career

We need to talk about how 'weaponised incompetence' is messing you around at work.

Many of us have come to understand the domestic division of labour in the household, which can exist for opposite-sex and same-sex couples. It shows itself in both the physical demands of care, to do with cooking, cleaning and kids, and the mental load of taking on all the 'domestic labour'.

But when many women ask their partner to step up and take on their fair share of responsibility, what have they been met with?

Weaponised incompetence. 

And this form of manipulation doesn't just exist in the home, or in romantic relationships: it also rears its ugly head in the workplace too.

Watch: Mamamia confessions in the workplace. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

First and foremost, what is weaponised incompetence?

Put simply, weaponised incompetence is when one partner feigns or exaggerates their inability to perform a task in a bid to shift the burden of responsibility onto the other person. 

That person can be a loved one, partner, work colleague: anyone. 

Now it's important to note that it isn't just men who can rely a little too heavily on weaponised incompetence: it can be a person of any gender. But statistically speaking, in the workplace it's men in powerful positions that are the most common culprits. 

And now that we have the sufficient vocabulary and definitions, discussions surrounding this manipulation tactic have been blowing up across social media. Just on TikTok alone, the hashtag "weaponized incompetence" (American spelling) has garnered millions of views.

Of course there's a distinction between weaponised incompetence and a lack of understanding on how to perform a certain task. And it all circles back to intent. 

If the individual is purposely avoiding the task at hand, consciously putting the extra responsibilities onto someone else simply because they don't 'feel like doing it', there lies the problem. 

Image: Getty.

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Melanie Ho, an organisational consultant told the HuffPost: "Although this can occur with any gender, it's more often a male manager neglecting his staff, and a female manager/employee who's picking up the slack. It's simply expected that women play this caretaking role, while men can be excused as 'not good at that' and permitted to focus elsewhere."

She concluded: "In the office, you have a lot less power to confront your boss about these issues than you do at home."

Women share their stories of weaponised incompetence.

We reached out to our Mamamia audience to share their experiences with weaponised incompetence. Here's what they had to say.

"One of my coworkers knows how to use the photocopier, but deliberately pretends not to know so he doesn't have to do the work he deems 'beneath him'. He doesn't have an assistant or intern, so he always asks the woman who sits closest to him to do it for him. It pisses me off every single time."

Image: Getty. "I often find this to be true for older people (sorry to generalise) who are totally unwilling to move towards digital platforms instead of pen and paper. They simply just say, 'Oh no I can't use that technology', without taking the time to learn, practice or voice that they would like more help with digital."

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"One of the senior men often says: 'We need someone to book a team lunch/organise a team gift/sort out catering for our town hall. Let's ask Lisa, the part-time female, she's good at that stuff.' And yet, none of those admin things are part of my role at all. I would be happy to share the load or for the senior men and myself to take turns or work on it together, but alas it always falls on me because they 'wouldn't know how to do it'."

Listen to 8 Minutes To Change Your (Work) Life. Post continues after audio.


"I have sometimes been around women who would use the fact they are female to avoid any heavy lifting/manual labour. I'm not saying anything majorly heavy or not work safe, but just a simple box of paperwork. 'Just leave it to the boys to move the boxes.' Some of these women wouldn't even try to help, leaving it to someone else to deal with."

"In a previous workplace, monthly birthday celebrations were always organised by female colleagues. It was an unwritten norm. Because male colleagues claimed they 'couldn't arrange it properly'. Pathetic. So the women had to take turns. There were a few attempts to push back from female colleagues, but the results were disastrous. It was like the men purposely did a bad job: mouldy cake, insufficient drinks etc. Looking back, it was definitely 'weaponised incompetence', I just didn't know the term back then."

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"As a nurse, sometimes one of my fellow nurses will say that particular things make them so sick they can't do them, such as wound care. But the thing is, no one finds those tasks pleasant: it's part of the job. So some nurses palm those things off to other women around them who they think are 'beneath' their level."

"I have a new colleague-from-hell. Updating the website and doing social media posts is part of her job role, but she constantly tries to transfer it to me, because she must not want to do it. But in her position, I would do the exact same thing because it's pretty boring. I would pretend I had no clue about the social media/website updates."

"I'm yet to work in an office where the men will fix the copier when it jams. The one area where mansplaining doesn't exist."

Image: Getty. "This male colleague at work refused to join our group email inbox. We sent him the link to join multiple times, but he never did sign up. So at the end of every day, one of us in our team had to send him the necessary documents (rather than him accessing it himself) for him to work on when he logged on in the morning. And yet every morning, he would finish with the documents and send it back to our team to have to file into the group email inbox... so frustrating."

The mental load is real!

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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