what to do when an employee is reluctant to take on a new project

A reader writes:

The person who took minutes at our board meetings has moved on, and I’m leaving her position vacant for budget reasons. I want our bookkeeper to take this duty on, because she has already shown she’s trustworthy with sensitive information, and I feel she’s the best person on our staff for this. However, when I asked her to take on the duty, and she said she doesn’t want to. She seemed very nervous about it because she’s never taken minutes before.

I wouldn’t be able to give her a raise for this — it’s just an extra duty that I need her to do and I know that she has the time to do it. I really want her to do this, and am fighting the urge to say “I’m the boss and what I say goes!” (I don’t want to be that kind of boss, but on the other hand, I don’t ever recall telling any of my previous bosses no when they asked something of me.)

So, do you have any suggestions on how to get an employee to take on a duty that they’re reluctant to take on, without resorting to “because I said so” tactics? I don’t know what I’ll do if I ask again and she still doesn’t want to do it.

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

{ 181 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. De Minimis

    I remember this question when it was first posted! I probably related to it because I’ve been in a similar position as the OP’s bookkeeper.

    Reply
  2. Learning Grasshopper

    I have a dissenting opinion. Your bookkeeper has a job and a specific skill set. I don’t blame her for not wanting to take on minutes for a board meeting. Very different skill set.

    She may also have no desire to interact with the board. There could be many reasons she does not want to do this

    I get wanting to cut costs, but why does it have to be at her expense? And are you prepared to lose her over this?

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      That seems a little extreme given that the bookkeeper’s concerns seem to be about lack of experience, not frustration at being asked to do something outside of her skillset…

      If the nervousness is about taking minutes, it might also help to have her take minutes for staff meetings 1-2x before her first board meeting. That way she can get practice, you can review her notes with her and make corrections, and she can feel more supported/confident going into the board meetings.

      If the hesitation were about not wanting to do something that’s outside of her job description and core competencies, then I would consider if there’s someone with a more traditional admin role who would be well-suited to take this on. But I serve on a Board where someone was hired exclusively to provide EA support to the Exec. Director and the Board of Directors, it’s prominent and clearly articulated in the original job posting and in her job description, and she goes out of her way to do both jobs in a substandard manner. Which is all to say that a person’s job classification doesn’t always indicate whether they have the full range of abilities you want for a particular job, and in small organizations in particular, staff should know that they may be called on to take on roles outside of their original job description.

      Reply
      1. Liz2

        Well said, as usual. Sometimes minutes are no big deal, sometimes I’ve had to do 6 drafts with very small technical nitpicks before they were approved. The OP really smacks of “want to save money and demand more work with no incentive” with a side of “entitled to get this extra work without putting an ounce of encouragement or training” to go along.

        Reply
    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      I agree. Taking notes is a secretarial/administrative task; the bookkeeper is not a secretary or administrative assistant. I too would resist this task, as it has nothing to do with the work for which I am accountable, my skill set, experience, or interests.

      It speaks to an unhealthy undervaluing of administrative work. It’s not just add-on, no-skill work that everyone else in the office can pick up in addition to their other responsibilities. It’s real work, with its own set of competencies. I understand budget realities, of course — but what would the organization have done if the person who took notes had not moved on (in terms of managing its budget)?

      Personally, I’m also mindful of being asked to do extra “women’s work” in the office (support work that we are socially conditioned to think of as done by women), so if I were asked to do this, I would be very attentive whether there were men who might have been asked instead; my bosses’ general treatment of and support for the leadership of women; etc.

      Reply
      1. Purest Green

        It speaks to an unhealthy undervaluing of administrative work. It’s not just add-on, no-skill work that everyone else in the office can pick up in addition to their other responsibilities. It’s real work, with its own set of competencies.

        I don’t know if the previous person who took notes for OP was administrative, but your statements are true in any case. My workplace has 1 administrative person left out of the 3 we used to have, and we are absolutely feeling that loss.

        Reply
      2. Bean Counter

        I’m an accountant for a nonprofit, and I attend board meetings and do the minutes. The reason I was asked, rather than our admin person, was because I already have access to confidential information and had a track record of being discreet. I do not feel at all disrespected by being asked to attend board meetings, nor have any of the board confused me with our admin because of it. If anything, I think it has been helpful to me to have more face-to-face interactions with the board.

        Reply
      3. Gen

        “Personally, I’m also mindful of being asked to do extra “women’s work” in the office.”

        This. I’ve seen a lot of situations where skilled women were expected to take minutes because “you’re the best option” when there were male admins aplenty who could have done the job. One was a regional government exec and was asked by someone three pay grades below her!

        Writing minutes- quickly, legibly and accurately- especially if it’s by hand, is quite a skill to develop. It’s not a job I could ever do

        Reply
        1. Happy Lurker

          It’s also a lot more time consuming that it appears. Fraught with “I want the minutes to read that I said Gesundheit not God Bless You!”
          I so do not miss taking minutes.

          Reply
        2. Elizabeth West

          I don’t like it either. If the meeting isn’t recorded and I miss something, I can’t go back and correct it. And I can’t write fast by hand. I have trouble with fine motor control (it’s part of the dyscalculia).

          If the meetings are recorded and she can transcribe them later, that could be a good compromise. Even if she has to attend the meeting, she won’t be so nervous about missing something.

          Reply
      4. Bea

        As a career bookkeeper this is not correct, we do a lot of “administrative” duties because of our position in any given company. It’s nothing to do with women’s work or degrading, these are minutes that are company records. I keep the records, I create them. I wouldn’t task this to an administrative assistant unless they are an accounting assistant, which isn’t a position in many operations.

        Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ll say what I said when this came up on the original post: It sounds like there’s no one else there suitable to do it. If they’re small and there no admin or there’s some reason the admin can’t do it, the bookkeeper isn’t a crazy choice. That’s a role that’s often combined with admin duties at many smaller organizations.

      Reply
          1. Jesmlet

            Yes, definitely great to read that update! Our CEO sent out an article this morning to the managers that talked about the difference between leadership and authority and the update definitely reminded me of that, especially with this line “But I think there’s a difference between delegating and dictating, and I want to make sure I fall on the right side of the line.”

            Reply
        1. Antilles

          Oooh, that’s good. I’ve always wondered about how many of these “AAM is revisiting and updating old posts” were actually resolved in a positive way.
          Any thought about putting a little link at the bottom (or as your first comment?) for what the result actually ended up being – at least here, if not necessarily on the Inc website.

          Reply
            1. Anon Anon for this

              I’ve always secretly hoped that a link to the update could be added to the original post as well so that people going through the archives can immediately see the thread(s) of updates. Part of me thinks it would be an easy update since you’re pulling up the original post anyway to get the URL. Another part of me also knows I’m a librarian who probably cares more about things like this than most. :)

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I used to do that and then got too busy. But you’re right that I’m pulling it up anyway at the time, so it wouldn’t be that hard. (There might be a few days where that link didn’t work — since I often set up the posts days ahead of time, and the link to the update wouldn’t be live yet, but it’s probably still worth doing.)

                Reply
              2. Koko

                They often turn up in the auto-generated “you might also like” list since they contain so many of the same words and phrases. In the case of the update Alison linked above, the original and the update both list each other as the top result in that area.

                Reply
            2. Sami

              I wonder you could indicate on a post if an OP has commented/clarified/updated within the comments. Perhaps a link at the top to their comment?
              As I understand it, the OP regarding the marijuana/hotel debacle commented, but trying to find it- ugh!
              Thanks!

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                In theory I know that would be great to do, but in practice there will be days where I have time to do it and days where I don’t, so I don’t want to set people up to expect it.

                Reply
                1. Hunger Games Summer

                  Do you ever reach back out to the OP when you post these blast from the past to see how the situation has changed since then?

      1. Do NOT Show to the IRS

        As a bookkeeper, yes we do often get rolled into admin work. In fact, it can be very, very hard to advance your career in bookkeeping as almost every role is combined with receptionist or office manager duties without any clear path to anything higher. It could be a good reason to resist being handed admin work as it can very easily overwhelm your actual role as a bookkeeper.

        It’s really one of the more frustrating parts of the role. I love bookkeeping, I do *not* love being the de facto receptionist.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s a reason to look for a bookkeeping role at a larger organization if that’s what you want. Smaller orgs often don’t have full-time bookkeeping work, so it’s combined with admin duties to create a full-time job.

          Reply
        2. De Minimis

          Same here….I am one of the backups for answering phones, and it’s annoying. I am in a mid-level finance position here, but it’s a nonprofit and apparently this is the precedent that was established by the person that previously held the role.

          Reply
      2. E

        Especially at smaller businesses that are growing quickly, folks have to take on duties outside their “job title” to help out. Not always a bad thing, I ended up learning a lot from temporarily assuming HR duties when my company of 20 doubled in a couple of years (now 500+). Even assisting in areas outside of the normal duties for your job is a great way to learn more about the rest of the company.

        Reply
    4. TCO

      Part of working at a small organization is taking on “other duties as assigned,” even if they sometimes don’t seem to fit into your core job duties. Some of these assignments have yielded me tremendous personal and professional growth over the years; others have been drudgery or things I’m not good at. Sometimes the assignment initially intimidates me because I don’t think I have the skills to be successful at it, but with mentorship I end up being great at and fulfilled by the work. It sounds like OP and her bookkeeper would benefit from a conversation about this task.

      Reply
      1. Karen D

        Right. The other thing that jumped out at me is that the OP’s first duty is to do what is right for the organization — because ultimately, the highest benefit to employees comes from working at a place that is fiscally stable.

        In this case, the OP has an employee who is not working to capacity (“I know that she has the time to do it,” implies her current duties aren’t taking up the time that’s alloted.) She needs something done, and it’s not out of line with that employees’ core duties, even if it’s not within their scope. Even the most employee friendly organizations hit points where they have to push back against their employees’ resistance, or risk seeing the entire enterprise suffer.

        Reply
        1. Karen D

          I should add that this argument doesn’t apply to a request that’s intrinsically demeaning or far out of line … such as, for example, asking the only female in the office to clean the bathrooms even though she’s the staff attorney, or insisting that the VP of product development be responsible for changing the light bulbs because he’s 6’6″. But in this case, the bookkeeper position and the note-taking position have two major issues in common: Both demand a high level of accuracy and a high degree of trust. Neither is a job that can be done by just anybody.

          And I was happy to see in the update that the bookkeeper did in fact do an excellent job. :D

          Reply
          1. paul

            We used to have an ED that would have the males at the office pick up anything over a few pounds because apparently god forbid a woman move anything more than 5-10 lbs. I do not miss her.

            It was so bad there were times I had to drive across town to go move a box of printer paper from their storage area to the printer, or move a podium across a room.

            Reply
            1. Karen D

              LOL, I remember one incident along those lines. At a past job, I had a manager object when I said I’d tote a heavy box of paperwork to a meeting. He said “get (man) to do that.” I just grinned and said “(Man) doesn’t know where the cart is. I do.”

              Reply
            2. Nephron

              I am in a shared office off of the the main admin office. Our department is almost entirely female so our admin will constantly waylay the one young male on staff to lift and move things for her. He is stronger than me, he plays sports pretty seriously, but we are both the same height and shoulder width, yet she made it into a narrated production when I just moved the box of printer paper for her because I was tired of hearing her try to get him to make time for it. I grew up in a large family, I have carried much heavier groceries for much longer without incident. Neither of us is administration, but he is more senior to me, his office is down the hall, and he is much busier, either accept waiting until he is free to help, or ask me to move the box. Please do not ask him repeatedly every time he happens to pass through our office, and do not make comments about how you need a man to do it.

              Reply
            3. Purest Green

              Groooooaaaaaan! I was moving my computer to another office once, and a coworker who still lives in the 1960s stepped out of the shadows and said, “you should get Man Name to set your computer up for you.” I just sort of stared at her for a few uncomfortable moments before saying, “as annoying as plugging things in can be, I think I’ll manage. I did build the computer, after all.”

              Reply
    5. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      I land here as well. A bookkeeper is not an administrative assistant and I don’t believe the two jobs are close enough to be interchangeable.

      But really, I hate archaic notion that a person (usually a woman) must grab her little steno and pencil, sit quietly in a corner writing down every little utterance from an entire room full of presumably literate people. We have technology these days that would do so much better — buy a voice recorder and transcribe your own notes if you are unwilling to hire a proper admin.

      Reply
      1. INeedANap

        This comes across as a little oddly contemptuous of note-takers. I apologize pre-emptively if I got the tone of the comment wrong – things can come across differently in text!

        But I don’t get what’s archaic about the notion that one person should take notes on a meeting and then distribute those notes to the members. Particularly if the members have more important things to do – I certainly would prefer board members spend their time getting paid to do whatever it is board members do, rather than imagine them getting paid to transcribe notes.

        The repetition of the word little makes it sound like the job itself, and the people who hold that job, are little and unimportant. I would respectfully disagree with that. I think this is an important job, I think it’s a learned skill, and a valued one – even if it is a “junior” role.

        As far as technology goes, I can think of many scenarios where one might not want an entire meeting recorded. Knowing that your every word is going to be recorded and digitally saved somewhere is going to discourage candid speaking in a way that taking physical notes and then disseminating the main points of the meeting doesn’t do. I know there are often off-the-book conversations in the meetings that I go to where we might want to preserve the conclusion we come to, but not the discussion leading up to it.

        Reply
        1. TCO

          Well said. Meeting notes (which I have to take often, and don’t really enjoy) are not archaic. They’re often really important for documentation, institutional memory, checking back on decisions and assignments, and even legal purposes.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Agreed. Taking great notes is difficult, and in the context of Board meetings, this is not an inherently “junior” or administrative role. Discretion, ability to parse which information is worth recording, understanding how to capture attribution, etc., are much higher order notetaking skills than “typical” notetaking. And Board minutes are essential to the organization’s function—from an IRS/corporation-law-compliance perspective, you have to have accurate and thorough copies of your board meeting minutes just to meet basic corporate formality requirements.

          I’m really curious if people would be this up in arms if the bookkeeper were a man. I think folks are conflating two distinct issues: (1) whether women are unfairly tasked with admin work when it’s not in their job description; and (2) whether notetaking reasonably falls within a bookkeeper’s responsibilities at a small organization.

          Reply
        3. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

          People I have respect for, outdated methods, not so much. And I do believe it is outdated. My opinion is based on 20 years of work experience and a my familiarity with ever-changing technology. I’ve never used meeting minutes as a reliable source for information. I’ve gotten some crazy-wrong meeting minutes from some very skilled/experienced admins, because people rambling on in a meeting are clear as mud. Admin is sure that a project was approved — speaker adamant that they didn’t “approve” it, just expressed that they “liked” it.

          While the discussion during a meeting maybe needs to be documented (debatable in most meetings I’ve attended — it’s the outcome that’s important), it doesn’t have to be a person doing it and it doesn’t need to be hand-written. In fact, I think it’s a hinderance to have a person, no matter how skilled, interpret meaning or decide what’s important and what isn’t in the moment. Recording technology is well beyond the small cassette tape kind — it’s digital, transferrable, you can make annotations later, password protect, convert to text, keyword search — we do all of this with lectures at my university … but better yet, someone who wasn’t there can hear tone of voice, and nuance of language if necessary. Because that won’t be obvious later in hand-written notes.

          If there are parts of the discussion that don’t need to be, or shouldn’t be, preserved, the recorder can be turned off or the recording deleted on the spot if necessary — like dismissing the minute taker from the room for a bit or asking that something be stricken from the record. And I have experience with this — if it’s really bad to record a comment, it probably shouldn’t be said in front of witnesses (minute-taker) either, no matter how trustworthy. They can be subpoenaed.

          As for their valuable time… the chairman/boss should be able to summarize the outcome of the meeting, “At this meeting we decided to move forward with X, Bob’s team will do more checking on Y, and we voted to eliminate Z. For details refer to this digital recording and all linked documentation.” If they can’t manage that, I think minutes of the meeting are a waste of time.

          Reply
          1. INeedANap

            We seem to work in the same context – I am also at a university – but our experiences are very different. Note-taking as a method has been efficient, useful, and a valuable resource for myself and my colleagues. No one, not even the OP, is assuming these things are handwritten nor that recording technology is still in the cassette tape world.

            I also think, if we’re trying to be efficient, linking to a digital recording of an hour or longer meeting that someone has to listen to to find the details is absolutely not an efficient way to disseminate details. It makes no sense to expect someone to try and find the point in a meeting where those details are discussed in an audio recording when you can have a searchable word document available with the relevant points.

            Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        At small organizations, bookkeeping often IS an admin job, because the bookkeeping work isn’t full-time. Like I said above, if that’s not what you’re looking for, it makes sense to bypass those bookkeeping/admin hybrids and look at larger employers.

        Reply
      3. Karen D

        There are many, many careers that cannot be dismissed as “admin,” (not that admin jobs aren’t important) that carry a good measure of prestige and respect – and require the ability to take accurate notes. I’m in one of them, and I can tell you that taking accurate contemporaneous notes is a skill that can’t be replicated using a voice recorder (though it’s often a good idea to keep a recording as a backup.) In our daily work we are actively discouraged from over-reliance on digital recordings. Then there’s the time issue – transcribing one hour of audio takes a rough minimum of 4-6 hours. Even producing regular “notes” of an audio recording takes longer than the actual recording, because at some points it is not clear who is speaking and some rewinding is necessary for context.

        In fact, OP was looking toward the bookkeeper as the potential note-taker in large part because OP has a track record of handling sensitive information with discretion and accuracy. I don’t see that assessment as demeaning or belittling at all.

        Reply
      4. Jaydee

        As a parliamentary procedure nerd, I have to say that minutes are really important and taking good minutes is a learned skill. The purpose of minutes is to summarize the activities of a decision-making body so that there is a record of them for the future and so that individuals who did not attend the meeting can learn what went on. A recording may be better for the first purpose, but it’s not better for the second purpose. If you only want to know who voted what way on Topic X or the main points debated on Topic Y or whether Topic Z was discussed at the April 13th meeting or the April 6th meeting, listening to an entire recording is a waste of time.

        Also, I work for a non-profit in a role that doesn’t require attendance at our board meetings, but I’m often interested in what happened at the meetings if it relates to projects I’m involved in. I would never spend the time listening to a recording of an an entire day long meeting. That would take a day. But I look forward to reading the summary our ED sends around after each meeting. And that is why minutes exist.

        Reply
        1. Chinook

          Parliamentary Procedure Nerds unite! Our meetings will be boring but highly organized and every one will know what we decided to do!

          I have attended meetings where the secretary didn’t know how to take minutes (or the chair how to create an agenda) and confusion reigned at the next meeting because it was unclear what was decided and who was assigned a task. A good minute taker knows how to cut through the b.s. and discussion and capture the results. This also means that they cannot be an active part of the discussion because they are usually 5 minutes behind (just as the chair is usually planning 5 minutes ahead). By dismissing them as someone who merely takes a steno pad and writes notes in the corner, you are truly diminishing a valuable skill, which is a shame because it is one that is quickly disappearing.

          Reply
      5. Koko

        Just wanted to jump in here that minutes are not the same thing as a transcript. Minutes are a very tight, concise summary of what was done and decided in the meeting. This can include summarizing points made by people in favor and opposed to the decision as well as the decision itself. (E.g. “Mr. Jones proposed a motion to have a table at the local summer festival. Mr. Lewis and Ms. Huntington asked about the costs of the project. Ms. Jennings volunteered to approach a potential sponsor to fund. Mr. Jones has recruited a volunteer to staff the table. The motion passed unanimously.”) They are not a word-for-word transcript of everything that was said by every person, which would not be a useful document for most people.

        Being able to discern what is important and needs to be recorded vs what isn’t and doesn’t, and to write it concisely without losing meaning, is what makes minute-taking anything but a no-skill/low-skill task.

        Reply
        1. Hapless Bureaucrat

          Exactly that. I think some people conflate the two, but meeting minutes and notes have different purposes. Minutes are an official record of actions and agenda items. Some minutes will go into more depth than others, but all require skill and discretion to do well. In my position we often evaluate minutes, and we have had to issue corrective action in the past when, for instance, a person would say they recused themselves due to conflict of interest but the minutes didn’t reflect that and they had no other proof. I can see why the OP’s bookkeeper was nervous and I was really pleased to read the update.

          Reply
    6. Antilles

      I get wanting to cut costs, but why does it have to be at her expense?
      Presumably because there isn’t really another option. It’s actually quite difficult to both take good minutes AND be an active participant in the discussions. So it doesn’t make sense for OP or the board members to take the minutes personally. And if the company or department is relatively small, it’s possible that the bookkeeper really is the most viable option even though it isn’t exactly her job.
      If the bookkeeper firmly pushed back when you inquired again, then yes, you might decide to either risk irritating her beyond repair, finding a subpar alternative and/or not preparing minutes. But right now, if OP really is the best/only option, it’s worth a quick conversation to try to get more detail about exactly what the issue is and try to resolve it.

      Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            I think I’m just kind of pushing back against the idea that if anybody’s the option, it’s the bookkeeper. Taking minutes is pretty far outside that competency, as NotTheSecretary says below, and I think it reflects assumptions about office and admin work that I find a little unfair.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              My point, though, is that there’s a fairly good chance that the bookkeeper’s job is already an admin one; it’s common at small organizations for the job to be, say, half bookkeeping and half admin support (and advertised that way so no one is getting baited and switched).

              Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                Ok, I get your drift now, thanks for being patient….man, I feel like I’m missing the point a lot lately.

                Reply
        1. paul

          There may have been other people available, but not better people. We dont’ have actual admins here, and we kind of rotate note keeping duties for meetings. I’m pretty crappy at it (TBH, most of us are, but it’s far from a core competency for oru work).

          Reply
    7. NotTheSecretary

      I am a bookkeeper and I absolutely resent the amount of admin work that gets delegated to me in an effort to reduce the number of employees needed. It’s very, very hard to advance in my career when a lot of my resume is consumed with receptionist work and administrative tasks that fell to me when, for whatever reason, the admin or receptionist left. It’s a related skill set – attention to detail, document management, etc – but to me the key difference is the amount of face time that receptionists and admins have with clients and such. I like to be alone with my numbers and paper, answering a busy phone and minding a lobby are nightmares for me.

      Reply
      1. Koko

        A tip on the resume – you don’t have the write the admin stuff on there if you don’t want to keep doing it.

        My last job I was the marketing director slash office manager. I hated the office manager work. So when I was applying for marketing jobs I just listed my marketing duties and accomplishments and related skills. I didn’t want to be hired because I have experience processing vendor payments or whatever, any pure marketing job that I wanted wouldn’t be swayed by my admin experience and any job that would be swayed by my admin experience is because they would expect me to do admin work.

        Your resume isn’t an exhaustive documentation of your career. It’s a marketing document that highlights the most relevant and enticing parts of your background that qualify you for the role you’re submitting it for.

        Reply
    8. Karen

      I so, so agree with you on this.

      The “boss” wants to dump extra duties on this woman and not pay her anything more? I think she’s right to refuse to take on the task; besides, she didn’t apply for that job. That company was paying TWO employees, but now they’re too cheap to offer the bookkeeper something more to assume extra duties? That’s abusive.

      Reply
      1. TCO

        What if the organization really had more staff than it needed? OP isn’t giving the bookkeeper two full jobs; OP is asking the bookkeeper to spend (at most) a few hours a month on a new task. There’s no evidence to suggest that this will require overtime or will create an excessive workload.

        Because the organization has a board, it might be a nonprofit. Would you want a nonprofit to use its donor dollars inefficiently by paying too many employees who might not really be needed? It’s super, super normal in small workplaces to be flexible, take on occasional new duties, and step in to fill gaps. That’s just the culture, and it doesn’t automatically signify a big bad abusive employer.

        Reply
      2. Karen D

        The OP specifies that the bookkeeper has the free time to take on this job. Presumably it’s one small part of the duties of the employee whose position is not being filled.

        In an organization that is looking to cut back for budget reasons, being the employee who could take on extra duties because their current job isn’t consuming all of their paid-for time is Not a Good Thing. At the very least, it’s good to be thought of as working at capacity; even better, slightly above it; otherwise, with every round of cuts an under-producing position looks more ripe for consolidation.

        And it’s clear from the update that bookkeeper’s trepidation was over her ability to do the note-taking job well. Thus the happy ending.

        Reply
    9. Q

      I would quit over this. Not immediately, I’d be sure to line something else up first, but I absolutely would not want to have to take minutes in this situation. Besides the fact that I would find it super boring and probably do a bad job at it, I would also find it degrading to be ask to do an admin task that is not an integral part of my job.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s actually pretty degrading to admins to say their work is degrading, for what that’s worth.

        Regardless, this is a pretty outlier attitude. Certainly your prerogative, but it’s probably good to realize that it’s an outlier.

        Reply
        1. MillersSpring

          Most job descriptions include “and other duties as assigned” precisely so that managers can add other tasks or responsibilities. You don’t earn a raise every time your duties are augmented.

          This is not a degrading task or a degrading request. Being trusted with access to leaders and sensitive information is an honor.

          The OP might have felt that she didn’t have the writing or listening skills to do the task well. Nevertheless she still might have been the best available person.

          Reply
  3. Becky

    I have no idea if this is accurate–but it could be that she feels that being asked to take the minutes is akin to “hey, you’re a woman, why don’t you take notes”.

    Reply
      1. TCO

        Yes, if OP didn’t explain why this person was the best person for the job (due to her duties and skills, not her gender), it could help to do so.

        Reply
    1. Midge

      I was wondering that as well! I could see myself hesitating at a request like this and thinking, “hey I’m good at/want to be known for X, so why is my boss asking me to do highly visible administrative work Y that’s outside of my role and will shape how board members and other staff members perceive me?”

      Reply
    2. SarahKay

      I wondered about this, too. I remember being part of a new monthly meeting set up which would need minutes, and the facilitator asked me to do it. Out of a group of about ten people I was the only woman in the room. Luckily I was confident enough to push back, (and knew that my manger would support me in it if needed) and promptly said something like “Wow, you’re not seriously asking the only woman in the room to play at secretary are you?!?”
      Luckily the facilitator saw my point, and instantly said “No, of course not, we’ll do it on a rota, but would you mind going first?”.

      OP, Is your bookkeeper (rightly or wrongly) seeing this as the reason she was asked? Have you talked her through your reasons for choosing her – i.e. that she is trustworthy with sensitive information.

      And, finally, are you truly sure you didn’t pick her over other people because you see it as a “woman’s job”?

      Reply
    3. gladfe

      Yeah, this question is weird for me, because I’m normally happy to do anything that’s needed, but taking notes is one task I pretty much stonewall on, after I twice got stuck doing it for gender reasons. (I don’t want to derail by going into the whole story, but I had pretty solid evidence that’s what happened.)
      That doesn’t really change how the manager should approach it, but maybe be prepared to discuss the issue if that’s part of her hesitation.

      Reply
    4. LBK

      I think that would be more plausible if she were in a role where it wasn’t normal for admin duties to be attached; there’s plenty of places where the admin or office manager is also the bookkeeper, because the books are simple and don’t require a full-time employee to keep them. That’s not to say there’s no chance at all gender factored in, but this doesn’t get my hackles up the way that it would if, say, she were a senior developer and they passed over a more junior male employee to have her take the minutes. Same as if an admin is asked to do housekeeping/cleaning duties – yeah, that’s often a job dumped on women, but it is also a thing admins are normally expected to do.

      Reply
  4. Sara M

    She might also be very poor at note-taking. Some people just are. (I was “fired” as volunteer note-taker from a particular meeting because I kept forgetting to write anything down. I don’t know why, but I’m just horrible at it!)

    Reply
    1. Mimmy

      I feel the same way. I was Acting Secretary on a volunteer council, which largely involved taking and typing minutes. I did not feel like I was doing an effective job, and even had some errors on the last couple of Minutes. So I quit doing that function. If I were this bookkeeper, I too would have major reservations.

      Reply
  5. Doe-Eyed

    Ugh this could come from my boss. She’s always asking people to take on stuff and always seems baffled why they don’t want to do it when there’s never any raise, nothing ever gets removed, and it’s rarely helpful to your career. She wouldn’t listen to no, so now people come up with plausible excuses to play hot potato with her latest dreadful project.

    Reply
    1. WhirlwindMonk

      Yeah, it’s the no raise, no reduction of responsibilities that gets me here. I understand budget concerns for not being able to fully replace the person, but you can’t even offer a small raise to the person you’re asking to take on this responsibility?

      And I also really hate the “she has time” comment. The discussion has come up here more than once where just because someone doesn’t seem to be working at full steam at all times doesn’t mean you can milk more work out of them. This is especially true with salaried employees, who you are paying for a set of tasks, not a set of time. If you want to increase the amount of tasks that they’re responsible for, you really should increase their salary accordingly.

      Reply
      1. paul

        Taking minutes-as much as I hate doing it–is *generally* not a huge time suck, unless you’ve got tons and tons of meetings. That isn’t really the sort of thing that should necessitate a raise.

        Now if you’re sitting in on meetings 5-10 hours a week taking notes, and working OT to make up your core duties, that’s an issue, but an hour every couple of weeks?

        Reply
        1. Jessesgirl72

          Yeah. It takes me 45-60 minutes to type up the minutes for what is usually a 90 minute meeting.

          I was doing this once a month, when a typical board meeting would be once a quarter, but even once a month, an added hour of responsibilities is not unusual! Work tasks change.

          Reply
          1. Doe-Eyed

            It’s not necessarily that this one task is a time-suck, in this case it’s that the boss doesn’t seem to understand that even small tasks are eventual time sucks if you keep dumping them on people. Also unfortunately people start recognizing you as “the minute person” and you get dragged into other things. As a result of getting involved in one committee as the minute taker several years ago, I’m now on SIX standing committees. :|

            Reply
              1. Doe-Eyed

                I didn’t say it’s never a reason to assign work to someone, I pointed it out as a possible reason that the employee isn’t full-speed ahead of this task that is relatively straightforward and something of a low time commitment. There are invisible time commitments to nearly every task that managers can be somewhat oblivious to.

                Reply
            1. paul

              Sure but that’s jumping right to assuming a near-worst case scenario. It’s pretty typical for job duties to get reshuffled a bit, and immediately going to “this is the start of an avalanche of task” seems overkill here.

              You need someone to take notes, the book-keeper has skills that make her a good fit for this, so go for it.

              Reply
              1. Doe-Eyed

                Right, but the bookkeeper pushed back. I’m offering an alternatively explanation for why she wouldn’t just hop in and do a simple, straightforward task that should “only” take an hour every quarter (or something similar).

                Reply
          2. WhirlwindMonk

            If she’s not already attending those meetings, that’s an extra 2.5 hours, not just one. But when I made my comment, I didn’t consider that a board meeting would be once a quarter (never worked somewhere that had a “board”). 2.5 hours once a quarter is probably minimal enough that my complaints here aren’t relevant.

            Reply
            1. paul

              I have to caveat my statement: it does vary, and the OP doesn’t say how often/long they are. But IME with our local non profits quarterly is far and away the most common (though some do every other month).

              Reply
    2. Lily in NYC

      Yeah, I have mixed feelings. I’m the one everyone comes to when they need something, even it has NOTHING to do with my job. Yesterday, someone very junior from a completely different dept. asked me to schedule a bunch of meetings for her because “I’m so good at it”. Yeah, not gonna happen. Just 10 minutes ago, another person asked me to order catering for her meeting because their event planner is on maternity leave. Event planning is my least favorite thing to do and I never have to do it – I negotiated this when I was asked to transfer to the dept. where I work now. But of course now I’m expected to be a team player and do something that it was agreed I wouldn’t have to do, for a dept. I don’t work for, for a woman who is now going to take as much advantage of me as possible because that’s the way she rolls. The people from my former dept. just won’t accept the fact that I no longer work for them.

      Reply
        1. Lily in NYC

          I’m thinking liver-on-a-stick. (something my dad made up; he used to pretend we were going to have it for dinner)

          Reply
  6. Student

    It can be very difficult to fully participate in a meeting AND keep minutes – depending on the meeting. Your bookkeeper is presumably the person responsible for presenting a lot of financial information at these meetings – are you sure that this new duty won’t be too disruptive to that core financial responsibility?

    Are you sure you want the bookkeeper to be the one who goes around typing these up, confirming items, etc? Meeting minutes is an administrative duty that is usually allocated to someone whose input is not critical to the meeting and whose time is relatively cheap. It’s not usually a major “confidential” issue – everyone at the meeting knows what has been said, after all.

    Reply
    1. hbc

      It sounds like she’s not even at these meetings now–they’re talking about how she’s good with confidential information, which wouldn’t be a consideration if she was already getting that info. Also, bookkeepers are usually on the cheaper end of the accounting side, in my experience.

      I may be biased because we always have someone on our accounting team taking the minutes for things like this. There’s simply no job here that matches the task better.

      Reply
    2. Jessesgirl72

      Which is why I was the temporary (that lasted about 7 months…) minute taker for a board, but even though I don’t think there was anything lacking from me being a member and the minute taker, we were looking for a permanent replacement the whole time.

      It doesn’t sound like that was the book keeper’s objection, though.

      Reply
    3. TCO

      Meetings can absolutely be confidential outside of the board/attendees. Discretion can be important when the notetaker is talking with fellow employees, for instance.

      And even in small organizations, it would be common for someone higher than the bookkeeper to present any financial reports. The bookkeeper likely doesn’t attend, or if she does, she probably is only there to answer any complicated questions.

      Reply
    1. Mimmy

      I love this update. I was actually going to suggest a digital recorder or a smart pen. I used a smart pen for taking Minutes for one of my volunteer councils. It wasn’t perfect (the acoustics in the meeting room were horrible, and discussions often became long-winded, making it hard to tease out the important parts), but in the right situation, it can be very useful.

      Also, kudos to the OP. She states that there’s a difference between delegating and dictating – I appreciate that she recognizes open conversations about delegating duties. I wish more supervisors were like this OP.

      Reply
  7. Anne

    I’ve been asked to keep minutes before and I’m just NOT GOOD AT IT. I’m a pretty slow typist (despite writing for a living) meaning that I cannot type as fast as people speak, and I’m also not great with names. When I take minutes I spend the entire time desperately scrambling to take down the information while knowing I’m missing chunks of it anyway, then missing even more chunks of it because I’m still taking down the thing someone else said before, etc etc. It’s an hour (or however long) of fight-or-flight and the resulting minutes are not great.

    Reply
    1. Sabine the Very Mean

      My issue with ever being asked to take minutes for a meeting is that it often–for me!–has come with several old men grabbing me by my elbow, touching the small of my back, calling me sweetie and asking me to fetch coffee. I am a high-level contract manager who is the only woman on her team. It’s BS that they ONLY ask me to do it when secretary is out and it’s BS that I have to ask for protection from these creeps or risk losing my job for elbowing an old man in the gut for treating me like that.

      My issue with all this is that it sets up a precedent. I understand the whole bookkeeper is *some how* treated like a receptionist (I actually don’t–aren’t they usually less “people-people” and more “numbers-people”?) but this usually snowballs into having him or her start doing other receptionist-type tasks.

      Reply
  8. Thinking Outside the Boss

    This is probably my public sector bias coming through but if the bookkeeper’s job description is bookkeeping and you’re asking her to keep board minutes, which is a new task, then (1) you need to update her duty statement and (2) you need to pay her more. It sounds like you’re asking her for a favor. And employees shouldn’t do favors for their employers.

    I realize the budget doesn’t allow you to hire someone to take board minutes, but is there nothing in the budget to pay the bookkeeper more for doing non-bookkeeping duties? Not even a nominal sum like $1-$2 an hour? Given that most employees are paid for around 2,000 hours a year (including comp time, paid vacation, etc.), it wouldn’t take a lot to give the bookkeeper a little more in her paycheck.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s your public sector bias :)

      Board meetings are a few times a year. If this is a small organization (I’m assuming it is), it’s really normal for people to pick up new duties when a need arises without a pay adjustment each time.

      Reply
      1. Thinking Outside the Boss

        That helps! I used to work for a government board, and there was a monthly general meeting plus at least 8-10 subcommittee meetings a month, so taking minutes was a lot of work.

        Reply
        1. Lily in NYC

          Yup, that is much more in line with my board experience. We have three board meetings a month and a bunch of sub-committee meetings. We have a full-time paralegal who takes minutes.

          Reply
      2. ArtsNerd

        My organization’s bookkeeper does not take board meeting notes. However, she is also the office manager, de facto receptionist, event coordinator… and a half-time employee.

        SMALL ORGANIZATIONS. We do All The Things.

        Reply
    2. Julie Noted

      I’m in the public sector. We have junior data analysts take turns doing the minutes at working group meetings because our budget doesn’t allow for specialist administrative staff except for at the very senior levels – and those people are too busy to come along to every random technical working group. It’s just one of the things we all did, so I’m shocked by the fuss being kicked up in this thread.

      Reply
  9. Amber Rose

    This story had a happy ending, so here’s an example for all the people who think that that “do it because I say so” is a good idea: Two years ago I was given the accounts receivables and told to just suck it up despite my reservations. Our books are now in terrible shape, because I was terrible at that task.

    Employees may have valid reasons for thinking they might be bad at a task. Alison’s advice and the OP’s original way of dealing with this was spot on. Do you want the work done, or do you want it done properly?

    Reply
  10. Rebecca

    From Alison’s answer “or she might know from experience that she can’t write quickly enough to be a reliable note-taker”. I think you need to ask this question. In my case, I’ve been asked to take notes, and while I can type on a computer, handwriting anything for any length of time, past addressing an envelope or maybe writing a few checks, is very painful for me. I’m getting arthritis in my hands, and in my predominant hand especially. I don’t like explaining that over and over, but I will if I have to, because note taking, especially for an hour meeting, would be physically impossible for me.

    Reply
    1. Chinook

      I have seen a few people mention poor/slow handwriting being a reason to not take minutes well. I feel the need to point out that doing up the minutes on a laptop has saved me and the group secretary I was president with a ton of time. And, because laptop keyboards can be so tiny, I have even been known to take my desktop keyboard and plug it into my laptop to take those notes because I can touch type like crazy on it.

      Sure, there is still a requirement to review my notes before submitting them, but I no longer need to “type them up” after the meeting and, if the agenda is sent around electronically ahead of time, a lot of my work is just filling in blanks in the agenda to show results of discussions. My volunteer group secretary got to a point of being able to post the minutes to our dropbox the same night even when she was suffering from MS flares in her hands.

      Reply
        1. fposte

          I think that the people who are bridling in hauteur that a bookkeeper is being asked to do something as menial as note-taking are going to feel the same way about a project manager, and I still think you’re postulating a bigger office than it sounds like the OP has. The description suggests that there’s the board and the OP; then there’s only the bookkeeper, who does great work and ordinarily hasn’t attended board meetings. The OP and the board can’t take notes, and it’s ridiculous to bring in a temp to take notes when they don’t know anybody and you have somebody capable of doing it.

          Reply
        2. LBK

          I don’t see how going out of your way to find the lowest-level male employee you can is less sexist if there’s female employees in even lower-level roles and/or roles that are more naturally suited to doing admin work. That just seems like replicating the exact same problematic behavior with the genders reversed.

          Reply
  11. LiveAndLetDie

    I had a similar situation at work maybe half a year ago (the employee in question has since left the company, but it reminded me) — I had a data entry clerk who found one of the standard data entry tasks that she and all her peers had to do odious, and repeatedly complained to me ‘how come I have to do this one? Can’t [peer] do it instead?’ and would actually peek at her peers’ computer monitors to see if they were doing a different task and then ask me if she could swap to get away from the task. In that situation I opted not to allow it; every member did this task at one point or another out of necessity (it was a high volume task, often all-hands-on-deck), and this employee’s only complaint about it was genuinely ‘I just hate doing it.’

    It’s not QUITE the same as OP’s letter, as this task was something outside the person’s original job description, but the letter reminded me! I honestly think it shouldn’t be the end of the world for the employee to pick up taking minutes if it’s not somehow a bad fit professionally. We all have to do things we don’t enjoy doing from time to time to get the job done.

    Reply
  12. AndersonDarling

    I had been an admin for years, but I was really nervous when I was asked to take minutes the first time. I legitimately didn’t want to do it because I was sure I would mess up. Then the executive assistant walked me through how she did it, and explained that the scribe sends the notes to the members afterwards and it is their responsibility to let you know if anything needs changing.
    I was still nervous, but after taking notes a few times, I was fine with it. I just needed some direction and support.

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      People are so nervous about it and reluctant to take it on, that in desperation, I finally volunteered to give up the last year of my term on the (volunteer) board if someone was more willing to take that seat than to take on the minute taking.

      Coincidentally, it was one of the bookkeepers who came forward to take on the minute taking.

      Reply
  13. Julia

    I am a numbers person. I work as an economist not a bookkeeper, but there is no way I could take notes.

    I am dyslexic and its affects only my verbal skills. I cannot spell to save my life. I can concentrate and take notes. I would have a nervous breakdown if I was expected to write published minutes.

    I personally would quit my job than be forced to publish notes. I would quit on the spot. (I have never done that before but minutes would definitely be a reason) I have 6 month emergency fund in place.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Ostensibly if you had a disability (which you indicate you do) that would make this task impossible or extremely difficult, a reasonable boss would understand that. I don’t think that was the situation for OP’s bookkeeper.

      Reply
  14. Stellaaaaa

    I see a few different issues happening here. The first is the gender problem that lots of people have already described. The other is that it can be really bad for morale when a job is eliminated, the duties are distributed among the remaining staff, and the lack of raises is presented as a “budget issue.” That’s a problem for the owner to deal with, and it shouldn’t be approached as if the employee needs to do her company a solid. She’s not someone you dump tasks on so you can save money and avoid hiring and paying someone new.

    It’s possible that the bookkeeper’s given reason isn’t the truth. It’s easier to say, “I think I’d be bad at it,” than to confront your boss with, “Are you only asking me to do this because I’m a woman?” or, “I don’t want to derail my trajectory within the company by being seen as a note-taker.” I think it’s a little curious that OP is insisting that this one person take on this task. Why not ask other people to do it? Maybe someone would volunteer.

    Reply
      1. Stellaaaaa

        Doesn’t mean that the employee doesn’t have her own concerns about the optics of taking the role, and I don’t think that bookkeeping is automatically the role best suited for doing this task.

        How come you responded to me along these lines? Many other people brought up the gender angle before I did. I was agreeing with them.

        Reply
    1. gladfe

      I don’t know if I’d go that far. I was one of the people who called out the gender thing above, but I don’t see the OP’s reasoning as suspicious. It seems pretty plausible that she’s the only person who could pick up this task. Depending on how small the organization is and what it does, it wouldn’t be at all unusual if the bookkeeper is the only other person in the office full time, for example. The fact that she’s known to be trustworthy with sensitive info is a legit reason, too. I just think the OP’s reasons and her objections need to be discussed openly, so she doesn’t feel taken advantage of. (And from the update, it sounds like that’s exactly what the OP did.)

      Reply
      1. Gadfly

        I think it is fair to believe you can both have a situation be due to chance or even the best possible choice while thinking it is ALSO problematic in another sense for duplicting stereotypes that can be harmful to an employee.

        Reply
  15. Dawn88

    “She seemed very nervous about it because she’s never taken minutes before.”

    Of course she’s nervous…a Bookkeeper is not an Admin, so she’s afraid she may blow it. Taking notes usually means typing them up afterward, and she probably doesn’t do much typing and formatting if she’s a “traditional” Bookkeeper. As someone else said, “A different skill set.”

    My job is 40% accounting and 60% administrative/contracts. Taking notes to me is second nature, but doing journal entries and reconcilations are not. I struggle for several days to get it all to balance!

    To a full-charge Bookkeeper, typing and formatting meeting notes would be a major chore, and may take her a few days of struggling. I’d emphasize the notes must be confidential, one trait any accounting person fully understands. Do you expect her notes to be spotless, or have an example to show her exactly what is expected?

    Admins are used to dealing with demanding corporate managers, Bookkeepers are not. Bookkeepers don’t make meeting coffee or order catering either. You could emphasize the notes don’t have to be perfect, she only needs to jot down the key issues…that you need someone with “proven confidentiality” and you “need her to help you on this.” Bottom line, part of a job is doing tasks you aren’t that thrilled with.

    Reply
    1. SarahTheEntwife

      Basic typing and word-processing skills are the sort of thing that I would expect to be in pretty much anyone’s skillset these days unless specifically told otherwise. If she doesn’t have those skills and they aren’t required of her usual bookkeeping job, by all means she should speak up, but it seems a bit odd to assume that’s something she would have a problem with.

      Reply
  16. Hannah

    I’m really, really REALLY bad at taking notes. Horrible. Back in late elementary/early middle school, when note-taking was being introduced and taught, I really really struggled. I had to go to extra tutoring. Our notes were graded, and I did poorly.

    Fortunately for me, I’m great at listening, so I was able to get through the rest of my schooling (after our notes stopped being graded) by attending and engaging in classes and just abandoning taking notes altogether.

    Early in my professional career, I was asked to take on a new project, and my boss met with me and told me to take notes about the project because I would then be working on it independently. I made a few notes for show, but hardly any, and when I turned in the project, my boss told me he was stunned in its attention to detail and thoroughness, because he had noticed that I’d hardly taken notes and was worried about the outcome.

    So, had I been judged on those notes instead of the outcome of the project, my job performance would have suffered a lot! What I’m saying is that great employees may have weaknesses that they didn’t expect to affect their jobs, and being asked to do a task that you didn’t expect and know you’re bad at can be really demoralizing because it may be averaged into your general job performance. I completely sympathize with this bookkeeper, and I’m sure I too would push back if I were asked to be the one to take notes, even though generally I’m happy to take on new responsibilities.

    Reply
  17. De Minimis

    At the time, I thought it was a borderline task. I think it just barely falls under “other duties as assigned,” mainly because it’s a smaller organization, and it’s not the elaborate type of note-taking that might be required elsewhere.

    There is a real tendency though to lump in really disparate tasks in some of these jobs, under the guise of “it’s all office work.” At my job before this one they had me fill in with medical billing, because “you’re an accountant and this involves money, so it should be the same thing.” At my current job accounting is merged with HR, and it’s not that great an alignment in my opinion, but the job was marketed that way so it’s just something I’ve agreed to live with.

    Reply
  18. Fishcakes

    Minute taking is becoming a lost skill. A *lot* of people are terrified of taking minutes, and often the chair of the meeting ends up doing it. I’ve been hired for jobs purely because a manager was tired of taking minutes at their own meetings and former employees had refused to do it. It’s really not as awful as it seems.

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      From a lot of the comments here, I’d say the biggest problem is the mistaken perception that the minute taker is supposed to record every word said.

      That’s a stenographer, not a minute taker! ;) That job is really highly skilled and specialized.

      The skill part of minute taking is knowing what not to include, more than what to include, and what I refer to as “bland summation” of sometimes contentious arguments.

      Reply
      1. Delta Delta

        Yes. “Bland summation” turns screaming arguments into “Mr. Jones re-raised the issue of teapot spout efficiency. Ms. Walker opined that the spouts are operating at 80%, which is above industry standards.” The original draft might’ve said, “Ms. Walker threw a cup of earl gray at Mr. Jones when he started in on efficiency for the 27th meeting in a row.”

        Reply
        1. Jessesgirl72

          Exactly.

          A 20 minute rant turns into “Fergus expressed concern about the quality of our current teapot spouts”

          I’ve been known to send a couple board members into fits of giggles when I send out the minutes to proof before we publish them. I can understand that not everyone would be able to do it, or find it the fun challenge that I do. But the comments here complaining about the task and what it entails don’t really match what the task is!

          Reply
        2. Fishcakes

          I’ve never had to get into that level of detail! “The committee had a vigorous discussion about the efficiency of teapot spouts. It was decided that…”

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yup. The Board could talk for 20 minutes about who-knows-what, and the minute notation would be: “Cordelia raised the issue of on-boarding manatees. Rufus moved to adopt the manatee on-boarding plan, Naima seconded. The motion carried unanimously.”

        Reply
    2. Chinook

      “A *lot* of people are terrified of taking minutes, and often the chair of the meeting ends up doing it. ”

      My boss talked about taking minutes while she was chairing a committee and I talked her into handing that task off to others there because there is no way you can do both effectively. I pointed out to her the time gap that happens in both roles (secretary is 5 minutes behind, chair is 5 minutes ahead) and told her, from personal experience (I would do it when my council’s secretary was unable to type), that you will get lost and forget to write something down.

      Every time I see someone offering to do both, I want to scream STOP – NO! because it will just end badly.

      Reply
  19. Delta Delta

    Taking good minutes is a skill, especially if the meeting is required to follow Robert’s Rules or other formal rule procedure (is there another? I’m not sure). I was once at a job where the admin person assigned to take minutes did such a terrible job that he was asked to stop. I am on a board where the minutes duty rotates between different admin staff of the organization. They all do a nice job because nobody in the organization feels burdened by doing minutes twice a year.

    Reply
    1. paul

      For our small department we just rotate that between all of us. No one feels over burdened but no one takes good notes either because no one gets a lot of practice in it, and it’s not remotely a core competency (client interaction notes are way different than taking notes of a meeting in progress).

      Reply
  20. paul

    I–and most of my coworkers–are absolutely awful at taking minutes, but I’m kind of shocked at the people saying this should come with a bump in pay. They’re talking about taking minutes for board meetings. If they’re a small organization, those meetings are probably 1-2 hours and take place anywhere between monthly and quarterly (that’s always been my experience anyway).

    Absent information not presented here (say, if the bookeeper has had to take on 1/2 the person’s duties as well as this or something, or they have weekly board meetings that run hours) that just doesn’t rise to the level of having to increase someone’s pay.

    Reply
    1. Stellaaaaa

      I think people are talking about giving the employee a raise because OP has been open about giving this duty to the bookkeeper as a money-saving effort. It sucks to have to do a task you don’t want to do in order to save someone else a lot of money when they’re not giving you any of it. Like, what are the board and the OP going to do with this saved money? Certainly not give it to the person who is actually doing the work that is saving them a whole salary’s worth of money.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        This isn’t a whole salary. It’s a few hours, a few times a year.

        Things they could be doing with the money = buying Fergus the new computer he desperately needs to do his work, not laying off Lucinda, getting a better health insurance plan, finally getting a cleaning service, fixing the website, buying more pens, who knows. It’s reasonable to add new tasks to people’s plates when there’s room for it.

        Reply
        1. Stellaaaaa

          I just think that framing it as “Jane, you’re going to do this and save us money” isn’t the best way to present it. It’s a line I’ve heard a lot in my history with small businesses – there’s a lot of rah-rah “do it for the team” stuff happening. The company asks for a lot of buy-in and “favors” from staff but never seems to pay it back.

          It’s just something I’m picking up in the language of the letter. You can ask an employee to do this new task, sure. But I question offering it up as “This is how we’re going to be cutting corners and saving money.” It doesn’t make employees feel great.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I don’t think we have any indication that that’s how it was framed to the employee, though, and I don’t even see it in the letter where you do. Between this and the subsequent letter it seems clear that the employee’s concern was competence.

            Sometimes it’s okay for bosses to ask people to do more.

            Reply
      2. Jessesgirl72

        But it’s highly doubtful the entire breadth of that person’s job was given to the bookkeeper. Yes, it often is perfectly reasonable and feasible to spread a job out over several positions, none of which adds enough extra work to any one person to justify raising anyone’s pay. It’s also just as feasible that the bookkeeper has less work to do than when she was originally hired- that happens all the time too- and the adjustment is just a redistribution.

        Reply
        1. De Minimis

          I think the big reason involved dealing with confidential information. Bookkeepers often have to work with and safeguard confidential information as part of their job, so it does seem reasonable that they’d be a good choice to document board meetings. Other staff might not be appropriate for the task. It sounded like that was how this was framed to the employee instead of a cost savings measure.

          Reply
      3. paul

        I spent about 8 hours the last three days helping re-cable our routers after we had to swap them out.
        It’s not remotely in my job description but I’m technologically literate, so when the IT guy says to run cable A to port B I know what he means.

        I wouldn’t dream of asking for a bonus over this. I did it, it mostly worked (and they’re not sure why we’re having phone problems since we didn’t touch any POTS lines but AT&T is looking at that now) and I’m well on track to being caught up.

        The task the OP is asking about is a task that’ll happen (probably) between 2 and 6 times a year, and *shouldn’t* take more than maybe 4 hours each time.

        Now if they’re dumping a ton of the ex-admin’s duties on the employee, that’s a different story, but if there’s a few things they did that get distributed between everyone else? That doesn’t always warrant a rise/bonus.

        Reply
    2. LaurenB

      I know that taking minutes is not usually a skill that people particularly want to gain, but setting a precedent that any increase in tasks equals a pay raise can result in people never being able to expand their skillset, since *everything* is seen as being above their pay grade. Being in a public sector environment a bit like that (although we could certainly be asked to take on infrequent additional tasks like board meeting minutes), it’s a bit depressing as well to never be able to advance or just learn new skills.

      Reply
  21. nnn

    My first thought on reading this: I can’t take notes. I literally can’t. If I start writing stuff down (even if I’m typing), I miss what’s being said while I write stuff down. My brain simply doesn’t do it. And while I know that minutes aren’t transcripts, I’m also really bad at determining what needs to be written down.

    When I was in school, I quickly learned not to take notes in class at all. If I listened attentively without taking notes, I’d get a B. If I asked questions until the content was glaringly obvious to me (whether this was feasible depended on classroom variables), I’d get an A. But if I attempted to take notes and study from them, I’d end up with a notebook full of sporadic irrelevance, and get a C.

    So yeah, if I were asked to take minutes, I would definitely push back, because life experience has taught me that I can’t do it remotely well enough.

    Reply
  22. Amy the Rev

    One of the orgs I tempted at asked me to take minutes at their board meeting- I told them that I’d be glad to do it, but that I had never taken minutes before…they ended up hiring a second temp just for the day to take minutes at the meeting, and it freed me up to run the slides. Might be easier budget-wise since you could still leave the position vacant.

    Reply
  23. Statler von Waldorf

    I’m going to disagree with Alison on this one. I’m a guy who has been a bookkeeper for small to mid-sized companies for almost 20 years now. It’s hard to ignore that in that nearly 20 years, I’ve never been asked to keep minutes, while my female colleagues have been asked repeatedly. There are a lot of other admin jobs that I also don’t get asked to do, (cleaning the office, making coffee) but they do get asked to do, because my work is seen as more important than the same work performed by my female colleagues. I regularly advice my female colleagues to push back on admin work, and now that I have people working under me, I push back on their behalf. In the long term, doing admin work absolutely affects how they are seen and their potential for career advancement.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think there are situations where what you’re saying would make sense, and situations where it could lead people astray. No argument that this is the kind of task that women are disproportionately asked to do–however, if you’re the only non-exec at the office, pushing back on taking meeting notes because you’re female suggests a prioritization of a tangential political point over getting stuff done.

      I commend you for noticing that you’re on the beneficial side of an unequal situation, by the way; a lot of people only notice when they’re disadvantaged.

      Reply
      1. Statler von Waldorf

        I agree where there are situations where my advice may not be appropriate, but in my personal experience, it is far more commonly about sexism than being about pure business reasons. My sample size is fairly small though, so I am not going to insist that my experiences are universal.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          And in general I think the “Be mindful” reminders are good–it’s the ones that insist you can’t ever ask the bookkeeper to take the minutes that I think are a problem.

          Reply
  24. GreenYogurt

    I am not the right person to take notes. I can’t figure out what’s important to write down and I have so much trouble writing (learning disabilities that I don’t disclose at work) that it takes me a long time to write anything someone dictates. I am SLIGHTLY faster typing, but still don’t know what to write down. I’d need everyone to tell me “Green, write this….”.

    Reply
  25. Kvothe

    Sometimes keeping minutes of meeting are a bit of a foot in the door though. I’m an engineer and I was asked to attend the weekly PM meeting initially to record minutes, eventually the need for detailed minutes of those meetings were no longer needed as the format had changed but my bosses kept me on the invite list and now they’re transitioning me to a PM role (which is step up in how my company is structured). So being asked to take minutes is not always a bad thing!

    Reply
  26. Rosamond

    The one time in my career that I felt I was subjected to blatantly sexist treatment was when a committee chair said the department admin was out sick, then looked at me and said, “Rosamond, you seem like you’d be a good minute-taker!” Yes, I was the only woman in the room, and also the only person under about age 50. I said, “Oh no, I’m a terrible note-taker!” and then fortunately a male colleague said, “Hey, I brought my laptop, I can do it.”

    Otherwise, these “bookkeepers should never be asked to do something as lowly as minute-taking” comments are killing me. I’m a department manager and I take minutes sometimes. There’s only one meeting I regularly attend that has an admin person permanently assigned as minute-taker. Otherwise, we rotate, or the meeting chair does it. It’s not easy! But it’s required and important. People would think I’d gone insane if I tried to get one of our very overworked admins to come to a meeting to take minutes for us.

    Reply
  27. Lisa

    Bookkeeping is Math. Minutes are English. Sure, some people are great at both but they’re different subject matters and asking a Math person to do English is likely to result in some hesitancy.

    Reply
    1. De Minimis

      I can do both, but I can’t write all that legibly [to where sometimes I can’t even read my own writing, especially if I”m trying to quickly take notes.]

      I had to do a similar task once, I had to attend a day long meeting for my boss and summarize the various presentations. I typed up my notes afterward–I think it went okay because everyone had Powerpoint slides.

      At my job, we have one employee whose duties include working with the Board and taking minutes at the meetings [think ours are only twice a year.]

      Reply
  28. introvert

    I have ADD that is only somewhat minimized by medication and decades of honing my coping mechanisms. For the record, I am a woman, almost 40, diagnosed on the younger end of my teens in the early 1990s when doctors started realizing there were different types and you didn’t have to be a hyperactive boy with behavior issues to suffer tremendously from severe ADD. I am a moderately successful professional in a role that for the most part utilizes the skill set I do have and I’m not responsible for many tasks I’m be terrible at. If I was asked to add note taking to my role, I’d have to decline.

    I’m the worst note taker in the universe. If you had me take notes at 100 one-hour meetings, I’m telling you with certainty that all 100 sets of notes would be in organized, perfect outline format, intensely detailed (to the point of verbatim quotes) for the first 20 minutes of the meeting and then they’d trail off into 40 minutes of notes like:

    *convo about budget updates; check w/ bill for more info after mtg
    *didn’t catch comment about office move, ask someone to clarify
    *something about event in june?
    *hopefully someone can share the ppt file so i can grab notes from there
    *if not see if anyone else took notes and will let me borrow
    *fuck i can’t do this anymore
    *when is meeting going to be over?
    *not even trying anymore, doodle of a cat with long whiskers
    *i’m going to get fired
    *maybe that’s for the best, i’m clearly not cut out for this job. or any job. why am i so dumb? shit i can’t get fired, no one else would even hire me.
    *next meeting on tuesday at 2, do better next time. STAY FOCUSED, IDIOT! UGH you are SO STUPID. PAY ATTENTION NEXT TIME.

    I’m extremely hard on myself when it comes to my ADD. I HATE failing and ADD makes me feel like a failure. I’ve finally realized at this point in my life and career that there are certain things I’m going to be great at and there are other things I’m not going to be good at and will struggle at no matter how hard I try. And in my professional life, I have some control over the work I do and I don’t need to set myself up for those awful feelings of failure by continuously doing things that I’m not personally able to do. It’s hard to hate yourself and think you’re stupid and useless because you can’t do something as easy as PAY ATTENTION or FOCUS or JUST BE ON TIME FOR ONCE or STOP LOSING EVERY IMPORTANT PIECE OF PAPER IN YOUR POSSESSION. (things that have been yelled at me my entire life by people who love me but are frustrated by my “flighty, spacey, careless, spazzy” behavior.) It’s much easier to say, “no, I’m not very good at taking notes and would prefer to focus on X” and hope that you’re in an environment where that kind of thing is accepted/possible. I can pay attention to my own work for an 8-10 hour work day, but I can’t keep up with an hour of multiple people talking out loud for 60 minutes without losing my attention for significant portions of the conversation. It’s just me, I can’t help it.

    I realize maybe this is a one-off, something that most people can’t relate to, but wanted to offer a perspective. I’m guessing this is NOT the problem of the bookkeeper in the letter, but it could be! Maybe she’s awesome with numbers on paper but cannot for the life of her pay attention when people are talking around her and she’s not actively engaged in the conversation herself.

    Reply
    1. nnn

      Your excellent description gave me an idea that might work in some cases where meetings don’t have a skilled notetaker (not necessarily in your case, just posting here because this is where I got the idea):

      Split notetaking duties among meeting attendees.

      Everyone is responsible for notes for a specific segment of the meeting, ideally one where they don’t have to speak or contribute as much. Then they combine them at the end.

      That way they aren’t dependent on any one person’s competence or lack thereof, everyone gets a chance to contribute to the meeting without being bogged down by notetaking, and meeting participants would have more empathy for the notetaker, perhaps creating an environment where it’s feasible to say “Hold on a second, I have to catch up.”

      Actually, this could also work in classrooms. Groups of classmates could team up and each be responsible for taking notes for a designated portion of the lecture, then spend the rest listening and understanding and asking questions. Then they could pool their notes at the end and everyone could get as much as possible from the class.

      Reply
  29. Amy

    Talk to her about this. Take the time to really listen to her concerns, and try to understand where she’s coming from. Then explain why you think she’s the best person to do it and address the concerns she’s brought up. (This conversation will look really different depending on whether she’s thinking “I’m really bad at taking notes and am afraid of making a fool of myself” vs. “This sounds like Bob’s job, are they just asking me because I’m a woman” vs. “I would be fine doing this but I don’t have time to devote a couple hours to a board meeting that week”.)

    Best case scenario, you’ll be able to address her concerns and she’ll be fine with doing this. But at the very least, even if you end up having to insist, she’ll hear that you value her input and are trying to balance her needs with the needs of the company. And that’s a really valuable thing to have in a manager.

    Reply
  30. Robin B

    Where I work the board has the positions of President, VP, Treasurer and Secretary. The Secretary takes the minutes, no other help needed.

    Reply
  31. PersistentCat

    Oh man, I am that bookkeeper. I hate, loathe, terribly dislike doing minutes, and I’m always asked to do them. Because I planned the meeting? Because I’m the youngest? Because I’m the quickest typist? Hopefully not because I’m the only woman in the room. No idea, but what I do know is my ADHD means nope, you do not want me to take minutes! Yes, I’m taking my own personal notes, but that is not the same as minutes! I always miss critical things, and no one double checks them until it’s months later!

    Reply
  32. Mary Dempster

    WOW do a lot of people on here wear the “Not MY Job!” hats! That’s pretty embarrassing. I work at a company of 20 full time, year round people, and I have done everything from sewing pillows to interior design work to cooking for the company Thanksgiving party.

    High horses, and a lot of them.

    Reply
    1. Karen

      I’ve taken on additional responsibilities to the point of having it make me sick, and never — NEVER — has there been recognition for the extra effort. At one place I was literally doing my old job plus my new job; their attitude was “Well, you used to do that job, so you can fill in when X is out of the office. And X was always out of the office on deadlines.”

      It’s not being on a high horse to recognize that a situation CAN get out of control, and in fact, it’s smart to consider it up front and discuss options with management before it happens.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        There’s a difference between pitching when needed and having so many things added to your job to the point where you aren’t even doing your regular job anymore. And in some cases, it can damage your career.

        Reply
    2. SenatorMeathooks

      It’s one thing to pitch in around the office and help with things you don’t normally do when things are short notice or an emergency. For instance I work in an industry that requires some travel. However my particular position does not require travel. I was more than willing to help out a couple of times and fly somewhere and do the task that was needed. But I did not sign up to take that job to travel a lot. Once the bookkeeper takes meeting minutes as a permanent part of her job she’s no longer the bookkeeper. She’s the admin, and that’s not only what she didn’t sign up for but clearly isn’t good at or at least confident enough to do. Why would a boss want an employee to permanently do a task they’re not good at? At the very least offer this employee some formal professional training in the task if you want to be reasonable about having her do it.

      Reply
    3. Mr. Ed

      High horse or self defense from years of being asked to do more with less, with no long term reward or end in sight usually only to be teamed out repeatedly for doing a bad job on something you weren’t hired for and didn’t want to do in the first place?

      Reply
  33. SenatorMeathooks

    Offer her appropriate professional training in the task and she’ll probably feel more confident.

    Reply
  34. Cheshire Cat

    I realize that I’m posting late, but maybe someone will see it. What do you do when it’s the opposite situation?

    My supervisor told me at our last regular meeting that I’m “valuable,” but since then he keeps taking away some of my responsibilities and reassigning them. In theory, this is because the company PTB have decreed that everyone has to be cross-trained on doing everyone else’s job. (Two years ago, the goal was “developing deep expertise;” now it’s “decentralizing knowledge.” Can I just say how much I dislike trends for the sake of trends?)

    In practice, what happens is that my boss thinks something is “cool” and wants to try it, so he reassigns it to himself. Unfortunately, these are my favorite parts of my job.

    There are some tasks that I do that require special certifications, and I’ve already pushed back when Boss wanted to try them. How much can I push back on the rest?

    Example: if I were a software engineer with 30 years’ experience, my boss has ten years’ experience, and now he wants to take over a project that I proposed (& have been looking forward to) that has finally been approved.

    Reply
  35. Mokey

    I would not even take a job that required me to do minutes. I hate abhor detest having to do minutes. I was the admin in my last job and ended up having to take minutes for a couple of committee meetings. The problem is that I am terrible at taking notes in general but especially where I am not totally proficient in the topic being discussed. Having to sit through long ass meetings while people ramble on is annoying enough. Having to relive it through writing minutes was just awful. They would take me hours to get through. It was not the best use of my time or skill set.

    I was also the only woman in my department and I resented having to do them. It really made my job even more stressful than it already was. Admins are expected to juggle a lot of balls and basically remember things for other people. Some people are good at it and I am not. I do not blame this woman for saying no. I wish I had done it.

    Reply
  36. Rhey

    No, I had to take minutes and it can be damn hard and time consuming (I had to edit them so everyone could read them later) and frankly it’s not a job everyone can just do. You have to type fast, not get lost in the conversation, know everyone’s names and sometimes random things they are referencing. She absolutely can say no to this and they can hire someone to do the job properly. I sense this company has at least 5 other employees doing jobs they shouldn’t be doing who would be happy to have an actual secretary take over.

    Reply
    1. Rhey

      (I see this story had a happy ending but my reply is about whether or not the employee has to take the job. I say nay. :D )

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS