Ways to ensure ‘invisible’ workers do not go unrecognised

How can businesses identify and reward employees who perform under-the-radar tasks? Ciara Coyle reports

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The distribution of duties and tasks in modern organisations frequently reinforces gender stereotypes, resulting in an unbalanced allocation of ‘non-promotable tasks’ (NPTs) that are disproportionately picked up by female employees.

Frequently, unrewarded responsibilities range from organising meetings, note taking and proofreading an email for a colleague, to planning the office Christmas party. All of these are crucial for a company to run smoothly but may not directly result in promotions. To guarantee a fair and inclusive workplace, employers must acknowledge the value in these typically non-revenue-generating tasks and reward their employees accordingly.

Task distribution

Companies should undertake an assessment to ascertain how tasks that could be seen as NPTs are distributed among staff. Research from The No Club, a collection of female academics who are targeting workplace inequality, has found that women are almost 50 per cent more likely than men to volunteer for NPTs, despite the limited impact they have on an individual’s career advancement. This is not affected by where women work, and at one large professional services firm it was found that the average woman was spending about 200 hours a year more than the average man on NPTs.

Employers should be mindful that when NPTs arise, they are divided among staff equally, as opposed to allowing open invitations for volunteers, which can perpetuate pre-existing gender norms and contribute to a discrepancy in the rates of promotion between men and women. 

Furthermore, by openly discussing the importance of NPTs and gender bias in task allocation, businesses can begin to target the inequality they may perpetuate. By initiating conversations at all levels within an organisation, staff can raise awareness, challenge stereotypes and cultivate a more inclusive working environment. This cultural shift can lead to a more equal distribution of tasks and fairer rewards for all employees.

Measuring performance

After targeting the distribution of NPTs, employers should then consider how these tasks can be measured in performance reviews. In the majority of workplaces, employee performance metrics involve quantitative data based on factors typically linked to revenue generation, which often overlooks the value of NPTs. Instead, thought should be given to how NPTs can be measured in the assessment of staff promotability. This may include incorporating qualitative indicators that reflect qualities such as mentorship and collaboration. By reassessing the traditional benchmarks of performance, companies can ensure employees who excel in NPTs are recognised and rewarded appropriately. 

Peer recognition programmes provide an effective forum to acknowledge employees proficient at NPTs. Colleagues are often the best judges of the effort and impact of these tasks. Implementing a formalised system where staff can nominate and recognise each other encourages a culture of appreciation and ensures that contributions are visible across the organisation. Furthermore, these recognition awards can be raised at performance reviews to assist a business case for promotion.

Creating a more equitable workplace

In a modern workplace, it is paramount for employers to recognise and adequately reward the value of NPTs, which are often disproportionately allocated to female members of staff. Through the acknowledgment of frequently ‘invisible’ administrative duties, mentorship and support, employers can create a more inclusive work environment that values all positive contributions.

By implementing flexible performance metrics that consider qualitative indicators, businesses can ensure that employees who excel in these areas receive the recognition they deserve. Not only does this begin to target gender inequalities in terms of promotion, but also provides for more satisfied employees who understand that their contributions to the workplace are both noticed and valued.

Ultimately, embracing equal assignment practices for the task allocation for NPTs, and rewarding them appropriately, contributes to a more equitable organisation for all.

Ciara Coyle is a trainee solicitor at Charles Russell Speechlys