my new boss treats me like a personal assistant

A reader writes:

I’m a departmental assistant at my current job. I have been here 2-1/2 years and I like my job, but recently my old boss was let go and a new boss started.

Our company is set up so that each department has an assistant who helps with the administrative work functions for that department. That’s always been my job.

But my new boss is very demeaning and is always telling me to do personal, non-work related tasks for her. I have to pick up her coffee, order her lunch, run out and get her frozen yogurt, schedule her hair salon appointments, work out an issue with the airline for her family vacation, and even go and pick up cupcakes for her kid’s birthday party, all while staying on top of my own department work. None of the other assistants have to do any of this, and I didn’t have to do it in the past. The worst part is that my boss never asks (she leaves stickies on my desk or sends emails) or says thank you for doing any of this. She just assumes because I am the assistant, I have to do it. Her notes and emails generally are the “have this done by this time….” or “I need you to do this before….” variety. In the past, I’ve taken the “this isn’t a priority” approach with her, and she always tell me to do it when I get a chance, and sends follow-up emails/texts and calls until it’s done.

I’m thinking about going to HR, but I don’t want to seem like a whiny, complaining employee. I don’t mind doing my job and I probably wouldn’t mind helping her out with non-work related issues if it wasn’t on a consistent basis.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. The Cosmic Avenger

    And if the boss thinks it’s their FSM-given right and HR doesn’t care, start asking around about a lateral move to the same job in another department, since no one else at your institution does this.

  2. AMT

    The requests themselves are weird, but it’s also concerning that the new boss is “very demeaning,” doesn’t thank OP for their work, and doesn’t take the hint that it might affect OP’s other work (“I’ve taken the “this isn’t a priority” approach with her, and she always tells me to do it when I get a chance”). Even if OP did get clarification from HR that this was not part of their workload and the personal requests stopped, I’d be seriously questioning whether this was a boss I wanted to work under, cupcakes or no cupcakes.

    1. pope suburban

      Agreed. A demeaning boss who doesn’t have “thank you” in their vocabulary is bad enough. Being treated like a dogsbody is just one symptom of what seems to be a larger problem. OP’s boss sounds a lot like my boss, who is the reason the entire inside staff is quietly looking for other positions. That kind of behavior just grinds you down, even if you’re naturally a tough person.

    2. Persephone Mulberry

      I don’t think that the boss is intentionally being demeaning – to me the boss’s directives to me sound like someone who is used to having an EA/PA. Would the OP feel as upset and “demeaned” if the post it said “I need you to pick up the copies of the Jones proposal from the printer by 4pm” – no please or thank you – instead of “I need you to pick up my blue sweater from the dry cleaners by 4pm”?

      I’m not saying that the OP should just lay down and accept that it’s now her job to do these tasks, just that it’s not necessarily the boss’s attitude that’s the problem, it may just be that there’s a fundamental disconnect between how the OP sees her role and how the new boss sees it.

      1. Sparrow

        I know I wouldn’t be thrilled with a boss giving orders (even legit business ones) without ever including a please or thank you. I think the tasks are the bigger problem here, but let’s not discount the value of basic courtesy.

  3. RVA Cat

    I think there are two issues at play here –
    1) Use of company resources (impersonal) – it may have also been the norm at boss’s OldJob to stream music on the company’s internet, but there isn’t enough bandwidth here. Same thing with your time and your role.
    2) Boss is demeaning/disrespectful (personal) – this is a professionalism issue. Everyone on the org chart from CEO to janitor deserves to be treated like grown adults with a modicum of dignity. The recent incident with the doctor going off on an Uber driver comes to mind here….

    1. Saturn9

      The Uber thing was okay though. She fake-apologized on Good Morning America and explained that because she was blackout drunk in response to her boyfriend breaking up with her (like an adult), it wasn’t actually her fault: according to herself, she’s never like that.

  4. SJ

    I’ve had to up and leave in the middle of the work day to drive Boss 1 to the airport, usually without warning. Boss 2 has said, “Oh, we’ve all had to do that at one point or another for him,” blah blah blah. Well, yeah, but you’re also getting paid three times what I’m getting paid, and since I’m an assistant in this department, it REALLY makes me feel more like a personal assistant when that’s not my job. The lines are much more easily blurred, in my case. Boss 2 is never going to be made to feel like a personal assistant on the much rarer occasions that he gives Boss 1 a lift.

    It’s not that I really mind the actual task, exactly. It’s more that there’s no consideration for my own workload — it’s the expectation that yes, I can drop everything and act as a chauffeur because I’m just not as important. When all is said and done, it usually takes me an hour and a half to get back to work after leaving for the drop-off. Not an insignificant amount of time in a work day, especially when I don’t get paid overtime to stay late and catch up on what I didn’t finish due to the driving.

    1. fposte

      If you’re non-exempt, that’s not legal. If you’re exempt, it sounds like that might be a misclassification, too. (And don’t you all have Uber?)

      1. SJ

        I’m exempt. And of course we do! We’re in a major city. But why go to all that trouble when the office is full of people with cars and driver’s licenses and tons of free time on their hands in the middle of the work day??

  5. Don't Know

    In my experience, female bosses want/expect this type of assistance. I did all of these type of tasks and more (registering their kids for school, finding them a vacation hotel) for my bosses and I know of other assistants who were asked to do errands and such for their (female) boss after work and on weekends. To me, fetching lunch, coffee and yogurt is no big deal. I knew boss’s schedule was packed and if I didn’t do these things she probably wouldn’t eat or get a caffeine fix. As long as it was during working hours, I helped her out as much as she wanted. Hate to say it, OP, but if you really object to doing these type of tasks, it’s probably best if you start looking for a new job as I doubt your boss will change her attitude about them.

    1. Cat

      I think the generalization is inappropriate. None of the women lawyers in my firm ask their assistants to do tasks like that; some of the men do. People of both genders sometimes have inappropriate (or situationally inappropriate) boundaries when it comes to something like that. Things like the Devil Wears Prada have made a stereotype of the female boss who asks her employees to do personal things but, to be honest, men have been doing it more and longer (because they’ve had more power for longer in the business world) and it has largely just seemed unremarkable to people.

      That said, I do agree that picking up lunch can be different – if you have back-t0-back meetings or calls scheduled and no time to get something yourself, that’s not an unreasonable assistant task.

      1. MillersSpring

        +1000 Agree completely. Women bosses are not any more likely to request personal favors from their assistants. Getting lunch or coffee is understandable if it’s for an executive with a packed schedule. But managing personal vacation issues, buying cupcakes, getting frozen yogurt and scheduling hair appointments are very far into a “personal assistant” role not an administrative assistant’s duties. And without please and thank you! No, this is beyond the pale for a modern admin.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          My bosses have always told me to pick up a lunch for myself whenever I’ve had to go pick up something for them. I never expected it, but it always felt nice that they did it. Also, whenever ordering lunch in for a group meeting, the bosses always told me to add on an order for myself. I began thinking of it as my ‘finder’s fee’ for placing the order.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      You may have had bosses who asked you to do these things who happened to be female, but that’s different than “female bosses do this.” In fact, as Cat points out, there’s a much longer history of male bosses doing it — but either way, I’d like to avoid generalizing by sex here.

    3. my two cents

      also – there’s a big difference between being hired as a personal assistant, and being hired (and treated) as a dept assistant for years and then having your new boss treat you like their pa.

      1. MaryMary

        I think this is a great point. Departmental assistant implies OP supports the entire department, not just her boss. At OldJob, our admins did support the department as a whole, even if they did spend more of their time supporting two or three more senior people. At my current job, one exec totally monopolizes our department’s admin support, including having her run personal errands and organize his non-work activities (vacations, various boards he belongs to and charities he’s involved in). This means other people need to take on activities that a department admin otherwise would do, which is bad for staffing and morale.

        1. Kelly O

          In my current role, I’m technically an executive administrative assistant, and I do support the whole office in many things, and all of our c-suite, but our chairman and company founder pretty much has me as his PA. So I have to find ways to juggle operational things for the whole location as well as typing his emails, making hair appointments, balancing checkbooks, etc.

          It’s a challenge for sure, and I do wish that sometimes he were more considerate of the work I do for others. (He’s one of those that will suddenly find all sorts of things for me to do if he feels like I’m working “too much” for someone else, and tell me expense reports aren’t as important as confirming all his doctor’s appointments next year.)

          1. Afiendishthingy

            Typing his emails? Does he dictate to you? I guess I only write fairly short emails, but it seems like it would be way more trouble to call someone in to type for me than to just send the email myself. Reminds me of Mad Men- but doesn’t everyone know how to type now?

            1. ReluctantBizOwner

              Depressingly, no. It’s rather like writing-everyone thinks they can, and says they can, but plop them in front of a computer for software training and you end up looking up typing practice websites and showing them how to copy/paste. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

    4. Cafe au Lait

      I’m a female boss, and I will on occasion ask my employees to help me out. I also phrase my request as “Hey, Sansa, would you be willing to do me a favor? You can say ‘No’ if it this doesn’t work for you; would you be willing to do [insert task].”

      This way they know it’s personal, it never comes above their own work, and they can decline if they wish. I also try to make it work their while too. (i.e. if it’s grabbing me a cup of joe, I also give them enough $$ so they can grab one for themselves if they wish).

      1. SMGWiseman

        May I ask a question? What happens if they say no?

        (I’m curious for many reasons which I can’t quite elucidate coherently at the moment.)

        1. Cafe au Lait

          If they say “No,” I say “Sure! Not a problem.” I’ll either do the task myself, or go without. A concrete example: I have a large Tervis cup I keep at work. I’ll often walk to the next building to grab ice from the cafeteria. I asked if one of my employees was heading that way, and if she minded grabbing ice for me. She said “No.” That was that. She’s grabbed ice for me in the past, but didn’t feel like it or didn’t have time that day.

          My department is also very small. If I head over to the cafeteria, I’ll ask if anyone wants me to grab them something while I’m there. (I’ve grabbed plenty of diet cokes). I don’t make a habit of it, and I’ll ask both female and male employees. I also don’t ask if I can see my employee is working on something.

          I also create goodwill opportunities in other places. If an employee needs to make a personal call, I’ll cover the public service desk for the time it takes, and I don’t short them break time later. Or if they’re scheduled for a 3-hour shift, and they’re hungry, I’ll give them a break so they can eat a granola bar. Or I’ll give them another 10 minutes on their lunch if the line at the cafeteria was out the door–but I don’t make them take that time unpaid. I also make sure to ask my employees about how classes are going, how their dogs/cats are, how was their holiday, etc. I’ll also join them at the public service desk, and shoot the breeze sometimes.

          Like I said, my department is rather small. The culture here is quite a bit more relaxed. There’s a pretty permeable line between “employee” and “manager.”

      2. Lily in NYC

        Please realize that even though you give them the option to say no, they absolutely don’t feel like they really have that option. I’m curious, has anyone ever turned down one of your requests? I wouldn’t dream of saying no in this situation, even if I had no desire to do the favor for you. And giving me money for my own coffee would make me feel even worse and like a servant receiving a tip.

        1. Pwyll

          I suppose this really depends on the type of work you do, and your relationship/history with the employees/boss. I’ve also asked my employees to help out with grabbing coffee or something from time-to-time, but I’ve also been known to do the reverse as well (stop in to an especially busy subordinate to ask if they wanted me to grab them coffee/lunch because I know we’re on deadline).

          I did have people say no to me before, and it was no big deal. (One even specifically said that he didn’t want to go outside today. *shrug*). I don’t really see the servant tip thing, though perhaps it has more to do with tone, expectations, etc. In my mind, if I ask someone to run out and grab coffee, I damned well better be paying for theirs as well. Though at my firm occasionally junior consultants would ask the CEO if he minded running out to get coffee, and so perhaps we just had a culture that made that okay.

        2. Kelly O

          I would agree with this. Sometimes that “do you have time” question is extremely cursory. Of course I have time to do all these different projects. The second I say “no” there are a hundred questions that could come up, from whether my workload is too much, to whether I’m capable to do the job they hired me to do, to going to my desk and starting to poke through everything to make sure I’m not “wasting time” which winds up costing me time.

          It’s easier to just say “yes” and figure it out on the back end.

        3. Tanaya

          Well said. My boss does this too and I wouldn’t dream of actually saying no. Even if you frame it as a request, you can’t ignore the power dynamic aspect.

        4. Jen RO

          Please realize that it depends on each boss and each team’s dynamics. My reports often say ‘no, I’m busy’ and nothing happens to them – I either get my own stuff or make a different plan. As Cafe au Lait also said, my department is pretty informal and most people see the team leads as coworkers, not ‘the big bosses’, and I return the favor to my reports as well (picking up coffee or lunch, grabbing snacks from the kitchen, helping with a tricky project).

        5. Simonthegrey

          I don’t know, I feel like people move into projection territory. If Cafe says it works for her office, why can’t we just take her at her word? Some workplaces don’t have a rigid line between manager and employee. For example, I know if my boss asked me to pop popcorn or start up a new pot of coffee, I wouldn’t assume I couldn’t say no. If I had a student coming to meet with me, I could just as easily ask my boss to make new coffee. I actually say no a lot, because I have a pretty set schedule for tutoring (everything is blocked out) and if he makes a request when I know I have someone coming, my priority is working with the students and he knows that.

          Also, I sit closest to the coffee pot. I am one of three women and two men in my department. I used to make the coffee all the time, and it didn’t bother me because I was closest and the other tutor was very busy. This year, no one has needed math help but everyone needs writing help, and I don’t think I have made coffee once. It isn’t a gendered thing here, and while I understand that at other offices it is, the one who does the most cleaning up and straightening is the manager since he doesn’t have the same schedule of meeting with students that the other tutor and I, and that the two counselors, do.

      3. Haley

        I agree with Lily in NYC. My boss used this tactic sometimes – telling me that I could say No to her personal assistant requests. But it’s a *very* uncomfortable for an employee to be placed in a position where they want/need to say No to their boss, especially if it happens regularly.

        1. SMGWiseman

          Yes, thank you both, I think you put your finger on my thought process. It’s very awkward to be in a position where your job is to almost always say yes and find a way to make things happen, but once or twice you have to say ‘No, sorry…’. It just feels weird. I’m not doing a great job of explaining myself.

      4. Rusty Shackelford

        I agree – there’s a good chance telling them “you can say no” does not really make them feel free to say “no.” You might consider asking “would you have time to do me a favor?” Saying “I don’t have time” is so much easier than saying “I’m not willing to do this for you.”

    5. Lily in NYC

      Interesting. I’ve been an EA for most of my career and have found it to be dependent on the actual person and not remotely related to what’s in their Bathing Suit Area. The worst offender for me was a dude, by far.

    6. littlemoose

      That may be your personal experience, but it’s a really unfair broad generalization. People of all genders have done this kind of thing to their subordinates. It’s not a gendered behavior, and it’s misleading to frame it as such. There’s no legitimate reason to characterize this as an element of working for a female boss.

      FWIW, when I was a float secretary, I occasionally handled personal tasks for both male and female attorneys (picking up coffee, doing minor personal scheduling) – there was never any noticeable gender discrepancy.

    7. Sadsack

      No. I worked as an admin/secretary/low level office staff for many different women over the years and never had anyone ask me to do these types of tasks or treat me in the manner the OP describes. I have seen a man act this way, and he did it to everyone in the office regardless of their position. This behavior is not gender-specific.

    8. Nicole J.

      I’m a woman boss (small seasonal team) and would never ask any of the team to do any of these things. Everyone takes a turn at making the drinks, including me. Lunch gets picked up by whoever’s going to the shop, sometimes me, sometimes others. Works well for us.

    9. Temperance

      Really? Because this is how older men in the professional world expected to be treated. There’s a man in my office now who is like 600 years old, doesn’t read his own email, and dictates to his secretary to type. (After she prints off to him.)

    1. BuildMeUp

      You’re still bringing gender into it when whether the boss is male or female has nothing to do with the question. It’s still a stereotype, and it isn’t helpful to the OP or anyone else in this situation.

    2. A Bug!

      No, you didn’t say that all female bosses were like this. You did share that all the female bosses you’ve had were like this. What was your purpose in volunteering that anecdotal information if not to draw a correlation between gender and this sort of behaviour?

      What makes “in my experience, female bosses want this assistance” a useful contribution to the discussion, instead of, for example, “in my experience, especially-busy bosses want this assistance,” which to me seems to be a more relevant factor?

      1. A Bug!

        “Female bosses” is a perfectly appropriate way to say “bosses who are female,” so that’s really not an issue here. The issue is the implication that the boss’s gender is relevant at all in the circumstances.

      2. Mookie

        Yep. Correct adjective, used correctly. Conversely, “woman / women [profession]” is something that died out in the US before I was born but has come back in a big, weird way over the past few years. Very grating. Has been explained as a hypercorrective reaction to the unpopularity of that dehumanizing “female as noun” trend, but it’s awful in its own, unique, backwards way, insinuating as it does that man is the default and woman the sub-category.

    3. pope suburban

      What purpose adding that information, then? If you didn’t mean to draw a link between one element and the other, surely a clearer way to frame it would have been something more like, “This is a fairly common miscommunication between managers and assistants/department assistants, in my experience?” That would be a very different statement, because it would address a tendency for senior personnel to blur lines between *department* assisting and *personal* assisting, or it would lay the groundwork for a discussion about how miscommunication in the workplace is an issue, and how to address it (Rather like the commenters who suggested that employees may perceive a request from a manager as an order, and that managers could reframe their requests in light of this). Instead, there was gender-related information in there, which creates a very different reading of the material.

    4. La tortuga

      Even if Don’t Know was making a gender comment, are we all so fragile that we have to pick apart bits of their words and debate for pages on their meaning? Are we not working adults trying to find sanity in our jobs? I would hope that most people can differentiate between someone’s subjective experience and their own experience (or reality).

      1. Mookie

        Are we not working adults trying to find sanity in our jobs?

        Yes, and persistent, low-level sexism at work is maddening.

    5. De

      Actually, as you didn’t qualify ‘female bosses’ at all, yes, you did say all of them, or at least the vast majority.

      You don’t say “in my experience, cats are white” or “in my experience, children like homework”, do you? That would seem really weird without a qualifying “some” or “a few”.

      This may be nitpicking your language, but you seem to feel misinterpreted, and the truth is that when people say something about a group without any qualifying statement for quantity, yes, it’s fair game to assume they mean the whole group.

  6. Rusty Shackelford

    I have to pick up her coffee, order her lunch, run out and get her frozen yogurt, schedule her hair salon appointments, work out an issue with the airline for her family vacation, and even go and pick up cupcakes for her kid’s birthday party, all while staying on top of my own department work.

    I think this is the key. The core issue this person should address, IMHO, is “you’ve basically doubled my workload.” If she tries to make it about tasks she considers demeaning, the boss is not going to care. Because either she doesn’t consider these tasks outside of the LW’s responsibility, or she realizes she’s overstepping boundaries and/or giving her assistant demeaning errands and she’s fine with that. So instead I’d be all “I can go get your yogurt, but it means I’m not going to get this report done on time. Which is your priority?”

    (Also, I had an awesome boss once who would sometimes ask me to go get her a Coke, or even pick her kids up at daycare a couple of times. And she was awesome because she’d do the same thing for me.)

      1. Afiendishthingy

        I don’t think she was. I think she was an editorial assistant. I can’t swear by that but I AM a little embarrassed to be pretty sure…

  7. Haley

    I quit a nonprofit job for this reason. After a year and a half of being assigned more and more work with increasing responsibility, it seemed like my job was moving in the Assistant Director direction – and then suddenly my boss started assigning me all of these personal assistant duties on top of everything else (like making doctor’s appointments, helping her sell personal items online, making personal travel arrangements, making lists of what to pack, asking me to take over admin tasks for a separate for-profit business, repeatedly calling me at the crack of dawn on my day off to ask me to come in to do really menial tasks that she could do very well herself, etc. I was non-exempt).

    I had a few direct conversations with her about how confusing it was to me to have my job going to two opposite trajectories at once, and to let her know that I wasn’t okay with being a personal assistant in addition to my already-huge workload, but it didn’t help. She even denied having repeatedly called me at home until I said that I had phone logs of the calls that I could show her. I tried suggesting that she hire an additional staff member and she agreed that was a good idea, but then didn’t do it. Ultimately nothing I tried could get her to stop, and there was no one above her and no HR department, so I quit. Still bummed about it.

  8. shep

    I had a very nice boss who was utterly disorganized in the workplace AND in her home life. Great friend; terrible to work for (which I know are issues unto themselves).

    Her husband showed up once, handed me a key, said, “Oh, thank you so much for doing this!” and I went, “Huh??”

    “For watching the cat these next few days.”


    Yep. That actually happened.

      1. shep

        Oh my goodness, I wanted to! But they were leaving literally within the hour and I couldn’t imagine the cat going without food just because of me. I’d watched him before, albeit given PLENTY of notice, so I guess she thought (when she realized she forgot to get someone to take care of him fifteen minutes before I was given the key) that I’d drop everything to do so.

        Really, it wasn’t difficult because she lived close and he’s super low-maintenance. BUT WHAT IF I’D HAD PLANS MYSELF THAT WEEKEND??

        Just wow.

        It’s been about two years since I’ve worked there. I did like her as a person, but man, I don’t miss being treated like a personal assistant in the slightest.

    1. Charityb

      So what you’re saying is that they offered you a free cat and you said no? You could have probably flipped the cat for $600 to $2000 easy (depending on the breed), a tidy profit and a good deed.

  9. Sophia Brooks

    Something very similar happened to me when I was a departmental assistant at a University and the department head left. They replaced the department head with someone whose experience was in business, and was very entrprenuerial. I went from planning programs to getting coffee, watering plants, ordering boxes for Christmas Presents, editing and burning prom videos, etc on top of planning programs and secretarial duties. My boss was also demeaning and horrible, and I left, and then the department closed and she left!

    1. OmniPeixe

      Oh my goodness – that’s almost exactly what happened to me a few years ago at my previous position. A lateral move that turned out to be a de facto demotion.

      Thankfully I left with my sanity (relatively) intact; after the Entrepreneurial Boss resigned under mysterious circumstances, other staff discovered months’ worth of unopened mail and unpaid invoices locked in his desk drawers. I also learned that he’d been telling vendors and other staff that I was the one responsible for work left undone and invoices not being paid (“Oh, we’re at 90 days? OmniPeixe must not have paid that invoice, again!”) I was never so glad to leave a job as I was that one.

  10. AnotherAnon

    I had a similar experience to this, except I wasn’t even working for the person or being paid! I was spending a few days shadowing a respected professional informally on a week off I had from my professional school. In the course of a few days, I spent very little time (probably <5%) actually watching this person do their job; this person instead procrastinated, socialized, worked on (unsanctioned) side projects, etc. This person also seemed to treat me as if I was their personal assistant – repeatedly asking me to get them coffee, run paperwork from their office to elsewhere in the building, update their personal website (!), and most bizarrely, handing me their credit card and asking me to run to the nearby mall to choose and purchase gifts for some professional colleagues, then arrange to have them packaged and shipped cross-country (!!). This person also repeatedly asked me to work on a side project (for free) for them that would have amounted to plagiarizing an existing published resource (I told this person flatly that this would be plagiarism, and they backed off and claimed that was not their intention). Initially I had approached this person about spending an entire week following them, but halfway through the week I politely told them something else had come up so I would not be returning for the rest of the week, and thanked them for their time (and later discreetly disclosed my experience working with this individual to my professional school – they were horrified).

    1. wanderlust

      Ha. I had a boss who annually had a myriad of staff (his executive assistant, but a bunch of others too) participate in the purchase of birthday and holiday gifts for his wife and children. I distinctly remember being asked to look through the Nordstrom website to find gift options for his daughter upon her graduation and then one of my other coworkers was deputized to take his credit card to the mall for the purchase. I guess at least I was being paid (not enough to justify my troubles, but still).

    2. Cassandra

      As someone who teaches in a professional school that requires students to gain professional experience while in school… THANK YOU for reporting that craptastic supervisor. We do the best we can with up-front due diligence, but every once in a while these creeps sneak through, and we can’t deep-six them if we don’t KNOW.

  11. Jeanne

    The advice in these stories is very reasonable. But it assumes an even power structure and logical people. Does going to HR really help with this sort of thing? HR is there to support the managers. I wonder if going to HR would make the situation worse. The boss might double down with the demeaning part.

    1. Kelly O

      Just have to chime in that HR is NOT just there to support managers. There are so many misconceptions about what HR’s role in a company is, and while it can vary from company to company, in most the focus of the department is to find, retain, and support employees at all levels. Support doesn’t just mean being the complaint box, but trying to find effective ways to improve morale, benefits, working environments, etc. They deal with a lot of legal stuff behind the scenes that most people don’t see. They also keep the best interests of the company in mind too.

      If the boss “doubles down” after an employee goes to HR, that’s retaliation, and that’s REALLY wrong. The OP would have a plethora of other things to consider if that did happen, and if (in that event) higher management or HR did not work with her to resolve the issue.

      I get on my soapbox when people start talking about HR in general terms and assuming they’re automatically not going to be supportive of an employee with an issue (or that HR in general is the babysitter there for the sole reason of keeping everyone in the sandbox, playing nicely.)

      1. Jeanne

        Yes retaliation is wrong but it is very common. I think of HR as supporting managers because in those words that’s what I’ve been told. I have never known anyone who successfully went to HR and got help. It’s good to know it’s not true 100% of the time.

        1. Purple Dragon

          I have one :)
          Back when we had a competent and professional HR department I lodged a formal complaint about one of the most senior execs and bff’s of the managing director (the old boys club). Everyone told me I was insane and I’d be fired. I had the option to lodge it as a “complaint” (slap on the wrist and swept under the carpet) or a “formal complaint” (proper investigation reporting all the way up to the board). HR were obviously told to try and persuade me to only file a complaint but backed me all the way when I made it a formal complaint. They also ensured that I never received any retaliation and went out of their way to check in with me periodically.

          My understanding is that high-level butts were kicked all the way up the corporate ladder based on my complaint. I have always appreciated the professionalism and backing of a truly competent HR department.

          1. Elizabeth West

            A properly administered complaint process to deal with noxious behavior from employees–including managers–is one of the best things a company can do for itself. It ensures a good working environment for everybody and it totally affects the bottom line (hiring and legal costs, etc). That, in my opinion, is the best way to look at this, and it’s how upper management SHOULD be looking at it.

    2. Washington

      HR is there to support the company. If all the other department admins are not functioning as PAs, the company probably doesn’t want to pay for someone to have a PA instead of doing the department work. At my company, this manager would lose access to the admin if their behavior came to anyone attention (at a higher level or in HR). Their department would still have one, but this manager wouldn’t be the OP’s manager anymore and couldn’t assign the OP any work. However, if the company has a history of supporting manager stance at all costs, that’s when going to HR probably wouldn’t work to help the OP. It’s definitely a know-your-organization type situation.

      1. BRR

        I was going to say the same that hr is there to serve the company. That might mean allowing the lw to do work for the company and not personal work for their boss. Or it might mean doing personal work for their boss so their boss can do their work and that is best for the company. And also agree that I have seen hr departments vary greatly.

  12. PolarBear

    I’m an executive assistant and have worked in the public sector and now in finance. I may occasionally grab my boss lunch or a coffee but that’s it. No dry cleaning, no personal errands etc. All my bosses have said I’m employed by the company and I’m not there to do personal errands!

  13. I'm a Little Teapot

    In the government positions I’ve encountered, it’s actually considered illegal use of public resources to have your assistant do stuff like this – it’s specifically mentioned in Massachusetts state and local government ethics training. Some companies would not be OK with it either, especially if it interferes with your other work.

  14. Former Computer Professional

    Well, now I feel bad retroactively.

    Long ago I worked at a university and I would hire a student to assist me. The main part of their job was computer stuff, but I would occasionally ask them to run personal errands, typically taking paperwork somewhere or to grab lunch.

    But. I always tried to say please and thank you, and if I asked for them to get lunch I always, always bought them some, too. I never questioned what they got, or even asked for a receipt. If they were ordering stuff more expensive than mine I never asked or really cared. And sometimes they’d pick up weird stuff, too, which once lead to a gummi hamburger living in the office for over a year. (It was seriously gross.)

    Now I wonder if I wasn’t really being a jerk.

  15. Jason

    the salary of a team assistance is usually lower paid than a personal assistance. So is not right for her manager to task her personal tasks if there is no fat increment or fat bonus.


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