December 20, 2023

How to Say No to Non-Promotable Tasks

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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Have you wondered if you’re taking on too many non-promotable tasks? If you’re someone who gets asked to do administrative work you don’t think is part of your job description, then this episode is for you.

Today I’m breaking down what a non-promotable task is, how to tell if the task is going to advance your career, something you’re asked to do because you’re a woman, and how to strategically say no in a way that won’t sacrifice your team player reputation or your performance.

What you’ll learn:

  • What a non-promotable task is and how to tell if you’re taking on too many of them
  • When to say yes to non-promotable tasks
  • 4 strategies for strategically saying no to tasks that won’t advance your career




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Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast with me, Melissa Lawrence. I’m a career and life coach with all the corporate credit and talent development and organizational psychology. I help women like you get extraordinary results by being more you, not less. I won’t just help you have a career experience worthy of you, but I will help you build your self-worth to shift what you think is possible and take the action that will create the career you’ve always wanted, whether it’s more meaningful work you’re passionate about, making more money, getting to your next level, or being more effective as a leader. We are shattering the glass ceiling here, the one that exists for women at work and the one we put on ourselves with our doubt and inner critic. Each week, you will get practical teachings grounded in neuroscience and effective career development strategies. You’ll experience deep mindset shifts and the perfect amount of woo. So you can run your career with ease rather than your career running you. You were born for more, and I’m going to help you get there with maybe a few dance parties along the way. Your up-level begins now.

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. We are edging in on the end of the year, and I hope that you have had more wins and losses, continue to grow, and are not only proud of what you’ve accomplished and who you were this year, but also everything that you have to look forward to next year. I really appreciate you being a listener of this podcast and want to thank you for tuning in. When I created this podcast over three years ago, my goal with it was to provide a space for you to feel heard and acknowledged, to tune in and learn something about yourself and how you can navigate work a little easier and make those moves you want to make because life is too short to be in a career that stresses you out all the time. It’s always been my goal to make these episodes short enough to work for a commute or walk with good food for thought and actions that you can implement. Pretty soon, we’re going to be heading into a whole new year of episodes. Thank you so much for listening. I really hope that you have a restful and fun holiday season.

If you’re already thinking about next year’s goals, tune in next week because I have you covered. I’m going to be offering a goal setting workshop live with me on Zoom like nothing you’ve done before, and it’s going to be completely free for you to attend. No strings attached. It’s my way of giving back to you and helping you set yourself up for a great 2024. So next week’s episode is going to be all of those details and how you can register.

All right, let’s dig into this topic. This is such a controversial topic, and you’re going to get so much value from this. Now, today we’re going to talk about non-promotable tasks, that dead-end work, typically administrative or planning in nature, and more often than not that women are asked to do. This is something that I experienced when I worked in the industry that my colleagues and I would talk about. It’s no surprise that this comes up pretty regularly in my coaching sessions, too. We’re going to talk about what a non-promotable task is, and we’re also going to talk about how to say no to them so that you can focus your time on the work that is going to actually advance your career. Let’s be real that you are going to actually enjoy doing a whole lot more and stop doing that work that you don’t need to be doing. When I worked at my last corporate job, I was the head of our network of women employee resource group. This topic came up a few times. Women being asked to take notes, to run errands, to plan birthday parties, all the men often weren’t even a consideration for these tasks.

I even had a boss. I brought this up to a boss once, and he said, Well, you’re just good at it. That is not a reason. That is not an excuse. One of the hard things about this is that it can feel frustrating and unfair, but it can also be difficult to say no because you don’t want to seem like you’re not a team player. Sometimes it just isn’t clear if you’re being asked to do something because you’re a woman and you might not want to put up a fuss about something and be wrong about it and look bad. It’s just a little bit mucky. If your boss is asking you, then you might feel like you don’t even have a choice in the matter. If you’re like, Yes, this is exactly what it’s like. I just want to let you know that there is a way for you to be a team player and not sacrifice your performance while also advocating for yourself and not taking on those home-maker activities at the office. We’re going to talk about that. First, let’s define what a non-promotable task is just to be sure that we’re all on the same page.

A non-promotable task is work that doesn’t contribute to your performance review. It’s not something that is required for your job description. It’s work that is not visible to other leaders or stakeholders. It’s something that’s typically done alone, like administrative and inconsequential to any company goals. It doesn’t contribute to any organizational objectives, mission, goals. It’s not measured or defined. It does not require any specialized skill. It’s typically something that anyone can do. It doesn’t require your specific education or experience. Some examples of non-promotable tasks are taking notes in meetings, writing memos. Someone reached out to me on social media when I said I was going to be doing a podcast about this topic and said that she will just be voluntold that she needs to write memos when they need to get done and it’s not part of her job at all. Planning team parties or celebrations like birthdays, baby showers, life events, those types of things, coordinating meeting invitations for the team and any logistics like booking rooms, catering, all of that stuff. They’re generally things that are administrative in nature when your role is not an administrative role. There are roles that this is their jam, this is their area of expertise, and they’re exceptional at it.

But if that isn’t you, then the non-promotable tasks are things that are the more administrative tasks that you’re just being asked to do, but they’re not part of your job. To add to that list, just to add a little bit more content context. I had a client who was asked to fill in for her boss when he was out of the office. He was on vacation. He was a senior leader. She initially saw this as a non-promotable and administrative task. What played into that is that this leader would also ask her to take notes a lot of the time. In regular meetings with their leadership team, he would often ask her to take notes. Then when he went on vacation and he asked her to fill in for his meetings, she saw that as administrative or here’s another thing he’s doing that he’s doing because I’m a woman. Something to consider, just as another perspective, is that if your boss, so in this case, it was a senior leader, asked you to fill in as them, I wouldn’t consider that administrative. I would consider that a huge opportunity because he wasn’t asking her to fill in to take notes and let him know what happened.

He was asking her to be his voice. So your boss isn’t just trusting you to represent them in the group, but they think that you would be a valuable addition to the meeting that you have a contribution to make. It’s an opportunity for you to be seen as a higher-level leader and gain exposure to other leaders and stakeholders. I would definitely consider that more of a promotable task than a non-promotable task. When you think about what is promotable and what is not, try to look at different angles. If you’re not sure if a task is something that would be considered non-promotable, then here are some questions to consider. Does the task directly contribute to the organization’s mission? Is it visible to other leaders and stakeholders? And if so, would they see you doing this task as valuable and beneficial to the company? Does the task use your specialized skills or can just about anybody do it? Will performing it, this task, get factored into your next performance review? Would it be something that maybe you could highlight as an accomplishment? Will it help you get connections or skills that lead to you getting promoted or having access to more opportunities and more relationships in the future?

If your answer is no to all of those questions, then the task isn’t something that will get you promoted or advance your career generally. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be occasions where you perform non-promotable tasks and it’s helpful and even expected. It’s a little nuance, we’re going to talk about it. There are times that you may need to take minutes or be asked to plan something for the group. What to consider is, are you the only one being asked to do these things? Unless you have a dedicated resource that is responsible for all of the administrative tasks of the group, then these tasks will need to be shared among everyone. An ideal situation would be that the responsibilities rotate among team members, and that is something that you can definitely suggest. If you find yourself always being asked to take minutes or always being asked to set up the meetings, I would suggest saying no strategically. I’m going to share with you a way to do this. Being able to say no strategically will help you stand out as a leader and give you more time to focus on the work that will actually advance your career.

A strategic no, if you’re like, What the heck is a strategic no? I’m going to get there. A strategic no is a no that helps the task get done without taking responsibility for the task. I’ll say that again. A strategic no is a no that helps the task get done without taking responsibility for the task. Now, I’m leaving you four ways that you can strategically say no. These are ways that will work to your advantage that will not sacrifice your reputation or your performance and in any way. If anything, they will help you stand out as a stronger leader than you are if right now you’re taking on all of these tasks. Here are some ways you can strategically say no. Number one, offer when you can do the task. For example, I don’t have the bandwidth to join this committee right now because I’m working on a critical project that is coming due, but I’m happy to be considered next time. Or I can’t do the task by Monday as needed, but I could get it to you by Thursday. Or I took notes at the last meeting. Ron, would you be okay taking minutes this week?

Or is there someone else who can take on the minutes this week? In these examples, you’re not saying no. You’re either providing a boundary of when you can do it or you’re suggesting that someone else do it because you’re trying to work in that rotation so that these non-promotable tasks are shared among the group. Number two, you suggest an alternative. Some non-promotable tasks could be promoted to others. There are things that may be non-promotable to you based on where you are and your level and your expertise that could promote other people. It could give them more exposure or access to data or resources that they wouldn’t normally have. You could suggest someone who you think would value from doing the task, who would get some value from it. You could also suggest someone who hasn’t contributed to the non-promotable task in a while and that they step up and contribute. Number three, identify a sustainable solution that eliminates the task. Now, for all of my process improvement people, you’re going to love this one, is there a way that this task can be eliminated altogether? For example, with meeting minutes, could you use AI to track the minutes?

Did you know that Zoom can actually do this now? I’ve been playing around with it with some of my coaching sessions. They can generate automatic summaries with action steps. Ai isn’t perfect, but it will generate that for you and then you can just tweak it and review it and make sure it’s accurate, right? Other people can take on the responsibility to do that. Also, maybe the meeting organizer. There are many platforms that can do something like that that will take minutes for you. If you can identify one that meets compliance requirements, this would be really helpful for that type of task. You can just eliminate the person physically having to do that. Or maybe there is someone else that could do a task repeatedly that the task would be better suited for. Maybe the task isn’t even needed and it can be challenged as to whether or not it’s even necessary. If you can eliminate the task, eliminate the task or make it more lean and standardized so that it takes less time and is more efficient. Number four, required work hack. This is a little bit of a work hack. It’s a little bit more of a bold, special sauce solution.

If you’re being asked to do something that you don’t believe is your job or it isn’t going to advance your career and you’ve tried all of the other options and they’re just not working, then this is where I would suggest using this hack. Because at the end of the day, the business critical activities are most important to your company and your boss. The first option was to offer when you could do the task. This one is a bit more bold, and I would suggest this to be used in a one-on-one setting because it’s a stronger no. What you want to do is make your business critical activities and their time requirement more visible and make it more known to your boss that taking on this request will require other more critical tasks to be delayed. For example, right now, I’m working on these three projects and I can’t afford to divert my attention, or we could risk missing a deadline. Is there someone else that is better suited or that maybe has capacity for this task? Especially when you’re thinking of being asked to be on committees that maybe aren’t going to be beneficial for you.

Or I was talking to someone recently in Beyond the Ceiling, and she was being asked to be an onboarding buddy for someone. Something that’s a little bit more time-consuming that maybe you just don’t have the capacity to do, then this would be a good opportunity to push back on that a little bit and make it known to your boss what’s on your plate and what will have to be sacrificed in order to take on that task. Now, if you continually get pushed to do the task anyway, then I encourage you to advocate for yourself and your more critical projects and ask your boss to help you reprioritize, as in, what is going to have to change or be delayed? What else will be taken off your plate? You can prioritize this new task because you can’t do everything. It’s not the expectation. Now, if you get to the latter, it usually stops there. If you usually bring up the other things that will have to be moved in order to do this, then they’re usually like, Oh, okay, I didn’t understand that. All right, I’ll see who else can do it. Because once the requester sees that you won’t just work an extra evening or you won’t just fit it in on your lunch break or you’re probably like lunch break, or fit it in on the weekend and that the actual critical work will be impacted, they’ll usually find someone else.

Give that one a try. Again, I suggest this more direct approach to be used in a one-on-one conversation to avoid any necessary team conflict. We talked about what non-promotable tasks are and how to know if the requests are strategic or non-promotable. I also shared with you four strategies you can start using to get these non-promotable tasks off of your plate so you can focus more on the work you want to do. At the end of the day, you will likely have to do some non-promotable tasks from time to time. Just be intentional and strategic in deciding which tasks you want to take on. Like I shared, these tasks can be advantageous for you. The key is to understand when it’s maybe some bias or unfair request that are burdening you versus when it’s being a team player and doing some of the necessary but grumpy type work that you don’t want to do. For the non-promotable tasks that you choose to take on, they might help you gain knowledge, develop skills, or connections that can be beneficial to your advancement. Some of the tasks that you may choose to take on may align with something important to you like advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, or helping facilitate team activities that will make the group more effective and fun to work with.

But you get to decide. You are always either opting in or opting out. Now you have some strategies that are going to help you advocate for what you really want and say no to things that you don’t want to do and see how some of those tasks can be beneficial. You get to decide. You’re in the driver’s seat. All right, all I have for you today. I hope you have an amazing week, an amazing holiday, and I will talk to you next week.

The episode is over, but your next level is just beginning. If you’re ready to have the career that you really want, invite you to schedule a coaching consultation to work with me where you will identify a career path to your next step, build your confidence to tackle any career challenge, make more money and work and stress less with my proven process. Head over to to get started.

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No longer settles for “good enough”

Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

So long, imposter syndrome and overthinking. It's time to step into the impact and life you're worthy of having.

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