Don’t do office housework. So says Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sounds simple, right? Until you realize that it’s not getting done and then you are living and working in a big mess. Office housework, according to Sandberg and Grant, work that includes taking meeting notes, volunteering for committees, training colleagues, and other administrative tasks that reflect being a “team player.”

What if office housework is actually part of your job description? Are you supposed to just not do it at all? And what if you really, really like to help out? What if you are the boss? Shouldn’t you try to set the tone by taking on more office housework, not less?

These are all relevant, and practical questions. And hard to cover in the 800 word article in the New York Times. So here’s how to break down the concept of office housework for those of us who work at small, all-hands on deck organizations.

If your job description includes administrative work but you have ambitions to do more, this advice is for you:

  • Don’t complain about it. Nobody likes to work with people who complain about things. Complaining doesn’t demonstrate leadership, and it takes time away from other things that could help advance your career. So just don’t do it. No whining please.
  • Continually demonstrate how attending to office housework is a skill that takes time and you are good at it. Don’t make it invisible. Make it your thing. If you have to do something, do it well. Master it. Be the most efficient person at it. Use it to build relationships, skills, and networks.
  • Connect the housework to the larger mission of the organization or the bottom line. How would we close deals in a messy conference room? If you don’t have pens and paper on hand, you can’t take notes in important meetings. If you can’t remember what happened in the last meeting, you waste time in the next one.
  • Train other people – men and women – to do it, so it won’t be your job forever. This is especially true in small organizations. Create systems, templates, and guides that allow all staff members at your level to share housework and also get access to more substantive tasks.

If your job does not include administrative work, but you do more than your share, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If there is an “office housework” awkward silence, don’t be the first to fill it. Do you really have to make the conference room reservations, send out the agenda, or clean out the fridge each week? What would happen if you just let it slide?
  • If someone asks you to train a new colleague, review a presentation, or plan a monthly meeting, suggest that you can do it this time and someone else can do it next time. If you are asked to clean up after an event, invite male colleagues to help – in front of the boss.
  • Remember, you aren’t making the organization stronger or better by filling in invisible gaps. If the organization doesn’t have enough capacity to cover its administrative, operations, or housekeeping work, they should hire more people or rethink the team structure. If you keep doing things, no one knows that there is a capacity issue.
  • If someone asks you to do something administrative for them, let’s say make copies, offer to show them how to do it once. Write down the instructions while you are doing it. The second time, send them the written instructions on how to do it. They won’t ask you a third time.

If you are the boss of people or a leader in your organization, this advice is for you:

  • Suggest rotating schedules for note-taking and ask a male staff member to go first.
  • Be the first person to help clean up after meetings. Even if you just take your own plate and coffee cup to the trash while following a client or Very Important Person out of the room, it makes a statement about culture.
  • Be direct when your job responsibilities prevent you from participating in certain types of office housework. For example, when I managed event sponsors, my job at events was to be at their beck and call. That meant I couldn’t be assigned to any particular station. The whole team knew, and we named my role as such.
  • Ask your junior staff members – male and female – what can I do to help? Ask them how they spend their time – make sure that office housework isn’t falling to one person or is too invisible in your organization.
  • If you are in an event-situation, roll up your sleeves for as long as you can. Your team will understand if you have to leave, and appreciate your willingness to pitch in.
  • Show love and respect for your administrative staff – it’s the best way to value office housework and the importance of getting it done.

These are just some ways to address office housework as an individual employee or as a leader in an organization. What are your tips and tricks?

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