How to say “No” to Office Housework

Office Housework

Are you always stuck with taking the minutes at the team meetings? Do all the people in the room expect you to order the catering? You are not alone.

Research shows that co-workers assume that women, and especially non-white women, are expected to do office housework, i.e. pick up all those administrative tasks that are important for the business to keep moving but that are undervalued and not likely to result in a promotion.

This HBR article provides 10 tactics to pushback on those assignments. My favorites are:

Have a watertight refusal in place. Prepare in advance a convincing excuse. E.g. “I’d love to help with X but I’m working on a business critical project with a deadline set for Y“.

Offer a “no” and a “communal give.”  Try saying no to menial tasks – ordering lunch – and then volunteering to plum ones – representing the team in a high-visibility meeting.

Ask for more information. Request details on the reasons that make you the best candidate for the task compared to your colleagues.

Rotate tasks. For recurring activities like team meetings, suggest alternating the administrative tasks among all team members.

Use your influence to break norms. As you climb the corporate ladder, ensure that you call out when you see women consistently getting assigned office housework below their position – preparing coffee for meetings, handling less-valued clients.

If you irremediably find yourself volunteering for the office housework this website suggests applying Charles Duhigg technique to get rid of a bad habit. Duhigg postulates that habits are made of cue, behavior, and reward. Example:


  • CUE: chairman asks who will take the meeting minutes
  • BEHAVIOR: volunteer to do it
  • REWARD: it feels great to be a team player (pat yourself on the back)

Rework your habit:

  • CUE:  chairman asks who will take the meeting minutes
  • BEHAVIOR: you intently look at your open notebook until somebody else volunteers
  • REWARD: pat yourself on the back for helping others to be great team players

4 thoughts on “How to say “No” to Office Housework

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