, but they had been replaced by others that required less intellectual rigor. More and more, her colleagues thought of her as an administrator, not the technical and creative person that she had been. This began to affect the way she felt about herself.  Maybe she wasn’t that technically skilled after all?

3. Work/work imbalance can cause emotional exhaustion.   

Working hard on less satisfying work than your colleagues and advancing at a slower rate is frustrating and emotionally draining. Furthermore, some types of NPTs are themselves emotionally exhausting, like Maria’s efforts to keep her team on track.  It took its toll on her and she went home feeling depleted and hopeless.

4. Work/work imbalance can cause tension with co-workers. 

Maria and Doug always met for drinks once a week to catch up on each other’s work and discuss new ideas for solving the problems that arose.  Over time, that changed and Maria groused about the monotony of her work and Doug talked about the complicated algorithms he wrote.  She was jealous of his opportunities and he was tired of listening to her complaints. This put a strain on their relationship and she began to feel isolated from the rest of the team.  Now, rather than being in the trenches together, she was coordinating their work and the group grew apart. She lost the esprit de corps she once had with these colleagues.

5. Work/work imbalance can cause job dissatisfaction, stress, and turnover. 

A snowball effect happens with work/work imbalance. First, you feel bad about yourself, then you feel bad about your coworkers, and finally you feel bad about your job.  This happened to Maria.  She became unhappy with her job and told her boss that she could contribute much more by going back to her technical role. He wouldn’t hear it; she was too valuable in her current position. Maria had exhausted all her options – she couldn’t do a job she hated, and she couldn’t have the job she’d once loved. Her organization had left her no choice, so she resigned. Her career was derailed, leaving her disillusioned, discouraged, and disempowered. 

As you can see, too much non-promotable work can damage your career and you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Women, in partnership with their organizations, can work to even out the distribution of non-promotable work so that no one person carries an excessive load. Employees can take turns doing certain tasks, employers can set minimum requirements for doing this type of work, new people can be trained to take on this work. 

That way everyone gets an equal opportunity to contribute. Individuals are better off and so are their organizations. By putting the right person on a task, resources are well utilized, the organization is more productive, and employees are happy and engaged. 

Excerpted from THE NO CLUB by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart. Copyright © 2022 by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.