I’m stuck in an Airbnb with colleagues, assistants and office care-taking, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I stop the care-taking I do for the office?

I am a career executive assistant, and in my latest job I’m wondering if some of my actions read as “old” or “superfluous” or “inappropriate.”

Most days, I’m first into our small office — I turn on the lights, close any windows that have been left open, fill the coffee machine, fill the copier, etc. It’s just part of what I’ve always done as an assistant.

During the day, I’ll wipe up spills in the kitchen, wash dishes left in the sink, distribute the mail/packages — again, I think it’s part of being a good assistant. But since no one comments on it (positively or negatively), I wonder if a) it’s not as important as I think and b) it comes across as being the Office Mommy (I am a bit older than the office demographic). Should I just stick to the my usual duties and stop my care-taking?

These are pretty standard assistant responsibilities, so unless there’s another assistant who it would more naturally fall to, it makes sense that you’re doing it. You shouldn’t stop doing it just because people don’t comment on it (any more than anyone else should stop doing a job duty if no one comments on it).

Because these particular duties look so much like care-taking, it can be easy to feel like people should express more appreciation for them. In the rest of your life, this is stuff that you’d probably expect to get more appreciation for doing for someone else! But if it’s part of the job, you shouldn’t read anything into the lack of comments on it, just like you wouldn’t read anything into a lack of comments about you paying the bills on time or answering the phones pleasantly. (Of course, you should expect a reasonable amount of appreciation from your boss, no matter what your tasks are. But you wouldn’t generally look to your coworkers to give you that.)

Now, if these things aren’t actually your responsibilities and you’re doing them out of the goodness of your heart, that’s different. But you’d want to talk to your boss about that in order to make sure that’s the case, because there’s a decent chance that it will turn out that it is indeed part of the job.

2. I’m stuck in an Airbnb with colleagues

I resigned from my job to start on a different career, and gave a month’s notice in order to support a work event during my last week and not leave them in the lurch.

They decided to rent Airbnbs for lodging for this event, stating that we would all have our own rooms, and we just had to say if we agreed to this kind of shared living space or not. And if you didn’t, they’d get you a hotel room.

I arrive tonight, a bit later than everybody else due to my schedule, and find that I’m now in an open air loft with one coworker sleeping in the main room below me, and another in a room adjacent to my loft with a door that closes. So basically I’m always sharing this open air space with one colleague, and the other can close her door but will always be walking through my room to get anywhere in the house. I was originally in the other house, where each room has its own door that closes and such, but they told me this morning that I’d be in this other house – never explaining that I wouldn’t even have my own space.

I know they couldn’t have necessarily known that this would be the set-up … but I’m feeling super uncomfortable and frustrated. I think it’s a reasonable expectation that I would have a room with a door that closes. And I don’t know if I can make the case to get some other rooming situation, since this is literally my last week on the job. (Also I work in marketing for tech companies… this is not normal for our industry.)

Oh my goodness, say something ASAP! Say this: “I ended up in an open air loft without the privacy of a room for a door. I’m not comfortable with this, so I’d like to move to a hotel for the remaining nights.”

If they give you any crap about it, remind them that you gave extra notice as a favor in order not to leave them in the lurch.

3. I’m annoyed that my new manager asked about my professional goals

My new supervisor just started one week ago. She has emailed the staff with several questions in hopes of getting to know each of us a little bit better. I am having a hard time answering her last question, “What are your future career or employment goals?” I have worked for this healthcare organization for 14 years unwavering. This will be our fourth supervisor in the years I have been here.

I don’t feel it’s appropriate that she is asking this question at all. Am I just taking it offensively? How do I answer that it’s none of her business, in a good way?

That’s a pretty normal question for a manager to ask. She’s asking because she wants to get a better understanding of you and your professional goals, because good managers look for ways to help people move toward those goals when they can.

Telling her that it’s none of her business will come across as weirdly adversarial, so don’t do that. That said, you don’t have to give her a real answer if you don’t want to. It’s fine to say something vague like “I”m really happy with what I’m doing now and just want to continue to get better and better at it.” But if you have goals that the company might be able to help you work toward, it could be to your advantage to share those.

4. Staff members who are distracted by the computer when customers need them

I manage a customer service desk where staff must use computers on the desk to assist customers. It’s been a long-standing practice that staff can use the internet (including social media) as long as it’s in an appropriate manner when they’re on the desk.

We have a few staff (old and new) who don’t pay attention as well when they’re using the computer for personal use. Customers line up and staff call them up to the desk to be assisted. For the most, part customers are acknowledged immediately by staff (we have two to three people on the desk at a time), but sometimes there’s a pause while a staff member finishes up what they’re doing on the computer instead of stopping their personal Internet use immediately to assist.

I don’t want this to become a morale issue for those who are more attentive. At a few staff meetings, I’ve reminded everyone to look alive on the desk and alternate assisting customers, but the issue persists. The office supervisor (I am the manager but she handles the day-to-day operations) has addressed it one-on-one with those who continue to be oblivious when on the desk when she sees it. I know customer service is taxing, but the customers and the work should come first. I’ve been in their position before, and even when I used the PC for personal use, I made sure to stop what I was doing right away,

We can’t cut off the Internet access on the PCs (we need it for some services and stations are shared, not individually assigned). I believe that would be an unfair practice anyways to those who just check email/social media periodically or read articles and keep their eyes open to assist customers. The PCs aren’t placed in a way where it’s difficult to see when someone’s in line, and we’ve put the stanchion in a position that makes it easier for everyone to see if a customer steps up. Are there any other steps/solutions that may help us with this issue?

The supervisor needs to speak one-on-one again with the people who are still doing it, clearly describe what they’re doing that needs to change, warn them about consequences if it doesn’t, and then watch to see if it continues. If it does continue, the most logical consequence is to tell those people that they’re no longer going to be able to use the computers for personal stuff. There’s no reason that you have allow it for everyone or revoke it for everyone; allow it for those who handle it responsibly, and stop allowing it for those who don’t. And then you’d handle that like any other performance requirement — meaning that if people continue to violate the rules, you’d treat it with escalating seriousness.

5. Attending a family member’s professional awards gala

My friend, Jane, recently told me that her sibling, Fergus, won a niche industry award. Fergus will accept the award alongside other recipients at a gala dinner. As one of the winners, he was given tickets for people to be seated at his table. Jane told me that the entire family was invited and their parents are going to the gala. Because it’s a weeknight and out of town, Jane is not attending and now the family is pretty upset with her. Jane isn’t sure if it’s even her place to attend.

I’ve gone to these types of functions myself and usually it’s a gathering of professionals with lots of networking. When I’ve been invited to sit at a table of an honoree, it’s because they’re a boss, peer, or want to schmooze for business later. On occasion, I’ve met a spouse but no family members beyond that. My question is, do families typically go to these professional gala events? Is it weird to bring them?

It depends! There are some awards galas where family members do attend, and others where they don’t. But it’s rarely the kind of thing where it would be an outrage for a family member not to attend (especially a sibling!).

You say that Jane isn’t sure if it’s her place to attend; I don’t that’s an issue at all If Fergus has a bunch of tickets for his table, he can use those as he sees fit. But their family is being really weird with the pressure; most people don’t consider attending siblings’ work events to be remotely obligatory.

{ 279 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#2, definitely say something. It’s ok to be uncomfortable and ok to ask for relocation given that the description for lodging clearly departs from reality.

    And you’re more generous than I am–I can almost guarantee you that they knew this was the set up if they were using Airbnb (there are photos and overviews of each location!).

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      1. KAZ2Y5

        You really have to be careful with Airbnb, I think. In my area you have people buying a house and converting it to an Airbnb home and packing in as many people as possible. For a 3 bedroom house that would hold 6 people (or 8 if you count the sofa bed), they are adding bunk beds, changing out a den for more bedroom space until you have a 3 bedroom, 1800 sq ft house that holds 18 people. I would most definitely choose a hotel room over an Airbnb for a business trip!

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        1. Koko

          Agreed – there is a lot of deceptive advertising on AirBnB. I’m a heavy user as both a guest and a host and it’s not uncommon for someone to fudge the number of “rooms” based on an unconventional definition of a bedroom. And some listings put up very few photos (I try to avoid booking these, personally).

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          1. AnonAcademic

            Yeah, you really have to scrutinize the photos with airbnb. There are a lot of angles and wide fish eye lenses that can make a twin bed in a closet look like a master suite.

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      2. zora

        Also, in my experience with tech companies, a lot of them throw venue booking/travel organizing to random people who haven’t done it before. I think another likely explanation is whoever booked the houses didn’t really look at the photos that closely. Just saw where it said “three rooms” and hit “Reserve Now.” A lot of people don’t really get how important it is to pay attention to the details or which details are the most important to investigate. This is one reason I think administrative and operations roles are way underappreciated.

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    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      Plus they moved you from your originally-assigned room with no notice. I suspect that someone else wanted a better room and they booted you, perhaps because of your now short-term status.

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      1. The Bread burglar

        Thats what I thought too. Who was in that bed before? They probably didnt like the open plan either. Plus I hope those sheets were cleaned between people as usually its only done after everyone checks out…

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    2. Jessesgirl72

      The OP also said that originally she was supposed to be in a different house. I also can take a picture that doesn’t necessarily show the room doesn’t have a door! So I don’t think they purposely did this ahead of time. But I do think because she was the last to arrive and is leaving, they assigned her to this spot purposely, once they saw it.

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      1. Bobert

        I don’t know that I would say they purposely assigned her to this spot so much as everyone said “not it” and she wasn’t there to voice her opinion. Not many people would voluntarily take that spot. You don’t have to use a shared residence many times to learn you absolutely want to be there when everyone arrives unless your sleeping spot is reserved in advance.

        My first roommate in my 20’s tried to claim the master bedroom in our apartment because he walked in first. I immediately asked how much extra he would be paying. He was shocked but I said I would pay an $50/month for the master so what’s his offer? If I’m not getting the best room, I’m at least getting a discount. He paid $75 for the master and to be honest, it still sucked. All company uses the shared bathroom by default so I had to keep it clean all the time.

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    3. TBoT

      This happened to some colleagues of mine a year or so ago, when a group of employees stayed at two AirBnBs. They were told they’d each have a room, and the person who made the arrangements is someone I trust implicitly to look out for everyone and be honest with us. Once they actually got there, the number of actual rooms was less than advertised, and people wound up unexpectedly sharing rooms/sleeping on couches in shared living space. (Plus there was drama when the highest-ranking person there unilaterally claimed the master bedroom + bath for himself.)

      It really sucked, and I’m completely confident the person who handled the arrangements would not have reserved those properties if she had known.

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    4. Mallory Janis Ian

      This whole thread is reminding me of my summer-cabin-rental-with-family anxiety. My SIL rented an Airbnb with 8 bedrooms and two queen sofa beds in the public areas. With the original number of people that I knew about, I counted that every single adult or adult couple would have a private bedroom and only teens and kids would have to sleep in the public areas (which they enjoy, anyway). But my SIL told me about people who had planned to come all along that I wasn’t aware of, and now there are more adults/couples than there are private rooms, and we haven’t discussed rooms.

      I know that the “parent” generation (husband’s parents and great-aunts) will automatically get private rooms out of respect for the elders, and SIL and her husband should get a room because she’s done all the planning, so that leaves three adult couples for the two remaining rooms. I’ve been having stress dreams about ending up on the floor in the living room.

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      1. zora

        Unsolicited advice, but as someone who has stress dreams about stuff like this, too. Can you look for a hotel nearby that’s cheap-ish and book it now? You can usually cancel up to 24 hours before, but it would make me be able to get through the next few months if I knew I had a backup plan. And that the only downside was I’d have to drive back and forth between the cabin and the hotel to meet everyone, I’d be fine with that. .. Just a thought!

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        1. Hedgehog

          That sounds ideal, actually. Especially if you can leave your kids sleeping in the common area of the shared house while you abscond to the hotel.

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    5. Bobert

      This is one of those situations where I can picture some people saying it’s not a big deal but I disagree. The key problem I would have is not having the feeling of being in a secure space. What if I want to take a nap or change clothes before dinner? Do I need to worry about someone walking through my room? What if that person needs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping or just wakes up earlier than me? I couldn’t sleep soundly in that situation.

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  2. Robin Gottlieb

    For item number one whatever happened to you dirty the dish you clean the dish? I’ve also been in admin jobs and I never have done dishes unless it’s my own either at work or at home.

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      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s pretty common for an office admin to be expected to keep common areas like the kitchen looking reasonably neat. We could easily rack up hundreds of comments here about how people should clean up after themselves, and of course they should, but in reality there’s a reason why many offices assign this task to someone (or struggle to not have a gross kitchen). In the interest of not racking up those hundreds of comments, let’s not go down the path of why office kitchens are messy (we’ve covered that in lots of other posts) and keep the focus on actionable advice for the letter-writer. Thanks!

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        1. nonegiven

          “Career executive assistant,” I’m assuming this is EA to an executive, not a general office admin. Unless you are the lowest level person in the office, delegate.

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          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I was confused about the EA/OA distinction, as well. These tasks don’t sound common for an EA (especially the dishes/spill cleaning), unless OP is really the only admin/assistant for the office.

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            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I assumed based on the letter that it’s a small office and so the EA is also basically the OA. If I’m wrong about that, OP, please weigh in!

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              1. OP

                hey there, OP here – thanks for the perspective , Alison and readers
                office is very small (less than two dozen people) and I support head of org so technically, no, I’m not obligated to do any of this but thinking about and sending this request in, then reading all your replies made me realize 1) I don’t HAVE to do most of this and 2) I continue to do some of the duties as I hate messiness and chaos (something the group specializes in it) so I’m learning and evaluating my choices going forward – thanks, all

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            2. Bea

              The titles are often very interchangeable depending on the company.

              I was an EA before, as in I was directly assisting the President/Owner of the company with everything from paying bills to doing tech support on his cellphone and cleaning up his spills because he was a messy messy man. God bless him, I love the man but when I came in he had moldy coffee cups piling up on his desk. Even his right hand man, the GM would make him coffee and clean his dishes if he got a moment which were of course few and far between because moldy cups.

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        2. Pwyll

          We also don’t necessarily need to assume these are coworker’s dishes. In my previous life as an EA and an Office Manager, the overwhelming majority of the time the dishes in the sink were glassware used by our guests and clients (boss was finicky that we not just hand out cans of coke but actually use the glassware), and employees generally took care of their own dishes. Sure, folks in the meeting should have grabbed them and put them in the dishwasher, but it’s not entirely outside of the norm for an assistant to take care of this while prepping the room for the next meeting.

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          1. MegaMoose, Esq.

            When you’re talking larger meetings, it can just be more efficient to have one person take care of all the glasses and run the dishwasher immediately. It’s not quite the same, but when I was a law clerk, we rotated stocking the courtroom with glasses and pitchers and then cleaning everything up at the end of the day.

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          2. Beezus

            I was hopping in to say this, too. Where I am, employees are expected to handle their own dishes, but we have large client groups visiting at least weekly, and we serve them lunch and sometimes breakfast. The meals always include nice dishware, silverware, and glassware, and someone has to do all those dishes afterward. (Disposable everything is available for employees who want to make their own cleanup easy, but it is never, ever used for guests.)

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      2. Artemesia

        I also see a big difference between neating up the kitchen, wiping counters occasionally and doing other people’s dishes. That seems outrageous to expect of an admin. But of course since they are used to maid service, not doing it will create an issue. She might bring up using disposables since no one washes their dishes with the view of that initiating a ‘wash your own dishes directive’.

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        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          I usually wipe the counters and refrigerator door handles in the minute or two that I’m brewing a k-cup or heating a muffin in the microwave, just to keep my hands busy while I stand there and wait. People mainly wash their own dishes, but there are always a few non-individual dishes, such as utensils from catered group meals, that no-one is ever going to wash except the admins. I take turns with my direct report in doing those. I see general tidying up and washing the little bit of ‘public’ dishes as within the admin purview.

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          1. A Potterhead for life

            I totally agree! Even if there were 3 admins, I would still expect adult employees to do their own (@#$%) dishes! It’s a great point about the public dishes/utensils from shared meals, too; I agree that those things would be appropriate for an admin to take care of.

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        2. Alton

          I agree. I see a difference, too, but maybe I’m just 1) a germaphobe and 2) incorrectly assuming that these dishes are being hand-washed. I’m imagining the OP actually scrubbing the dishes by hand. Sticking them in a dishwasher might not be as big of a deal, but I’ve never worked in an office that had a dishwasher.

          Wiping up spills seems reasonable if they’re manageable (though if people are routinely spilling coffee on the counter or something and not wiping it up, that seems kind of rude).

          I do stuff like periodically wipe down the microwave and check the refrigerator for expired food, but I’d be uncomfortable with washing people’s dishes.

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          1. Your Weird Uncle

            I’ve been in two offices that had dishwashers. In the first, it was only for employee use (the company provided dishes etc.) and the admin team rotated the responsibility for unloading and taking care of misc. cleanup. The other employees were responsible for loading their own dirty dishes in the dishwasher, but of course you know how that generally goes down, so there was a fair bit of taking care of dirty dishes, too.

            The second office that I worked in had a dishwasher that was ONLY for guest use, and the admin team generally took responsibility for that too, as well as tidying the kitchen.

            The common thread from both offices is that the staff were expected to be responsible and tidy, but the general cleanup still fell to the admin teams.

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            1. Your Weird Uncle

              I should clarify that the dishwasher meant for guests was for doing things like dishes and glasses from catered meals, coffee mugs, etc., not that the guests were expected to come in and load their dishes into the dishwasher. :)

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        3. Hedgehog

          Agree that washing someone else’s dishes is ina different category than wiping up the counter. That’s the task to drop.

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    1. MicroManagered

      This was the one that stuck out to me too. I’ve worked in offices where that admins would do some basic kitchen clean up (starting a dishwasher, wiping out a microwave, turning the coffee pot on/off) but washing dishes in the sink implies people are leaving their dishes in the sink and that would be the one that I’d resent, in that situation.

      I know we’ve been asked not to debate the merits of who does office clean-up, but I do wonder if perhaps there’s *one* aspect of the so-called “Mommy duties” that OP#1 is resenting more than others, and if that’s prompting her to question things such as filling the copier, which seem more germane to an admin position.

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      1. Jesmlet

        The washing of the dishes is the only questionable thing for me too. Are these communal dishes that anyone can use or are they people’s personal tupperware that you’re cleaning up after? Imagine the water and time you’d save if you just switched to paper or plastic… Luckily we have a washing machine for the handful of dishes we dirty and a cleaning person in our small office so this stuff doesn’t fall to me (de facto office manager despite me not being any type of admin/assistant) All the other responsibilities seem like they’d reasonably be within your job description since it is a small office.

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    2. k

      When I was a receptionist I did the dishes for the office. That basically meant taking coffee cups out of the sink and loading them in the dishwasher. Some people loaded their own in, but others didn’t. Keeping the office kitchen in order was my job so I never thought it was out of the ordinary.

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    3. Is it Friday Yet?

      I work in a small office, and our Office Manager starts the dishwasher and unloads it most of the time. Sometimes others pitch in from time to time, but for the most part she does it. Everyone cleans up after themselves for the most part, but you’d be surprised how much “general office cleaning” comes up that the cleaning crew doesn’t handle. She also cleans the Keurig at the end of the week, orders office supplies, calls a carpet cleaning company when there is a stain, etc. She’s a rockstar and never complains about any of it.

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  3. Ramona Flowers

    #1 Alison mentions how, in the rest of your life, this is stuff that you’d probably expect to get more appreciation for doing for someone else. I don’t know about anyone else, but the other side to this is that I think I’d feel kind of awkward and patronising if I kept thanking someone for tasks I’d do myself outside work.

    Some of what you’re doing falls into the category of invisible work. The lack of commentary doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. It means people only notice when it’s not done.

    That said, some of the things you are doing aren’t things I’d necessarily expect an assistant to do – for example, filling the copier, which has been everyone’s job in every office I’ve personally worked in. You finish the paper in drawer B, you refill drawer B. And people should really be wiping up their own spills!

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    1. Ramona Flowers

      I saw Alison’s comment above after I wrote this or I would’ve cut my last paragraph, sorry – let’s not get into further discussion about what people should do.

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    2. Casuan

      Some of what you’re doing falls into the category of invisible work. The lack of commentary doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. It means people only notice when it’s not done.
      That said, some of the things you are doing aren’t things I’d necessarily expect an assistant to do…

      OP1, Ramona’s phrase “invisible work” is the key here. The tasks you do might indeed be part of your job & this is why your colleagues don’t give you recognition for it, just as you wouldn’t praise or thank them for doing their job [“You made a sale/ printed a report/ researched that thing/ sent a mass email. Thank you!”].

      That said, it’s really easy to get complacent about things that just get done. If I notice the restrooms & kitchen are always clean, the windows sparkle, the floors are vacuumed, the plants haven’t died etc… Probably I wouldn’t question this because obviously the work is getting done… & this thought would morph into “Someone is doing their job. Cool.”

      The question now is if the person who is doing the work is the person who should be doing the work. If you’re caught up on your workload & have the time to do the tasks you described then it might make sense for you to continue. You’ve been doing these tasks for quite some time & your boss might not realise you could make better use of your time. Your boss might be willing to delegate the work to others so you can be available for other projects. If you have a backlog of other work then you might need to change things a bit.

      The gist is that this is for your manager to decide. So Ask!!
      As for things like ensuring there’s enough paper & toner in the copier, things like this probably are in your job description. An excellent EA/OA/AA will do things like this as part of their job. And if you ever want to remind your colleagues of anything that might provoke complacency, don stop making the printer ready for a day or two!
      :)

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      1. MegaMoose, Esq.

        I suspect this is part of the motivation behind celebrations like “administrative professionals week” – a formal time to thank people for all the “little things” that keep the office running smoothly. Personally I’m not a fan of treating this work differently from anything else, but so it goes.

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      2. aebhel

        I think that’s one of the things about an assistant: it’s one of those jobs where, if it’s done well, most people don’t notice that it’s getting done (I mean, obviously the boss should. But it won’t necessarily be obvious to coworkers).

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        1. the gold digger

          When the admin at my old job was looking for a new job, I was a reference for her. (This was before I knew she had deliberately scheduled meetings for her boss, the managing director, with me at noon so I couldn’t go to the gym at lunch because she didn’t think it was fair that I should be able to go to the gym.)

          I told the person who called that what was so great about Old Admin was that you didn’t notice anything that she did because things didn’t go wrong. She organized our annual global meeting and everything worked – we had our meeting rooms when we expected, we had food when we expected, we had the proper meeting setups when we expected, and we had gifts for our foreign counterparts (I seriously did not know that was A Thing) when expected. She made it very easy for the rest of us.

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    3. Rachel in Minneapolis

      Our office administrator always checks copier paper and refills it, proactively orders all supplies, is a whiz at sorting out junk mail, and sticks the compostable dishware in the kitchen. I’m sure there are many other invisible that she does without comment or complaint.

      What she will never do it is wash a dish left in the sink or clean the microwave. Rightly so in my opinion. A couple of times in the last five years she has sent an email around to the staff asking us to wash our dishes or clean the microwave.

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    4. Bye Academia

      Whereas the last place I worked, the office admin hated when anyone else filled the copier. It was really finicky and if you didn’t do it just right, it would jam. And then guess who’d have to fix it?

      Just goes to show that some of this stuff really depends. It’s hard to come up with a comprehensive list of what individuals “should” do in every office.

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    5. zora

      I have to say, one thing I should remember to appreciate about my job more often, my coworkers make a point to say thank you to me whenever I set up meetings/order food/clean up meeting rooms. My first reaction was to say “don’t mention it! It’s my job!” and brush it off, but then I realized it’s really nice of them to notice and be appreciative, so I actually accept their appreciation! (which is not easy for me, same with compliments :o\)

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  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#3, what’s making you feel annoyed about the question? Is it that you’re feeling condescended to? I don’t mean to sound challenging, but as Alison notes, this is a really normal question for a manager to ask.

    I literally make all my reports do what your manager has asked you to do, and if one responded with anything that remotely signaled that it was none of my business, I would be pretty taken aback. Because it’s 100% a manager’s business to try to help their reports grow, build skills, try new professional experiences, maximize job satisfaction, etc. And if this were my first one-on-one interaction with my report? It would be a yellow flag that either previous managers were lax on helping their people cultivate their skills, or that a report is unnecessarily adversarial and uninterested in professional development. And I’d be especially concerned that it came up in a first meeting, when we haven’t had time to build rapport or understand one another. It’s really difficult to work with someone who is aggressively defensive about their competence (you can be great at your job and still have growth opportunities!).

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    1. Engineer Woman

      Actually, I think this is a great question for a new supervisor to ask and it’s done in a great way (email) such that you can think about the question and formulate an answer. Sometimes, it’s hard to answer this on the fly. Your supervisor is asking about professional goals, not personal ones, so I’m not seeing at all how it’s an inappropriate question and why you think it is none of her business. It IS her business. Part of her business is to help develop your skills and identify opportunities to help you get to where you want to go in your professional career. She wouldn’t be doing this well if she has no idea what you want to do.

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      1. MLHD

        Exactly… Think of all the questions that have been posted here from people bitter and offended that their supervisor “should have known” they would be interested in that professional development course, or additional training, or that upcoming promotion, or vacated position. And if your professional goal is to stay right where you are, just say so!

        This one really irritated me for some reason haha

        Reply
    2. nonegiven

      But what does professional development mean to someone who is happy doing the same job for 14 years and resents being asked when she plans to move on to something she may have no interest in doing?

      I assume that 14 years is long enough to have gone through software changes, rule changes, industry changes and not just supervisor changes and she still likes what she does. Maybe she takes pride in what she does and now someone seems to be insinuating that she shouldn’t.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        She’s not being asked if she plans to move on to something. She’s being asked what her professional goals are for her position/herself. That’s a super normal question. A person can want to stay in their position and still have professional goals. For example, maybe she wants cross-training on a new lab method. Maybe she wants greater flexibility to attend certain conferences. Maybe she wants the ability to change how her work is sequenced, or how she allocates her time to reflect X thing that is in her portfolio and interesting to her. Or maybe OP is in a position to be a good mentor and is interested in developing junior staff. Or offering trainings. Or literally 100000 other professional goals that do not require changing your current job.

        I’ve worked with people who think that being asked about your goals insinuates you’re “not good enough” at your job. That’s simply untrue, and it’s a weird assumption unless you come from a toxic workplace where you were constantly degraded (even subtly) and told that you were not good enough. And if OP sincerely has no goals, then that’s ok, but if your knee-jerk reaction is “stop bothering me!”, then you’re going to look like you lack introspection (I’m not saying that’s the case, here, for OP). We’re not robots or mannequins—a person can take pride in their work and still have room for improvement.

        Reply
        1. Thinking Outside the Boss

          This is a fantastic point! Professional goals doesn’t mean moving on. And if you have a good manager, he or she will help you in your career, regardless of whether an employee’s career path is to stay at his or her current level, promote and stay with that employer, or find another job. Managing is about relationships, and a lot of managers really just want to help. That’s one of the reasons why I got into management, and I’m always thrilled to help one of my direct reports to advance their career or increase their satisfaction with their current position.

          Reply
        2. Engineer Woman

          Exactly: there’s no push to move on or change what OP is doing. Supervisor simply wants to better understand her employees professional goals and staying in the same position is a perfectly acceptable desire.

          That said: I hope OP sincerely doesn’t have “no” goals. Goals could be to continue or improve upon existing work with some concrete examples of what that would be (continue to serve customers such that they have a 5 min wait or less, continue to process 50 applications per day, continue to receive positive feedback from clients…)

          Reply
      2. Ramona Flowers

        But what does professional development mean to someone who is happy doing the same job for 14 years and resents being asked when she plans to move on to something she may have no interest in doing?

        It means different things to different people – that’s why the question is being asked. And she wasn’t asked when she plans to move on. That’s a different question.

        Some people are happy doing the same tasks over and over but many people want to develop, pursue particular interests, refresh skills or take on stretch projects.

        I’ve had a temporary manager since I started my job last year and the regular one is about to come back from maternity leave (I’m in the UK in case that timescale seems odd). I’m expecting her to ask similar questions.

        Reply
        1. snuck

          THere’s a perfectly acceptable career goal of “I like what I’m doing, and want to stay in this role indefinitely!”

          Reply
            1. Annonymouse

              And maybe OP can think of ways to make their current role better / more interesting for them: mentoring, cross training, doing more of X and passing Y on to another person (who loves Y).

              Or what she wants to improve on and what she needs from work to do it – move to paperless office: need scanners and special tablets.

              Reply
      3. The Bread burglar

        They specifically mention that they have had 4 managers in 14 years at the same role. Maybe they dont want to move up. Or maybe they do but work at a place where people are always external and promotions are rare/nonexistent. If its the second thats a pretty big reason to be suspicious of someone wanting to help with advancement but it not being an option at their workplace.

        Reply
        1. Sunshine

          Not really, though. There’s nothing wrong with just being happy where you are – then the goal can be to stay right where you are! And a good manager will help you develop toward your goals, even if it means you’ll eventually leave the company. I really can’t think of any reason for the question to be odd or suspicious.

          Reply
          1. The Bread burglar

            True. There is nothing wrong with wanting to stay in the same role. If it provides for your needs and fits what you want from a role then why change?

            But the OP doesnt say anything about being happy or wanting to stay in this role. Just that they have given unwavering loyalty for 14 years and 4 managers. I’m just trying to say the manager is new and only been there a week. If the OP who has been there longer knows that career advancement isnt really an option at this place then it may come off as a bit tone deaf for a new manager to bring up. The manager absolutely should ask and the OP should feel comfortable sharing her goals no matter if they are move up or stay put.

            Reply
            1. Meredith

              Well, there may not be room for advancement in the traditional sense, but the question opens the door for discussion of things that could shift/change/stay the same in their current role. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I didn’t have to think about professional goals. This is such a normal question. I would think that a “none of your business” response would be extremely strange, especially to a manager.

              Reply
            2. LBK

              Career advancement doesn’t always have to take place at the same company. A good manager will be happy to help you develop whatever skills you need to take your career to the next level regardless of whether that happens internally or externally. Professional development is part of a manager’s responsibilities, it’s not just something they do for the benefit of the company.

              Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            But again, I think this misreads the question that OP was asked. The question is not “how do I help you get promoted?” It’s “what are your professional goals?” And again, the answer can be “I’m really happy in this position and take pride in [things I do well].” But jumping to suspicion, or the idea that a manager has nothing to offer in this regard because you’ve been around for longer, is not really reasonable unless there’s a concrete basis for feeling that way (and from what we’ve been told, I don’t think we’ve been provided that concrete basis).

            Reply
      4. Koko

        I think that’s a perfectly valid answer to the question: “I’ve been here for more than a decade and I feel lucky to say that I really enjoy my work and don’t want to change anything about it beyond staying on top of evolving best practices in my field.”

        If there’s anything that does interest her that falls short of changing her job, she can say that too. “My old supervisors used to do Report X. I proofread the reports all these years, so I’m quite familiar with them and interested in taking them on.” Or some other task like that. But she doesn’t even have to do that.

        Reply
      5. Princess Carolyn

        Nobody is insinuating that OP doesn’t take pride in what she does, but I suspect OP is interpreting it the same way you are. It’s an unusually defensive way to interpret this, which makes me wonder what experiences have led you (and possibly the OP) to react that way. Perhaps a work culture that pushes successful individual contributors into management roles they don’t want and may not be good at?

        On its face, there’s nothing nefarious about asking a direct report about their professional goals. Whatever experience or context is informing your response (and OP’s) is not universal — which is why it’s great that OP wrote in.

        Reply
        1. zora

          Yeah, this was my assumption, too. That OP has some past experiences with not great bosses that are coloring this and making their reaction more negative than it warrants. Even just bosses who didn’t care about what their employees wanted from their jobs and were super defensive and toxic. I definitely have had bosses where every single question they ask has an ulterior motive and it’s hard to get over that mindset.

          I hope this prompts the OP to think about their past experiences, and try approaching this new manager with an open mind, and see if they actually might be a great boss!

          Reply
    3. Perse's Mom

      I hear “professional development” and it makes my hackles rise because to my boss, this is code for HIS idea of professional development for me (which includes none of the job duties I like and all of the job duties I abhor).

      OP – it’s okay to say that you’re happy where you are, doing what you do. You like X part of your job, you’re proud of having made process Y more efficient. But consider things this supervisor could you do – additional training, conferences… things that may help you be even better at your job and broaden your knowledge at the same time.

      I would guess you’ve had supervisors in the past who were either subpar or you just didn’t click with them, but this new supervisor isn’t those people. Try to remember this is a new relationship and it can’t be a -positive- relationship if you’re not willing to give her a chance.

      Reply
      1. Thlayli

        This.

        I’m guessing OP is annoyed because past experiences are making her wary of managers asking about “professional development goals”. I know a lot of people who work in jobs that are basically the same thing, keep the teapot peoduction going, day in day out, all year round. If the teapots are being produced consistently then that means they have done their job well.

        Then some newly qualified manager comes in and starts setting all sorts of performance metrics and trying to make people do things totally differently. Everyone gets forced to spend/waste loads of time on the new initiative, and then a year or two later the new manager is gone and no one ever hears of the initiative again. And all that happened is poor old Jane had her time wasted and put under a lot of stress just so manager could say “I implemented x” when x has absolutely nothing to do with getting the teapots made.

        OP if you are reading this, if this has been your experience then this is BAD management. I know if your last 3 managers have been bad it is tempting to assume the new one will be bad too, but they might not be. They might be a really good manager. As others have said this question could well be a sign of a good manager.

        Alison’s advice is spot on – be honest and say your goal is to continue in your position and be great at it. If there is anything else you would like to do in the organisation or in you current role then mention it. You may be surprised.

        If it turns out this is just another bad manager then you have my sympathy, for what it’s worth.

        Reply
        1. Parenthetically

          Oh, this was really helpful to read. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was bugging OP here, but this clarified it for me! Thank you!

          Reply
        2. LBK

          I wonder how many people who scowl at the idea of creating measurable metrics and goals are the same people that complain that they don’t have any measurable accomplishments or achievements in discussions about resumes.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Also, 4 supervisors in 14 years doesn’t sound like a lot to me…that’s an average of 3.5 years each, which isn’t that short of a tenure for a supervisor, especially if this is a lower level management role.

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Yeah, this stuck out to me, as well. It’s toward the shorter side of the spectrum, but not really uuusual to have 4 manager changes over 14 years.

              Reply
              1. Lora

                I had 5 managers in 2 years at my last job. It was a very special place. They’re doing yet another changing of the guard, I hear…

                But yeah, what everyone else said about this question – assume that since they are new, it’s a clean slate, and they are asking because they genuinely want to help you be happy at the company.

                First rule of conflict resolution: pretend that the other person means well (even if you know for a fact that they don’t).

                Reply
                1. Trout 'Waver

                  I disagree here. When there is a large power differential, the disadvantaged party can’t just assume goodwill. The potential cost is too high for the employee in this situation.

                  I think I understand why OP#3 finds this question awkward. It’s because the manager in this case hasn’t demonstrated yet that he’s trustworthy and has the employees’ best interests in heart. If someone at my company who I didn’t work with asked me for my career plans, my first thought would be, “Why do you want to know?”. I would find something more polite to say than that. But I certainly wouldn’t tell them my actual career plans.

                2. LBK

                  Yeesh. I really can’t imagine conducting your career in such a paranoid manner. Even if some managers turn out to be horrible monsters who use the simplest questions against you, the vast majority aren’t, and acting so cagey and suspicious all the time will damage your relationship with reasonable managers (which, again, are a lot more common that evil managers).

                3. LBK

                  Also, she asked for general info about career goals, not the OP’s SSN and darkest secret. I don’t understand how this is a question that requires a level of trust to ask.

                4. Trout 'Waver

                  First off, try to be respectful and not call other commenters paranoid. Second, cut the hyperbole. I’m not calling anyone a horrible monster who uses the simplest questions against me. I’m really unclear as to why you thought that.

                  If my career plans were to find a new job in the next year, I wouldn’t tell someone brand new that. I certainly wouldn’t tell my brand new manager that, because they might be looking to reduce head count. I also wouldn’t tell a brand new manager that my career plan was to have his job.

                  If the new manager demonstrates that they are reasonable about people wanting to switch careers or companies, I would definitely share that with the new manager. Likewise, if they were looking to move up the ladder at the company, I wouldn’t hold back about telling them I envisioned moving up also. But one week isn’t long enough to get to know someone well enough to make those judgments.

                  Taken to the extreme, certainly nobody here would advocate telling a new manager that you were actively applying to other jobs, if that was your career plan.

                5. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Whoa, hey. I don’t think characterizing that point of view as seeming a little paranoid is an attack; it does indeed seem more guarded than the circumstances warrant and it can be really harmful to approach a relationship with a manager that way (as the majority won’t warrant it). Regardless, once things sound heated like this, I’d rather people simply move on from it. Thanks.

                6. Trout 'Waver

                  If LBK simply said ‘a little paranoid’, that would be different from what they wrote. And if they didn’t follow it up with over-the-top hyperbole, then I wouldn’t view it as such.

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Trout ‘Waver, I just think that’s a really limited way to deal with your manager. Unless this company has a history of predatory and abusive managers, then we shouldn’t assume they’re all awful and out to get OP. (I have a feeling there were average to not great managers who weren’t very good with what they did, but also not actively evil.)

                  It’s true that you build trust over time. But if you come into a first conversation with your guard up, expecting not to trust your manager until they “prove” themselves because you’re in a less powerful position, then you’re going to have a relationship with problems because you’ve set the tone as distrusting/adversarial.

                  There’s a lot of research about relationships that indicates that, when someone enters a relationship on neutral terms, they will often change to meet our expectations. If your expectation is that they’re scheming or backstabbing, they’re going to get that vibe and not trust you and then keep information from you. Conversely, if you treat them as if they’re competent and you have expectations for their role, then a neutral person will often rise to meet those expectations (even if you’re in the less powerful position).

                  Honestly, the new manager should also be asking people about how they like to be supervised, their communication preferences/style, and what they expect from the manager-report relationship. But even if she doesn’t, I would encourage OP to enter conversations in good-faith. That doesn’t mean OP has to bare her heart and trust her manager immediately with her deepest desires, but it does mean she should assume good intent and pick appropriate, safe work goals (or a good script for why she doesn’t have any specific goals just now).

                8. LBK

                  Sorry, my comment was a little snarkier than I probably should’ve been. All I meant is that this is a really routine question, so to infer that there’s some ulterior motive or to worry about how it will be interpreted feels overly suspicious to me. It’s really incongruent with my experience, which is why I reacted so strongly.

                  After elaborating in your comment, I now see that we’re picturing the conversation very differently, which I think is why we’re both reacting so strongly. To me, the question doesn’t need to be answered in such a detailed fashion, certainly not anything related to timelines or specific positions you’d like to have. I’ve typically answered it with something like “I’m interested in eventually going into management” (when that was true) or “I’d like to move into a more analytical, data-oriented role”. I think there’s very, very little risk of someone taking those answers to mean you’re gunning for your manager’s job or that you’ve got one foot out the door.

                  Yeah, there’s some managers who are weird about people leaving, but most understand and anticipate that the majority of people aren’t going to do the same job forever. Admitting that you might want to do something else some day isn’t going to set off alarm bells, especially not when you’re explicitly being asked the question.

                  Similar to the letter recently about the new manager who wanted to know how the OP would like to be thanked, I struggle to understand why people are cagey about answering questions like this. It’s so, so, so uncommon for them to be traps, but it feels to me like that’s what you’re treating it as.

                  Overall, I’m just not a fan of treating managers as guilty until proven innocent, and I think you stand to do almost irreparable damage by starting off your relationship that way if it turns out they are reasonable (which most managers are). I guess I’m not understanding the risks of giving them the benefit of the doubt; do you think you’ll be fired? Not hyperbole, I’m genuinely trying to understand what your concern would be about answering this question honestly (again, not necessarily explicitly, but still honestly).

                9. Trout 'Waver

                  Yeah, I was a little too snarky too and I apologize for that. I was thinking more of a polite non-answer than a defensive one or guarded one.

                  I think it’s because I’ve been in a situation where if I had been open and honest with my career goals, I would have been fired or demoted. Although such managers are relatively rare, their impact is disproportionately large.

            2. Beezus

              No kidding. Just ask me about The Year I Had 6 Different Managers. I felt like Henry VIII. (Departed, Interim, Interim, New and So Bad I Transferred, Departed, Survived)

              Reply
            3. Koko

              In fact, because this is the fourth one who is just starting now at year 14, that means there were only 3 in the previous fourteen years – almost 5 years apiece.

              Reply
          2. aebhel

            I think there’s a difference between trying to create measurable metrics and goals, and Implementing A New Initiative that doesn’t actually gather any useful data, improve any existing processes, or accomplish much of anything other than sounding impressive on the manager’s resume and wasting a lot of staff time. I’ve had experience with the latter, and it’s very frustrating when your workplace turns into the laboratory for some newbie manager’s pet project.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              We don’t have any indication that’s what’s happening and based on the information the OP has given, that probably isn’t the case. It would be best to not create background that doesn’t exist.

              Reply
              1. aebhel

                No, not at all–I’m just saying that having these kinds of experiences can make a person wary about new processes, especially if the manager implementing them hasn’t been around for long.

                Reply
                1. nonegiven

                  Maybe she is someone like me. In classes, I’ve been asked to set personal goals for 5 and 10 years and couldn’t think of even a good lie to tell. It’s too much pressure. I avoid goals the way I avoid New Year’s resolutions.

        3. aebhel

          Oh, yeah, I’ve had those managers. I probably wouldn’t be as offended as OP, but that’s definitely a question that would make me wary.

          Reply
      2. Junior Dev

        In programming, the concept of “where you hope to be in X years” can be really fraught because 1) many coders want to keep coding and resent feeling like they are being pushed towards management 2) the skill sets for programming and managing programmers are fairly different 3) it’s not that unusual for people to advance in their careers by changing companies, not by climbing the ladder at one company.

        As a woman I’ve got a 4) which is that there’s quite a bit of overlap between the management skills that coders are uncomfortable with and the gendered emotional labor/planning work that gets pushed on women in this industry. (I don’t know that I’m explaining this dynamic very well, I hope someone else can word it better.)

        I do think OP should look for opportunities to express actual goals rather than feeling limited to saying they want to advance in some stereotypical way, but I don’t think it’s too unusual that they’re feeling anxious about this.

        Reply
        1. BananaPants

          Same here in engineering, and for all the same reasons.

          In my organization there’s a long running track record of female engineers reaching a certain level (where I am now) and being shunted – usually unwillingly – off of a technical career path and into the black hole of the process improvement office or program management. Men have no problem remaining technical or going into line management. My answer to that question from a new manager would take very careful wording to avoid hinting that such a track might be something I’d like.

          Reply
        2. Kalamet

          Yes – I’m in software development, and I want to be a programmer forever. However, there’s a lot of range for “career advancement” in that position. I could say that I want to architect and lead a project in X years, or that I want to be an expert in Y technology. It’s okay to have midrange long-term goals, especially in an industry that’s always changing.

          Reply
        3. Jamey

          I’m a non-male programmer as well and I agree with all of this, but my manager and I still talk about my professional goals all the time. Your professional goals can be whatever you want. Last winter, I told him I wanted to start speaking at conferences and he helped mentor me on writing proposals and public speaking so that I was able to do it. I think it’s a question that you can take however you want. It definitely doesn’t have to be about stereotypical promotion/advancement/management tracks!

          Reply
      3. The disgruntled worker

        Same here. Where I work we have this thing where we have to list our goals, for both business and personal development. The business goals are decided by some senior manager, and we have to pretend that they are OUR goals, and that we even know what they mean (lots of acronyms and business jargon). The personal goals are about what you want to achieve in your career. It’s a waste of time. E.g. I have been asking, BEGGING, for an opportunity in a specific field. It’s an area in which this company is severely understaffed. There were all kinds of promises, and I was actually optimistic. “Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done is project X, and we will definitely need you.” But what happens? I spend one day on the super critical work, and then I get moved to something else. And next thing I know there’s a new guy (with less experience) doing my work.

        So what are my professional goals? To escape from this place and work somewhere else, where I will actually get the chance to do my job.

        Reply
        1. MegaMoose, Esq.

          Good grief, personal development? What does that cover? I certainly hope they don’t mean *personal* personal?

          Reply
          1. Jubilance

            Normally personal development goals are things like attending conferences, getting a certificate or finishing an advanced degree, taking on a leadership position in an industry organization, etc.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              Yeah, typically it means something that benefits you more directly than the team. It can also mean a project or task you personally want to take on, rather than something that’s put on you (like I had a personal goal to revamp the process for a particularly onerous set of reports and then re-document all the new procedures).

              Reply
            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Yes! Personal development still means “in the professional context.” The example about public speaking and pitching proposals is a good example of a “personal” professional development goal. But it rarely means meditation and yoga and kumbaya.

              Reply
              1. MegaMoose, Esq

                Okay, that totally makes sense. I read business vs. personal and my brain went a little sideways. It’s getting on a decade now since I’ve worked in a situation where setting goals is a thing. Some of the stories about office weight loss and step goals are bizarre enough as it is!

                Reply
          2. NW Mossy

            In my org, “personal development goals” is the umbrella term for things that aren’t directly tied to a business line goal (like profits/sales/costs) but are still important to your success in your role. Mine’s all about relationship-building and coaching/feedback because I just took over a new team.

            Reply
      4. Turquoise Cow

        Yeah, or the OP is skeptical that anything will come of it. I had a manager who asked me about my professional goals and took a valid interest in teaching me new things and helping me grow in my job. And then he got promoted, and wasn’t able to assist me more 1 on 1. Despite his encouragement, his replacement (who was now under him) was a useless manager who hid his head in the sand and refused to delegate. So all the promises and potential sort of went out the window. And then manager 1 was let go, so there was definitely no one to help me develop.

        I’m guessing that in 14 years, the OP might have had a few managers who talked a good game but didn’t follow through, or they know the company culture well enough to know any development they talk about probably won’t happen.

        Or, they just like their job and don’t want to learn or do more. I’ve had coworkers like that. I can’t say I understand the mentality (I like to move forward) but it definitely exists.

        Reply
    4. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      That question is actually part of the annual review process at my company. You aren’t expected to put in “I’m actively job searching” or even a position within the company you want to move into if you don’t want. Just your goals. Do you love what you do and your goal is to stay there until you retire? Then put that. Do you want more responsibility? Have you always loved the idea of working on project X? Then put that. A good manager will support you and help you reach your professional goals if they possibly can.

      Reply
    5. Lablizard

      I wonder if it is the phrasing? “Goals” may sound like the LW should have ambitions beyond her position and she might feel that if she wants to stay where she is she will be judged. “Development” doesn’t have quite the same connotation.

      Reply
      1. CM

        The word “unwavering” stuck out to me in the OP’s letter. She is an unwavering employee. That says to me that she feels loyalty to this organization and her role in it, and perceives this new manager’s questions as challenging that. I think it’s useful information for the manager to know that the OP wants to continue doing what she is doing for the foreseeable future. It’s often valuable for managers to have a mix of people in terms of career ambitions — the person aspiring to develop new skills and climb the ladder, along with the person who has happily been there forever and has lots of institutional knowledge.

        Reply
    6. Jessesgirl72

      I have to answer that question every 6 months, and my manager/company wants specifics, both long-term and short-term. My old manager just wanted to check the proper boxes of the required forms. The new one is actually interested in doing what he can to help me achieve them- and to make sure the proper boxes are checked.

      Reply
    7. LBK

      Yeah, I’ve never had a manager that *didn’t* ask me this question. It’s super normal and generally I’d recognize it as a good thing that your manager wants to help you do whatever it is you want to do – whether that’s move up or stay put.

      Reply
    8. Bookish

      I’m not OP, but I can see why this question might feel a little awkward, even though it’s absolutely intended well.

      If you’re just starting out, your goals might be very lofty or potentially something that doesn’t really align with what you’re doing but you needed a job. If you’ve been in the field a while (as it seems OP has), maybe you’re kind of like “well, this is it! I’m doing my job. My goals are… to keep doing it?” And it might be tough to answer that question in the first week of starting a job, even though of course that’s when it would be asked – because you don’t know the office culture and what might be a good position to move to, and you don’t want to give the impression that you aren’t happy with the job you just got. In the first week I’d still feel very much in the “make the impression I’m right for this job and I like it here” mindset.

      Not necessarily reasons for someone not to ask this question- but I can understand why someone might feel weird about it!

      Reply
  5. Ramona Flowers

    #3 Everyone has different goals and wishes for their career and it makes sense for your boss to be interested in yours. As she’s new, she doesn’t have the context of knowing how your role fits into the overall picture of your career – and she doesn’t know what’s important to you and what’s keeping you there.

    Reply
  6. MadGrad

    For #3, keep in mind too that your new manager almost certainly sent out the same questions to everyone she’ll be supervising. Just because you’ve been there 14 years and don’t (as far as I understood) plan to move out of what you’re doing doesn’t mean your coworkers are in the same boat. Similarly, consider this a place to talk about what skills you’d want to learn to be better at your job (technical ones come to mind for most roles). I guarantee you this is the kind of thing she wants to know, and “I’m happy where I am now with no plans to change (aka grow) that you need to know” probably doesn’t look super promising.

    Reply
    1. Mookie

      Hmm, it sounds like LW3’s colleagues all received the same set of questions so, as you say, this isn’t personal, the question aren’t meant to be adversarial or threatening, and it’s not infantilizing to ask about future professional goals. A good manager wants to know how to keep, train, and efficiently use employees to their best individual abilities and interests. This line of questioning is a good thing, LW, and it’s the sign of someone competent and conscientious.

      Reply
        1. Anononon

          So? If the OP has only worked with poor managers, the comment section is now letting her know that this question is super normal and likely indicative of a good manager. And if the new manager is awful, it still doesn’t change how OP should respond to the question.

          Reply
      1. MLHD

        And in fact, it would have been MORE adversarial for the manager to make the assumption that because the OP has been there for 14 years they don’t have any professional development goals!

        Reply
    2. LKW

      This is exactly what I was thinking. If you’re not interested in moving up – are there skills you’d like to grow? Networking opportunities or professional organizations you’d like to join? Tasks or roles you’d like to take on? I’ve had this conversation many times and I ask my reports “What interests you? What type of work would you like to be doing?” and then I look for opportunities to match them with that kind of work. If they’re interested and challenged then they’ll be happy.

      OP #3 your answer could be as simple as “I want to stay where I am, but I’d like the opportunity to identify improvements to how we do things here.”

      Reply
      1. aebhel

        See, that kind of question would still be weird to me, because… I like what I’m doing. Literally, the tasks I would like to be doing are the tasks I’m already doing. If a new manager asked me this question, I’d BS some answer about professional development and improving my existing skills, but realistically, I’m already doing what I want to do, and that seems to be an answer that a lot of managers just don’t really know how to deal with.

        Reply
  7. Ramona Flowers

    #4 Can you break this down into very specific steps? Look up at customer within 5 seconds, make eye contact, smile… just to ensure everyone is crystal clear on the expectations and nobody can claim they didn’t understand what you meant.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      Having explicit processes and expectations is great. Being told to “look alive” doesn’t tell me all that much, where as “customers should never be left waiting unless there is a line and make sure to tell your coworkers if a line forms” tells me a whole lot more. I’d also add that perhaps a small bell if appropriate would also be really useful. Or just some active training or better communication between employees to summon help as needed.

      I know some folks might say say, “well they should know better and never be distracted” but if that approach worked you wouldn’t be writing in. Keeping watch when things are sporadic can be difficult because of bordom, so folks occupy their minds elsewhere. That’s a perfectly normal reaction. If you turn the internet off, they’ll just find something else to occupy their mind with during those slower times – books, sudoku, bits of string, whatever. Find a way to break through that, rather than just going after the first distraction you see. I think it will work a better in the long run.

      Reply
      1. Junior Dev

        > I know some folks might say say, “well they should know better and never be distracted” but if that approach worked you wouldn’t be writing in.

        Thank you for mentioning this. I’m someone who has trouble with several categories of task that a lot of people seem to think are “common sense” and even take as a personal insult or moral failing if you don’t do well (mostly stuff around executive functioning, remembering to do things, personal organization, but also social skills to a lesser extent). I highly appreciate when people can say “how can I give you the tools to do XYZ?” instead of saying “you’re not doing XYZ, what’s wrong with you?”

        Reply
        1. Ramona Flowers

          Yep. I made this suggestion because I worked in retail while at university and I supervised quite a few teenagers who were in their first ever job. We had what we called ‘basic demands’ and they were really clear: smile, make eye contact, say hello and thank you. They applied to managers too. Nobody ever complained that they were patronising because they weren’t explained in a patronising way.

          It’s easier for people to follow specific actions – and harder for them to claim they don’t know what to do, or that they were being attentive (when attentive is something you haven’t defined). You can also then ask exactly which part they’re finding hard.

          Reply
        2. Bookish

          Yup. If people are doing something that seems unprofessional, it’s likely because they don’t realize it’s unprofessional and don’t realize what steps they SHOULD be taking.

          Reply
      2. Artemesia

        Yes. Look alive makes sense to me but obviously isn’t specific enough to the slackers. And I love Alison’s advice to focus on the slackers and not penalize those who are performing well at being attentive to customers. The slackers need to be told. ‘A customer should never wait even 5 seconds while you finish a game, finish an email message, finish a facebook post, finish reading an article. The moment you are needed to respond to a customer, you need to drop what you are doing on line and assist them. And you should not be letting others on the desk be the first to assist each time while you continue with personal fun on the computer. If this continues, you will not be able to use the computer for personal tasks when on duty.’

        People who haven’t figured this out need to have it made explicit.

        Reply
        1. Seuuze

          Customer service employee to waiting customer; “I’ll be right with you after I finish watching this hilarious cat video where he is batting popcorn out of the bowl for the doggo to eat!”

          Reply
        2. the gold digger

          Oh man. Nothing ticks off a customer more to be told to wait, or worse, to be ignored by a clerk.

          There was a copy center/print shop in our building in grad school where we bought blue books, got copies, printed reports, etc. A team from the strategy class did a case study on the shop and suggested that when the employees took their breaks, they should leave the shop. They were staying in the shop, which was just a small room, and were visible, but would just ignore customers. People would get so angry at being ignored.

          Reply
    2. Solidus Pilcrow

      Yes to everything in this thread. I would also add some roleplay practice to point out the bad behavior and to model the desired behavior. Have them come in as a customer why you mess around on the computer for 10 seconds (or whatever time lag they have), then show them how they are supposed to respond immediately. Have them practice.

      Saying “customers are waiting 10 seconds” doesn’t sound all that bad; it’s oftentimes more powerful to experience a 10 second delay to comprehend just how long 10 seconds *feels* when you’re waiting for someone to finish playing with a keyboard.

      Reply
    3. OP #4

      I like the idea of making it very specific in the case if it leads to consequences of losing PC privileges.

      Reply
      1. ZNerd

        Perhaps you could also be specific about the types of things they can use the Internet for, to make it clear they should keep personal use to things that are easily dropped in an instant to help the next person in line. Scanning social media or reading an article… probably okay ’cause it will still be there at their next break. Purchasing things (just 3 more steps til I’m done!), or taking an online course (gotta finish the quiz!)… not so much.

        Reply
        1. ZNerd

          Meant to include… or maybe social media is NOT okay, because it is bloody addictive for certain people. :-)

          Reply
          1. OP #4

            Very true! Like even with social media updates or replies someone may feel the need to finish typing up a thought, etc. But I think it would be good to mention to staff for who have the issue that if they tend to get more distracted with certain things, they’re not the best to do while on the desk.

            Reply
      2. OP #4

        (At a conf today so replying has been a bit difficult!) I love the idea of trying a roleplay. I think it will be impactful. I’m a first time mgr so in the past there haven’t been consequences for PC privileges so it’s especially new to me. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions, I will see if being even more explicit will lead to less distractions. (And for clarification I was more wordy than “look alive” just condensed for word count for my q)

        Reply
    1. Jeanne

      Or “I intend to do the bare minimum and stay here until I retire.” It really is ok to not be ambitious. Alison’s wording is good.

      Reply
    2. Mookie

      Yep. I’m confused about why the LW3 is approaching this like she and her new manager are enemies engaged in a struggle for power. Managers and employees are generally on the same side, but employees are not their manager’s equals. I’m wondering what happened with the other three that might have some bearing on the LW’s reaction here.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        And really, four managers over 14 years isn’t a huge number. That’s one every three and a half years, which is a little on the faster side for managerial turnover but not outrageous. If you stay in a job for a while, you’re going to see people come and go.

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          Oh man, that puts my ten managers in six years in perspective…

          Don’t ask me how many desks I’ve been assigned, I’ve lost count.

          Reply
          1. Perse's Mom

            I feel your pain. We went through 4 managers in about 6months here (promoted, quit, fired, transfer) before one stuck. Entire departments get moved around for absolutely no reason I can discern; I refer to this event as The Annual Desk Shuffle.

            Reply
            1. Artemesia

              The hallmark of clueless management is always to re-organize. It is also the hallmark of a failing business. The cliche is not ‘shuffling chairs on the Titanic’ for nothing.

              Reply
            1. vpc

              I had six in one year.

              One took a new job. Then another one took a new job. Then one took me on temporarily. Then I was assigned a permanent one, who told me she was tired of dealing with me and I should report to someone else after about four months (I needed her to do things like sign off on time sheets. You know, her job.) So the skip-level boss took me on for the last month before my final reassignment to someone I reported to for the next two years until the fellowship ended.

              Then last year I had five in the space of four months while we sorted out some temporaries and re-orgs… but they were all from different layers in the direct-report hierarchy, so people I work with regularly just taking shifting roles for a little while. That wasn’t quite as bad.

              Reply
          2. The Bread burglar

            I have had 4 in a year. Transfer, fired, promotion, quit. Waiting for number 5…

            So yeah that is good perspective.

            Reply
          3. Jesmlet

            I hadn’t thought to ask this as a question during interviews till now. I have no plans on looking for a new job any time soon, but I’d never want to work anywhere again where the turnover was so high. With my current company, the average length of stay across the board is 5 years. At my last, it was probably about 1 year. Changing personnel that frequently is so stressful even if it’s not a manager. No thank you…

            Reply
          4. NW Mossy

            I’ve been with my current org for 7 1/2 years, and in that time I’ve changed jobs 4 times and had 6 different bosses, not including the two times where my new boss was someone who’d previously managed me in a different context. It’s a good thing I love change!

            Reply
          5. Alton

            I had eleven managers in six years. Several of them were fired or demoted. Others burned out from non-stop work and too many employees to manage (it was only toward the end of my time there that the company started having assistant managers to help with day-to-day management).

            At one point I was encouraged to apply for a management training program. I smiled and said I would consider it, but there was no way I was going to try to move up in that company.

            Reply
        2. Ponytail

          Strictly speaking, if the new one has just started, the OP has had 3 previous supervisors over 14 years, so it’s more like 4.5 years each. Which is seems pretty reasonable for a job duration.

          Reply
        3. Sunshine Brite

          At one of my previous jobs, I had 5 in 1.5 years and the position was empty between a couple for like three months at one point.

          Reply
        4. Not Myself Today

          I have had 8 in a single year, but this included “matrix” or “dotted-line” managers.

          Reply
        5. LBK

          Agreed – especially since the OP describes it as a “supervisor” role, which usually means it’s lower level and more of a stepping stone to a middle management position than somewhere people spend their careers.

          Moreover, long stints in the exact same role are becoming less and less common, culturally speaking. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing it if you’re happy where you are, but with the decline in popularity of longer-term benefits like pensions and in the importance of seniority in things like giving out raises and promotions, there’s less incentive to stay put for 10+ years unless you’ve reached the plateau of where you want to be.

          Reply
        6. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night

          The LW’s “unwavering” comment combined with pointing out that she’s had 4 managers in 14 years sounds a wee bit defensive to me. Like, “My loyalty to this organization has never faltered, unlike the 3 other managers I’ve had and probably this one too.”

          I work with a few people who have been at my employer for 20+ years, and they have a huge sense of pride that they’ve stuck it out when others have run for the hills during the bad times. It’s got a strange “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, and I’m no quitter” vibe that I don’t really get, but this letter gave me the same kind of feeling.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think it has to be a bad/less-than-good managers story. In which case suspicion is healthy/reasonable! But it comes across oddly if your manager is competent and genuinely interested in helping.

        Reply
  8. Ramona Flowers

    #5 I’d expect tickets like that to go to colleagues (presuming he’s not freelance) rather than relatives in most fields.

    This is a bit odd of your friend’s family.

    Reply
    1. Jeanne

      My sister got an award of that type. They had a dinner in NYC. She was supposed to invite her family. Her daughters and fiance went and our parents. The company paid for the dinner and hotel rooms. The company also did all the inviting of colleagues. She wasn’t supposed to bring her favorite colleagues; only bigwigs came (large company). So I am not surprised OP’s brother is allowed to invite her. The pressure sounds like a family problem. They won’t accept she has a life, too. Decline politely but firmly.

      Reply
      1. OP #5

        In this situation, the company is not paying for travel for the family. It would be on their own dime. If the travel was paid for, I could see how it’s a no brainer.

        Reply
        1. Annonymouse

          So she has to travel somewhere, pay for a hotel and take at least one day off. maybe a day and a half/two day days off if she needs to get pretty and travel for an awards ceremony for her brother?

          Yeah… I can see how that might be difficult or impact her leave plans for the year.

          Reply
    2. Sarah G

      With all due respect, it’s difficult to ascertain that it’s odd without knowing the details or even the industry. If the award is a Big Deal, it could be standard to invited families. My aunt was a network news reporter and often invited siblings, kids, and often even grandchildren to events/galas when she was being presented with an award.

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        Ah, I wasn’t clear – my “it’s a bit odd” comment was more a very polite way of insinuating that the family dynamic sounds unhealthy/it’s not reasonable to give her such a hard time.

        Reply
        1. Bolt

          But even then we are not certain of the family dynamic.

          What if Fergus had really put him self out to attend an event to support Jane in the past and now Jane is not willing to return the support? What if Jane originally said yes, causing Fergus to make out of town arrangements for her, and then she suddenly changed her mind?

          Or even worse… what if Jane and Fergus are conjoined twins and Fergus cannot accept the award without her?

          Reply
          1. Annonymouse

            Damn it, Jane! All those times I’ve been there for you, including going undercover in Puerto Ric,o and you won’t even consider coming to my Nobel award ceremony?

            Reply
        2. k

          I was also thinking that this is just a weird family, but that could be my bias. I married into a family where if you miss ANYTHING you are “in trouble”, even if you have a perfectly legitimate reason. Really great, nice, loving people, but they just have this one quirk. If that’s how Jane’s family is, she just needs to apologize while internally rolling her eyes until they find something else to complain about.

          Reply
        3. Bookish

          Yeah, the family dynamic is what seems odd, I agree. OP doesn’t need to feel pressured to go to someone’s work event. I mean, I’m sure there are fields where they have events and it’s understood that your spouses and maybe kids are present and it would be awkward to be like “they didn’t want to come.” But not having all your relatives at this event? That seems more like a family guilt problem than a work problem.

          Reply
    3. Stellaaaaa

      Depending on how the event was looking to play out (nice venue? nice dinner? open bar?) I’d totally bug my bro for a ticket if I had no other conflicts. Shrug! I’ve never heard of tickets going to colleagues for an industry thing – I’d expect them to be getting their own stacks of tickets.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’ve definitely seen both, but it honestly depends on so many things (the industry, the kind of award, the type of event and its host, etc.). But the part about guilting OP is strange, even if this were a Nobel.

        Reply
        1. Stellaaaaa

          Yeah, definitely. “Jane, why don’t you skip your work stuff in favor of Fergus’ work stuff?”

          Reply
      2. Temperance

        I only know of one local industry event that encourages award winners to invite families. Typically, the winner’s organization sponsors and buys the table, so it would be super weird to give the tickets to the winner’s mom and dad instead of people at the org.

        Reply
        1. OP #5

          This has been my experience as well. The winner org sponsors and buys a table to get their name out in front of other folks in the industry.

          Reply
    4. Henry

      In academia, it would not be crazy to have the family attend a personal achievement recognition. I am assuming other professions that love blurring the line between personal and professional life do the same.

      Reply
      1. Taylor Swift

        I don’t think it’s weird, a blurred line, or a sign of bad boundaries to have family invited to an awards ceremony. A significant achievement is a significant achievement, no matter what sphere it takes place in.

        Reply
    5. Temperance

      I agree. I know of one event that allows winners to invite their family members (for free). The tickets usually go to the firm to distribute.

      Reply
    6. BananaPants

      In my industry it’s very standard for an honoree’s family (or at least their spouse/SO) to be invited to the awards ceremony or gala. Usually corporate bigwigs come, too.

      Reply
  9. Patches

    #1
    I am an executive assistant and in a small office I think it’s normal that the things you refer to fall to an admin role, with the exception of washing people’s dishes. Presumably people fill the copiers/printers during the day when they run out of paper and don’t come to you to with puppy dog eyes expecting you to follow them back to the copier and fill it for them. In terms of being the “mommy”, I actually think drawing people’s attention to the fact that you do what could be seen as care-taking could make them see you in that light. FWIW, I don’t think it’s care-taking, it’s just doing a good job in keeping the office environment clean and pleasant for everyone’s use so people who are on a higher pay grade than us can do their job effectively. You’re contributing to a positive work environment in accordance with your job role. The hard thing with our kind of jobs is that if we do a good job, everything goes smoothly so they think our job is easy or not needed.. If things go wrong, they think we are doing a bad job. Sigh.

    Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      I think this stuff really depends on the specific job and role. I’m an EA and while I keep our area neat and make sure we have paper in the copier, it is not my job to clean up after people. I paid my dues doing that as an administrative assistant many moons ago. But that’s what i mean that it depends – in my company, executive assistants are considered AVP level and mainly do project work.

      Reply
    1. Bolt

      I would talk to management before just stopping… if this stuff is now expected as part of her role, suddenly stopping for weeks could cause her some massive problems.

      Reply
  10. Mike C.

    Re #2

    I’m trying to better understand your concern here, because you don’t explicitly say what it is. You point out that you’ve been with your current company for 14 years unwaveringly while having multiple managers who presumably move on. Then you say that the question of your future career goals offends you.

    Did you take the question to mean something along the lines of “where do you want to work after you’re done here”, with the implication that you aren’t loyal or something similar? Is it something else entirely?

    Reply
    1. Gen

      Oddly enough at pretty much every place I’ve worked that question (especially the ‘5 years from now’ version) has been universally treated as a trick question where you have to convince your employer that you aren’t looking to leave but you also don’t have ideas above your station. Less ‘how can we help you develop’ more ‘what kind of trouble maker are you’. But then I’ve always worked places with little opportunity for promotion without leaving. I wouldn’t be offended about the question because it is very common but I always struggle to answer it

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        That sounds awful! I’m sorry; this isn’t how it normally works, although it sounds like that’s how it has always worked for your employers :(

        Reply
      2. Bookish

        Yeah. I wouldn’t be offended but I feel like my top priority in answering this question would be to make sure it made the right impression on the person asking. Like, what do I want in five years? To keep working in this job, but with the appropriate level of promotions??

        I mean, that literally IS my goal, pretty much. I love my job and I just want to keep working here, with timely promotions and raises. I suppose it makes for a boring answer to the part of my annual review where I fill in any notes about working here and goals.

        Reply
  11. aJDdoesnmakeyouadoctor

    As per #5- my mother was honored with a very prestigious award recently. Not only did my father, siblings and I attend, her brother and sister in law did too. It really depends on the award and the event. For some awards it probably is odd to have family. For others, it’s such an honor that family is expected.

    Think of it this way- if it was something like a Nobel Prize (highly unlikely, but you get the idea), inviting family to see you is probably warranted. In fact, if I were awarded highly like that and asked my sister to come and she refused because it was just for colleagues, I’d be annoyed. BUT on the other hand, if it’s something like recognition of achievement or time served at an organization, having family there often would be more than expected. The reality of this situation is probably in the middle closer to the latter, but there are certainly factors to consider.

    Reply
    1. OP #5

      If it was a something of Nobel/Oscar/Lifetime Achievement, I’d love for my family to join me. However, I’d definitely be considerate of their time and expenses. If it wasn’t in the cards because of work or budget, I’d be disappointed but not guilt-tripping.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think that’s fair and reasonable, OP. It might be that this triggered other issues for your fam, and now they’re shoe-horning all their complaints into one event in a strange way. Or maybe they’re just being unreasonable based on different assumptions. I’m sorry :(

        Reply
  12. Ask a Manager Post author

    An update from the Air BnB letter-writer —

    She wrote to me earlier this week and I sent her my answer that same day since it was time-sensitive. When I emailed her yesterday to say I’d be printing it today, she sent me this update:

    Thank you for your quick response; you helped reinstate my feeling that this was a realistic expectation out of my stay.

    Honestly, I was still wavering about saying something; I didn’t want to be a diva!

    But then my manager walked up to me the next morning with a kind of cringing face, asking how the rooming situation was shaping up. And I said that it was kind of odd sharing a room with a colleague–by chance were there any leftover hotel rooms from our other bookings (for some contractors)? He immediately reached out to our hotel contact and ended up booking me one of the last hotel rooms in the city.

    So I ended up with my own door (and associated room). Still worrying that I seem like a diva for getting this, but ultimately they know it was an issue and reached out to me to solve it, so this seems like as reasonable a solution as they could achieve.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Oh, this is great news! Based on manager’s cringy face and quick response, it sounds like OP was right to request a change and is safely in the “not a diva” camp (although, isn’t a diva the female version of a hustler? ;) ).

      I’m glad everything worked out!

      Reply
      1. Thlayli

        Diva originally meant a celebrated female opera singer, but nowadays is usually used as a derogatory term to mean a woman who is overly demanding.

        I don’t know if there is a derogatory term for an overly demanding man, but if not I propose divo, which is the term for a celebrated male opera singer.

        Reply
        1. Sparkly Librarian

          Beyonce was giving the term a positive spin.

          I’m a diva, best believe her, you see how she getting paid?

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Oh, I hear you! I was being a little sly and referencing Beyoncé’s song, which reclaims the word “diva” to celebrate badass women (instead of maligning them for being “high maintenance”). It was my way of gently letting OP know her concerns are valid, and her choice to take up the offer of a hotel room, especially given the room situation, was 100% reasonable and not “high maintenance.” (Although she can be high maintenance if she’s earned it!)

          It’s kind of like prima donna, imo—you work hard, perform under pressure, and do it with grace. It’s b.s. for anyone to try to diminish you for being “too choosy” simply because you’re a woman and expected to dismiss or brush over social snafus like this one.

          Reply
      1. Engineer Woman

        Agree – not the least bit diva-ish or high maintenance! I certainly wouldn’t want to sleep in an open room where a colleague could pass through in the middle of the night.

        Also, clearly your manager thinks the open-air loft arrangement isn’t issue-free (it’s not!). You might have been perfectly okay with it and perhaps some people are, but I’d wager that a lot of people aren’t. Good outcome and good of your manager to recognize and resolve the situation.

        Reply
      1. the gold digger

        I went skiing with five friends and got stuck in the loft above one of the bedrooms. I had to listen to my friend and her husband get busy every single night for four days. They had been married for over 20 years so although I am (now) impressed with their passion, I still think they could have waited until they got home.

        I was not happy. BTW, I still paid 1/6 of the rental fee but definitely did not get 1/6 of the value of the place.

        Reply
        1. Anna

          Even having a door between you isn’t a guarantee.

          Ask me about that Christmas I found out my husband’s 70+ aunt and uncle were still quite active.

          Reply
    2. Zathras

      Yay, I’m glad your story has a happy ending! And I wouldn’t worry too much about seeming overly demanding. It sounds like your manager kind of knew it was a bad situation.

      This story reminded me of a similar story involving a work trip and AirBnB – my two coworkers ended up sharing not just a room, but a child size bunk bed for a week. I felt so bad for them and my boss refused to even acknowledge that this was at all awkward or inappropriate.

      We looked at the AirBnB listing for the place and it was not misleading at all – it mentioned the bunk beds in the description and there was a clear picture of each bed. So my boss either knew up front about the bunk beds, or didn’t bother reading the description.

      The bizarre part is that we were originally asked if we were OK with AirBnB to save our organization money, but my boss later complained that it was more expensive than a hotel would have been. So I’m not even sure what the point was.

      Reply
    3. fposte

      I don’t think you’re a diva, but I also think you’re not going to be working with these people in a week anyway. If you did want to be a diva, now would be the perfect time :-).

      Reply
    4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Advocating for yourself and making reasonable requests is not being a diva. Don’t put yourself down or minimize your comfort.

      Reply
  13. GermanGirl

    #1 since you are usually the first person to arrive, most of these tasks don’t surprise me at all. At my office, whoever arrives first does the lights, windows and coffee machine. Likewise, whoever leaves last does windows, lights and on Fridays cleans the coffee machine.

    You refilling the paper again makes sense because I presume you are the one that needs to know when to order new paper. Distributing the mail is probably also part of your job.

    And one person doing the dishes once a day is more time-, water-, and soap-efficient than everyone doing their own so I get that. If your office has space for that, you could suggest a small dishwasher where everybody can put their stuff in. The last person who leaves turns it on and the first person who comes puts the dishes back in the cupboard.

    But cleaning up spills should be everyone’s business, because spills that aren’t cleaned soon leave more stains, spills on the floor will be distributed all over the office or someone will slip on them, (and also we’re not in kindergarten, but when you talk to your boss about that, just use the other points).

    You could say something like “Hey boss, I’ve noticed that people don’t take care of their spills anymore, because I’ll clean them when I see them. I think that’s bad because (reasons above) so I’d appreciate if you could remind everyone to keep our office clean and take care of their spills.”

    Reply
  14. Djuna

    #4 Kudos for recognizing that you can’t cut/curtail internet access to those stations.
    I worked in retail for years and at one point a new IT manager decided to reduce our internet access to the sites we “needed” to do our job. That lasted less than 6 months.

    We were booksellers, and would have customers looking for a book that was reviewed in x newspaper, talked about on y radio show or tweeted about by z celebrity. Without full access to the internet we had a terrible time book-detecting for our more vague customers.

    When the restrictions were lifted (due to customer complaints!) we were asked not to use social media/check email on stations on the floor, but could use the stockroom computers / our own phones on breaks. That was 8 years ago, a company trying something like that now would really seem draconian.

    Our manager tackled inattentiveness, whatever the cause (we had some chat-huddlers too), as Alison suggests. It worked very well, especially since she spent much of her time on the floor (helping out, not monitoring) and had ample opportunity to see who was in need of some quiet coaching.

    Reply
    1. I before E

      I worked in a bookstore 10 years ago with zero internet. It was something else trying to track down books for people. Luckily we had a few employees that were walking Internets who just knew what everyone was talking about.

      Reply
      1. Mona Lisa

        At my bookstore, there was a weekly list of books that had appeared on popular TV, newspaper, and radio programs with the date the episode had aired that my managers would print out and leave at a couple of stations around the store. Since this was in Ye Olde Tymes before smart phones and we did not browsing capabilities, it was the only way for us to look up information for the customers.

        My current retail employer does have internet, but the company keeps the speeds so slow that it’s completely useless. (I believe this is to discourage personal usage while at the registers.) Our managers gave us permission to break from company policy and carry our smart phones on the floor so that we can look items up for customers on-line because the internet situation is so bad.

        Reply
    2. OP #4

      Thank you! Supervisors aren’t on the desk every hour, so maybe while we begin instituting the clearer expectations we can do quality checks to see who’s following along & who may still need some guidance.

      Reply
  15. Ramona Flowers

    I’ve been thinking some more about the manager who asked about career plans.

    Maybe you could interpret the question like this:

    Okay, you’ve been here 14 years so you are probably happy here. Is that true? Are you happy? Why? What do you find satisfying and what do you want to do more or less of? If anything changes in terms of who does what,?what does your manager need to know about keeping you fulfilled and satisfied?

    Don’t take it as: when will you leave? Take it as: what makes you tick and how can we keep you happy?

    Reply
    1. Graciosa

      If it makes the OP happy to interpret it this way, I’m fine with it, but I really don’t see any issue with interpreting it as the question was originally posed.

      Future career plans or employment goals is a pretty broad question. My job as a manager is to develop my team and make sure they are happy and performing at their peak. I get everything from requests for new skill development opportunities to mentoring (both ways) to new chairs (not my idea of an employment goal personally, but approved immediately nevertheless).

      With a long time employee, I would really want to make sure that they were where they wanted to be and feeling valued and appreciated rather than overlooked. The person who knows this is the employee, so the most logical way to get the information is to just ask.

      It isn’t a trick question. There are no hidden “gotchas” lurking in the shadows. It’s just my job.

      Another manager had an employee who responded with her plan to retire in another year or so. It was a bit of a surprise because she definitely did not present as anything close to retirement age, but that’s okay – we were happy to have her as long as she wanted to stay, and they were able to have good conversations about cross-training others, transferring institutional knowledge, etc. When the employee eventually decided on a last day, the manager led the celebrations and wished her well.

      Sometimes I get the impression that there are employees who assume all managers are at least closely related to Cruella DeVille. We’re not. Most of us are relatively human and just trying to do a good job.

      Reply
      1. Evie K

        Managers are humans. That means some of them are going to be bad at their jobs, even when they are trying to be good. It’s natural when someone has the power to take away your income (and therefore your home and healthcare) that you think really hard before communicating anything to that person.

        We talk here all the time about the tone and timing of communication with management to increase the chances of good outcomes. Employees are human too and we are always going to base current actions on past experiences and fears that might look irrational from the outside.

        Your job as a manager is to cultivate employees as assets. There are other managers whose job it is to cull employees as costs. Both might ask the development question but the same honest answer about a desire for more training isn’t getting the same response in both places.

        I agree that the OP’s best option is to engage her new supervisor in conversation but I am in the “cheerfully noncommittal” camp for what she should say initially. I’d come back with: “I am very happy where I am and I am not sure what kinds of things you mean by goals. Can you give me some examples?” Maybe with a side of, no one has asked this of me before if that’s true. Might give the OP more of a window into what honesty might cost her.

        Reply
  16. Tempest

    Number 4 – please understand you can and should manage the people doing the wrong thing individually. I work for a company and manager who insists that everyone must be treated the same. It’s so frustrating and damaging to morale to lose something you’re able to use responsibly because Sally next to you can’t stop browsing Facebook while customers are around. You can and should tell the offenders that as they’ve proven they can’t use the internet at work for personal reasons responsibly you’re going to have to ask them not to use it for those reasons at all. Leave the conscientious staff who are doing the right things alone. I say this a lot lately but work isn’t a democracy. It doesn’t have to be a situation where one set of rules everyone is ok with is negotiated for everyone. It’s ok for a manager to decide different rules apply to different staff depending on the level those staff are operating at. You can always tell the offenders if their customer service game comes up to where you need it to be and gets maintained there for x months, you can revisit their personal browsing privileges.

    Reply
    1. AB

      Yes! This! It’s like once when I asked someone to send me an email at the end of each shift to summerise what work she’d done. She kept complaining that’s it wasn’t fair that no one else had to do that. Well no one else was regularly forgetting to do important tasks! I’m not going to treat everyone like children to make one person feel better about the fact they are underperforming.

      Reply
    2. saby

      Yes, this! OP, if you really feel the need to send some kind of memo to all your employees, keep it to something like “Remember, we pay you to help customers and using the internet for personal browsing when there are no customers is a privilege. The customers are your first priority and you shouldn’t be doing anything so involved that you can’t drop it immediately when a customer approaches you.” Then you still need to follow up with the individual offenders to let them know you have noticed THEM, specifically, engaging in this behaviour, because the worst offenders are always the ones who don’t realize team-wide messages are really about them.

      Reply
      1. OP #4

        This is also something good to keep in mind if I have to revert back to a staff-wide message. Framing it as a privilege & let them know while it was brought up with the group as a reminder, but that they are on my radar for the behavior.

        Reply
    3. OP #4

      Exactly! I definitely didn’t want to revoke for everyone as that would be unfair. And perhaps reading this over it’s no use to continually bring up in a group setting for those who don’t have an issue with it. I know I would get tired of hearing the same things over & over when I knew I wasn’t who it was directed at. I also like your idea of a probationary period (there are slow periods – so I know I would lose my mind if I couldn’t stay occupied).

      Reply
  17. mobiuschic42

    OP #3 – you say your in the healthcare field. I can’t think of a single facet of that discipline that hasn’t had significant advances/changes/opportunities to learn come about in the past 14 years, be it technological changes, regulatory changes, or both. And most of these systems are incredibly complex. I assume there must be something about it that your not an expert on…perhaps you could mention that you don’t know much about some part of the impact of new HIPAA guidelines our that you’d like to train more on x device?

    Reply
    1. Sunshine Brite

      That’s what I thought as well. Healthcare software, regulations, internal policies, etc. are always shifting. Are you customer facing and want more security training? Are you wanting to get a certification in your specialty division or additional CEUs around your favorite populations to work with? My work switched systems and some people requested a typing refresher be offered for people to practice typing faster on a laptop while having a conversation. All sorts of things go into goals, not just moving up or switching positions.

      Reply
  18. AB

    #OP3 your boss is just trying to get to know you better so she knows how best to support you. It’s important to know which if your staff are ambitious and want to move up, and which are happy and content staying put and just getting better at what they do.

    My first day with a new team I asked them similar questions, as well as “what do you like most about your job?”, “what would you like to see different?”.

    Being weird about perfectly normal questions will make you look like a troublemaker, or that your real career goal is to do the bare minimum amount of work you can do without being fired.

    Reply
  19. Margo

    I agree with Tempest – manage them individually, and when you speak to the offenders be absolutely clear that this is about their personal, individual presentation and performance.

    We had this a while back with time keeping. One person got very huffy and claimed that we were being unfair because we were pulling them up on their lateness and time keeping and yet other employees had more flexibility. The difference was that, unlike the other employees , it was a fundamental part of their role to be there at specific times, but also, they were only ever late – i.e. they would come in late but leave dead on time, go early r on time for breaks but be back late etc. Other employees might sometimes be a little late in the morning or getting in after lunch but would make up the time elsewhere. We were not prepared to impose necessary restrictions and monitoring on employees who were working well just to make one clock-watcher fell better.

    Reply
    1. OP #4

      When I ask my manager what to do in these situations, I’ve been guided by her to bring up issues in staff meetings when it’s a problem with more than 1 staff member. Connecting the dots now I see that my manager’s non-confrontational style had misguided me a bit when the issue persists after the first reminder. Thank you for your example!

      Reply
  20. hbc

    OP3: While I don’t find the question offensive or evidence that you should be suspicious, there are lots of reasons why you might not want to be…completely forthcoming, especially with someone you don’t know well. For example, if you’d like to keep doing the same job for the next 14 years exactly how you’ve done it for the last 14 years, that might come off badly to someone who values ambition and is looking to shake things up. Or if you want her job (which is pretty common and reasonable), she might think you’re out to get her if she’s on the insecure side.

    So don’t assume bad intent, but soften or moderate your position until you know the new manager better. “Leave me alone to do this forever” is better as “I’m happy enough with my job as-is that I have a hard time envisioning a better role, but I’m interested if there’s a good fit for me and the company.”

    Reply
  21. AlwhoisthatAl

    #1 My opinion is that if it is in your contract to do Cleaner/Janitorial tasks then do them, otherwise don’t. That’s what Cleaners and Janitors are for. I’ve never understood this attitude of “well you’re low-paid or in a low status role therefore you should do the cleaning/tidying up around people who earn more or have a better job title”
    If I was your boss and your job was to be answering the phones, relaying messages etc and someone else had to take a call or change the toner in the printer because you were cleaning the kitchen I’d be annoyed.
    As for your personal goals, how can you advance your career if you are doing these tasks like washing the dishes, your time would be far better spent learning the roles of other people and asking to do some of their work if they are busy. Worth mentioning to your boss.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      Most Americans don’t have job contracts that dictate responsibilities like that; the closest is a non-binding job description that usually includes a broad “Other duties as needed” responsibility.

      Reply
  22. MI Dawn

    OP3: I was in a new position at my long-time employer when my boss asked that question, as part of a “getting to know you”. I was honest – Happy to be in the position right now, no plans on changing at this time, but long-term goal is to go into management again (I’d had a supervisory position a few years previously that didn’t go well for many reasons, but if I’d known about AAM then, it would have been much better!) She encouraged me to take online company courses about management and is open to me doing things to go in that direction. Now, of course, not all managers are open to hearing that from an employee within a few weeks of starting. But if you have long term goals, offer them.

    Reply
  23. Temperance

    LW5: Typically, at these things, you invite your colleagues and your firm gets the tickets and handles inviting people. I go to many of these events, and at exactly one are family members included for award winners. I go to legal industry events, though, and in other industries, this might be more common.

    I think that Jane’s family sounds smothery and overbearing, but she probably already knows that.

    Reply
  24. The Other Dawn

    RE: #3

    This question is definitely not something to be offended about. It’s the new manager’s way of getting an understanding of how you feel about your job and your place in the department. Do you want to move up? Then she can figure out how to eventually make that happen, assuming that’s possible within your department/company. Are you happy where you are? Then she’ll know not to waste time sending you to management seminars and can work on keeping you happy right where you are. Do you want to learn something new? She needs to know that so she can make that happen. Have you been held back by previous managers? She’s going to want to know that, too.

    This is your chance to make your voice heard and your career ambitions known. If you’re happy where you are and have no plans to move up, make a lateral move, or leave, it’s perfectly fine to say that. If you’re worried that the manager will hold that against you, then I’d say your sucks and is not interested in bettering the department.

    As a manager, I always ask about career goals. If someone tells me, “I want to move up and do X,” I try to make that happen, even if it means they leave my department for another one. If it’s not possible to move up because of lack of company growth (or whatever else), I’ll tell them that. I’ve even told someone that the only way she’s going to grow and get to where she wants to go career-wise is if she leaves the company for a larger one. I was really sad to see her go, but she was doing what she needed to do for her career. I want my team to be happy, not feeling like they’re stuck with nowhere to go from here. And the only way I can do that is to ask questions; I always make it known that all answers are acceptable and won’t be used/held against them. And I have to say, if someone told me it was none of my business or wouldn’t answer the question, I’d think that’s pretty weird; talking about these things is a very normal part of the working world, IMO. And I understand if someone is leery because of past managers, but not every manager is the same.

    Reply
    1. Czhorat

      Part of me wonders if the OP took offense because they do NOT have any career goals past where they are. If not, there’s nothing wrong with that, and they could give an answer to the effect of, “I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and am happy here for the foreseeable future. We can discuss further if anything changes.”

      If this is the case, not wanting to move is nothign to be embarrassed about

      Reply
  25. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

    #1- You said you work in a small office. Are you in a building that has an onsite facilities department? If so, you should call them to clean up spills and wash dishes, etc. Also, as you do work in a very small office, I would imagine you are probably pretty close to your office mates. As such, you may want to start issuing some “directives”. For example, about the spills–Send out a mass email telling them that if someone spills something, THEY are to clean it up ASAP. Explain that keeping the office clean is EVERYONE’S responsibility. and as for dishes–purchase disposable plates, cups and utensils. It’s an office–not a restaurant.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I don’t think the OP isn’t trying to stop; she’s just trying to make sure it’s okay. You’re talking about a complete revamp of office protocol, practice, and expenditure to make sure the OP doesn’t have to do something she’s cheerfully doing as a regular part of her job, and which isn’t a hugely unusual part of an admin’s job.

      Reply
        1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

          At the end of her letter, she’s wondering if she should stop the “housekeeping” and just stick to typical office duties. If she decides to stop, then perhaps she will have to change the protocol and get her office mates acclimated to a new way of doing things.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Right, she’s wondering if she *should* stop. She’s not saying she wants to–she just wants a read on the typicality of the tasks. And they really are pretty typical, so I don’t see why she’d need to change anything.

            Reply
  26. Allison

    OP #1, did your manager go over a detailed list of what you were expected to do for this job, or did they just say something like “you know, all the typical admin stuff” when describing the job. In hindsight, it would have helped to get a clear picture of what your duties were. However, now you want that picture, so if/when you ask your boss if you should be doing these things, be sure to frame it as not wanting to waste time doing stuff that’s not actually your job when you have other things you should be focused on.

    If you’re an executive assistant, I’d figure that means taking care of one executive’s needs, not the whole office, but maybe that’s different in a small office. Are there other EA’s?

    As for getting gratitude, I know it can stink when you do something you don’t really like doing, for someone else, and they don’t acknowledge it, but I’d advise against expecting a lot of gratitude and getting mad when you don’t get it.

    OP #3, I’d love getting asked this question by a new boss! When I interview for a job, I tell the hiring manager what I want, so if I get the job my boss knows what I’m after. However, if that boss leaves and someone new steps in, I’d absolutely want to fill them in on what I want to accomplish, and it would be great if they started that conversation. I wish I was more proactive about this in my old job when I got a new boss, I wish I’d told her up front I wanted to be converted to a full-time employee, that I wanted to move up ideally to a senior title, or if that wasn’t an option, move to an analyst position within the department, that I wanted more projects, that I wanted to attend professional conferences. I could have gotten more out of the job if we’d had this conversation and I’d been more direct early on.

    Reply
  27. Lily in NYC

    #4 – You don’t have to cut out the entire internet if people are abusing it. You can have certain categories blocked, kind of like parental controls. Where I work, you can’t access game sites or porn and we have time restrictions for shopping sites. So if everyone is wasting time of Facebook, you can have it blocked while still giving access to sites needed to do the job.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      That’s certainly an option, but it seems unfair and passive aggressive to block it without saying anything to the employees. If people are wasting time on the internet, the first step is to talk to them about it – you say you’ve noticed them spending a lot of time on those sites, it’s impacting their job because reasons (looks bad to others, gets in the way of work being done, etc.), and they need to cut way back. Tell them if you don’t see an improvement, you will start blocking websites and/or putting time restrictions on others. Kind of an “if you can’t curb it yourself, I’ll curb it for you” approach.

      Words – actual, direct words – should pretty much always be the first step to solving a problem.

      Reply
    2. Antilles

      True, but that’s not really the issue here. It has nothing to do with the *particular* websites; it’s about some (not all) of the staff putting the computer as a higher-priority than customers. Blocking Facebook isn’t really solving the issue, since an employee who is putting her own Internet use ahead of customers can easily get lost in ESPN or CNN or personal email or so on.
      Instituting a blocking software or draconian personal use policy would make things more miserable for all of OP’s attentive employees without necessarily fixing the problem with the inattentive employees.

      Reply
    3. Alton

      I’m not really a fan of blocking sites (except maybe things like porn sites) carte blanche unless there’s a reason why the computers can only be used for certain things. It feels kind of patronizing to me to limit sites if it’s acceptable for employees to use the computers during their downtime or might reasonably use the internet for work-related purposes. If someone’s use of social media or game sites or whatever is becoming problematic, I think that should be addressed with the individual. I don’t think the people who check Facebook for five minutes here and there or who play safe-for-work games on their lunch breaks should be punished if that sort of usage isn’t a problem.

      Reply
    4. TootsNYC

      I think you can also suggest the employees struggling with this that THEY choose to block the sites that tempt them most. Chrome has Simple Blocker, and I’m sure they are others.

      Then you have blocking, but it’s under employee control. And the next person to use the computer can turn it off.

      Reply
    5. Yorick

      Also, certain sites can have unexpected work relevance. I am a research analyst and I use Twitter to share research and learn about other scientists’ new studies. I have found answers to stats questions on reddit. These help me with my job, but I can’t do them at work because these sites are blocked.

      Reply
      1. The Other Dawn

        I have the same issue. I work at a bank, searching for money laundering and other types of criminal doings. There are many weird websites that I need to view during my research of a customer and it’s so hard because a lot of those sites are blocked. Understandably so, since they’re often linked with marijuana, sex, classifieds, etc., but it’s still frustrating. (And if anyone looked at my search history and didn’t know what I do, I’d probably get the big side-eye.) As a result, we have a laptop that isn’t connected the bank’s network I any way that we use for things like this.

        Reply
    6. OP #4

      I found out that was discussed prior to my arrival in the department last year, but it went nowhere (because it would be blocked for everyone). If it became such an issue for all staff that might be the way to go, but for now I think addressing on the individual basis would be fair and keep the morale for those who don’t need the controls.

      Reply
  28. Czhorat

    OP3 – mmost people said similar, but I’m honestly quite stunned that you consider this an inappropriate question. Almost every time I’ve discussed career goals I’ve been the one having to initiate the conversation; I LOVE it when a manager takes the time to ask.

    If you are happy where you are, there’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “I’m in the role which I want and am most comfortable. I don’t feel any strong desire to move in the forseeable future”. You can also say that you eventually want to a role in management, a more senior-level role similar to your own, or a move towards something related. If you answer and there’s an opportunity to transition towards what you want, your supervisor might be able to help you. If you refuse to answer, then you’ll not really get anywhere.

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      This. A manager who doesn’t ask about my career goals and plans is a manager who’s out of touch with me, doesn’t care, and doesn’t have a good sense of the general temperature and health of their group. Not a plus. Asking this question reflects well on the new manager, and refusing to answer reflects oddly on OP.

      Reply
  29. commensally

    re: #4

    I work for what I suspect is a very similar place in the customer service job, and we were recently given a very badly written “social media policy” that covered internet use on the desk (handed down by headquarters with no input from managers or staff.)

    Here’s a few things I want to suggest before you start banning personal computer use:
    a) are sightlines to the customers actually unrestricted? We have a stanchion that seems like it should be clearly visible, and if you were a manager standing behind the desk it is, but from several of the stations, customers are often entirely blocked by the monitors. Also, if there isn’t already an established line, customers will stand in the wrong place or just loiter awkwardly looking at displays or talk to their kids and it’s really easy to not notice they’re actually waiting for the thirty seconds or so it takes a manager to think it’s a problem.

    b) is personal internet use actually the problem? Some people are just less able to do that kind of sudden switch in focus, and if you take personal computer use away, they will be equally absorbed in their thoughts or chatting or other distractions. (I know one of the most upsetting things has been everybody getting restricted from internet use when older staffers who aren’t as comfortable with the internet will ignore a line for five minutes while chatting loudly about their weekend and grandkids.) I look at silly internet stuff to stay focused, not to distract. It may be more useful to focus on what they should be doing (greeting every single customer immediately whether they are obviously in line or not, moving a line at a certain pace, dividing up who helps a given customer, etc.) If it’s clear that the internet is the problem for a particular person, then work with that particular person on performance issues.

    c) For goodness’ sake, do not say “you should be doing work tasks or training rather than using the internet for personal reasons during slow times.” Work tasks are 1000% times more distracting (and 1000% more tempting to let a customer wait in favor of) than reading AAM.

    d) If you do ban personal computer use, make sure you can actually enforce it, or everybody will just switch from reading facebook to writing Transformers fanfic and pretending it’s a work email.

    Reply
    1. commensally

      Oh, and I should add – if the actual problem is that customers are waiting a little bit longer than you think they should, make sure you are working on that problem, not the “I don’t want my staff distracted by facebook” problem.

      Our internet restrictions came down at the same time tasks and shifts were being changed resulting in longer wait times overall, and it’s really hard to buy into a manager saying “we can’t have you being distracted and making customers wait an extra thirty seconds when it’s slow” when the response to “we are spending three times as much time doing X under the new system and there are now always lines at our busy times” is “it’s okay if the customers have to wait a little bit longer “.

      Reply
      1. Zathras

        Those are very different situations though – as a customer, it is much worse to be at the front of the line and ignored, than to be waiting in a line, even if the time lost is the same.

        Reply
        1. commensally

          I think it depends. When I do fail to realize someone is waiting and they end up with a short wait, half the time they apologize for interrupting me and tell me they can wait for me to finish. The same person might get very antsy if they have to wait for the person ahead of them to fumble with cards and cash. And the person who would be upset at waiting with no line is going to come right up and make sure I see them, not loiter timidly for thirty seconds waiting for me to catch their eye.

          Also, unless the ‘ignoring customers’ problem is egregious, which admittedly it could be for OP (it is for some of our chatty people), if there’s an actual line due to procedural nonsense, wait times are always going to be substantially longer than with no line.

          I’m not saying the problem is the same, I’m just saying that if management claims short wait times aren’t important, the staff will probably believe them.

          Reply
          1. Zathras

            Yeah, I hear you on the mixed messages from management.

            We did seem to get a fair number of the timid loiterers though – people would hang out at the edge of our peripheral vision, not at all near the (clearly marked) line area. Then a few minutes later they would yell at us for ignoring them. It was particularly obnoxious because our standards for response time to an approaching customer were super high – we all got used to dropping conversations mid-sentence. But you had to actually approach!

            One thing I learned in retail was that some customers are just looking for any excuse to yell at you.

            Reply
      2. OP #4

        a. If someone were to look up from their screen (not move their head but just move their eyes above it) they would be able to see the customer if they were in line. We’ve moved temporarily so we have issues sometimes with our non-regular customers who don’t step into it, but we’re in such close quarters that if there was a straggler someone should (operative word) at least notice them (the PC only takes up so much space). Perhaps looking at the setup again might be helpful though. We’ve tried adding signage to direct customers better towards the line, but it hasn’t helped, so I’ve relied on staff “training” the customers to step into the line.
        b. I’m still analyzing this. The issue is likely deeper, but it’s been more identifiable to see the connection between someone staring at a PC instead of looking up.
        c. I don’t want someone learning as a punishment (if they even absorb the information they’re being forced to read up on), so I wouldn’t go this route either.
        d. Hah!
        Wait times aren’t a huge deal-moreso the perception that staff are available and they’re not being called up right away.

        Reply
  30. JJ

    #3- I understand your feelings, and I sort of react the same way when asked that question now. I tell my boss I’m happy doing what I am doing and enjoy my work- and it always feels like he is judging me because I don’t want to move up any further (and I’m already higher up in the organization than I thought I would ever be). I remember when he first came to the team and we had this discussion about goals, and one of his opening statements was “you can’t work here in the basement forever (my office is on a lower level of the building). You have to get out and try something new, especially if you want to move up”. It really set me back and made me feel like he was threatening my job. I don’t think he was, and that it was more a ham-fisted attempt to tell me I had potential to move higher if I wanted to. But for some reason he just doesn’t get that I don’t want to. Just let me be me! Now I dread when we have to have our yearly discussion on goals.

    Reply
    1. Czhorat

      It also doesn’t have to be a promotion or new job. I work in the commercial audio-visual industry. I could answer that I want a more senior role, it could say, for example, that health-care facilities interest me and I’d like to develop subject-matter expertise in designing integrated operating rooms, medical simulation centers, and similar facilities.

      It might not apply everywhere, but there’s often a way to develop professionally without changing roles.

      Reply
  31. Another Lawyer

    #5, my former boss was constantly receiving awards (think, 1 a month or more). I always staffed him, and normally it was just him + staff, and occasionally his teenage daughter. But there were a few that were really big and his entire family (wife, daughter, mom, sister + BIL, etc). If it’s a really big award, it’s probably not uncommon at all.

    Reply
  32. Not an assistant but somehow always stuck with office caretaking.

    OP #1, I think it’s more likely that no one even thinks about it. It’s been my experience that they get to the office, and the room is a good temperature and the lights are on and the coffee is made. It’s as if a magical office fairy took care of it. Most people don’t even pay attention until a day you’re out and it’s not done.

    Reply
  33. JS

    OP2- Yes say something! It is totally reasonable to have the expectation of having your own room and space. At the very least you should be able to trade with someone who does not mind having an open air room.

    OP3- That’s pretty normal. I understand how it might seem a bit weird to you if you have spent the majority of your career with your company and in the same department but its a very common question that all good managers should ask their employees. Alison’s advice of you just wanting to continue to grow and improve in your current role is great.

    OP4- I would only punish employees if customers are kept waiting more than 30-seconds and are not acknowledged. You seem as you want to give them this internet privilege so as long as they are acknowledging a customer saying “I’ll be with you in just a moment” wrapping up anything they are doing shouldn’t be an issue and most customers are not bothered by waiting a few extra seconds as long as they have been acknowledged. Since computer use for internet is required it is unfair to assume (unless you are standing over their shoulder) that the reason they did not see the customer right away was due to social media every single time. They could be wrapping up an internal email or checking something else within the system, so I wouldn’t assume it was personal unless you can see it clearly yourself.

    Reply
    1. OP #4

      Usually it’s clear and I can see which screens are likely work related (gmail in most cases, software) but my work does have a FB page and twitter. The issue is the lack of acknowledgement because they’re not even looking up from the screen to see if someone is waiting (I would be thrilled if there was at the very least that hint of acknowledgement).

      Reply
  34. Bookish

    Regarding the question about people taking a while to wrap up personal internet use… I think Alison gave good advice. I also wonder a few things myself:
    Can anyone other than the employee on the computer (specifically, customers) see what’s on the screen? This feels important for a couple of reasons. 1) It feels like more of an “affront” to the customer if they see the delay is caused by, idk, someone checking Facebook, and 2) I wonder how much of the delay is just the employee trying to close all their personal browser windows so that the customer they’re assisting doesn’t see them. I think that if I were in this position, the only delay I would have between using the internet to like, check Twitter or shop online or something would be to make sure the window was minimized or closed before I started talking to the customer or another employee. Maybe it could be a strategy to help this move faster to have, say, a full screen browser window open to the company’s website homepage minimized at all times so that the employee could quickly click on that and have it cover up any of their allowed-but-not-work-related content.

    Anything taking longer than that sort of thing – like if people are instead taking a while because “oh, I just have to finish writing this great Tweet!” or “aaaand let me just enter my shipping address on this Amazon order” or something would definitely come off as a lack of respect for the person waiting, and not something I’d have much patience for.

    Reply
    1. OP #4

      Great point! The PC does not face the customers. We just moved temporarily and at the old desk from certain angles customers could see their screens (not up close but if you were familiar with FB’s layout you’d be able to tell) so maybe that has made staff more lax. I didn’t think of it from that perspective so thanks for your question! And with our taskbar it’s easy to switch out windows, but I know people have preferred ways of getting back to certain things they had open. That shouldn’t take too long and they could at least call a customer up in the meantime (which is something else I will suggest).

      Reply
  35. Former Retail Manager

    OP#3……what Alison and so many other commenters have said is all great advice. It sounds like you’re happy where you are and don’t want to move anytime soon….no issue with saying just that to your new manager. And also, you may find that as a new manager/new to your department, your manager may be extremely pleased to have someone working for her that is good at what they do and happy where they are. Oftentimes, folks like this are the backbone of a team and a great asset in training new people, alerting management to issues in processes or procedures, and just generally great at helping things run smoothly.

    I definitely wouldn’t be offended at this question or assume that it’s a negative question. Trying to manager an entire department, or even half of a sizeable department, of people that are all ambitious and claim to want to advance their careers sooner rather than later can be exhausting. Your manager may well be thrilled to have someone who is content where they are that they can count on day-in and day-out.

    Reply
  36. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    #3 “I don’t feel it’s appropriate that she is asking this question at all. Am I just taking it offensively? How do I answer that it’s none of her business, in a good way?”

    Not only is it appropriate and inoffensive for her to be asking this question – it’s 100% absolutely her business, by definition. She’s your supervisor. A good one will want to support your career goals, and understand how your career goals might affect her own long-term planning for the department, and even budget around professional development. Especially as a new manager, you want to know where everyone’s at and get a sense of how stable your groupis. I ask that question of all my direct reports regularly, to take the pulse of where each person’s career is going, if they’re thinking of moving on anytime soon, whether they might benefit from professional education, and how happy they are – even whether they’re busy enough. It’s totally her prerogative to ask, and your reticence comes off as unreasonably hostile and frankly kind of clueless about your and her role in the workplace.

    Reply
  37. The Kurgen

    OP#3 I just got a new supervisor a month ago who, although I’ve met with him 1 on 1, has never indicated the slightest intetest in helping me with my professional goals. It makes me feel like a non-entity. My previous supervisor always did check ins and made lots of professional suggestions to help me progress in my career. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with the company. I sorely miss him.
    Consider yourself fortunate that someone cares.

    Reply
  38. Nervous Accountant

    #3–I am sure I am missing something, and I have relatively less work experience than most so I am genuinely curious—how in the world is this something to be offended over?

    Reply
    1. Beancounter Eric

      It can be a precursor to staff changes – “does person X fit my “vision” for the department, who should be replaced with “my” people”

      Reply
  39. Peep

    re: #3 — I think the new manager is just trying to get an idea of where you stand, not saying “why have you been here so long, and are you leaving.”

    But what about when this comes up in an interview?

    Sometimes I’ve been interviewing in a type of place I want to be (a university library setting) and it seems natural to be like “well if I got this job, I’d be looking forward to working on XYZ long term projects, and continuing my professional development” or whatever.

    But then I’ve been in other places that are just fine work places, but just not the university setting — do I say the same thing, “XYZ long term projects + development”? I never feel like being honest (“well eventually I’d like to go to a university…”) because who wants to hire someone who explicitly says they’re going to leave? (Even if we all REALLY know that people do leave, and it’s normal.)

    I guess it depends on whether the jobs I’m interviewing for are temp/project (1-2 years) or permanent. I’m just too literal. :(

    Reply
  40. Beancounter Eric

    #3 – Outside of “Do you plan to be with the company for the next X months?”, I’ve never been asked career/employment goals.

    How would I answer the question from a new supervisor?: “I’ve been here X years and I do Y. Shall I continue to execute my duties as currently assigned, or do you wish to make a change?”

    Others have said a good manager seeks to move employees toward their goals whenever possible – Frankly, all I expect from my manager and employer is to be paid the correct amount on time. I do not want them “furthering my career goals”, I do not want to be their, nor my co-worker’s friend, I do not want my employer interested/interfering in my happiness or fulfillment. All I ask is to be compensated as agreed upon, to have reasonably clear guidance on my duties and the limits placed upon them, and to be left more-or-less alone to carry out my duties.

    Reply
    1. B.

      “I’ve been here X years and I do Y. Shall I continue to execute my duties as currently assigned, or do you wish to make a change?”

      I feel like this comes off kind of aggressive. I’m an new manager and I’d be really taken aback if one of my team said this to me. I totally get where you’re coming from – I didn’t really want to be a manager, but I wanted more money and the opportunity became available. Really I’m a more “I just like what I’m doing” kind of person. If you don’t really have career goals and you just want to come in and do your job, that’s fine. I’d be pretty happy to have someone be straightforward about that, but it seems like your answer has got a bit of snarkiness that a new manager who doesn’t know you doesn’t really deserve.

      Reply
    2. LBK

      As many others have said, the things you outlined are perfectly acceptable career goals: to do my job with the support of my manager as needed. Your suggested response comes across unnecessarily snarky; it might be helpful to recognize that you’re in a very small minority of people who literally don’t have a single ambition for their job beyond doing exactly what they’re already doing and getting paid for it.

      No one is suggesting you have to become best friends with your manager, but you are a human, and it’s not wrong for a manager to acknowledge that you might have career aspirations beyond what you’re doing now. Most people appreciate it, so to bristle at the question is going to come off as extremely aggressive. If I were your new manager it would definitely start us off on the wrong foot.

      Reply
      1. Czhorat

        Besides, career goals need not mean a new job or a promotion. Maybe there’s a certain type of work that interests you, or an area in which you’d like more expertise.

        In either event, this *is* your manager’s job. It’s what competent managers in good companies do.

        Reply
  41. MMS

    #3 actually reminds of an old job where the business travel policy was shared rooms with same gender coworkers. It was a smaller organization that said it helps cut down costs on travel. It wasn’t a huge deal, you’re working most of the time; however, some days I definitely felt like I just wanted to be alone.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      Ugh, yeah. Also, when I read this I skimmed too fast the first time and read “it helps cut down on travel” – which, if there were a voluntary component, it might…. LOL

      Reply

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