Almost every office has an informal caretaker. I don’t mean the evening cleaning service or the executive assistant who manages the work life of the boss. What I am referring to is the person (most likely a woman) who oversees non-work issues and activities. This person may volunteer to bake or bring in refreshments for office celebrations. She may organize purchasing gifts, hanging decorations, and being certain everyone else has a good time. If someone misses the party, you can be sure she will put a piece of cake aside for them.
In meetings, she is quick to rearrange chairs or make extra coffee, taking on tasks that are actually in someone else’s job description. And just like kids, colleagues say, “Why bother?” when they know the work wife will pick up all the pieces.
How can you tell if you are in danger of becoming the identified wife for your office? First, check your to-do list. Are there things on it that aren’t part of your actual job description. Next, think about any recent effort you have made on behalf of the office such as using your lunch hour to purchase creamer or pick up a card for a colleague, or staying later to help prepare for a celebration. Your time and money are both valuable commodities, and you only have so much of each to expend.
I am not suggesting that you refuse to participate in group activities, or never volunteer to help with that community clothing drive, or attend a charity function sponsored by your organization. These are all part of being a team player. What I am suggesting is that you not be the office go-to—the person others go to for tissues, tylenol or windex, or the person people expect to buy and wrap the group present or walk around the retirement card for signatures.
You may actually enjoy such tasks, but being the office wife sets you apart, and not necessarily in a good way. If your colleagues constantly see you in a supportive role, they may begin to forget that you have professional status equal to their own, and others may begin to delegate extraneous tasks to you.
We recognize that work-life boundaries are important, but we forget that work-work boundaries can be just as challenging. If you find you have some free time at work, which is probably rare anyhow, use it productively for professional activities like getting a head start on your self-evaluation, finishing that online course, or professional networking. Be a good sport and a team player, but choose your non-work work activities carefully.