I moved into our admin’s office and she’s unhappy about it

A reader writes:

I have a situation that’s become awkward very quickly. I recently received a very welcome promotion, and as part of my new role I was given a private office (this is a first for me). Our department is currently constructing a new building, but until it is completed (2019 at the earliest), office space is at a premium. As my promotion was to a newly added position and would not involve me replacing someone who already had an office, my boss decided to move our department administrator into a cubicle in the office suite and give me her old office. I felt bad about forcing our admin to move out of her office, but I really do need a private office for this position and this was the only office available.

Our admin was supposed to do most of the purchasing and organization of furniture/equipment for my office, but I tried to do as much of it as I could, knowing it was hard on her to lose her office without adding the burden of having to also set it up for me. The one time she did bring me equipment (which my boss had emailed her to purchase), she dropped it off grumbling about the price and time it took her to get (which cannot have been more than 20 minutes). Given this, I have gone much further out of my way to not involve her in any of my role transition, even at times doing work (outside of my normal schedule) that my boss had asked me to pass on to the administrator. I want to avoid making her uncomfortable about the office situation, but I also need to be able to use my office space and ask her for the kinds of things I would any administrator.

To make this even more awkward, her new cubicle is right outside my office. I have, on a few occasions, heard her complaining about the noise level and lack of privacy compared to my office. She has been with the department for longer than I have been alive, and has had her own office for most of that time. I imagine that this isn’t a unique problem, but I’m also at a loss as to how to navigate it. Any advice you could give would be most appreciated.

Whoa, wait wait wait. I get that you’re trying to be nice, but if your boss is explicitly telling you to delegate something to the admin, you really need to do that. If I were your boss and found out that you’d ignored me on that — and spent your own time on something I asked you to give to someone else — I would not be happy. (Maybe I don’t want you spending your time on that when you have higher priorities, or when her time costs much less than yours, or maybe she’s equipped to do it correctly and you’re not.) And if I dug and found out that it was because you felt awkward about giving her work when she’s grumbly about you having her old office, I would worry that you might be conflict-avoidant to the point that it was going to be an issue in your new job.

So first and foremost, you can’t do that again.

And beyond that, you really do need to ask her for the things you’d ask her for if she seemed perfectly happy with the set-up. For one thing, it’s her job (and it’s presumably not your job to do hers for her.) I think you’re thinking of this stuff as sort of like favors she’s doing for you, but those things aren’t favors. It’s as much a part of her job as anything else she does. If you make it weird because it’s “for” you, then you’re potentially making it harder down the road when you try to course-correct and delegate work to her. If you’ve been doing it yourself all along, you’re more likely to run into resistance than if you just handle it like a normal part of her job from the beginning. That’s actually unfair to her — don’t lull her into thinking things are going to be different than they actually are. Delegate what you’re supposed to delegate to her, and do her the favor of being matter-of-fact about it and assuming that she’ll be professional enough to handle it. Anything else is … well, kind of insulting! (I feel like this answer is one long lecture to you, and I don’t mean it to be — sorry.)

If it turns out that she’s not professional about it, then you address that when it happens. I’d give her a one-time pass on the grumbling about that time she did bring you equipment, but if it happens again, say something. For example: “Hey, am I missing something here? I thought Jane asked you to purchase this and had approved the cost.” Or, depending on the context: “I might be misreading, but you seem frustrated with this process. Is there something you want me doing differently when I ask you to handle X or Y?”

Who knows — maybe you actually did make some misstep, and asking will clear it up. But if not, and this is just her being cranky about the office switch, you’ll hopefully be putting her on notice that she needs to rein it in. (To be clear, it’s not unreasonable that she’s a little irked by the move, even if she knows intellectually that it was necessary. That’s human nature; it sucks to lose an office. But she needs to deal with her frustration professionally and without taking it out on you.)

With the complaining to other people about noise and lack of privacy that you can overhear, I’d let that go for a couple of weeks and see it it stops once she’s had a chance to adjust. But if you’re still hearing it three weeks later, I’d say something about that too: “Hey, I can’t help but overhear you talking about being unhappy about moving out of your old space. If I’m ever in a position to make it easier on you (like closing my door on a day when you really need quiet), let me know and I’ll see if I can help.”

And then if it still continues, and it’s more than very mild comments, I’d give her boss a discreet heads-up that it’s still ongoing — not in a “get Jane in trouble” way, but in a “managers needs to know when an employee is publicly grumbling for weeks” way.

But don’t tiptoe around this. There’s too much danger that a strategy of coddling her and not giving her work will actually reinforce any problems she has working for you (or will create problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise).

{ 115 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Hills to Die on

    I know it’s generally easier said than done, but Jane needs to get over it and you need to just ignore her. She’s being kind of a brat.

    Reply
    1. idi01

      I would just have a frank conversation with her and explain that you are also not very comfortable about the situation but you both need to be professional about it. Ask her if there is something you can do for her that would alleviate the awkwardness of her losing her office.

      Reply
  2. Observer

    I can see that the age thing is playing in to this, but you need to ignore the fact that she’s old enough to be your mother.

    It’s good that you have empathy for her. And, I don’t think that keeping the move related stuff off her desk was a bad move. But outside of that, Allison is 100% correct. You need to start treating 100% like any other Admin, without apology. And do not EVER fail to pass on a job that your boss has assigned to her.

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    1. PieInTheBlueSky

      Withholding work from your admin is possibly making the situation worse. It could make her feel like she’s getting demoted, that her duties are being taken away from her.

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      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        This is exactly what I was thinking when I read that part of the letter.

        I can easily see her thinking “first she takes my office and now she’s doing my job” and wondering how soon until she’s pushed out the door.

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        1. Callalily

          Can you also imagine the horror when someone follows up on her poor performance with the assigned task that never actually crossed her desk? Or getting hounded for a task that OP forgot to complete and the blame is entirely on Jane.

          Reply
      2. The Supreme Troll

        Yes, you are right about what you’re saying. In addition, the admin can even start feeling morally superior (possibly, not firm on this). And by my sentence earlier, I mean that the OP and the admin’s own boss know that what they’re doing is wrong (in the admin’s view) so now they want to smooth things over as much as possible for the admin.

        Like I said, I might be wrong here, but it might give the admin a false sense of moral superiority.

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      3. Temperance

        I actually have a feeling it’s the opposite. The admin probably feels that she’s more important than the LW, and the LW doing lesser admin tasks likely fuels that.

        I’ve worked with many older admins who have this attitude, though, FWIW. There are women at my firm who’ve been here since before I was born, and I outrank them, yet they’ll still try and push their work onto me (I’m also not a secretary, but that’s a whole different thing).

        Reply
      4. Life is Good

        I agree with this. I once had an employee who was not cut out for the job she was hired for. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any input during the hiring process and I found she was not qualified for that job. She would get defensive and weepy whenever I gave her documents to correct and spent a lot of time complaining to her co-workers how nit-picky I was. Once I realized just how bad a fit she was, I started doing the tasks I’d normally give to her, myself, just to avoid the drama. That made it worse because she then got upset that I wasn’t giving her any work. She was afraid she was going to be let go (which eventually happened, anyway, thank goodness – a whole other story). In hindsight, I should have been up front with her rather than try to avoid confrontation with the higher-up who brought her on board.

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    2. Annonymouse

      Exactly.

      You need to do your job which is passing things on that are her job.

      I get you feel bad about her losing her office – it would suck – but by letting her stew in her negativity and not acting professionally, both you and her (you for not being direct and giving her work that’s been assigned to her, her for not acting professionally towards you and spreading negativity and making this uncomfortable for everyone around). Are making this a bigger problem than it needs to be.

      It’s not like you’re throwing work on her desk and going “Lowly peon, do this for me while I sit in my office and gloat about my superior position to you.”

      You’re just asking her to do her job.

      Reply
  3. Boop

    Ooooh, this is tough. I sympathize with Jane a little since I have been summarily moved out of an office before, but I hope that I handled it better (didn’t complain at the office, for starters). However, the complaining to coworkers will only kill morale and impact the office negatively. It does need to stop.

    I agree with Alison’s advice – treat her like she has no problem with the change. Being unhappy isn’t an excuse to not have to do your job. Tiptoeing around her or handling her with kid gloves is only going to make her think she can continue to behave this way and essentially not treat you with respect. Not fair to anyone.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous for this

      I too sympathize with Jane for losing the office, but if she feels that an important workplace benefit is being taken away from her, the solution is to (1) begin job-searching, and (possibly) use this as leverage to extract a counter-offer from the existing employer that includes a private office, or (2) extract a promise she’ll regain the office once you move into the new facilities, and wait it out.

      You should not be doing Jane’s work for her due to this situation.

      Reply
      1. Jean Lamb

        Someone who’s over 50 is probably not in a good bargaining position with most companies if they’re not management–and guess what, there is age discrimination if she does look for a new job. Jane is pretty well stuck where she is if she wants a job with health insurance.

        Reply
  4. Lily in NYC

    I can understand why the administrator would be frustrated at having to handle the purchases for the office she didn’t want to lose. Admins are accustomed to being treated like second class citizens (myself included) and sometimes you just can’t help but let it get to you. Yes, admin could have handled it more graciously, but let’s remember she didn’t ask to be coddled or for OP to stop delegating; OP did that on her own.
    I might be projecting a bit because our facilities boss is being obstinate about not letting me move to a desk with more space on it. I am shoved into a tiny area and have no place for my paperwork and it’s affecting my job and no one seems to give a shit because I am a lowly executive assistant.

    Reply
    1. AMT

      I think it’s appropriate for the admin to be frustrated, but she should be directing her frustration at the right people. It’s not OP’s fault in the least.

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      1. Lily in NYC

        It’s not anyone’s “fault” nor am I blaming either of them. It’s just an uncomfortable situation and I felt like the fact that the admin kind of got shafted wasn’t even acknowledged.

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        1. The Supreme Troll

          Lily, I don’t think that the admin got shafted at all; this can be an unfortunate part of work-life sometimes, with end results being different in various job roles. I do understand the admin’s frustration (to a point), but this is not the first, nor will it be the last company to have to face a real estate, physical space challenge.

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          1. Lily Rowan

            She totally got shafted, and it *is* unfortunate and can *also* be part of work-life! Being moved out of an office is generally going to be seen as crappy, and being moved out of an office you’ve been in for decades? OUCH.

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            1. RVA Cat

              This. Given how long Jane has been there, I wonder if she’s being pressured to retire and she (perhaps rightly) sees losing her office as part of that. Of course that’s not the OP’s fault. Note that any ageism going on is yet another reason for the OP to treat Jane just like anyone else.

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            2. Been There, Done That

              Agree. Going from an office to a cubicle isn’t just a change of real estate. It’s no secret, especially in these days of cubicle farms and open floor plans, that having a real office garners more respect for the person and their position. Also, she’s referred to variously as an administrator and an “admin.” Admin generally means administrative assistant, not administrator. There’s a lot of title inflation nowadays, but if she is an actual administrator and she’s being treated like an assistant, that’s a genuine issue. And I see some ageism here–someone who has contributed to the company that long deserves respect and shouldn’t be regarded as a relic.

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          2. Morning Glory

            It has an unqualified negative impact on the admin, I think that’s what Lily meant by shafted. Sometimes it’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean it does not really suck for the person who gets kicked out.

            I say this as an admin who ended up in a really nice work-space due to a decision made by the department heads – even though it displaced a higher-level person into a smaller space. I never pretended like the guy didn’t get screwed over, even though collaboration-wise the seating made sense.

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          3. Hmmmmm

            Well, it also depends on what the OP means by Purchasing, etc. Sometimes people, particularly women, particularly older women who have been in the same job for a long time, have the title “Admin Assistant” or “Executive Assistant” despite that not being at all a good description of what they do or what their job has been for a long time. They just never fought for a better title or work was “temporarily” reassigned when someone left and never was given back to the “better” job. Is it possible that this is the point where she realized that no one knows what she really does? Or at least doesn’t respect it? I mean, she might be acting like a brat, but she also might have been put in a position where she literally cannot do her job and just realized no one knows what she does…which can be misconstrued as passive aggression. People have SERIOUS hang ups about the “worth” of anyone with the word “admin” or “assistant” in their title.

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          4. Ainomiaka

            Really? I mean, yes, there are business reasons, but I don’t see how getting moved out of your office is anything other than getting shafted. Not by the letter writer, no. But Jane is a person who just had a huge downgrade in quality of work life. She needs to manage it with professionalism, but it was still getting shafted.

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            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think some people are using the term differently than others. I think of “shafted” as “treated unfairly; screwed over.” I think you and others might think of it as “got the short end of the stick.”

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            2. Not a Morning Person

              I see what you are saying, but to me, the word “shafted” just comes across as more like a deliberate and personal move against the admin instead of a non-personal business decision that took away something of value, her separate office. The OP and the Admin are not equal in terms of role and responsibilities. It wasn’t that someone plotted against her and stabbed her in the back. The OP got a new role that required an individual office and the Admin was apparently in a role that does not require the same level of privacy. The Admin has a perfect right to be upset; it feels bad to lose something! And it’s natural to share the disappointment with others, even others in the office. But yes, she needs to get back to professional behavior and the OP needs to treat her like she is a reasonable professional and not like she’s a grenade or a china doll. Make it a normal professional relationship.

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            3. Hrovitnir

              Yeah, I think it was pretty shitty for the admin AND her behaviour is gross.

              The different usages of “shafted” better is interesting; I do think of “shafted” as being treated badly but will extend it to “no one’s being malicious but it still feels awful”, apparently. (Since I was confused at the objection to saying she was being shafted at first.)

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          5. Lily in NYC

            My point was that admins tend to get the short stick when these situations occur. As in “Oh, she’s just the admin, let’s move her instead of Bob”.

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            1. HR Expat

              Anyone worth their salt knows that the admin assistants make the world go round. I learned really early on to not piss them off…

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              1. Jadelyn

                The admins and the janitors. Those are the people you want on your side. They know everything and they can go anywhere. They’re also practically invisible, which is both good and bad.

                Treat them like visible, valuable people, and if ever you need a favor they may well be willing to put their access to work for you.

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                1. Morning Glory

                  I know you mean well, both of you, but these comments read like something Lady Mary would say about her servants in Downton Abbey – a lot of benevolent condescension.

                  Admins are, in general, college-educated professionals who want to be seen as colleagues in the workplace.

                2. HR Expat

                  Hi Morning Glory,
                  No condescension meant at all and I’m sorry if it came across that way. People in these jobs are often placed in difficult positions and have to perform political gymnastics to get their work done. I have nothing but respect for them and the work they do. I know I couldn’t handle their jobs nearly as well as they do, and I couldn’t do my job without their support and help.

                3. Morning Glory

                  Thinking about it more, and seeing your responses, you may not actually be doing anything wrong. To explain a bit more what I meant, my frustration stems from the gulf between words and actions when it comes to admin. I constantly receive compliments about what a great admin I am. I keep everything running. I am amazing. I am the best. They would not be able to keep the place going without me. I am a high performer.

                  But nobody translates these compliments into they opportunities for growth they promised me before I accepted the job. When I ask about opportunities to take on higher level work or work on projects, it is never possible. (Or, on occasions when I have taken on higher-level work, there is the perception hat because I am the one doing it, it must be low-level work, and immediately is not valued.) The compliments also don’t translate into raises or other rewards that high performers in other positions receive. It doesn’t translate to a high salary – some interns make more money than me.

                  So, this type of compliment is not inherently wrong – it only feels condescending to me because of my specific circumstances.

                4. HR Expat

                  Thanks for that, and it really sucks that you’ve had these experiences. Top performers should be paid acordingly and given every opportunity to progress in their careers, regardless of their current title or role. Good companies get this right. As an example, when I was an intern I got to know one of the exec admins in my division. When I returned full time the next year, she’d moved into a project role. I’ve kept up with her over the years, and she’s been promoted several times and sits 2 levels above me in our hierarchy. And she is awesome at her job from what I hear.

              2. Karen K

                See, I see this kind of thing as patronizing, like a pat on the head. before I moved into my current role, I used to hear a lot of this, usually from people who made way more money than I did.

                I knew they meant it kindly, as does HR Expat, but it still struck me that way.

                As for the OP, we’ve heard it a hundred times – Start as you mean to go. This person has a role in the office and she should do it, regardless of how the admin may personally feel about losing her office.

                Reply
                1. HR Expat

                  I’m really sorry it came across that way, Karen. Like I mentioned above, I didn’t realise how it was perceived and it wasn’t meant to be patronizing. It’s a learning moment for me and some feedback that I can take on board.

                2. Karen K

                  I can’t nest a comment under HR Expat’s comment, but please don’t feel badly about it! This is my issue and I don’t mean to imply that every admin or former admin feels this way.

                3. HR Expat

                  We’ve nested too far! You’re the second person who’s mentioned this in response to my original comment, so that’s my cue to process feedback and adjust. I will usually think about it pretty seriously the first time and see if I agree that it’s an issue, but the 2nd time means I should probably adjust my approach and thought process. Even if everyone doesn’t feel the same, it’s still something I should remember.

            2. Stephanie (HR Manager)

              I think this is a misrepresentation of what actually happens in those meetings. I’ve been an Office Manager, Admin Assistant, and Exec Assistant, and in those positions, my own office wasn’t necessary for me to do my job. In one of those positions, it was best for the workflow for me to have my own office, and so I did, but I did the other two in a cubicle or even at the reception desk. It wasn’t about me “just” being an assistant, it was about the workflow, and how to best use the space available for the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, how that I am in HR, I have to have my own office for confidentiality reasons. It’s not feasible to do HR in a cubicle. It’s not about status, it’s about business need.

              When there is extra real estate, then you’ll see people get offices based on merit instead of need, but extra real estate is not that common.

              Reply
    2. ZVA

      let’s remember she didn’t ask to be coddled or for OP to stop delegating

      Yes! She grumbled once, and OP immediately started walking on eggshells, which isn’t fair to the admin or to OP. If you’re professional & assume she’s going to be as well, a good outcome is much likelier for both of them, I think.

      Reply
      1. OP

        It was well more than a single complaint from her. She was incredibly huffy about giving me the keys, then the next day was more accusatory of the cost of equipment. Later that week, she had a loud discussion with another admin about the loss of office and how I was now being overpaid…

        Reply
        1. Friday

          Does she really know your pay, or is she just guessing? If she has the authority to know everyone’s pay at your company and is using that to grouse about you, her boss needs to shut it down NOW, fast.

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        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          OP, with all of these details, you definitely need to stop accommodating her. She needs to be checked, FAST. Being huffy, accusatory, or having loud conversations of the type you’ve described is 1000% not ok. I don’t care how long she’s been there or what the age difference is.

          You could try putting her on notice, first, but this is bad enough that if she’s even low-level continuing this behavior, you should escalate to her boss/manager. This needs to be shut down yesterday.

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          1. Artemesia

            This. This kind of comment is the third rail in this situation. I would not deal with her about it, but have a conversation with your boss about a strategy for dealing with this. You should probably be the one dealing with her, but you need to have your boss’s knowledge, support and insights. She needs to be sat down and clearly told that comments like this are inappropriate and won’t be tolerated and if they continue, she should be fired.

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          2. Annonymouse

            Agreed.

            This has crossed the line from
            “Jane is understandably upset about losing her office so I’m going to be a bit kinder to her.”
            To
            “Jane is being outright hostile towards this change and me and this needs to be stopped immediately.”

            Loop in her boss/manager and yours (if they aren’t the same person) and do the framing talk Alison advocates:

            “Jane is being incredibly negative about the change in office space and me – going as far as to tell another admin my salary and how I’m now overpaid. I’m going to talk to her directly about this but I’m not sure how firm I can be or the best wording to use. What do you advise?”

            Reply
        3. The OG Anonsie

          Oof. I had a situation sort of like this once, I was hired in my early 20’s to do a specialized kind of professional work somewhere the admins and office managers were all much older than me and had been there for many years. The admin lead was supposed to be helping me get a lot of things that were at a premium for most staff because my job literally required it (vs a nice to have for most other roles) but she was really steamed that this little upstart had come in getting special treatment in a fancy job that she was very certain I did not deserve. She was subtler about it at first but got worse the longer I ignored her in the hopes that being nice would make her come around.

          I didn’t clamp on it early because I didn’t think I had the right to, and that dynamic gradually spiraled throughout my tenure there to where she/the other admins full on refused to do anything for me. I didn’t come out of it looking good, either, because once someone’s unreasonableness has reached a certain level it is no longer possible to be involved without looking exactly as nuts.

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          1. Julia

            This even happened to me after I was brought in as a second admin to a woman who had been complaining about being overworked for years, who then promptly pushed every job onto me, withheld information and sabotaged my work.

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    3. Observer

      Oh, I have sympathy for Jane, but her behavior is out of line. And keep in mind that she only had to handle a small amount of the related, even though it should have been her job. And she STILL made a fuss. But, that’s not even the biggest problem. She’s continuing to complain about this – and she almost certainly knows that the OP can hear her.

      Reply
    4. sheworkshardforthemoney

      Memories of my very first office job, I was a clerk, back in the days when clerks existed. I was proud of my office, an angled space that was in the hallway where everyone who passed by could see me all the time. That was fine for a few weeks until I discovered that all the other clerks had cubicles with windows. I was young and didn’t have enough courage to ask for a better location. I shared my space with the office printer and then the latest of technologies, a fax machine. The only good thing was I became the office fax machine expert because I was looking at it all day. Now that arrangement would get an “oh heck no way” from me.

      Reply
  5. Hiring Mgr

    Agree 100% with Allison’s emphasis on the fact that that OP needs to delegate the tasks as per ususal and not doing so is setting you up for alot of aggravation down the road. Everything she said was spot on

    Reply
  6. nnn

    Before you give your boss a heads-up about “Jane keeps grumbling about being in a cubicle,” you should first mention to your boss “Jane is struggling with the noise and lack of privacy of being in a cubicle.” And if quieter or more private office space becomes available, you should advocate for Jane to get it.

    Since your boss seems to be the person who assigns office space, they need to know that there’s someone who might benefit from being assigned office space that better meets their needs. Since you are between Jane and the office-space-assigner in the hierarchy, it is your job to liaise between them. And your dealings with Jane may well go more smoothly if you are seen to advocate her, rather than just assigning tasks to her.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Maybe! But a lot of people are grouchy about losing a private office; it doesn’t necessarily mean that her work has such a strong need for one that the OP should advocate for her getting one. It’s definitely possible — but I would caution the OP to be pretty sure about that before expending capital on something that might not actually be a strong argument.

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      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        (I actually think nearly everyone would benefit from a private office — or at least the option of one. It’s just usually a question of one person’s need relative to another.)

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    2. OP

      When my boss and I discussed the promotion, the office issue did come up. I told her I didn’t think we should move Jane out if we could avoid it. She was adamant that I needed the office, and actually told me she was working towards having all our admins in open spaces. I doubt I’ll be the last person to face this issue

      Reply
      1. Seven If You Count Bad John

        Wow , that’s going to massively degrade the admins’ working conditions. Not that you don’t need the office, and not that they *do*, but taking something like that away from a whole group of people without some kind of sweetener (and I don’t mean “This will help all of you to Work Together As A TEAM” but actually “this is saving the company money so here’s a raise”) is going to create So much friction. I’d love to hear an update on how that ended up getting handled.

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        1. SJPxo

          I am astonished this admin had an office, I mean they may well do in the UK where I am, but I’ve never come across before. I started reading and was like “the admins have OFFICES, to THEMSELVES” in my head. You lucky people.
          Argoigh saying that Jane may well be a bit upset about losing her office but she needs to not let that affect her working with OP and Alison’s advise is spot on

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          1. Anna

            I think it’s pretty uncommon for admins to have their own offices, especially since they are often supporting multiple people and having them in an easily accessible space seems to make more sense.

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        2. Been There, Done That

          I’m wondering if part of the issue isn’t solely what happened, but how it happened, how the situation was presented to Jane.

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        3. LA

          Yeah, it’s one thing to have all the admins not being in offices as a rule, but to move people out of them after they’ve been used to them for ages? That’s going to create a lot of unhappy admins. If this does go through, I would bet there’ll be some significant turnover.

          Reply
  7. nonymous

    OP might consider having a chat with the admin informally, like over lunch or coffee/tea/milkshakes. The admin person may simply be looking for a formal and obvious acknowledgement of the icky-ness of the situation. Something along the lines of “hey I know this sucks” and then some team brainstorming to make sure that any privacy/work issues are addressed.

    To be clear, I am not advocating that OP cater to every whim of the admin. But sometimes these decisions are made without full understanding of workflows and an alternate solution helps a lot; one example that comes to mind from my own workplace was a re-arrangement of cubicals that put admin team members in different corridors. They ended up requesting a standing reservation of the conference room for the group task. This admin may need a larger-than-average cubicle or even authorization for “special” furniture.

    Reply
    1. Ainomiaka

      This seems like a reasonable tactic if fast self-correction doesn’t happen. Don’t apologize, but do ask what kinds of actual situations are coming up. Ask if there are things she needs but is not getting. You might have to be specific about from you if you aren’t Jane’s manager (and I don’t think so based on the letter).

      Reply
    2. Artemesia

      I think this ship has sailed. She is grousing about the OP’ salary and making it a personal assault on her. That needs to be part of any conversation. All the OP’s behaviors so far convey weakness; this conversation after those comments, shouts weakness.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        Without knowing more about OP’s workplace, I really can’t say if admin’s grousing is routine – either for her as an individual or if it’s part of a larger dysfunction. However, OP has an opportunity to model professional behavior and set the expectation that going forward, interaction between her and admin will be of the professional flavor.

        It would be legitimate to start by addressing the logistics of the admin’s new space, and follow up with a comment about how OP is invested in working together to navigate this new workspace and expects admin to do the same instead of taking the issue to people who don’t have impact. OP can’t police the admin’s comments to third parties, but she can set expectations for how admin interacts with her.

        Reply
  8. Interviewer

    Here’s something to consider: you are now sitting in her office, but she may blame someone else for giving it to you. It may be unnecessary to feel guilty about it. I realize she was grumbly about that one task, but she may not be mad at you, per se – just the situation. I know it may be hard, but try not to take it personally, and put the focus back on work.

    Reply
  9. rubyrose

    I’ve seen this same type of dynamic occur even when the person being booted from the office was not an admin. Grumbling, complaining, feeling like they are not valued. And in the example I’m thinking of, this person worked from home three times a week!

    It does sound like it is time to address the issue, giving the admin the space to correct themselves quickly.

    As to the noise – if it is being said that you are making too much noise (I’m not clear here), just make sure you are not using a speakerphone, or if you do, close the door proactively. That is my personal pet peeve about people who get newly acquired offices.

    Reply
  10. Winifred

    When I was the PR director at a nonprofit, I was moved from a private office to a shared office to a noisy cubicle … eventually I quit. Not because of that but it was directly related to how no one valued my work.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This is totally valid. But it’s also the case that people are often moved and it has nothing to do with how the work is valued. Some positions require privacy that other positions don’t, and the conditions required to perform the job have nothing to do with whether someone is of more/less value to an organization (e.g., HR v. the entire sales team). Based on OP’s framing, it doesn’t sound to me like the admin is categorically undervalued because of her job classification/role.

      Reply
      1. DDJ

        When an office became available, I knew that myself and one person who’s a bit senior to me would both want it. So I advocated for it. Hard. The person who is senior to me does not have direct reports, and I do. Some of my employees work in other offices, so our conversations happen largely by phone. Rather than having to book a conference room or borrow an office every time one of my employees wanted to talk to me about something sensitive, I thought it would be a lot better if I had an office. Upper management agreed. It has nothing to do with value and everything to do with the tasks we actually perform.

        Reply
    2. MissDissplaced

      +1 on that! I got shafted and booted from my office for a male coworker. He then was never IN said office, but at another location and then worked at home. So essentially, I got to sit across my former empty office every day!
      It was indicated of how that company treated women in general.

      Reply
  11. Awko Taco

    Even though I can’t personally relate to this particular situation, Alison’s response was one I definitely needed to read. As a people pleaser by nature, I found myself relating to the OP and how she handled her situation. I also would have tip-toed around the admin to avoid making waves in an already less than ideal situation. Sometimes I forget that people (lots of them) appreciate, and often times prefer, a matter of fact approach as opposed to the awkward, wishy washy ones I tend to give in an effort to never hurt feelings. Being direct and being nice don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

    Reply
  12. OP

    OP here. Since I sent this, her complaining has died down some; not entirely, but enough that I can easily ignore it. I’ve been trying to delegate the non-facilities issues to her since I got moved in (the extra work I did to get the furniture and equipment was over the weekend before the start date of my promotion, and not during or in place of my regular duties). It’s mostly been the random office-space related things that are still awkward for me to delegate. I’d been hopeful that I could just get through them myself to avoid the issues, but reflecting on this makes me think not only is it a bad idea, but also a waste of my time.

    I’m hopeful that most of my non-delegation was just due to not being used to a position where I even had someone I was expected to delegate to. It’s been quite an adjustment from my old role, where I was almost completely isolated in the organizational structure, and became used to needing to make everything happen.

    Also, re: noise. She’s not complaining about noise from my office. The issue is noise in the entrance hall and open floor plan. I wish we would close those doors as well, but that’s a decision made way above me…

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I touched on this in my response, but I want to emphasize it here: It’s possible that your boss wanted her doing that stuff because she’s actually better equipped to do it than you are — she might know what vendors to use, how to get discounts, or otherwise apply past experience with this stuff that you don’t have access to. I mean, you have to have her do it anyway because your boss told you to, but maybe remembering that will help counter any “I could really just take care of this myself” feelings.

      Reply
      1. The Supreme Troll

        And Alison, as you have always perfectly explained time & time again, with the OP being promoted into a new role, she will face new challenges that not only can be a much higher priority now, but they are also things that others (most likely people such as the admin) wouldn’t have the training or ability to perform. So it makes the most sense to have the admin focus on the tasks that are in her job description, and in her area of expertise.

        Reply
      2. Antilles

        This is true.
        However, it’s worth noting that OP should remember that delegating is often the right call even if the admin *isn’t* better equipped to do the job and it will take more time than OP doing it personally. Why? Because while it seems less efficient to have the admin do it, it frees you OP to do work that she can’t do (project management, sales, etc).

        Reply
          1. Escapee from Corporate Management

            Yes to the above! One other point: delegating work appropriately sets a tone for the entire office. OP, you are a new manager. Subordinates will test you in many ways. You do not want to be in a position where subordinates believe they can use emotional responses to influence how you manage tasks. If others pick up that Jane’s complaints gave her power over how you make work-related decisions, you may well face a series of employees doing the same. Ignoring the emotion and delegating tasks per “business as usual” is a way of passing that test.

            Reply
    2. DDJ

      Delegation is something that really takes time to get used to, to be honest. I was also in a position where I was the go-to, the one-and-only, so anything that came across my desk was for me. That’s not the case anymore. But it took a long adjustment period to really understand the NEED for delegation in a shifting role. I’m better about it now (I’m only 2 years in, which still feels weirdly “new”), but I still have to squash the little voice telling me “You’re foisting this work off on someone when you should be doing it yourself.” The reality is that I shouldn’t be doing some of these things, and they should be delegated to one of my employees. But oh boy, was it a rough hurdle to get over. I even delegated to one of my employees last week, something I knew they would have no trouble with, and would probably be able to do quicker than I could – I STILL had to fight the little voice.

      Think of it as a new task! You’ve never delegated before, so you’re still finding your bearings, and that’s ok. It doesn’t all come automatically.

      Of course, reading the comment you submitted further up regarding some details (her saying you’re overpaid, for example), that’s a major concern. But that’s a behavioural issue, not just general grumbles, and probably needs to be addressed as a performance issue (either by you or by the bigger boss). Because that’s just unprofessional.

      Reply
  13. PoisonIvy

    Allison has a good point as usual. I didn’t see the LW mention it anywhere so it is probably a mute point but by any chance had the admin applied to the job that the LW was promoted to and the LW doesn’t know that? or had she applied for other positions and always been denied? I have been seeing a lot of pushing past genX and beyond in favor of giving higher positions to recent grads or just under 30 these days. 40 is becoming the new forced retirement age or the you’re pigeon holed into a crappy role with no salary growth age.

    Reply
    1. Anonygoose

      I think you are reading a bit into this – if she’s been an admin for decades, it’s probable that she is what we call here a ‘lifer’. Lots of people are just fine with administrative roles with no potential for growth, and do that for their entire careers. She’s probably just upset about having to give up her office (as most people would be!). I seriously doubt it’s an ageism thing.

      Reply
      1. Morning Glory

        I agree that she probably did not apply for the promotion, and that she is a lifetime admin. But I also think it’s worth noting that a lot of (but not all) ‘lifers’ are not lifers by choice, it’s because the position is exceptionally difficult to break out of. I imagine this is especially true of an admin who is older and joined the workforce decades ago.

        So, it is possible that she does have larger problem with her job overall, or else not being valued, etc. and that the office was the last straw. From what the OP wrote above, that in no way excuses things like complaining about OP’s salary so I am not defending her – just saying that the root cause may go beyond the office.

        Reply
    2. OP

      She definitely didn’t apply for this position (or if she did, the internal system would have auto-rejected her). It is a rather specialized breach of teapot research and analysis, and I was the only internal candidate who even had the required background.

      Reply
  14. CatCat

    I understand Jane’s frustration and have been in her shoes. I have acknowledged the frustrations of others when this has happened to them because I know how it feels (it feels crappy and second-class citizeny even if you know, on a dispassionate level, that it’s just about capacity, so it can take a little adjustment to emotional effort to clear your headspace.) But the solution is not to be rude or fail to perform the job (the solution, if it’s a deal breaker, is to look for a different job that comes with a more desirable working space).

    I like AAM’s scripts because the expectation to do the job is built-in, but also allows for clarification if there really is something OP has missed.

    Reply
    1. MissDissplaced

      It’s not the case here, but sometimes booting people from their office really IS a power move to diminish and demean disguised as being about “capacity.”
      Totally been there.

      Reply
  15. Cat

    I’ve been the junior person with an admin my mother’s age who was blatantly disrespectful to me. The problem is that those people often work for more senior people as well, and treat them much better than young junior women (in particular). And the junior person rarely ever has firing or disciplinary authority, and likely won’t be taken that seriously if they do complain. Not ideal, but I never figured out a better solution to it than wasting my time with a certain amount of placating.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This is my admin, but I have a strong relationship with the senior people, so I collaborate with them from time to time on how to address the disciplinary issues. For better or worse, my admin sees the senior people as her “boss” and sees me as someone she “helps.” It’s a massive problem, but my work around is that I’m hiring a new admin and transferring her off of all my projects.

      Reply
    2. Engineer Girl

      I saw that when I was young too. Some of the EAs saw me in a social manner (young female) Vs seeing me in a businesss manner (engineer and therefore part of the tech team). They tried to treat me as a woman instead of as an engineer. It’s a strange form of sexism.
      The only fix that I can recommend is to speak to them with the voice of kind authority, just like the others of your group. If you get “who do you think you are?” Then look them straight in the eye and state “one of the engineers”. Hold their gaze with a slightly questioning look. It reestablishes boundaries.

      Reply
      1. Engineer Girl

        The point of my ramble is that I’m an engineer and I need to be treated as an engineer. Otherwise it’s discrimination.

        Reply
  16. I Herd the Cats

    Well…. I’m probably old enough to be OP’s mother, and I ALSO was moved from my own office to a desk *outside* my boss’s office because we’re short on space right now with no immediate plans to fix this due to budget constraints. And this admin is being ridiculous. Given the circumstances it sounds like it should be clear to the admin that OP needs a private office. Even if it isn’t, OP didn’t “take” her office. I can’t imagine whingeing about it; that’s just embarrassing.

    Also, as a career EA who loves my job and is not ashamed of it, I find some of the speculation/assumptions about the assistant in the comments to be a little concerning. This place would be a total mess without me to rely on, and that’s why my job is no less important than that of my coworkers, whatever our titles.

    Reply
    1. Linzava

      @I Herd the Cats
      I agree with you completely, not only that the admin is acting unprofessionally, but a lot of the comments about admins concern me.
      I’ve been an admin for over 10 years, and I’m really good at my job. I’ve only recently started working at a company where I feel respected as a professional and my own office for the first time in my career! At my last job, I was talking to a fellow admin who recently moved into the field from retail. I had been giving her a lot of tips to strengthen the skills she needs in admin work. She had seen how fast I work, how much I know about every relevant software and how much I know about California state labor laws. She finally asked me why, with my skill set, I wasn’t making more money and why my manager talked to me like a child. I surprised myself and blurted out, “If you ever want to make good money or be respected, don’t be an admin, there’s no working your way up out of a female ghetto.”
      Yes, it was a weak moment, but I, for the last 2 years, had been hearing a lot of statements about how I felt about things because I was an admin. Nevermind that I never said I felt that way because I didn’t. As annoying as it is, when someone says and admin feels dejected or angry in a situation, it’s another way to demean the person in that position.
      Admins are all different, just like every other position, we don’t all think/feel/behave the same way. I think that’s why some of these comments bothered me, I’ve seen them before and mostly from people I’d never work with again.

      Reply
      1. Been There, Done That

        Yes.
        And I’ll risk the wrath by saying that younger women managers, in my observation, are a lot more likely view administrative workers as “less than.” In the case of older women in an administrative role, I think younger workers see them as losers because that’s “all” they do, and it’s lost on the younger generation that the opportunities didn’t exist or had to be fought for like hell for women in the workforce.

        Reply
        1. J.B.

          There are definitely gender dynamics at play both ways. It might be that expectations of female managers are different and that they’re preempting pushback – or trying to avoid being sucked into admin duties themselves. But it’s also possible that expectations of male and female managers are different.

          I like working with competent people. Competent people who respect others talents tend to find each other, and make the world go round.

          Reply
      2. Morning Glory

        I don’t think that sounds like a weak moment at all. I think it sounds like a moment of transparency that more workplaces – and more individuals – ought to practice.

        Reply
    2. Jean Lamb

      Good luck getting the rest of the office to learn it before you leave. At the company I worked at for 15 years, every time I moved from one position to another, I had to be replaced with 2 1/2 people, and I still never got any raises. Older women don’t, you see, unless they’re already in management, because they all know we need the health insurance and won’t make waves.

      Reply
      1. Been There, Done That

        Excellent point about the health insurance. Come the revolution, health coverage won’t be employment-based in the U.S. I first began following this issue over 25 years ago and have heard repeatedly that employers don’t like the system and would like to get health coverage out of their budgets. However, I don’t see too many employers advocating for health care reform. It gives them a powerful whip hand.

        Reply
  17. HR Expat

    Office space is always at a premium at my site; I lead HR in my country for an entire division (about 400 people) and I don’t get my own office. I have to share with the European HR person. Technically, we go between two sites and have an office at each one (“my” office is at one site, “her” office is at the other) but we share with each other at least 2 days a week. We’ve been told that either we should only have an office in one bulding or we shouldn’t have an office at all because our work isn’t that confidential. Especially relative to the facilities guy. No offense to anyone in facilities, by the way.

    Our response was that we were fine discussing their salaries, medical issues, complaints and performance in front of the rest of the building if they were ok with it. We very quickly were told we got to keep our offices in both buildings.

    Reply
  18. Been there

    I understand the aversion to want to delegate certain tasks. I work with an assistant who can be…prickly. I find myself avoiding asking them to do things and doing it myself, rather dealing with the unhelpful attitude I’ll get if I ask the assistant to do it. I finally worked up the courage to speak with my supervisor (also assistant’s supervisor) about the situation and my supervisor said I had to ask the assistant. If the assistant continued to be unhelpful, then the supervisor would address it, but they don’t have the change to helpful if I’m not asking them to help! (I’m skeptical anything will change.)

    Reply
      1. Engineer Girl

        Yes this. Voice the authority you’ve been given. Expect her to treat you the same as anyone else that tasks her. That means you treat her in the same manner as others that task her. Kind but firm. This isn’t “pretty please”. It’s an order.

        Reply
    1. Gotta Block Them All

      Don’t think of it as “being helpful”. It’s their job to do the things you assign to them. Assign them the work and expect them to do it. That’s part of your job. Avoiding it is not acceptable and will reflect badly on you in the long term.

      Reply
  19. Jess

    As an admin, I would haaaaaaaate if someone were doing one of MY tasks. Even if it were something that irked me like ordering furniture or supplies for an area that used to be mine, I feel a lot of ownership about the things that I do (and like to feel that I do them best!) and I would feel slighted, left-out and condescended to if someone took it on themselves to do by themselves.

    So, maybe your admin is also feeling like you don’t trust her, or feel yourself above needing her help, or thinks that YOU think you can do your job better than her?

    Reply
    1. OP

      I think that may be part of it, but if you see my comment below, I actually think many of these things have not previously been her tasks.

      Reply
  20. OP

    OP here. One other thing I’ve considered during today’s discussion… while I’ve o lay been here for three years, I know our department has grown and reorganized significantly since Jane started. Not too long ago, someone in a role at my level would have been expected to perform a decent amount of admin-like duties. Now, we all have very focused roles and rarely are performing duties outside our expertise. Between this and the rapid growth of our department, I have to imagine that this has greatly increased Jane’s workload. I can totally understand her being frustrated with feeling like she is doing more work than ever and her “reward” is to switch from an office to a cubicle. (Some of this came up in the salary grumbling: “we pay them $X and they don’t even do as many things as they used to…”)

    Regardless, all of these comments (and the past month in my role) have made me realize that this office thing is something that is just going to have to be moved past. Jane has been perfectly polite to me, not gruff lately when I’ve asked/told her what we need done, and while she’s still grumbled (not to me) about the office she’s avoided the issue of department salaries.

    Reply
  21. Lisa

    Maybe I’m more direct but I would sit down with her in private and approach it with a “I know this kind of sucks for you. However this is the situation now and I need you to be professional about it.” Be understanding but firm that it cannot continue. You can point out some of the issues you have noticed and then leave it at that. You are not her peer and while not her direct boss she does have to do things for you in a professional manner. You should not coddle her, it is her job. Since this is only temporary with the new building being built she is being a brat and needs to suck it up.

    Reply
  22. Kelli Too

    At my job, some major organizational changes resulted in an extremely-tenured employee (35+ years of service, possessing an honorary title over and above what the company structure actually dictated) losing his office to a new bottom-level manager. He was moved to a tiny cubicle next to some R&D people, and they were eager to absorb his legacy knowledge.

    Over a short time, the change in his routine (going from working alone with his office shut, to constantly collaborating with his cubicle neighbors) make it clear that there were some moderate memory/dementia issues going on. He retired soon after, and I wondered if that was coincidence or part of the goal.

    Reply
    1. MissDisplaced

      Sometimes booting people from their office really IS a power move to diminish and demean and push out disguised as being about “capacity.”

      Reply
    2. Jean Lamb

      I know someone who was bounced to a cubicle with having the same duties, if not more, because her husband had expensive cancer and was costing the company’s insurance profile. Now, it wasn’t said out loud, but she herself knew what was going on and made it clear she was going to be there till her husband hit 65 and could be covered by Medicare. Once that happened, she was still stuck in the cubicle, but the other pressures for her to retire slacked off. (no, it wasn’t me, but I sure felt for her).

      Reply
  23. Mallory

    Re #1…imagine the scandal if a woman’s corporate headshot were taken in a bathing suit. This response just reinforces sexist double standards.

    Reply

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