Is Grunt Work a Necessary Evil?

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Mark Twain wrote, “Work is a necessary evil to be avoided.” One wonders what he might of thought of grunt work; those annoying, sometimes frustrating and frequently unrewarding bits of labor many of today’s workers often perform.

Some regard grunt work as necessary in taking ownership of a task or project. Put simply, it means doing all those little (and sometimes major) things that do not fall into your job description. In most situations, it means doing things no one else wants to do—like filing, assembling proposals, editing long documents, running massive copies, and cold calling.

Depending on where you are on the corporate totem pole, grunt work can be either a daily or an infrequent task. If you’re an intern, you can expect tons of grunt work heaved upon you just about every day. If you’re a worker bee, grunt work can be a weekly or bi-weekly chore. Supervisors and managers will often assign grunt work to newbies. They sometimes use these little “trials” to see how well you handle mundane tasks and how cheerfully and effectively you execute them. In this sense, they are a necessary evil, so it’s important to accept and execute these boring tasks with a smile and enthusiasm. A recent article in The Positive Spirit entitled “G is for Balancing Great Work and Grunt Work,” Mike Pegg notes that grunt work is okay if you can see how it contributes to achieving great work.

While some employees see the repetitious and enthusiastic acceptance of grunt work as “brown nosing,” bosses see it as an individual asserting himself or herself as a “go-to” problem solver—no questions asked, no complaints emoted. On the flip side of the coin, bosses have been known to take advantage of an employee by relying too much on them as a backstop and grunt working them to death. In these situations, it’s best to move to another department or division, especially if the grunt work prevents you from doing career-building, high visibility tasks.

So is grunt work absolutely necessary? In a recent episode of Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project, the podcast crew went into the importance of work ethic, paying your dues, and doing the repetitive grunt work often required of newbies on the job. They remarked that the difference between a great new hire and bad new hire is about 20 percent effort.

Grunt work sometimes involves coming in early, staying late and working weekends. Here, again, if you become the boss’s go-to person, it puts you in better position come promotion time. If, on the other hand, you’re always being singled out to do grunt work with no attaboys or recognition, a la Office SpaceCome in on Sunday,” you might consider a lateral move.

Image courtesy of scottchan/


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