How to Prioritise Your Career Growth by Identifying Non-Promotable Tasks

career planning Mar 08, 2023
Double page diary with handwritten notes across each page. A female hand holding a pen trying to find space to add in more work.

Non-Promotable Tasks at Work: The Invisible Load in the workplace that could be part of the reason you are struggling with career progression.

In this article, we explore non-promotable tasks (NPT’s) at work, identify examples of NPT’s in the workplace and consider the impact that NPT’s may be having on your career advancement.

But before we start, meet Maria.

Maria is a diligent and ambitious accountant in one of the big global accountancy firms. She started with the business over 3 years ago, and quickly she was identified as high potential. Just recently, when asked by a partner to set up a cross-functional event focused on workplace wellbeing as part of the overall employee retention programme, she was delighted. Maria always got involved in side-of-desk tasks, like organising events for International Women’s Day, spoke at STEM events, and frequently put her hand up to deal with ‘awkward’ clients with low-revenue accounts.

But recently, she noticed that despite all of this and her high-potential status, her career progression is slower than expected. After the last round of performance reviews she realised that others, including those less able than her, were climbing the corporate ladder faster than her. Working with a career coach she realised that she dedicates a lot of her time to tasks that are non-promotable (NPTs).

So, what are Non-Promotable Tasks (NPTs) and is Maria’s situation unique? Sadly not… many workers, particularly women, devote excessive hours to NPTs that do not contribute to career advancement.

Non-Promotable Tasks (NPTs) are tasks vital to the functioning of every workplace yet are paradoxically unhelpful when it comes to career advancement and progress. Just like in Maria’s story, NPTs are not rewarded with promotions, salary increases, or other forms of career advancement. Yes, they are great exposure, fantastic for building out your professional network and important skill development exercises. But NPT’s do not grow careers.

Common examples of NPTs include

  • Training new colleagues,
  • Note-taking at meetings,
  • Report writing,
  • Planning work events,
  • Backfilling work for absent colleagues,
  • Speaking at events,
  • Organising and co-ordinating events,
  • Mentoring colleagues, and
  • Handling low-revenue high-need clients.

Sometimes called side-of-desk tasks, NPT’s are invisible and deeply embedded within the narratives upon which our everyday work lives operate.

How can you identify NPTs in your workplace?

NPTs are hard to identify and put into words because they are invisible. In fact, NPTs are defined through their invisibility, as they consist of behind-the-scenes, time-consuming work that is not easy to verbalise and therefore not immediately recognisable by yourself or by others. What is clear however, when it comes to performance review time, particularly in industries where 100% billable hours or ROI are the only metrics of success, NPTs do NOT count…

Who ‘does’ NPTs?

Research has shown that NPTs are disproportionately ‘done’ by women. Female employees, it is estimated, spend 200 more hours per year on NPTs than male colleagues, regardless of rank. But women are also more likely to be asked to do these tasks, less likely to say no, and overall more likely to volunteer.

But why do women do more NPTs than other colleagues?

You could say women are happy to take on these tasks, and are better at them other colleagues but that is accepting the easy answer to a very complex question.  First off, there is not a single shred of evidence to suggest that female colleagues are more capable than other colleagues of executing NPTs. So let’s rule that out immediately. As we do, let’s dig a little deeper and ask WHY do female colleagues do more NPTs and is there a pressure, either implicit or explicit, to say yes.

Socio cultural expectations

Our socio-cultural expectations, the invisible rules that drive our thoughts and behaviours, are designed in such a way that implicitly suggest ‘women are just better at doing these types of tasks’. This leads to an expectation that women should say yes and if they don’t, they are considered as uncooperative, not a team player, or too strong-willed. This arising pressure results in a ‘yes’ driven by the hope of career progression as a result or based on a fear of negative career development consequences if refused.

How workplace leaders can help…

As a leader, it is important to be aware of NPTs and their impact on your team. One way to address this issue is through the ultimate act of look back leadership. Start by asking your entire team what NPTs they are currently working on, create a list, and then begin the process of sharing the load of NPTs. By taking a proactive approach, you can help ensure that everyone on the team has access to tasks that can lead to career advancement and progression.

Broaden the structure of performance and pay reviews to include prompts that bring the invisible nature of NPT’s into the conversation. Train your people to have really brilliant career development conversations with your people so that include NPT’s. Encourage your colleagues who bear the burden of NPT’s to link  those tasks to overall strategic business goals. The areas that they are most likely linked to are typically in the area of employee wellbeing, diversity and inclusion or ESG.  

But whatever you do here at A Career to Love HQ we plead of you not to put the burden of saying ‘No’ onto the shoulders to those already doing the NPT’s. Trust us, they are already exhausted and overwhelmed. In fact so stretched is their capacity that it is impacting their capability. So stop before deciding to do resilience or confidence training that suggests the solution is to lean in, or to just say No. Instead stop and make a better more informed decision. You could talk to us we’d love to hear from you, or other qualified consultants in this area.

Whatever you decide, know that while there is no perfect solution to the issue of NPTs, taking steps to make them visible and recognising their impact on career progression is an important first step. By identifying and addressing NPTs, individuals and organisations can work together to create a more equitable and rewarding workplace, where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their career goals.

This is not a perfect solution, but it is a start. Habit stacking, that is thinking big and acting small is the key to bringing change.

Dealing with one identified issue at a time in a consistent manner helps to bring real change over time. Doing so relieves UPT’s of their power over career progression and advancement in our workplaces and paves the path to a better future, one where people and the business can thrive, flourish and progress side by side…

Let’s all be adults here and let’s all do our fair share of the work that must be done to make a workplace work. Let’s do this with the intention of providing everyone with access to the work that leads to career advancement and career progression.

It is by raising awareness and creating an open conversation around the systemic and cultural barriers in our workplaces that impact career progression that change will come. 

We hope that you and your organisation choose to be part of that change...


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