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Do You Have a 'Hidden Job'?

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Credit: Busy worker image via Shutterstock

Does your job have a “hidden” job? Most do. A hidden job is the stuff you have to do that wasn’t mentioned in the job description and often, it can be the most difficult to accomplish.

So argues consultant Jesse Sostrin, who has called attention to the hidden job most employees are expected to perform. The first job, outlined in the job description attached to a position, obscures a whole host of unspoken duties, Sostrin says. In addition to handling a job's stated functions, employees must manage interactions with difficult co-workers, deal with workplace politics and find ways to get their work done despite resource and time crunches.

All these challenges constitute what Sostrin calls the "hidden curriculum of work." In his new book "Beyond the Job Description" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Sostrin helps employees and managers face up to the half-truths of the job description. In a telephone interview, Sostrin told BusinessNewsDaily why companies and individuals need to move past unhelpful job descriptions and instead make mutually beneficial plans:

BusinessNewsDaily: What role does communication, or lack thereof, play in creating the problems of the "hidden job"?

Jesse Sostrin: Communication between managers and employees, right now, focuses on what you're doing right — your strengths. That's fantastic, but you also need to look at what's wrong with the job — the challenges you're facing in your position.

Jesse Sostrin

BND: What are the things that managers and employers would find wrong if they gave attention to that perspective?

J.S.: We need to make a shift at the front end of the job. If we look at work at face value, at the job description, it only tells half the story. There are actually two jobs within the one job. The second consists of the unseen curriculum of work that you don't learn until you learn it on the fly.

BND: How did you come to learn that this is common in all or most jobs, not just in a few, or not just in your own?

J.S.:  The first professional position I had, like most people, I thought: this isn't right. This isn't the job that was advertised. Like most people, I realized I was doing a lot of other duties. But it was really when I became a consultant that I realized, this is a common thing, and it cuts across industries. I found my clients dealing with the same repetitive patterns, the same repetitive challenges. As a consultant, it gave me the distance to see this happening over and over, helping people across fields, across positions, and both white and blue collar.

BND: What are some of the common problems that result from these repeated patterns?

J.S.:  We end up accomplishing lesser priorities, while major ones go unaddressed. We end up doing what's achievable or what's easier for us. It allows us to stay busy and look productive, but from a long-term professional aspect, our careers are impacted, and the organization's needs are unmet. An absence of dialogue between employees and managers creates a limited view of what's not working. There's not enough dialogue to help people see inefficiencies.

BND: Is this problem of the "hidden job" unique to American companies, or is it common across cultures?

J.S.: I think this translates across cultures — and across organizations and generations. One of the things that is a common theme in this book is that organizations can be remade by the people within them. These pivotal interactions between people are what creates the culture. When people bump up against each other, that's what I call the hidden curriculum of work.

BND: What are some of the repeated patterns that you've seen across businesses?

J.S.: People fall into habitual responses when they come up against problems. None of these habitual responses work. One is brute force. You don't really get down to the root of the problem. Well-intentioned people who are smart tend to solve problems in these same ways. Another is calling in the cavalry. You have people adopting short-term solutions. The company culture leads to this. One of the things I say is that culture doesn't do us any favors. We need a system to identify a root cause. That creates culture, a shift at individual level, which travels up.

BND: What are the difficulties that arise from using these habitual responses?

J.S.: I think if you're an individual contributor, you're realizing that someone younger and smarter will be coming up to challenge you. You're realizing, I've got to be a continuous learner and continuous performer. This creates a shift in how you look at performance. Gallup shows that 71 percent of people are actually disengaged from work. That's because when we bump up against a challenge, we're not getting things done — we're relying on one of these solutions: burying your head in the sand, calling in the cavalry, using brute force.

As a manager, your capacity to get results comes from the talent of your work force, and your work force being focused on the right priorities. It's the manager's job to get rid of the stuff that clouds that focus. You're going to bump up against unexpected things as a manager, and so managers need a new level of commitment to working with the team to overcome these challenges that get in the way of doing the best work.

BND: What changes can managers make to work better with their teams on these issues?

J.S.: Traditionally, when you start a new job, you get onboarding attention, some formal training and observation at the beginning. You might get some one-on-one with the manager if it's an engaged manager. But once you get that initial contact, you don't get to interact much about the actual job. For managers, I recommend a much more candid discussion with employees around the true realities of the work, a much more candid discussion around what the work will look like. Managers need to tell employees the value I need you to add, the purpose of the role, the challenges of your role. This should not be management lingo, but rather should be about purpose, value added and challenges faced.

BND: What are the challenges that managers would need to talk about in these discussions?

J.S.: The book includes case studies showing these. There are a couple common ones. One is unexpected turnover. If your key manager leaves, no one else has that knowledge — you're stuck in no man's land. We have natural disasters, like someone leaving, and man-made disasters that exacerbate these, like not being prepared for turnover.

I'm proposing lifting the veil surrounding challenges we typically don't talk about.

BND: When consulting, have you experienced any pushback about making the kinds of changes you're talking about?

J.S.: I think when you're dealing at the conceptual level, it produces a "Duh Moment." It's one of those obvious things that people need to recognize. At the same time, it's difficult to change.

People say, "Of course there's this job within the job. I've figured it out, all the while doing two jobs. And I'm only paid to do one." The hard part is how do I respond? The recognition part is relatively easy.

BND: What would you say to people who say, "This is just how it's always been done"?

J.S.: If I were working one-on-one with someone, and they say this is just how it is, I would restate that question back to them as," Are you OK with that?" They're not likely to respond yes to that question. My question for a manager would be, "How much time do you think people spend figuring out their job description?" I think people proactively figure out their job descriptions. But organizations and employees should be working together to do that.  That kind of mutual agenda allows people to stay with a company. When managers aren't counseling, that's when people quit.

BND: What changes can be made when people realize that they are, in fact, working two jobs?

J.S.: When somebody wraps their mind around it, it's then a question of how we change the bigger picture. Right now, hiring is based on the job description. How can we change the hiring process? That's one of biggest challenges

But if an individual changes, that's a cultural change, actually. People often think, you need to change the culture, and that will change the individual. I actually suggest the opposite: focus on the problem, then individuals can make changes. Get enough of these changes, and it adds up to a cultural change.

Follow Michael Dhar @michaeldhar. Follow BusinessNewsDaily @BNDarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+. Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.