What’s Really Bothering You: The Work Or Being Asked To Do It?
I found myself in a spot where I…
… was given more work than my coworkers.
… was given the undesirable work that no one else would do.
… felt like I was shouldering a disproportionate share of housework.
… seemed to take on more responsibility than my teammates.
(Spoiler alert: There’s one common thread to all of these complaints: Me.)
I would find myself in these situations regularly. I would then find myself cursing paperwork or laundry and seething at other people I perceived as not carrying their weight.
The complicated part is that I enjoy hard work. I equate feeling exhausted at the end of the day with accomplishing something. I also enjoy the process of working. So I found it confusing that I would be so irritated while actually doing the work— whether for my job or around the house. This festered for a while until it dawned on me: It isn’t the job itself that I’m angry about, it’s feeling like I’m the only one who is doing it.
To me, this was a revelation. I would agree to do whatever job was needed and then the resented people who asked me, all the while “liking work”. I liked being the “go to” person for so many things but became bitter when asked to do anything. I learned that differentiating the dislike of work from feeling like there is inequity in being asked to do it is of critical importance — solutions to one side wouldn’t work if my anger was caused by the other.
It isn’t the job itself that I’m mad at, it’s the inequity of being the only one who’s doing it.
If you dislike the work itself, due to innate characteristics of the work, you’re comparatively lucky. The solution involves getting rid of the work. There are plenty of ways to do this. You may be able to get a different job, improve your delegation skills, rotate tasks with others or divide collective tasks differently. You may be able to avoid the work altogether.
The solution becomes much hairier if you find that you actually enjoy the work, but feel slighted by having it assigned to you.
Below are a few questions/concepts that run through my mind when I feel like I’m being put upon but should like the actual work. The goal is to put these feelings in perspective, not solve the dilemma. I found that they help sort through things and provide clarity for the next steps; whether that means moving on or that means making a conscious choice to accept the work at hand for what it is.
Do you really work more or do you perceive that you do?
This happened in my marriage. My wife and I were each secretly convinced that we were doing much more work than the other person. I don’t mind cleaning the kitchen but became irritated that she “never does”. I began looking for times the kitchen was clean (or parts of it were taken care of, like the dishes being done) and found that, in reality, we were both contributing regularly.
I had the same scenario at work — I perceived that I was being unfairly dumped on. Asking around, I found that everyone was actually being dumped on — ie, I’m not in some exclusive club of being dumped on like I thought I was. This isn’t a great working situation, but it’s a different problem than “Woe is me.”
The key in both situations was acknowledging what I was angry about, looking for objective evidence that I might be wrong and then communicating with the other people involved about it. I have yet to investigate an experience where I find that I am the only one being singled out.
Do you do more work or you do you do different work?
Same conversation as above; if I clean the kitchen 75% of the time, my wife does the laundry 75% of the time. I just don’t think about it because I’m too busy hanging on my cross in the kitchen.
Thinking about the thousand things that are required to make something run (like a household) and then all the stuff you’re not actually doing puts what you are doing in perspective.
It’s also important to point out that you doing a task doesn’t make that task more valuable. What’s worth more, doing the kitchen or the laundry? Cooking or buying groceries? Taking the trash out or the trashcan in? It’s impossible to weigh, so stop keeping score and start looking at it like the team it is.
Is it your job to have additional responsibility?
This one sounds silly, but hear me out. I had a co-worker who was in a leadership position. He ultimately quit his job and during one of his last meetings, stated he was leaving because he “Just keeps having to pick up everyone’s slack.”
This is like being in bootcamp and complaining about the pushups. He was the leader. It was his job to fill the holes, lead by example and be the glue. He truly subscribed to the thought that “a good manager is never busy” and deflected the insight that he has additional tasks because they are his job to have.
As silly as this sounds, it’s rampant. Take a good look at your job, your title, your description. Is what you’re being asked to do a part of it? Were you hired specifically because the person you replaced didn’t do it? This is a great reason to accept that responsibility!
If it is your job and no one else is doing it, it doesn’t mean you’re a sucker, it means you have work ethic and take pride in what you’re doing.
Why are you being asked to do these things?
A colleague complained to me during his annual review that other people kept asking him to interpret a specific piece of data. Even if there were five other people working simultaneously, people would come to him every time this one thing needed to be interpreted.
From his perspective, he was being taken advantage of. He looked genuinely shocked when I told him why they were actually bringing him this task: He’s really good at it. People trust him with this interpretation and they want it done right.
If you’re being asked to do something because you’re the only one who can do it, it’s a testament to your competency. This doesn’t mean you have to bearthe sole responsibility for it, however. Can you teach others? Can you do this voluntarily, arranged with your supervisor to teach your team members to do this skill so that you aren’t the only one burdened with it?
Doing so puts you in a leadership position along with diffusing the responsibility of the undesirable task.
Did you try saying “No”?
If not, why not? Is this generally a problem for you or is it this one particular task? If it’s just one task you can’t say no to, it might be tolerable to continue doing it. If this is a problem for you in general, read any of the billion articles about learning to say no. Here’s one. Here’s another.
Saying no is like anything else — it just takes practice. You don’t go outside an run a marathon, you run a mile and you work your way up. Start this practice by looking in the mirror and watching yourself say no. Familiarize yourself with how you look and note how normal it actually is; you don’t grow a horn, your tongue is (probably) not forked.
Start saying no to telemarketers, to offers from store clerks. Say no to people who, in effect, owe you by virtue of the fact that they’re intrusive.
But when you practice, actually say no. Deliberately. Look someone in the eye and say it: “No.” Don’t offer an excuse or apology, practice it with clarity and pride. Say “No”, not “I’d rather not.” or “I’d prefer not to.” Don’t hedge. Actually get used to saying it.
If you can’t say no, can you offer a reasonable compromise that doesn’t leave you feeling beaten? “I can’t do the dishes right now because I’m doing this thing, but if you start, I can finish them when I’m done.” Or, “I would love to help you with this project but I have some other priorities right now. Could you condense what you need from me down to two or three things and email them to me? I can get them done by Wednesday.”
Saying no isn’t always an option, but knowing that you didn’t even try sheds light onto your situation. There are plenty of ways to practice saying no and even more opportunities to compromise.
Finally, remember: There’s a positive side to this.
If you were incompetent, people wouldn’t bring you extra stuff to do. If you had no work ethic and people thought you’d forget, they also wouldn’t bring it to you.
You are the solution to this work, you’re just having a challenge putting it into a context that works better for you. Carrying out this work gives you a skillset no one else has and makes you indispensable.
Put all of your responsibilities and skills on your resume; additional responsibilities only make you look better on paper.
If you can’t find a better balance, use it to move up where you are or move out and find something more suitable.