Three-minute explainer on… office housework

A range of tasks, including restocking stationery supplies and taking notes in meetings, are often more important to an organisation than many people realise

Tme Office Housework 1

Every workplace requires some administration. Indeed, there are many tasks that are work-related without quite being work.

Whether it’s writing up notes on a meeting, keeping track of people’s holidays and birthdays or even organising staff meals and nights out, there’s always something that needs doing but is unlikely to be included in anyone’s job description.

What is office housework?

Broadly, office housework refers to essential tasks that are usually done out of the spotlight. These are things that people would generally agree are useful – the office dishwasher does need emptying; filing cabinets do need organising; and furniture that has been moved does need moving back – yet are often taken for granted. 

This is usually because someone has resolved to take on such tasks without drawing any attention to themselves, or has been assigned to do them and not protested.

Senior people can sometimes feel that they’re too busy for office housework because their core job functions should take priority. But they would probably find it harder to perform such functions if that office housework doesn’t get done.

The scope of office housework can also include emotional labour, which might involve shoring up morale, possibly by comforting a colleague who’s having a hard time

Could ignoring office housework hurt your business?

A failure to recognise the importance of office housework can cause business problems when it comes to staff retention. 

Several studies have found that women are more likely than men to take on administrative and social responsibilities. And employers should beware of creating an unfairly gendered workplace.

They should try to grasp the minutiae of what enables an office to work smoothly, with the understanding that no detail is trivial. If the CEO’s best ideas come to them after their morning coffee, the person who refills the cafetière should receive at least a word of thanks.

Certainly, not feeling appreciated is one of the main reasons why people leave their jobs. Firms would be well advised to recognise the value of office housework and establish an etiquette and a system to share the responsibility more evenly.

It could even be argued that office housework should be factored into people’s performance reviews. While someone shouldn’t necessarily be promoted because they organised a successful Christmas party, say, the positive cultural impact their efforts will have made should not be underestimated.