Sick of Your Job? Don’t Quit — Renovate It

woman frustrated at desk

Are you unhappy at work? Find yourself doing lots of dead-end tasks that won’t help you get promoted? Rather than assuming the issues with your current job is unfixable, try taking a page from homeowners, and give your position a renovation. 

You may be happy with your co-workers, your boss, your compensation, and your work hours, but still be dissatisfied with your job. A study of thousands of female employees in more than 70 countries found that although higher pay was important, an improved quality and quantity of work was even more important. 

Women stated that they left their jobs chiefly because they weren’t receiving enough opportunities for career progression, their skills were unrewarded, their work was uninteresting and that their work and personal lives were out of balance. The top three reasons for their resignations all relate to doing too many “non-promotable tasks” (NPTs), aka tasks that help the organization but don’t benefit the person doing the work. According to the authors of the new book The No Club, this “dead-end work” is a ticket to career unhappiness, and falls disproportionately on women in the office. And it needs to be addressed before it gets worse.

When the source of your dissatisfaction is day-to-day work that isn’t fulfilling or challenging and doesn’t advance your career, think about fixing your job before taking your skills elsewhere. Consider what happened to Maria, a database analyst at a large fashion brand. 

Early on, Maria’s job included work that fulfilled and stimulated her, but over time, new tasks — like serving on planning committees and organizing team-building events — overtook her regular work. These new assignments took time away from her “promotable tasks” (PTs), the ones that were recognized by the company and would ultimately help her career.  Attending all those meetings and picking out catering companies drained her and offered no mental challenge. Maria slowly became dissatisfied with her job and started to look for greener pastures; she moved to another company, but not without some regret. 

It’s unfortunately a common story, but what if Maria could’ve fixed the issues at her former job to make her days more interesting and productive? She’ll never know what might’ve been, but if you find yourself dissatisfied , try these five steps toward finding fulfillment, before you make plans to fly the coop:

1. Examine your responsibilities and sort them into promotable and non-promotable tasks. And if you don’t know which are which, you need to find out! NPTs have three noticeable characteristics: They tend to be less central to the organization’s mission and goals, are performed behind the scenes, and can be done by many people. 

2. Determine how much time you should spend on NPTs versus PTs. Do a reality check with your co-workers—how much time do they spend on promotable versus non-promotable tasks?  Doing more NPTs than your colleagues will drag down your career.

3. Design your ideal portfolio of tasks. Take your current set of tasks and decide which to keep, which to shed, and identify tasks you might want to add. Everyone has to do some NPTs, so you can’t toss them all. Keep the ones that can have the greatest impact on your career, best use your expertise, and that you find most meaningful.  

4. Move your current portfolio of tasks toward your ideal. If you have an open-minded and forward-thinking boss, talk with them about how you can better contribute to the organization’s goals by adjusting how you spend your time. In fact, you being able to focus on promotable work could be a win for the organization, since one or two of your NPTs might be assigned to someone else who’d benefit from that experience. Think of it this way: An employee at a lower level could use the visibility of taking your place on a company-wide committee. 

5. Maintain the right work portfolio. Once your portfolio is balanced, you’ll want to keep it that way. How you spend your time is a work in progress — you’ll inevitably get requests for new tasks and old ones will drop off your plate. Make sure that you don’t find yourself once again loaded up with too many NPTs. If someone asks you to take one on, tell them what you’re already working on. Better yet, try to change how NPTs are allocated: The next time someone asks for volunteers for an NPT, suggest that the task is randomly assigned. Or put the job on rotation (everyone can take notes at a meeting).

Before you leave your current job, ask yourself if you’re dissatisfied because of all those NPTs, and whether a career reno can change that. If so, the job you really want might be the one you already have.  

Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart are authors of The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work