How to make your invisible work visible

Having spent over a decade working with and training Assistants, one of the many challenges I hear is that Assistants do a lot of work that goes unnoticed. How often have you said or thought, ‘my Executive doesn’t know what I do’. It’s a common occurrence, but to take it one step further, I also hear many Assistants say, ‘my work goes unappreciated’.

It makes sense. Many Assistants like to work behind the scenes. The work we do is often the backbone of the organisation. Still, it isn’t necessarily obvious or leads to reward and recognition. Another way of saying it is that we do a lot of work that isn’t considered worthy of promotion.

Does that ring true?

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Let’s go one step further; over 95% of Assistants identify themselves as female. According to the Harvard Business Review, 44% ‘more requests are presented to women as compared to men for non-promotable or volunteer tasks at work’.

What do I mean by volunteer tasks? These are the tasks that a lot of Assistants will pick up. It could be organising the team get-together, planning the office move, or onboarding new hires.

These activities are hugely time-consuming, must be executed to a high standard, and are essential to any organisation. However, often they aren’t not seen to contribute to the bottom line of the business, and they don’t garner the prestige of other projects. And ultimately, it is rare for the men on the team to volunteer for these types of projects. Again, the Harvard Business Review found that ‘independent of rank, the median female employee spent 200 more hours per year on non-promotable work than her male counterparts.’

So if women at all levels of business are being asked to work on non-promotional tasks, I think it is safe to assume that Assistants are taking on a high percentage of those tasks. If you work for a female Executive, you ask even more frequently.

So for Assistants who feel like their work is invisible, I think it is worth looking at how you spot non-promotional tasks in the first instance and then secondly, how you make sure you take on work that is recognised and rewarded. Lastly, how to make your invisible work visible.

Make sure every task you do is necessary

Every organisation has priorities, strategic goals and aims. Your tasks should be aligned with those objectives. The further removed from the strategy of the business, the less likely the task will be seen as worthwhile and rewardable. Think about this before accepting a task or project. Does it align with your Executive’s objectives, the teams or the organisation? If the answer is not much, should you be doing it?

Speak up in team meetings

For Assistants, our work is only visible to our Executive rather than the whole team or department we sit in. They may see the benefit, but often it is invisible, even to those we support closely. So when you are in a team meeting, speak up. Share your work and how it impacts your Executive, the team and the organisation.

Build the relationship with your Executive

Your Executive should be your biggest champion. They should see the value you bring and how your work contributes. Tell them what you do, how you are supporting them and moving their objectives forward, and how your work aligns strategically with their goals.

Don’t volunteer straight away for non-promotional tasks

So many Assistants I know are people-pleasers and want more than anything to help those around them. It is admirable, but it isn’t strategic. If you are often asked to take on invisible work, change your position and don’t say yes immediately. Certainly, don’t volunteer straight away. In answer to a request like this, say that you will respond in 24 hours and then consider the impact on your career goals and workload. When you agree to do something, it takes time and energy away from other work that could be more visible.

What are the benefits to you?

It is worth weighing up the benefits when deciding if you want to take on invisible tasks. Will you learn something? Will it benefit your career or move your skill set forward? Will these tasks give you space to learn and grow and potentially fail so you can learn from the failure?

Ask for high-visibility projects

If you are working on many projects that you consider invisible or non-promotional, do ask for more visible projects. You have clear evidence to show that you can see a project through and execute it seamlessly, so now is the time to ask for more visible work.