I’m sick of being the office printer lady

A reader writes:

In our small office of about 10 people, I happen to sit the closest to our only printer, located in a room about 20 feet from my desk. The printer will display an error message on the screen when there is an issue (paper gets jammed, the printer is out of paper, etc.) Since I sit so close to the printer, every time someone in our office goes to retrieve their print job and sees an error message on the screen, they immediately call for me to come help (I assume because I sit so close to the printer), without even trying to solve the issue themselves. Nine times out of 10, these are extremely basic errors to resolve, like those mentioned above (paper jam, printer is out of paper, etc.), and not to mention, the screen explicitly shows directions on how to resolve the error. To be clear, I have no problem helping if it is actually a difficult error to resolve, but that rarely is the case.

In the almost year I’ve sat at this desk, I have always come to help resolve the errors when called upon. However, it’s getting really irritating that everyone, with the exception of a couple people in the office, are so dependent on me to solve basic printer issues. It’s really distracting when I’m in the middle of working on something.

I’ve always been a “yes woman” and feel bad declining to help. It usually only takes me 30 seconds to a minute to get up and go fix the issue, so it feels rude to say no. I’ve tried to use language like, “Next time you see this error message, this is what you do.” Nonetheless, the same people will call on me for help the next time the same issue occurs. It’s gotten to the point where when people call on me for printer help, they say something like, “Hey Ayra, you’re the printer guru, can you come help me?” I don’t want to be known as the “printer guru” just because I happen to sit so close to it. Is there a way I can put a stop to the constant beckoning, or should I just suck it up and continue to be the office printer lady?

My job is not admin. I am an inside sales representative. We actually have a designated admin person, but I have never seen him called upon to help with printer issues. I previously sat in another part in the office for two years (and actually WAS in a role that could be considered an admin role at that time), and was never approached then for this sort of thing.

You can and should say no to this, just like you could and should say no to someone asking you to do their filing for them or asking you to fill out their expense reports. It’s not in any way your job, and your proximity to the printer doesn’t make it your job.

There’s a danger, though, that your willingness to do it is making it your job — that by helping, you’re training people to think that this is part of your role, and so it’s important that you stop.

Starting immediately, when people ask for help with the printer, say, “Sorry, I’m in the middle of something and can’t help. There should be instructions on the screen.”

Bonus points if you look really distracted when you say this — slowly pull your eyes away from your computer screen as if you’re right in the middle of something that they’re interrupting. More bonus points if you look and sound confused about why they’re asking you.

If anyone pushes back — saying “it’ll just take a second” or “you’re so good at this” or whatever — then say, “I’m busy, but (admin person) can probably help you.”

If you feel weird about suddenly being unavailable to help, (a) you shouldn’t, because this was never your job, but (b) if it’ll help you feel more comfortable, you can say something like, “I’ve realized people have started turning to me to deal with the printer because I sit here, but they should really check with (admin) if they need help since it interrupts my focus. Thanks for understanding!”

Do this enough, and people will get out of the habit of asking you.

A bit about this: “It usually only takes me 30 seconds to a minute to get up and go fix the issue, so it feels rude to say no.” It’s not rude to say no when something is clearly not your job and the person should be handling the issue themselves. It might only be 30 seconds, but it’s presumably interrupting your focus on other things — and even if it’s not, it’s just not reasonable for people to think they can turn to you for basic tasks that are no more yours than theirs (and in fact are theirs).

It’s great to be helpful, but you should be helpful about things involving your job. It’s not helpful to your career to be known as “Jane the printer lady” — you want to be known as “Jane the great salesperson” or “Jane who keeps blowing her numbers out of the water” or “Jane who knows everything about our product line” or so forth.

And even if you’re known as those things too, the fact that you’re irritated by this is reason enough to put a stop to it. Fortunately, you can — this is within your power to resolve, although it may take some time. You’ve just got to resolve to keep saying no.

{ 297 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Wannabe Disney Princess

    Maybe look at it this way: at the longest it takes a minute. If you have ten of those that’s ten minutes you lose *that day*. Multiply it out and that’s 3 hours a month. That’s nearly HALF a workday you lose by helping people with something that isn’t your job. In a year, that’s 4 and a half days lost. Which, no, isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. But it does add up.

    In my office, I’ve broken it out like this when I get the “but it’ll just take [minuscule amount of time]”. So far, it’s worked for me.

    Reply
    1. Still Here

      And it might take 30 seconds to fix, but you have to get up, go over, see what the problem is, fix it, make sure the fix worked, and then go back to you desk. So at least five minutes. Plus, if you are in the middle of of something you lose focus. Getting back on track can take 10 or fifteen minutes. So you’ve just lost 20 minutes of productivity.

      Reply
      1. Wannabe Disney Princess

        Oh, exactly. I wasn’t even calculating all that in. Just the task itself. Which is more than enough.

        I actually timed things once when they said it was quick, it’s never really as quick as you think it is. Once you start getting into a minute+, it adds up mighty quick.

        Reply
      2. Someone

        Also – if it’s only 30s for you to fix, it won’t be that much time for the person who’s asking, either!

        If someone keeps asking a favor saying “Oh, but it’s only X amount of time” you can say “If it’s that quick, why don’t you just do it yourself*?”

        *Instead of shaving a few minutes of your work day by adding them to other people’s workdays PLUS the time lost due to interruption, ’cause that’s SOOOO considerate, right? You yourself just LOVE people interrupting you to do stuff they could easily do themselves, right, and will jump up the minute they ask?

        Reply
    2. HumbleOnion

      Also, it’s not just one minute, because when she’s interrupted, it takes time to get focused back on what she was working on. It’s probably closer to 5-6 minutes each time. At that rate, 10 interruptions is almost an hour lost each day!

      Reply
    3. fnom

      There’s an xkcd comic strip about exactly this– xkcd dot com slash 1205 — entitled “Is It Worth the Time?” with similar math.
      I have that strip bookmarked for Reasons.

      Reply
      1. Rosemary7391

        Also relevant xkcd is number 627…

        I’d totally make my first response to these enquiries “What have you tried?” and “What does it say on the screen?”. Might be a good stepping stone to “Ask someone else” if OP doesn’t want to drop that one people straight away, although there’s no reason for her not to skip to that.

        Reply
        1. Breda

          Yeah, I would pretty rapidly just get to calling back, “It should say what to do on the screen!” without stopping whatever I was doing.

          Reply
          1. Jessen

            I would kind of want to put up a little sign above the printer explaining that errors are usually explained on the screen and to please try following them before asking for help.

            I doubt that would be actually useful, but hey.

            Reply
        2. Clorinda

          Even those suggestions are too helpy, Rosemary. OP needs to stop being the person who knows about that. “Sorry, can’t help, I’m busy,” and let them work it out. All of us have figured out how to solve directions that appear on a screen. They can do it.

          Reply
        3. Marion Ravenwood

          I’ve definitely felt like I’ve needed that one before! I don’t mind helping people out, but it does baffle me sometimes that people don’t think to Google something first.

          Reply
    4. Ama

      Yeah, back when I was the official “printer lady” (office admin) I did an accounting of the time I spent on helping with our various office machines as part of a larger assessment of how my time was being spent. It adds up surprisingly quickly — when there are 60 other people in the office, even if only a quarter of those people need help with a simple issue once a day that’s 20-30 minutes a day, and our biggest copier was prone to paper jams that could take 5-10 minutes to clear, so it was usually closer to an hour of my work day just spent in copier maintenance.

      Reply
    5. Whaler

      Also if someone is calculating FTEs hours for a project, they probably aren’t factoring in her printer duty time!

      Reply
  2. DecorativeCacti

    I know how frustrating it is to have to interrupt your work to show people how to follow the pictures on the screen. Most of the time I end up opening and closing all the doors until I find the jam. Magic. Unfortunately I am in a position where it IS my job to solve the issue (I think it’s an old habits from when my department had more admin tasks… 15+ years ago).

    Good luck, OP.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      This is what bothers me about my parents. They treat anything they need to do on a computer as a ritual that must be completed in the time-honored sequence of rigidly defined tasks until the dread computer god bestows good tidings upon them. If there is any deviation from the ritual, they’re as helpless as baby sea turtles flipped on their backs, and they wave their tiny flippers at me until I do what I’ve always done in the face of computery problems, which is Google it and click around until I figure it out.

      Reply
      1. MJ

        This reminds me of a co-worker who insisted when I was closing a document to close the document first, and THEN the word processor. No way could I just close out of the word processor. Drove me nuts. She also refused to use tab to move between fields and would take sooooo lonnnnnng each time she moved by moving to the mouse, moving the cursor around so she could see it, having to refocus on where the field was, clicking on the field, remembering what she wanted to type, pick and peck it out, and repeat.

        Reply
        1. Drew

          To be fair, the newer Mac OS will open the most recently open file(s) when you open an application, so I *do* make a habit of closing the file and then the program if it’s a document I don’t want popping back open the next time I open that program.

          Reply
          1. Avatre

            You can turn that off! System Preferences -> General -> check “Close windows when quitting an app.” (Also uncheck “reopen windows when logging back in” in the logging out/rebooting dialog box.)

            …I totally just made myself the printer lady of this thread, didn’t I? :)

            Reply
        2. Snark

          At some point, you get used to a workflow and it can be more disruptive to try to retrain yourself. It doesn’t bother me when coworkers have inefficient workflows, because hey, my dude, that’s between you and Bosslady. But when they start pulling me away from analyzing llama fur softness because they can’t learn how to unjam a printer, that’s where I get a stake.

          Reply
      2. hermit crab

        Yeah, one of the things that I explicitly teach people who are new to a particular (and particularly finicky) software tool is “you cannot break it.” There are a lot of people who are not comfortable clicking around to find something that works because they’re worried they will mess it up. Often, I see this with people who are not “digital natives” but not always.

        Now, with a printer, you can in fact break it – but still, teaching people that “gently opening and closing the drawers is something you are empowered to do” might help (if this is people being scared of messing stuff up and not just learned helplessness). Not that any of this is OP’s job, of course!

        Reply
          1. Nanani

            That’s literally what the tech support department is for. If your company doesn’t have one, their computer vendor certainly does.

            Reply
        1. Amber T

          To be fair, I have kicked and punched and slammed the doors of my printer out of much frustration (I will try lots of things before I cry to our IT person), and I’ve yet to break it. Printers/the spawns of Satan are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            Yep. Remember, like 10 generations of printers have been developed since Office Space; office equipment engineers know how damn good it feels be a gangsta and have compensated with more user-friendly designs and helpful on-screen prompts.

            And generally, Windows does ask you if you do anything irreparable.

            Reply
          2. AnonEMoose

            At a previous job, I had something of a reputation for getting what I wanted out of the notoriously cranky laser printer. I did get weird looks when people saw me walking up to said printer and saying, conversationally, “You know…X stories is a long way down…”.

            And the looks got even weirder when the printer gave me what I wanted.

            I didn’t care. I would just pick up my print job, smile, and go back to my desk.

            Reply
            1. Family nickname is "computer consultant"

              Ever wonder if computers have already achieved sentience and just not bothered to tell us yet? ;)

              Reply
              1. AKchic

                Skynet is sneaky. It is in its best interest to not let us know of its sentience because we’re already screwing ourselves up without them having to do anything. Left to our own devices, they can assume we’ll destroy ourselves.
                All it would take is the right paper jam and we’d nuke each other in frustration, I’m sure of it.

                Reply
          3. Starbuck

            This is of course the proper technique; you need to establish dominance over the printer immediately or there’s no hope of it ever listening to you again.

            Reply
        2. Michaela Westen

          I’m old enough to remember when I could break software. DOS screens, even, where if you type the wrong thing it got all messed up. Once on my home computer I clicked around until I got to the source code of Word (which had a yellow highlight in it) and decided not to go farther.
          This was all in the 90’s, I have a Mac at home now and plenty of experience with MS and googling. :)

          Reply
        3. T3k

          One exception: company-wide software tools. It’s one thing to mess around in Excel, but I also worked with industry-specific software (think bug tracking that everyone across the company can edit) and I was so afraid to mess around in it because even accidentally pressing a key on the keyboard (like if you tried to click in a text field but the mouse didn’t register it so you begin typing) would cause some change and there was no easy way to track what you just did. I lost count the number of times I had to re-assign tasks and send a quick “sorry, hit the wrong key” to the correct person because of it. No way was I going to try and mess around in that program, so I relied heavily on tutorials or asking others how to do something in it.

          Reply
          1. Rana

            Yeah, one of my jobs primarily entailed undoing all the kludges and errors people had introduced to one of the company databases over the years because they couldn’t be bothered to figure how to use it correctly and no one thought to train them or create a training manual specific to the company.

            Reply
        4. Jennifleurs

          As someone who hates anything new and unknown, having an idea of what might break the printer and what won’t is very helpful in stopping me getting anxious about stupid things!

          Reply
        5. kb

          I really like your approach to teaching. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people’s first exposure to technology repair involves someone blaming them for breaking something, so that persists as a formative experience. And it’s additionally difficult because sometimes the correct advice is actually “don’t touch it– let a pro sort it out.” The distinction between the two situations definitely isnt clear to a novice. While it isn’t at all OP’s job to figure out why her coworkers are doing this, thinking of this possibility helps me be less annoyed at people asking for (arguably) too much help .

          Reply
        6. teclatrans

          O.o

          I find this to be a very profound concept. I have long been the person to help when people flap like inverted turtles (thanks for that imagery, Snark!), but every once in a while I get intimidated by some aspect of tech and it is EXACTLY because of what you describe: I am afraid that I will break something and not be able to undo/fix it. I have happily been opening unfamiliar printers for decades now, because I know I can undo it. I will try different things in Word because there is Ctrl Z. Etc.

          I will totally keep this concept in mind for the next time I need to wean someone off of my support. (And maybe I will ask my husband to explain where and how routers and firewalls could get broken vs. reset and which tires I can kick on my own.)

          Reply
        7. TardyTardis

          I wouldn’t say ‘you can’t break it’. There were reasons that myself and one other woman were the canaries to test new software on. We had Special Powers to find ways where it did *not* work.

          Reply
    2. SoSo

      Same here! The worst one I ever got was when we kept having prints disappear and an actual MD looked at me square in the face and asked “What’s a print queue?”

      Reply
      1. Michaela Westen

        MD as in doctor? I work with doctors. Some are tech savvy and some aren’t. the ones who aren’t are intimidated by tech and have plenty of other stuff to do, treating patients.

        Reply
        1. SoSo

          Yeah, MD as in doctor. But the difference here is that he hasn’t been practicing in about 8 years, and we work in a corporate office setting. I could understand it more if we were in a patient care setting and his job wasn’t office duties.

          Reply
      2. DecorativeCacti

        I had to put up a sign because we had an “I didn’t do it” epidemic of people stopping a print job by pulling the tray out of the copier as it was running. This caused massive, have to call in service style jams. No one could figure out to use the bright red “stop” button.

        Reply
  3. EMW

    I have so many feelings on this topic!!! I used to be known as the printer person, but it was at a time when I was an intern, and it didn’t irreparably damage my reputation. Since moving on from that company, I refuse to troubleshoot anyone else’s printer problems unless it directly affects my ability to print or I’m in the process of training someone.

    I’m currently in a similar situation with SharePoint (and just computer stuff in general), where everyone asks me how to do stuff on SharePoint (or excel, word, etc). I’m the systems person though, so this is my job at the moment. If I ever move on to a different role at the same company, I’m not 100% sure how I’d drop that portion of my responsibilities. I guess I’d have to modify something like Alison’s script above.

    Reply
    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      “What have you tried so far?”
      Jump straight past “did you look at the Help guide/instructions?”
      Just ask what they did. And wait.

      Reply
  4. Junior Dev

    Uggggh I used to sit in a seat near the printer and being the youngest in the office, everyone came to me with their technology issues anyway.

    In addition to Alison’s suggestions, can you write down some advice for the most common problems? E.g. “is the ‘arglebargle’ light blinking? Press the ‘weeooeeeoeo’ button and follow all instructions.” You don’t have to do this by any means but it might prevent some questions.

    Reply
    1. Blue Eagle

      I was going to suggest this same thing. If there are a couple of common errors and easy fixes, it would be great if you would consider writing something up (in large type) and posting it near the printer.

      Maybe you could even refer people to the sheet, and refer them to the admin who could help them as a second choice. (I feel your pain, though)

      Reply
      1. Trout 'Waver

        I don’t recommend doing this. In many cases, you’d now be responsible for both the printer and maintaining the list of fixes.

        Reply
      2. MLB

        Unless the printer is circa 1990, it will guide you to the issue. If someone can use a computer, they can use a printer and follow the instructions to fix it. Certain people are quick to ask someone for help before trying to figure it out themselves, and the LW is enabling this behavior. Creating a list of helpful hints is not her job, just like it’s not her job to help with the printer issues based on her proximity to the printer. She needs to say no, and repeat as needed until they stop asking her for help.

        Reply
    2. Midge

      That would be very kind of the OP to do, but are her instructions going to be any different from what the printer is telling people to do? I think this is one of those cases where people just need to be redirected. The printer is already giving them the answers. All they have to do is read and follow the instructions.

      Reply
      1. ErinW

        Agreed. If their printer is like my office printer, there’s a little picture with a blinking indicator which shows exactly where the paper jam is. Most people just don’t want to open the doors and fumble around for the jam, get frustrated and get their hands all tonery. Which is fine, because it sucks, but if it’s not one person’s explicit job to do it, then it is everybody’s job to do it.

        Reply
    3. Drew

      “If you’re still confused or this doesn’t fix your problem, go get Greg — he can definitely help you out.”

      Reply
    4. Kj

      Ugh, as a previous “youngest person in the office and default tech person,” I feel you. I was also the designated “design guru” in the office, as I have an arts background in addition to my actual, relevant degree, so I ended up designing posters that went up across the county. Without knowing that was what they were for…..

      I might suggest that the OP not do documentation and just continue to re-direct to the printer’s instructions. If someone is really stuck, I might offer to let them call the admin from my desk, so you look like you are helping. Other than that, don’t bother.

      Reply
    5. MsSolo

      My previous workplace had some very elderly B&W printers, with no screens, so you had to identify the issue from how often the error light was blinking. Once a second was out of ink. Once every three seconds was paper jam. Three times a second was massive system failure do not pass go do not collect 200 printouts. Of course, we had no manual, but somehow I was the first person to think of googling for one and printing out the instructions (on the fancy colour printer down the hall, because ours was in three blinks a second mode!).

      In some respects, it might be worth printing out instructions, because as a recent letter shows, some people just don’t want to look at screens!

      Reply
      1. Nephron

        I get so frustrated with people that do not look up instruction manuals. I have found and printed off so many manuals or written out instructions and taped them to equipment because maybe, just maybe the equipment will be on the correct settings when I get there.

        Reply
      2. kb

        Yeah, if there are common re-occuring issues, having instructions for those right by the printer (or having the page in the manual sticky-noted) can expedite things. Also, during onboarding, walking people through tips and tricks for finicky machines they’ll have to use ultimately saves a lot of time, but is so frequently overlooked.
        While OP is decidedly not in charge of the printer and this isn’t their responsibility, I think being able to say “there are instructions printed” will fulfill her desire to be helpful, while still not taking her away from her job in the moment.

        Reply
    6. LBK

      My experience has been that even when the printer is giving a very clear description of the problem and what needs to be done to fix it (and in some cases even shows a little animation of how to do it!) people act as though the printer is speaking to them in tongues. In fairness, printers have been notoriously difficult to use for a long time and IME have only in recent years started to get less cryptic, so in some sense people have been trained to not even bother attempting to read the error message.

      That said, I agree that the right solution is to just not enable them anymore – simply don’t help them and they’ll have to figure it out for themselves. The OP’s job is not even tangential to printer maintenance so I think she has good standing if people push back on her to give a quizzical, “I’m a salesperson – I am far from the printer expert! Might just have to call IT.” And then turn back around and resume working.

      Reply
    7. Oilpress

      I do not recommend this. That’s just more time down the drain preparing (and revising) those instructions, and it will only reinforce how other people see you as the printer expert. Just opt out completely. It’s the only way to make it not your job.

      Reply
  5. Snark

    The age-old tendency of people being afraid to be rude back to rude people rears its ugly head again. OP: you do not need to please these people. Really. They think their learned helplessness is more valuable than your time and concentration. You have no obligation to help them, and in fact helping them is making you less effective at what you’re actually paid for.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I don’t think this is a rudeness situation, or at least not from what’s in the OP, nor is the solution. It’s a mistake situation. Jane is the printer guru who helps with it, so it’s not rude to ask her to help (and in general, it’s not rude to ask for help). There are plenty of jobs where the higher-ups’ time actually *is* more valuable than that of the person they’re asking for help–that’s a big reason for support staff right there. It’s just that the OP *isn’t* support staff for this. She just needs to make that clear rather than accepting the job that’s been thrust upon her.

      Saying “It’s actually Admin who handles that” isn’t a rude response, either. It may seem like a potayto potahto thing, but a lot of people struggle with saying no because they *do* think it’s rude, so I think it’s useful to point out that it’s not.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Yes, but if they know OP is the Llama Fur Softness Analyst and she’s focusing on her screen, dragging her out of that because the screen saying “Reload Paper Tray 4” is befuddling them is not the most considerate thing to do. They know it’s not her job. They’re just taking the easy option and bothering her. I think that rises to rudeness, or at least presumptuousness.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I think that’s assuming a lot more malice and forethought on the part of users than is generally true in my experience. However, what really matters to me is that the OP realize it’s not rude for her not to do this.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            I don’t know that it’s necessarily malice or forethought! I think it’s just inconsiderate and focused on personal expedience.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              I don’t think we have any way of knowing, but I think it makes the situation worse instead of better to think of people as wronging you rather than just making a mistake without evidence. This really is standard information acquisition, not just the refuge of the thoughtless, annoying as it may be to the recipient.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                I think it helps draw a line, there, when you’re like “but I am helpful and I must help!” to say, “well, no, these people are being inconsiderate, I am allowed to say no.”

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                1. AnonEMoose

                  I know that, in some previous workplaces, I learned the hard way that even if I was technically “right” to say no to something, I’d better not actually do that. Because no matter how polite I was about it, people would get peeved and complain to my boss, who would then come down on me, rather than even asking for my side of the story.

                  That kind of thing can be very difficult to overcome, and it takes while to retrain your brain, even when it’s made clear that things are different. I don’t know if that’s been part of the OP’s experience, but it might be for some people.

              2. Kate 2

                But a mistake is something unintentional, something you don’t mean to do. They are intentionally asking OP for help when the printer is providing step by step instructions on the screen. They are seeing that and *choosing* actively to ignore it, to not try for themselves, and to grab the nearest random person (OP) to do it for them.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  They’re intentionally asking the OP for help with the printer *because she helps with the printer.*

                2. Tardigrade

                  Based on my experience in similar matters, I doubt many people have ever noticed those instructions.

                3. OhNo

                  I’m with Tardigrade on this one. As a recovering ask-instead-of-try-er, I rarely notice instructions until I am directed to them. Looking for them just isn’t my default setting. If there are and folks like me working there, pointing out that there are instructions available might be all it takes.

                4. Michaela Westen

                  Many of us have had bad experiences with printers. Like you keep trying to clear a jam and you’ve removed all the paper, and it still says it’s jammed – and the deadline was 30 minutes ago, people are waiting for the printouts…
                  When you’re intimidated by these experiences, even if you know the instructions are there, you don’t want to try them, it will be another nightmare…
                  My colleagues and manage to deal with it, but I think for all of us the first reaction is “oh, no, anything but this…”

        2. Yorick

          If I saw Jane helping people with the copier, I might that even though she is a Llama Fur Softeness Analyst she might also have some admin duties. Or I’d assume that she knows a lot about the copier and she obviously doesn’t mind helping because she was so nice last time.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            And I think both of those assumptions presume a lot! They’re natural, and I wouldn’t tell someone to feel bad about them, but neither is particularly considerate of the other person’s time and focus. Even if someone’s nice to me when I ask for help, I generally assume it was a bit of an imposition and try not to do it unless I absolutely cannot figure it out myself .

            Reply
            1. Snark

              And, in fairness, I generally tend to be the kind of person who would rather spend 15 minutes of my own time figuring it out my owndamnself than waste 10 minutes of anybody else’s time, so.

              Reply
              1. AnonEMoose

                You and me both. I would rather check available resources and try to figure it out than bother someone else. The people who default to asking without trying to resolve the issue drive me bonkers.

                Reply
                1. Marion Ravenwood

                  Same here. I’ll ask for help as a last resort, but if I don’t know how to do the thing then I will be the person on Google or looking through the employee manual trying to work out how to do it on my own first, because I’m aware that other people have way better things to do than help me out. Consequently it drives me crackers when people ask me to show them how to do stuff they could work out themselves with five minutes on Google. If nothing else, surely attempting to find the solution by yourself first shows initiative?

              2. Salamander

                +1. I only ask for help if I cannot figure it out myself, because I don’t want to impose on others.

                Reply
    2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

      “learned helplessness” I deal with that with my students every day. I say: Go into the pantry and x is on the left side third shelf down.” They stand in the doorway looking helpless. I repeat myself slowly until they actually register what I’m saying and find x on the left side third shelf down. If I didn’t do this then I’m wasting my time doing their job.

      Reply
      1. Ipomoea

        Except it sounds like management did have help desk support as part of his duties. It was poorly thought out, but if we trusting the OP, and we have no reason not to, it was his job.

        Besides that, there is a huge difference between “That’s not my job,” and “You’re a worthless person because you have a problem I consider simple,” even if some people would consider both rude. (The first really isn’t rude, to be clear.)

        Reply
        1. Bratmon

          > sounds like management did have help desk support as part of his duties. It was poorly thought out, but if we trusting the OP, and we have no reason not to, it was his job.

          We must have read the letter differently, because the thing that struck me about it was that the LW *didn’t* ever clarify whether desktop support was actually this guy’s job. What line indicated to you that it was?

          Reply
          1. Ipomoea

            The OP is middle management and she and her boss are under the belief it is his job (as evidenced by the boss going nuclear when people are afraid to contact the “IT guy”). So either large swaths of the organization think he’s supposed to be the help desk in addition to being the sysadmin, and his manager isn’t making it clear that he isn’t, or it is, in fact, his job. Given both are possible, we generally believe take the OP at their word.

            But that is really beside the point. If you’re a sysadmin and people keep bothering you for help desk stuff, you respond by saying you’re busy or it’s not your job (just like this OP should do with the printer), not by belittling the asker. And then you talk to your manager about how much it’s interrupting your work and the serious need for someone to do help desk support.

            Reply
  6. Hey Karma, Over here.

    Look at this situation as free therapy. You admit that you do like to help people and you don’t like to say no. Here is a way to learn to control both impulses. Treat this as if you are taking medicine for an illness, or physical therapy for an injury.
    You say no, because you have to say no. And one thing to remember here is that YOU are not making the asker uncomfortable. You are making him/her cranky. That’s all. The more someone pushes, the more whiny and rude they get, the less you should respond.

    Reply
    1. MissGirl

      Yep, all of this problem is self created by the sentence, “I tend to be a yes-woman.” The outcome you want can only be solved by saying no.

      What’s are you getting out of this arrangement that’s stopping you from saying no. Is your sense of identity or security wrapped up with in helping people? Why does it feel rude for you to say no? What do you fear happening if you assert yourself?

      You have to power to stop this. What’s holding you back?

      Reply
      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        This exactly. LW, ask yourself all these questions and be honest with yourself. Some people really like being the printer guru. They don’t like sitting at their desks just doing their job. They like the distractions and the interactions. If that isn’t you, change your reactions.

        Reply
      2. OhNo

        All those questions and possible answers are pretty deep, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the answer might just be “habit”. Sometimes, you just get in the habit of saying yes, or being helpful, or whatever.

        The solution is the same, though, because a big part of breaking a bad habit is to force yourself to go against it.

        Reply
  7. Vin Packer

    Would it be at all useful to get the admin on the OP’s team about this? Like, go to the admin and say, “Hey admin, I’ve accidentally become the Printer Lady because I happen to sit near the printer and the interruptions are driving me bananas. I’m going to start redirecting people to you as our admin person, okay?”

    I’m just thinking that it might be easier for a “yes woman” to redirect people to a different helper than to just say a flat “no,” as justified as the “no” is. But maybe that’s making too big of a thing out of it, or would be annoying to the admin.

    Reply
    1. SoCalHR

      To tie in this comment with Junior Dev’s – maybe ask the admin to develop a quick reference guide to post by the printer to hopefully reduce the problem.

      Reply
      1. EMW

        OP says most things just require following the on screen prompts. I wouldn’t recommend asking someone else to recreate the wheel. OP should just redirect people and no longer provide the easy solution. Everyone else in the office will adapt accordingly.

        Reply
        1. Vin Packer

          Agree, but I do kinda like the idea of something visual to highlight the admin’s role as the true mayor of Printertown. Then, questions can just be met with “Admin left some instructions for you; if that doesn’t work, maybe ask him.”

          Reply
          1. Morning Glory

            That is often not the admin’s role, and a really good way to piss off the admin doing a dozen other things.

            Reply
            1. Elizabeth West

              Not sure where you work, but in nearly every admin job I’ve had, it HAS been my role. Like, in the actual job description. Maybe not executive admins; but the lower-level support people are typically responsible for troubleshooting office machinery. My only exception was Exjob — the IT department oversaw printer issues since they were also responsible for purchase and installation of the printers.

              Reply
              1. Morning Glory

                At my office, there are a few high-level people I directly support whom I would help with printer problems as part of my support function to them, as individuals. Most people at my office, however, can figure out basic issues on their own, and will contact IT if the printer is truly broken.

                Printers are shared between teams – I would not be responsible for helping someone on another team at this org just because I am the admin geographically closest to that printer. I also would not be happy if junior level staff on the team I support came up to me regularly with questions on the printer, as they are supposed to be mainly self-sufficient except for a few exceptions like big meetings. If someone tried to make me the ‘Mayor of Printertown’ I could easily see other teams and junior people feeling free to come up to me since I was now ‘responsible’ for the printer – and I would definitely push back.

                Reply
            2. myswtghst

              This is something that I think can vary by office. For example, we have an office admin in each of our locations, and it is absolutely part of their role to assist with printer stuff that can’t be resolved by following the instructions on screen. For that reason, I think the suggestion to talk to the admin is a perfect step to take, so OP can feel confident they are redirecting people the right way (or determine if maybe there is someone else who should be the point of contact for these types of inquiries) going forward.

              Reply
    2. Morning Glory

      If there are instructions on the screen though and mostly these are easy fixes, I don’t think it would make sense to auto-redirect these people so much as encourage them to figure it out themselves.

      Why should anyone have their workday and core responsibilities interrupted for something like this?

      Reply
    3. Bagpuss

      I think it would be appropriate to give the Admin a heads-up that you will be directing people to him.

      Then when someone asks you for help, respond with something like “Usually following the instructions on the screen works, but if that fails, you need Fergus, he’s the admin responsible for the printer.” Keep the tone light and cheerful initially, if they push, go for puzzled and a bit irritated. “Like I said, if you can’t work it out, you need Fergus. I’m not an admin and I’m not the printer person.”

      You could reasonable, I think, print off a sign to put on the printer saying something like “If you have any issues with the printer, follow the instructions on screen to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, contact Fergus (ext. no) xxxx)

      Don’t get up, don’t go over to the printer.

      Reply
    4. Is This How We End Up On 20/20?

      I wouldn’t ask the admin. I would just say “Sorry, I’m busy, you should ask Fergus.”

      He’s the admin, it’s his job.

      Reply
      1. Avatre

        If it’s Fergus’s job there’s no need to ask his *permission,* but he’d probably appreciate being tipped off (especially if he wasn’t aware Jane’s been drafted into printer support).

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          Agreed. Also, if it were me, I’d be confused as heck if I went from getting zero questions about the printer to getting a bunch. If he’s not tipped off, he might think the printer is suddenly acting up when it never had any problems ever before. Save him the confusion, and give him a heads’ up.

          Reply
      2. MissLibby

        Do you actually know if it is his job? I am an admin and sit near the printer, but it is not my job to fix it. My job is to support a Sr VP, not support every random of need of everyone else in the department. If said SVP needs help with the printer, I am all over it….otherwise follow the instructions on the screen or call the number for support.

        Reply
        1. motherofdragons

          When OP said, “We actually have a dedicated admin person,” I took that to mean that the admin supports her team/group/office. So it sounds appropriate for printer-related problems experienced by staff to be directed to him. Of course this would definitely require OP to know that admin’s functions and who he actually supports, before directing people to him, but it sounds like she does think it would be appropriate and is already confused about why people aren’t going directly to him.

          Also, “fix” doesn’t necessarily need to mean physically fixing anything. This would depend on the admin’s role, for sure. Maybe the “fix” is more of what you said in your last sentence…telling staff to “Follow the instructions or call the number for support.” But I think overall, the point is to have *someone else* in a more appropriate support role than OP handling these issues, however they do that.

          Reply
  8. Autumnheart

    If it only takes LW 30 seconds to figure it out, it will only take the person with the printer issue 30 seconds to figure it out. Or a minute, or two minutes. Let the person using the printer deal with the printer issue.

    Reply
    1. Murphy

      There are many people who would take a lot longer than that to figure it out.

      I’m not at all saying that it’s OP’s job to help them, because it’s not! Just that there are many for whom a printer error is an insurmountable obstacle.

      Reply
    2. Irene Adler

      Yes!
      I want to say to those folks who ask the OP to fix the copier, “apply yourself!”

      I have folks in my lab who will whine and whine about the temp of the lab but will not adjust the thermostat to their liking because, “Oh, I always screw those things up!”. So I let them suffer.

      (yes, I do explain how the thing works. But after the third time, well, sorry, take notes or suffer)

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        Wait. You guys have a thermostat that actually allows you to control the temperature?

        You are so lucky. :) I either have to turn on my space heater and get out the blanket I keep at my desk or start stripping.

        Reply
  9. Falling Diphthong

    There will be an adaptation period while you retrain everyone that they need to gaze at the screen, read “out of paper”, and put in more paper. You will need to put your head down and push through this period despite “But you are the only one who can decipher ‘out of paper’; I just can’t handle things like that!” But eventually they will learn.

    When I worked in-house, the person who sat closest to the printer had a sign reading DO NOT ASK ME PRINTER QUESTIONS.

    Reply
    1. beanie beans

      I like this!

      You could also just start saying “I don’t know how to fix it, you’ll have to follow the directions on the screen.” If they remind you that you’ve fixed it in the past, “I think it’s changed. I really don’t know.”

      Reply
      1. MLB

        I wouldn’t recommend saying that. This falls under the “no” is a complete sentence. A simple “I’m sorry I can’t help, I’m in the middle of something” is all that’s required here. Saying that a few times will re-train them to either figure it out for themselves, or go to the correct person to fix the issue.

        Reply
    2. ErinW

      I love that sign. My office is located just off a busy lobby, and we get tons of questions about other offices when they don’t happen to have anybody out front. “Do you know where Janet is?” “She doesn’t work in this department, she works in HR.” “I know, she’s not there.” “OK.” “Do you know where she is?” “We don’t work in the same office, so no, I don’t.” “When will she be back?” Delivery people, repair people come to me helpless. We are near the cafeteria, which is run by a contracted company that is completely separate from my organization. That did not stop this one woman from aggressively pitching herself to me as a cook for like, 20 minutes.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        I used to work in the HR area of the office (I am technically “in” HR, but in a niche research type role) and I don’t know if people assumed I was an admin, or if they just expected me to jump into “helper” mode any time one of the coordinators was out. Since I’m not in a “helper” role, helping someone with something outside my job duties, like figuring out where someone sat, was possible but it would take a moment for me to get into that mindset, and the person asking for help would get frustrated (one new exec even sarcastically commented on how “helpful” HR was here as I was scrambling to figure out how to help her). They’d ask me where someone sat and would get frustrated if I said “I don’t know” without looking it up for them, they’d tell me they needed this thing or had a question or had a form that needed processing and would get all confused and upset when I’d tell them I couldn’t help them with that because a) I had no idea what to do and b) didn’t have access to the necessary resources.

        When my boss needed a volunteer to move to an adjoining area to make room for an actual admin, I was more than happy to oblige! I’m free! Free!

        Reply
      2. tired anon

        Ooooh I hate that kind of thing. My coworker who used to be my boss (he’s not any more) and sits next to me is sometimes a space cadette and not great at communicating, so he’ll miss or be late to meetings and no one knows where he is. I get asked about him ALL THE TIME.

        I get it, I sit by him, but the most I can offer is “He was here earlier.” I don’t know where he went! And it’s not my job to remind him of meetings! I still get asked about him a lot, but less so since I started answering, “I don’t know where he is, it’s not my week to keep track of him.” I got a period of indignant hemming and hawing over it but most people eventually adjusted and stopped asking.

        Reply
  10. Cordoba

    I like being able to respond with something like “IT told me not to do that anymore” or whatever the equivalent is for a given situation.

    This can usually be made accurate by going to somebody cool in IT and asking “Hey, can you tell me not to help out with the printer all the time?” to which they will reply “Sure, don’t do that.”

    Reply
    1. Yorick

      I like that, but in this case it may give the impression that employees are not to clear paper jams themselves.

      Reply
        1. fposte

          It’s a good solution for the OP; if management wants a better solution for IT, they can be directive with problem people.

          Reply
    2. MicroManagered

      I am not IT but am in a position in my company where someone saying “Micromanagered told me not to do X” carries some weight.

      I’ve had people come to me and say “I know I’m not supposed to do X, but these other people don’t believe me. Can you send me an email that says don’t do X?” Yes. Yes I can.

      Reply
  11. tktk

    I have a similar role in my office, where people ask me very basic questions about the printer/other tech that they should be able to figure out themselves. One thing I use to politely and subtly hint to someone that they should try to solve the problem before coming to me is asking, “What have you tried so far?” Usually the coworker asking me gets a blank/embarrassed stare and admits that they tried nothing. I’ll then get up and help them, but I’ve noticed this often limits future dumb questions from people.

    Reply
  12. MuseumChick

    Here are are two more scripts. Both of these require remaining at your desk:

    You: “Oh, follow the directions on the screen, that should fix whatever the issue is.”
    Them: “But I neeeeeeeeeed help.”
    You: “Yup, try the directions on the screen. That usually fixes the issue.”

    You: “If its the same problem as last time just do what I showed you before.”
    Them: “But I don’t remember!”
    You: “Try the directions on the screen, that usually works.”

    Another strategy if you don’t feel comfortable completely pushing back at this point is, when you do get up to help don’t actually do any of the work.

    You: “Hmm, appears to be a paper jam. Open that part *point to it but do not touch, wait from them do get the hint* Ok, now remove the paper. Good, and close it back up.”

    You: *walk over, do not look at the printer screen, look at the co-worker* “What does the scree say is the problem?” “Oh, ok, follow those directions, let me know if it doesn’t work.” *walk back to desk*

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think this is all appropriate if you *are* support staff, but the OP isn’t. She shouldn’t be walking people through processes or telling people to get back in touch with her if their fix doesn’t work; it’s doing stuff like that that got her in the fix in the first place.

      Reply
      1. MuseumChick

        Oh I agree, but it can be really hard in the moment to push back. That’s why I gave some options that could help her build up the courage to do just that.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I think anything that involves her explaining directions and offering to be the point person if they don’t work is getting her in deeper when what she needs to do is get out.

          Reply
          1. animaniactoo

            On the other hand, it’s often the case that if you make people *do the work* themselves, they will stop calling you for help – because they know you’re going to make them do the work.

            So if OP walks them through “Okay, were does the screen say the jam is? Open that door then” – from behind them as she walks them through it, making it exceedingly obvious that SHE will not be the one opening the door/panel/etc.

            Yes, it will take more than 30 seconds of OP’s time – this time – however, for all but the worst offenders, it will save her all the future calls for help amount of time.

            It also makes it possible to tell the worst offenders who do keep coming back “Did you read the screen? Follow the directions? Still not working? Okay, call the admin! Must be harder than a simple fix!” without feeling any guilt whatsoever about “not helping”

            For anything in the “major issue” category that can’t be solved by following the directions on the screen, OP should defer there to the admin/IT – “Oh, this looks like a bigger issue. Call the admin to let her know.” and walk back away.

            While OP should get more comfortable just saying no to start with, this gives her a transition plan she can be comfortable with right now – and will probably be useful given that she’s spent a lot of time accidentally training her co-workers that she is the Printer Lady.

            Reply
          2. Jennifer Thneed

            Totally agree, she needs to get out of this business. BUT! this is a really good technique if she needs to *ease herself out* of the business for whatever reason.

            Look at the screen, see what it says. Tell other person to read what it says. Tell them to do what it says. Leave *while* they do what it says.

            Reply
        2. Irene Adler

          Your suggested scripts give a good nudge to the asker towards fixing the issue themselves. And that’s good.

          As for me, I’d be a lot more passive-agressive.
          Them: copier’s jammed!
          Me: You don’t say.
          Them: Can you fix it?
          Me: The question here is, “can you?”.

          Reply
          1. MuseumChick

            That’s just it. It’s easy for us to sit at our computers and say what the OP should ideally do, but IRL it can hard for people to do what the ideal is. The OP says she has a hard time pushing back, so its a bit unfair to expect her to go straight into the deep end and say something like, “No, I’m not the printer person. Fix it yourself.”

            But if she get’s comfortable pushing back in smaller ways, she can build up the confidence to eventually fully push back.

            Reply
            1. Eira

              Your first two scripts are helpful, but I strongly feel the other approach is not going to solve anything. Continuing to interrupt your own work to help doesn’t actually push back, it just further entrenches the idea that OP is the printer person and makes it that much harder to break the cycle. OP may find it hard to say no, but they really need to start practicing if they don’t want to be stuck with this role forever.

              Reply
            2. myswtghst

              Exactly. I had a few coworkers in a previous job who had a learned helplessness with technology and relied on me for help. They’re people I genuinely like(d), so rather than going from 100% help to 0% help, I slowly transitioned from doing it for them, to helping them do it, to encouraging them to do it themselves, to being unavailable to help at all. They eventually got the point and became more self-sufficient, which worked out for all of us.

              If OP isn’t comfortable saying no, us telling OP repeatedly to just say no isn’t going to help. Strategies for easing out of the “helper” role might make it easier, though.

              Reply
    2. Beancounter in Texas

      Don’t get up and help; simply say, “Follow the instructions on the screen.” Toss in as needed, “I need to focus on [XYZ]. Just follow the instructions on the screen or ask Admin for help.”

      Reply
  13. Not Australian

    How about making a cheat sheet? “If printer does X, try Y.” You can either pin it up above the printer or hand a copy to anyone who asks you. Again, probably not your job – but investing half an hour in it now might save you a lot of aggravation in future.

    Reply
        1. myswtghst

          But by creating a “cheat sheet”, OP is kind of signaling that printer maintenance is her job, even if that isn’t the intent. Especially when the cheat sheet needs updating or doesn’t have the current error message on it, leading anyone who knows OP created the cheat sheet to head over to OP’s desk to ask for help/updates.

          Reply
        2. MLB

          Creating a cheat sheet isn’t her job either. If the printer has instructions on the screen, creating another form is completely unnecessary.

          Reply
        3. Elsajeni

          It is, though, in the sense that it’s literally the problem she’s having — the instructions are already there and people are ignoring them to ask her for help. Spending time creating a new set of instructions for them to ignore seems unlikely to solve that problem, unless she also starts telling people she can’t help, in which case, why not just do that without spending any time making a printer cheat sheet?

          Reply
      1. mj

        Yup, if the printer is anything like ours, the little screen will tell you exactly where the jam/issue is and how to handle it, down to specific area codes.

        Reply
      2. Akcipitrokulo

        I remember an experiment about people pay more attention to hand written notes for ” do not disturb”. Because the offucial one is just there.

        So maybe a sheet of paper with the simple instruction “IF PROBLEMS – FOLLOW DIRECTIONS HERE” and a downwards arrow could work?

        and if they still come… without getting out of seat..

        “The printer isn’t working!”
        “OK… what does screen say?”
        “I don’t know…”
        “OK, see what it says.”
        Goes.
        Returns.
        “It says do x.”
        “OK, do that then.”

        Reply
    1. MicroManagered

      I think the issue there is that… that is still OP engaging with fixing the printer. Like, if she makes that cheat sheet, she is still likely to get questions. OP learning to say no is really the way to go here, I think.

      Reply
    2. Is This How We End Up On 20/20?

      A cheat sheet is a waste of time. The problem is they won’t troubleshoot these errors themselves.

      Reply
  14. Manager-at-Large

    If you are going to start referring all these issues to Fegus the admin, give Fergus a heads up that this is happening. Otherwise, he may give the deer-in-the-headlights and refer right back to you.

    Reply
    1. motherofdragons

      This is what I was thinking, too. Or he might lead the person over to OP’s desk and ask for her help anyway!

      Reply
  15. ExcelJedi

    Alternatively, I’ve actually helped people by walking them through doing it themselves. Literally pointing at the screen and saying “Now open the drawer with the 3 on it,” waiting for them to do it, and then giving them the next set of instructions. If they ask me why I can’t just do it for them, I tell them they’ll never learn that way. Then, the next time they ask, cheerfully remind them that they’ve already done it themselves, and that they just need to read the instructions. If they’re still reticent, “I believe in you. Give it a try, and if it doesn’t work I’ll walk you through again.” The third or fourth time, even if it’s a white lie, “I’m really busy right now, but I know you’ve done this before. If you can’t do it, I’ll help you when I’m done with this report – maybe in an hour?” You’d be amazed how many people can suddenly read instructions on their own when faced with an hour wait instead.

    For me, that balances my need to be helpful (I could never just say no) and my need to have strong boundaries. Eventually, they either learn or learn to ask someone else.

    Reply
        1. Grad Student

          This (and MuseumChick’s suggestion above) is still misusing the OP’s time, but in a way that’s probably going to lead to much less misuse of her time in the future, so I’d argue that it actually might solve the problem (even if not in the ideal way).

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I think it’s still supporting the notion that she’s there for printer dialogue; I know people are hoping that questions for the OP will die down of their own accord if she makes her responses more pedagogical, but I 1) am not convinced and 2) don’t see why she needs to try to stage the approach when Alison’s suggestions would get her there immediately.

            Reply
            1. Just Employed Here

              Yeah, printer dialogue, that’s a great term.

              I used to at the receiving end of a lot of fax monologue when I sat next to it: sometimes requests for help, sometimes random complaints about how annoying the machine was, and occasionally just random conversation, as the person using the fax was waiting for it to do its thing and seemed to think I’d be happy to entertain them in the meantime.

              It died down after I started to respond (nicely) that I’m wasn’t the fax person. Now we’ve moved into another space in the office, and the fax was left behind — good riddance!

              Reply
          2. MsSolo

            Certainly, if she’s already found she’s got up and stood by the printer before she catches herself (at which point she may feel a bit weird sitting down again without doing something) then it’s handy to have a script to start weaning herself off helping, as much as anything else.

            Reply
  16. Antilles

    At my first company, when I first was promoted into an office, it was right next to the printer. The VERY FIRST piece of advice that someone gave me – like, so quickly that I hadn’t even plugged in my computer yet?
    Never, ever, ever fix the printer unless it’s affecting you personally, because the instant you fix it once for someone else, you will immediately and permanently become The Printer Guy and be cursed to never have a moment’s rest again.
    I didn’t follow the advice, but he was exactly right. After a few months once I got sick of it (like OP!) and decided to change it…and it seriously took a solid 3-4 months of effort to train people out of it.

    Reply
    1. Razilynn

      Yup. This exact thing happened to me. I’d throw in my headphones and let it beep for hours. People would print something, go over to get it off the printer, see it wasn’t working, look around, walk away, and come back 15 minutes later to see if someone else fixed it. What? Or they asked me because I sat near the printer. No, I don’t know what’s wrong – I just sit here. I’m not the printer’s assistant. One time some guy came into my cube and tapped me on the shoulder because he didn’t know how to scan/email something to himself. Don’t you have a manager? Ask them! And don’t touch me…

      Reply
      1. Em

        OMG THIS! I once went to get something I printed and found the printer jammed with someone else’s print job. I cleared the jam and then discovered that the other job was 250 PAGES that then sat for hours. I can still feel the rage.

        Reply
        1. Antilles

          Whenever there’s a jam or out-of-paper or whatever scenario and I fix it, I always immediately open up the print queue to see where I’m at…and don’t hesitate to hit the “move to next” or “override print” or whatever option.
          My theory is this: If the other 7 people ahead of me in the print queue really and truly needed their documents ASAP, they would have been to the printer already and seen it was broken. So either (a) you aren’t in a huge hurry so me jumping the queue isn’t going to affect you *or* (b) you saw it broken and walked away, in which case you can call my line-jumping a ‘fee’ for my efforts.

          Reply
          1. Razilynn

            “Override print job” was my favorite button. Some jobs needed special paper or needed to use the “output tray,” but people had no idea. The job would jam up the printer while it requested “additional resources” in order to print. If I stumbled upon this situation: override job, delete job, and the queue was freed!

            Reply
        2. Razilynn

          Ugh. I used to work with a woman who did that. Dozens and dozens of pages of who knows what, and it just sat there. She would print documents 2 or 3 times because people would just throw them away…after sitting on the printer for hours! She sat at a max. 30 feet away from it.

          Reply
    2. Lujessmin

      I still wonder how my old team is handling the printer breakdowns, now that I’m no longer there to fix it. And don’t even get me started on people who print things and then NEVER PICK THEM UP.

      Reply
      1. Razilynn

        Because we all know that paper is an unlimited resource… It got so bad at one place that management demanded everyone only use secure print, so you had to release the job at the printer (by entering your 4-digit code) in order for it to physically start printing. Unfortunately some of the worst offenders never really caught on.

        Reply
  17. Lady Jay

    Sympathies to the OP – interrupting your work to fix printer stuff sounds very frustrating!

    That said, even when the screen walks people step-by-step through the solution, printers are hard. The printer at my last job would register a misfeed and demand that paper be pulled out of it – yet when I opened the drawer or panel shown on the screen, there was no paper there. Grrrr. I spent a lot of time asking our (male) admin for help. Hopefully your admin can get similarly involved.

    Reply
  18. Elsajeni

    We actually have a sign by the printer in my office that reads “Have questions? Need help? Ask at the front desk!”, with an arrow pointing that way, which I assume was put there to address the same type of problem — something like that might be helpful, directing people to the admin, assuming you can get him and/or management to agree that he’s the right person for people to ask.

    Reply
  19. NW Mossy

    Look at it this way, OP: you take vacation sometimes, right? What do they do when the printer runs out of paper or jams when you’re out of the office?

    I will stake my next paycheck that they a) ask someone else, b) figure it out themselves, and/or c) decide that whatever they were trying to print isn’t that necessary. They do not linger by the printer for days on end, risking dehydration and starvation as they wither slowly and helplessly as if it’s a cut scene from “The Road.”

    Say no. Say no kindly but firmly. They’ll survive.

    Reply
  20. Non-profiteer

    At my previous job, I sat closest to the kitchen, where the coffeemaker was. I would routinely get asked for help making coffee, or other coffee-related questions (“do you know when this pot was made?” etc.). I intentionally never learned how to make coffee with that machine, so I could legit claim complete ignorance. I would just say “sorry, I don’t drink coffee and don’t know anything about the machine!”

    I realize this is not a solution for you, OP, unless you have a time machine. But thanks for validating my own choice!

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Oh god, this. Because if you get known as the Coffee Person, people get all kinds of bonkers about it – as the coffee thread from a few days ago demonstrates.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      I think this is a perfect analogue! It’s pretty much basic information-seeking behavior to check with whoever’s most proximal, so you found a way to exempt yourself from that. OP can’t go back in time, but she can still do a modified version of that now.

      Reply
      1. Non-profiteer

        It’s true, OP could make some vague comment about the machine having been updated, or some sort of change, and claim that now she doesn’t know how to fix it. “Oh, I think they did a software update, and now I’m just as clueless as anybody.”

        To be clear, OP, you have the right to just say no without this equivocating. But if this kind of script helps you, go for it.

        Reply
        1. Imaginary Number

          So I totally thought you were responding to the coffee-person post and I think it would be hilarious for coffee-person to respond that there was a software update on the coffee pot. :)

          Reply
    3. Imaginary Number

      I used to sit in a cube right across from my boss’s office and also sat facing her door. People kept acting like it was my job to know her schedule and relay messages to her (I’m not an admin.) Although I was not particularly junior, I was new and people sometimes assumed I was an intern or entry-level hire. This often beyond just “Hey, have you seen Cersei this morning?” and expanded to “Can you let me know when so-and-so gets out of Cersei’s office?” and writing notes (on my post-its) and leaving them with me to give to her.

      I started joking that “Oh, it’s not Tuesday. It’s only watch her on Tuesdays.” (If it was Tuesday I would switch it to Monday.) Everyone understood the joke, but also the meaning behind it, and eventually stopped asking me.

      Reply
      1. You don't know me

        I can sympathize with you. My cubicle is right next to a man’s office. I do not work with or for this man but so many people will talk to me about him when he is not in his office.

        Them: Do you know where Man is?
        Me: No, you should check with his admin.
        Them: Do you know when Man will be back?
        Me: No, you should check with his admin.
        Them: Can you tell Man I stopped by?
        Me: No, you should talk to his admin. (This one is particularly annoying because I don’t know these people. I can’t tell Man you stopped by when I don’t even know who you are!)

        Reply
  21. DonW

    Here’s what I learned when I was a senior developer on a large project and discovered that a lot of other devs – not always jr, even – would come to me asking for information rather than taking five minutes to figure it out (and thereby know the answer next time rather than forgetting because they got the answer too easily): Be Less Helpful.

    I didn’t have that quick term for it at the time; that I learned from the excellent Dan Meyer who was talking about helping people learn math. But I mention that here because you should remind yourself you’re doing these people a favor by helping them learn how to help themselves, which is quicker than asking you. Everybody wins!

    What I learned to do was tell folks I was right in the middle of something and needed five minutes so I didn’t lose my place/forget what I’m doing/lose my rhythm/whatever. You may need to tailor that a little. Programmers usually respect the need to “be in the groove” but perhaps saying you’re responding to an email from High Muckitymuck works better in our circumstance.

    The point is just to weed out the people who are being lazy and impatient by using their impatience against them. You may still deal with the perpetually clueless or folks absolutely hostile to learning independence. They will need more tactics than this. Maybe always asking “what did you try already?” for some subtle/subliminal shaming. But just making them wait will, even if it doesn’t motivate them to try themselves, draw a line that indicates you have your own things to do and your job isn’t to be first responder on printer stuff.

    My experience was that slow-rolling folks a little would eliminate 75% of the most pointless requests. Maybe that won’t be the case for you but just ceasing to be the jump-to-it person seems like a worthy result by itself.

    Reply
    1. Meg Murry

      I was going to suggest a variation of this advice as well. OP says she is a “yes-woman” who has trouble saying “no”. Instead of flat out saying “no” right away, unless the person at the printer is a very high muckety-muck, instead say “I don’t know but I’m in the middle of something. I can help you in about (5, 10, 30, as appropriate) minutes.” Chances are they will either muddle through it themselves or go nag someone else.

      Reply
  22. Printer Jam

    So this was happening to the guy who sat by the printer in our corner of the office. What he did was he made it a game. So, he had charts for things like refilling the paper, fixing a jam, and some of the basic problems and posted by the printer – and you put a tally if you were the one to fix it. The winner at the end of the month won a little sign that just said “bragging rights” on it. And he’d repeat the next month.

    It worked. Friendly competition made people TRY to figure it out themselves, and the filling the paper was enough of a pure luck thing that everyone enjoyed it.

    Not saying you should feel obligated to do something like this, but it’s been a tradition in our office for four years now that we’ve embraced.

    Reply
    1. Tau

      I’ve heard of this strategy successfully being used to manage chores and restocking basic household goods among flatmates. If I remember correctly, there wasn’t even a token reward for that one – just the power of golden stickers. I think it’s genius – make the spirit of competition work for you!

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        It’s really amazing what people will do for a gold star on a chart. Even people who are waaay over 10.

        Reply
  23. Communications Guru

    Alison – It would be awesome if you could elaborate in another post about this part of your answer:

    “It’s great to be helpful, but you should be helpful about things involving your job. It’s not helpful to your career to be known as “Jane the printer lady” — you want to be known as “Jane the great salesperson” or “Jane who keeps blowing her numbers out of the water” or “Jane who knows everything about our product line” or so forth.”

    What if it’s your BOSS asking you for things unrelated to your job?

    For example, my boss always comes to me (I’m a marketing/comm director) about EVERYTHING – including other’s responsibilities – because he says “Well, you always get things done quickly and correctly, and I can count on you.” Which is all fine and good, until it’s repeatedly impacting my actual job activities (marketing and comm) because I’m finishing up a finance report that he asked me to handle instead of the accountant, or proofread a report that another department should be handling, etc.

    Maybe I should email this in as a question? Because I wonder how your answer might change if it was your BOSS coming to you with every single request in the book – instead of coworkers.

    Reply
    1. Augusta Sugarbean

      I think the usual tactic is “Okay, Boss, I can do New Task but I’ll have to stop working on Old Task. I won’t get Old Task done until Friday. What’s the priority?” And maybe do this via email so you have a record of him telling your not to do your normal duties in case it comes up in performance reviews.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        This, but also there’s a point where it makes sense to have a bigger conversation about how it’s affecting your ability to get big, important things done. Feel free to send it in as its own question!

        Reply
        1. Marion Ravenwood

          Can I just say I personally would be very interested in reading this answer. Particularly if it’s not your direct boss, but it’s a senior person you work closely with.

          Reply
    2. fposte

      In general, if the boss is asking you to do it, it is your job. As Augusta Sugarbean notes, you can identify the consequences and ask for help in priorities, but ultimately (absent a contract) your recourse is to decide that you’re doing too much of what you don’t want to do and look for a job that’s a better fit.

      Reply
    3. Is This How We End Up On 20/20?

      It depends on your boss. My good bosses threw everything at me and if I dropped one or said it wasn’t possible to do that and everything else, they retooled.

      Then there was The Dick who wrote me up for telling him I couldn’t do everything he wanted by the deadline he wanted. He even wrote in the damn thing that it required him to do X instead and therefore I’m a failure. RME

      Most bosses aren’t that insane though. It’s a big conversation to have but tell him with X amount of time, your focus on your original duties is being pulled to far off base.

      Reply
    4. pleaset

      I think it’s also worth thinking about being helpful to people who are not the boss (even more junior) in a few situations.

      Here’s an example: something big is happening, the right person is not around to help, the person staff working on the big thing is stretched, the printer doesn’t work, and and I have time.

      This may not work well if you’re not good at setting boundaries, but if you are, consider it. Non-busy time for everyone: “Check with Jimmy for help.” Crisis time for the person asking: “Have you checked with Jimmy for help? Oh, he’s not around today? OK, let me show you. But really, please get Jimmy to show you all the details next time you see him.”

      Reply
  24. LizB

    It usually only takes me 30 seconds to a minute to get up and go fix the issue, so it feels rude to say no.

    Yeah, but if your coworker asked you to tie their shoes for them, it would probably also only take you 30 seconds to do, but that definitely doesn’t mean you should do it! Fixing paper jams and putting more paper in the printer is something people working in an office should know how to do. At the very least they should be willing to look at the instructions on the screen (which in my experience often come with pictures!) and attempt to fix the issue by following them. I don’t know, maybe this is my young-person-with-lots-of-technology-experience privilege talking, but this kind of feigned helplessness would drive me up the wall.

    Reply
    1. Workerbee

      I tend to see these things as laziness privilege versus age-privilege, though I have no stats at hand to back up my eyeballs. I equate it to dishes left in company sinks, bathrooms left with paper towels all over the floor (or worse), and so forth. It’s as if we come to work thinking it’s a free-for-all!

      Reply
  25. Ennigaldi

    Keep helping them but only use the voice from Rob Schneider’s copy room guy bit while you do: “The Steve-Man and the Sandsterrrr, makin’ copiieeeees!” Everyone will suddenly stop needing help!

    Reply
    1. So Very Anonymous

      As God as my witness, when that was originally on SNL I truly thought that that was the meta-punchline for all of the Copy Room Guy sketches — that the company had deliberately put him there to keep use of the copy machine way, way down!

      Reply
  26. Ladylike

    OP, if you feel weird suddenly refusing to help people, consider this: most printers are rented from some company that services them. If you continue to fix frequent issues, the admin person loses visibility, and the service company has no way of knowing it’s crashing so frequently. If I were you, I’d start saying, “Please report all printer issues to Admin from now on, because he needs to notify the service company.” This is common practice and should ease your guilt.

    Reply
    1. Ladylike

      Let me edit this to say, I’m picturing a large, printer/copier combo. A typical desktop printer may not be rented/serviced through an agreement, but I still think it’s perfectly valid to bring Admin into the loop so a longer-term solution can be found for frequent errors.

      Reply
  27. EMW

    I feel like this is a great time to share my printer error issue from my trip to China!

    I made lots of copies of something, but then there was an error on the printer. The printer instructions were all in Chinese. I attempted to use google translate on my phone to no avail. I could see the number “3” so I tried loading paper into tray 3. Still got the error. I approached the front desk and asked her if she knew what the error on the printer was since I could not read it and had already tried loading in paper. She said she would just call IT. An hour later, IT came and loaded paper into the machine, and the rest of my copies printed too late to be useful.

    Reply
  28. Magenta Sky

    I’m the printer guy in our office (and it’s very definitely part of my job), and I gotta say, if there were issues with the printer often enough to be irritating, I’d be calling the service numbers to come out and fix it.

    Either you have way too small a printer for the work load, or it’s worn out and needs either some serious maintenance or to be replaced.

    If you have to fiddle with it once a day, it’s too much. If the printer is leased, make them live up to their maintenance obligations. If it’s not, document how often it needs attention, and talk to whomever needs to authorize either repair or replacement.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      It sounds like it could just be paper jams and running out of paper, though; those are standard multi-user issues, especially if the paper isn’t good or is subject to humidity.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        Yeah, ours paper jams 2-3 times a day. That won’t be fixed until the printer straight up dies though.

        Reply
      2. Magenta Sky

        Paper jams that frequent are not a standard multi-user issue. They’re a sign of a printer that badly needs servicing or replacement.

        Running out of paper that frequently suggests that the printer is undersized for the work load. It’s trivial to set up most workgroup printers with sufficient extra trays to handle pretty much any load – but it costs money. That way, at least, you’re only adding paper once a day, even if it takes a while each time.

        Reply
        1. Mockingjay

          I’ve also found that paper quality can be a factor. Cheap, low-weight bond jams more frequently.

          At one job, the corporate office found paper on clearance and ordered us several cases. It was expensive, heavy-weight bond with a beautiful, crisp white color. That stuff NEVER jammed, even with our old, balky leased printer.

          We were so sad when the last of those supplies were used up…

          Reply
          1. Magenta Sky

            You are correct. Though cheap paper is also a “we’re too cheap to buy stuff that works right” problem, not a “I don’t wanna be the printer lady” problem.

            (We have the same issue with sheets of labels for pricing stuff. You think it’s a problem when regular paper jams easily because it’s crap, try having to account for all 40 labels (and the border all the way around the edge of the paper) after you pull a jammed sheet out, because if one’s still stuck in there it *will* jam every single time until you find it. And depending on where it’s stuck, it could possibly be a fire hazard. Sadly, alternative brands are actually worse.)

            Reply
        2. A Non E. Mouse

          I’m going to upvote this reply – frequent paper jams are symptoms of:

          1) Bad paper, which could potentially be remedied by fanning it before putting it in the drawer, storing it in a less-humid environment, or even just switching suppliers.

          2) A sensor going bad.

          3) Bad rollers

          4) Undersized machine for the quantity/different types of print jobs being asked of it.

          Call the actual tech (or punt to IT to determine if it’s under contract, and they can call the tech) and the tech will pull the error codes, determine the root cause, *and fix it*.

          I’m actually an IT geek, and if I spend more than approximately 2 minutes at a particular machine in a given week, I call a tech. If I see the same error in a given week, I call a tech. And we have, literally, 50 big ol’ machines under contract.

          Reply
          1. Magenta Sky

            +1 on everything you say. We don’t have as many machines as you do, but some of them cost as much as my car (or would, if we’d bought them outright instead of leasing).

            The big copier/printer here in the office acts up, I’ll take a quick look at it, but I will *not* do anything that involves any hand tools (nor do they want me to), and I won’t give it more than about 30 seconds on paper jams. For remote locations, the extent of my IT support is to remind them than the 800 number to call for service in on a sticker on the front of the printer, and we have a four hour guarantee.

            It does cost a pretty penny, but overall, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than trying to do it in-house. It’d be pretty much the definition of penny wise and pound foolish.

            Reply
  29. Bad Candidate

    I’ve feigned ignorance about stuff like this for similar reasons. “Gosh, I’m not sure what ‘paper jam error’ means, sorry I can’t help!”

    Reply
  30. Shawn

    I can’t really say if they are being sexist or not without more context but, considering the OP mentioned the admin as being “he”, I can’t help but wonder. I used to work in a marketing department. There were two women there who were in no way admins. The rest of the team was male. I began to notice that the two women were asked to gather supplies (marketing things such as caps, key chains, etc.) every time a marketing event was coming up or copies of something needed to be made. The men on the team were never asked. One day, one of the women brought this to the manager’s attention. She didn’t mention that it was only happening to the women per se but, she pushed back by mentioning how like the guys on the team, she also had her own work to complete since this was taking time from her actual job role, and mentioned how maybe next time, one of the guys could help. It was worded well enough that her point was made. From then on, the men began being forced to help as well. Kudos to this woman!

    Reply
  31. IL Jim P

    I had this issue too since I’m the tech expert on our leadership team. I eventually just told people that they need to try to troubleshoot and use the pictures on the screen before I would even get up. Then I would make them do it while I walked them through it on the screen. It made some of them feel silly for asking me, especially since I wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t on the screen in the first place. It’s not like I was a printer engineer in a prior life or something

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Yeah my advice TBH to OP would be: can you start investigating options to be moved away from the printer, or have the printer moved away from you?

      Reply
    2. MLB

      She said it was 20 ft from her desk, so I’m guessing it’s in a common area and she just happens to sit closest. Moving it may not be an option. If she wants the result of people not bothering her to fix it, she needs to learn how to say no.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        But moving it may well be an option, and a whole lot easier than training an office full of people. Asking that single question is *easy* and quick.

        In a sense, this is a design problem, where the tool in question is the office as a whole. The part that is the printer is just in the wrong place.

        Reply
        1. MLB

          The issue is her inability to say no, not the location of the printer or her desk. Sure she can ask, but needs to realize that the answer to her question may very well be no.

          Reply
  32. boop the first

    Declining something isn’t rude, unless you do it rudely. In fact, declining anything is an essential lifeskill. Men get to do it, why not us?

    Reply
  33. AKchic

    You readily admit that the printer and it’s issues aren’t your job and there is someone who’s job it is. That person gets paid to handle the printer and it’s issues. You don’t. They can go bother the person who gets paid to take care of the printer and it’s issues. Plain and simple. You get paid to do your work, not mess with that printer.

    Yeah, I’m irrationally grumpy about this issue. My last job, I finally broke free of the printer, I trained every single new receptionist (as they came aboard) how to handle all printer issues. Every single time, without fail, I got called up whenever there was a printer issue because “you know so much better” and the bosses were okay with reinforcing the receptionist’s feigned helplessness and the bosses weren’t about to learn how to use the printer (even though they sat through the same training I did when we got the machines).

    You are paid to do a job. The printer issues never take “just 30 seconds”. I bet if you timed out all of your interruptions for a week, you’d find that you spend a lot more time than you thought, not including the time it takes you to refocus and get back into “the zone” after the interruptions.

    Reply
    1. MLB

      I feel you on the “irrationally grumpy” part. There are too many people that are lazy and their first instinct is to reach out to others instead of figuring it out for themselves. BUT, it makes me more irrationally grumpy that the LW is enabling this behavior. I don’t understand why so many people have a hard time saying no, or feel the need to add a long and detailed explanation as to why they say no. “No” is a complete sentence and completely acceptable. I don’t care if you’re at work or in a social situation. Life is not about pleasing everyone around you, and declining to help is not by automatically rude.

      Reply
      1. Glitterycake

        I consider this an important question in context, because some of what you’ve said totally ignores social conditioning, particularly for females.

        Are you a bloke or a bird?

        Women are socialised and conditioned over a lifetime that “no” is rude. Just this weekend there was a school shooting in Texas, and apparently one of the reasons the perpetrator decided to carry out their horrific act was because his repeated advances on another, female student, had been turned down. That, I think, goes to the heart of why a woman might be scared to call “no” a complete sentence. In a lot of cases, it’s treated as an invitation: “Change my mind!”.

        We want to be everything to everyone, we never want to say “no” because people might think that we’re uppity or stubborn or impolite. That’s why it’s so important for women, especially new to the workforce, not to let themselves become “the coffee girl” or, in this case, “the printer girl”. We end up being cast into these roles by being so eager to please and to avoid conflict.

        “No” is not a complete sentence when most women say it; it’s an opening for someone (usually a male) to ask us why and force us to justify ourselves.

        Reply
        1. MLB

          I am a woman and I have no issues saying no. I don’t enjoy conflict, but I’m not going to let people walk all over me because I’d rather just suck it up and say yes. If I care about someone (whether it be a friend, SO, family member or even a casual acquaintance) I will help them in any way I can. But when they cross a line, I’m going to call them on it. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but it bothers me that so many people have an issue saying no. I stand by what I said. “Social conditioning” is not an excuse.

          Reply
  34. Allison

    I would bring this up with your boss, if you can. They might be able to coach you on how they’d like you to push back, or at the very least, they’d already be aware of the situation if someone came storming into their office, angry that you were “rude” and “unhelpful” when they were dealing with a printer issue. Your boss may also have some ideas on how to mitigate the situation, whether it’s appropriate to send out an office memo urging people to become more self-sufficient with the office equipment, or put up troubleshooting instructions by the printer, with the name of the person whose job it actually is to help. It might even be possible to move the printer, or your workspace, so you’re not the closest person to the machine.

    Reply
    1. MLB

      I disagree. This is not something to bring to her boss, until she tries to resolve it herself. Because she wants to say yes to everyone, she has put herself in this situation. If she starts declining to help and people are still bugging her, then maybe bring it up to the boss.

      Reply
      1. Friday

        Actually if I were her, I’d be inclined to give my boss a head’s up. Just a casual “FYI everyone’s printer needs are starting to drain my time so I’m going to gently push back on new requests for printer assistance.” Just in case some of these feigned helplessness folks go whining to her boss about how OP is the meanest meanie who doesn’t help them read the error messages anymore.

        Reply
  35. LCH

    when you mention [admin] can help them, you could also say you’ve realized it was really rude of you to take over that part of [admin]’s job. if you want to focus on rudeness ;-)

    Reply
  36. Admin2

    If it helps think of it this way- as an admin I NEED to know what things are breaking, when and where. If people get used to going to someone else, I can’t do my job as efficiently and be aware. There have been so many times I will hear of a conference room issue DAYS after it came up because no one thinks to just tell the admin who can get the right people in quickly!
    People will be helpless and grab the first person they see. When I take a vacation I intentionally tell my seatmates to NOT take any questions or admin requests, to tell people to email me or write on the post it (stack of postits and pens right at my cube for such things) and I will get back to them. Again I NEED to know who is asking for what when I am out and people need to be conscientious of who they are asking things for.
    So if you want to be a helper, help the admin and say no!

    Reply
  37. EvanMax

    At a previous job, I was fresh off of completing my degree, and eager to prove that I belonged in an office, rather than the retail environment I’d spent ten years in prior. Even though I was hired specifically for process documentation, I showed off all of my strengths, one of which is an uncommon tech affinity for an individual not in a technical role (I’m just really good at untrained troubleshooting, and can parse out google searches well to find the right walk-through guide to fix something.) I quickly befriended the System/Network Administrator (I forget his official title but he was doing both) by talking D&D with him (this was when 5th Ed. had first come out and he hadn’t touched it at all yet, but was an old hand at DMing previous editions).

    When there was a question about the printer in the cube across from me, I jumped up to help. Same with any other little technical issue. In my mind, I was showing my value, and I was doing a favor for my new friend (soon after I came on board the only other IT employee was fired for creating giant security holes in the network) by taking random helpdesk tickets off his plate so he could focus on the larger system & netowkr issues, of which there were many. Soon enough, senior associates and managers were seeking me out with computer questions instead of filing help desk tickets (by this point i had assisted in building out a new help desk ticket system that I had access to.) When I’d push back that I wasn’t technically IT, and it needed to be tracked with a ticket, I was met with “well, you’re IT now.”

    That was a super disfunctional company, and when my position was finally eliminated, on a Thursday, my honest first thought was “well, at least I don’t have to come in here tomorrow.” Also, the systems/network administrator was a saint who saw the way they were treating my actual role, and probably got me kept around a little longer by making me more valuable to them. He quit the day after they let me go, and he’s still one of my closest friends.

    But you better believe that when I started at my current job, I kept my tech savvy close to my vest. A couple of times, when there was no one else to fix something, I took care of it with a wink and said “don’t tell anybody else I can do this.” This is also a MUCH larger and more functional company where I’m not at risk of that sort of job-creep, and I sit right by a bunch of guys who ACTUALLY are IT, so I’m pretty safe in terms of becoming the new “printer guy”, but once bitten twice shy.

    Reply
  38. Imaginary Number

    I love when Allison’s scripts include recommended body languages. Tucking the “slowly draw your eyes away from the screen” for future use.

    Reply
  39. Q

    I was in a similar situation, our office downsized and moved to an open office concept. My new desk directly butted up against a printer about 10 people were using. People would start collating reports on my desk as I was working. They would actually spread sheets outs in front of my computer as if it were an extra table. Needless to say it was incredibly rude and broke my concentration multiple times a day. One of my main responsibilities was to proofread our digital catalog to confirm all pricing, UPCs, and other items were correct before going live, and concentration was a must. I had to ask them to use the conference room, but I would often come in with other people’s reports scattered on my desk. LW I wouldn’t fix the printer, if someone asks you can reply you’re working on a report/response/issue that needs to be completed asap. People should be able to tell on their computer if there is an error by looking at the printer que.

    Reply
  40. You don't know me

    At an old job many years ago when faxes were popular, they put the fax machine on my desk. So many people assumed I was in charge of it and were constantly bothering me about it. They’d walk over to me and ask if they had a fax. Without skipping a beat or stopping what I was doing, I’d reply, “I don’t know. You should check the machine.” They’d let me know if it as out of paper or toner and I’d let them know to tell the admin. Repeatedly. Until it finally stuck.

    Reply
  41. bishbah

    I was working as communications director once in a medium-size office. My department was by far the heaviest user of the copiers (and therefore very familiar with them), so we were always the ones approached. Our copiers were rented, with a service plan, and they were new models that displayed comprehensive, step-by-step troubleshooting instructions. My assistant had a physical disability that made people reluctant to ask him to walk down the hall to the machines to help, so they always came to me first. Once in particular I had a sign on my door that said “ON DEADLINE, Please Do Not Disturb.” I still got interrupted to help with a paper jam. (I did not help.)

    I ultimately put up a sign instructing people to 1) try following the directions on the screen, then 2) try restarting the device, then 3) call the service number. It helped a little.

    Reply
  42. Starbucks Girl

    I feel this so much. My office is right next to a conference room, and people are constantly walking up to my office and asking about the schedule or saying “is such-and-such meeting being held in this room?” and when I say that I don’t have that answer they will push on with “well can you look it up for me?”.

    First of all, I am not the person responsible for booking this room, there is actually no single person who is responsible because it is booked via an online scheduling system, and everybody who works here knows that (trust me, these aren’t clients who are asking). Second of all, I can’t look it up for you, because I don’t even have access to the online system, because that is not my job! Third of all, your entitlement in wanting me drop everything to help you figure out where your meeting is because you cannot operate Microsoft Calendar properly is not going to make me want to do anything for you.

    I tried closing the door to my office whenever I’m in it just to abate this issue, and people actually have the nerve to knock on my door, wait for me to answer, and then ask! WHAT??

    Sorry OP, no advice here, just wanted to vent because I feel your pain. This happens to me on a weekly basis and it really feels undermining, not to mention its distracting.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      Woah, that sounds so annoying! I’m sorry you’re dealing with that, I would think people with offices wouldn’t have to deal with this, and that it was my cubicle (as well as my appearance, possibly) that may have signaled “little office helper” to people who didn’t know what I actually did.

      Reply
    2. Student

      If you can, try swapping your name tag for a month from Starbucks Girl to S. Girl. See if that cuts back on the requests.

      Other options – if office convention/aesthetics allow it, put up some posters/papers on your door that deal with vaguely intimidating topics to make you seem less approachable. You’ll know your culture better than I do, but some generic ideas are very overwhelming complex charts, mechanical drawings, vaguely aggressive/difficult/intimidating hobbies or sports posters.

      Reply
  43. Is This How We End Up On 20/20?

    Even my bosses who were technology challenged can figure out a printer. I guess that’s the perk of being in manufacturing, they pulled much bigger machines apart and found more complex issues there.

    I would just say no and direct them to the admin if they got frustrated with the answer. Unless they sign your check, they can develop some critical thinking skills of their own.

    Reply
  44. KimberlyR

    OP, I have often been the printer guru before. Sometimes in admin positions (which makes sense) but also non-admin positions. I have that same helpful nature but you really just have to stop doing it. When someone says, “OP, the printer isn’t working!”, don’t immediately jump up or even look a them. Say “hmmm?” distractedly while reading/typing/continuing what you’re doing and let them wait until you’re at a decent stopping point to even have this conversation. Then tell them you cannot help. I guarantee people will become much more self-sufficient if they have to wait until you are at a stopping point. They call out to you because it’s the easiest thing to do. Make it more difficult or take more time. They will figure it out or go to the correct person.

    Reply
  45. Tones

    I’m currently the youngest one in my office and I do have a background as being an admin, so I am asked to troubleshoot printer and computer problems even though I am in a professional role. But I do help most of my coworkers most of the time because I usually have to show them once and they don’t ask again. But it can be a little frustrating to show the people who make twice my salary and can’t figure out excel…

    Reply
  46. LibraryAdminIGuess

    I have a tangential question: what if you were not hired to be an admin, but it’s your boss assigning you admin type work (filing for them only, retrieving materials for them, basically acting like their assistant)? Is there any way to push back on this or, since it’s your immediate supervisor, do you have to suck it up and do it?

    Reply
    1. MLB

      I would say most of the time you have to suck it up and do it. But if it’s affecting your ability to get other stuff done, I would bring it up in a 1 on 1 meeting with them.

      Reply
  47. Dr. Doll

    In one department I worked in, faculty were not ALLOWED to use the copier, printer, or fax machine because they didn’t know how to do it and they would interrupt people all over the place and mess up the machines. Instead, they had to submit their jobs to be done to the people responsible for the machines. Which meant, OMG!!!! they had to *plan ahead* by about 15 minutes.

    Not helpful for the OP but I did love seeing grown PhDs meekly handing faxes over instead of being allowed to drag muddy boots through other people’s schedules.

    Reply
    1. Environmental Compliance

      I deeply miss working for a large uni’s chemistry department where all jobs were supposed to be submitted to the printing department. It was fantastic – I could get fancy color paper and not have to fight for printer access, I never had to troubleshoot jams, I submitted everything online and voila, copies for errybody. They could even make little booklets.

      We still had people screw that up though by submitting in the wrong file type (they accepted any Microsoft file, any image file, PDF….and someone would send in an SPSS file) or not filling out the form correctly – hard to make copies when you don’t say how many.

      It was always entertaining watching a couple of the PhD students that were a bit uppity get scolded by the Copy Center Guy for submitting something stupidly, because it was always the ones who wanted to flaunt that they were getting A PhD in Advanced MicroOrganoFancyPantsChemistry that couldn’t figure out the online form (where you had to put your name, your email, how many copies, a due date, and upload the file; if you wanted something fancier, you had a notes section to request it).

      Reply
  48. As Close As Breakfast

    I can totally empathize OP. I am an engineer and copier issues are 100% not part of my job. But the copier happens to be right outside of my office door. And for nearly 2 years my office was arranged so that you could see me if you were standing in front of the copier. And I’m helpful. So I was you and became the default office ‘printer lady’ without even realizing it. I refilled paper, cleared jams, showed people how to scan and email, replaced toner, and so on and so on.

    Then one day I reached the end of my rope. I had been getting progressively more annoyed by people asking for help doing things they should have been able to figure out themselves. I mean, the screen doesn’t just have directions with pictures, there are freaking animations showing you what to do! Come on people! Then the day came when the front desk person brought the copier service tech to my office and dropped them off for me to not just explain the issues we were having but so that I could ‘learn’ how it’s being fixed for next time. I was done.

    Below it what I did and it worked for me. It took time. Some people were definitely weirded out by my new sort-of-refusing-to-bend-over-backwards-to-help thing. I persisted.

    1. Coincidentally, I rearranged my office. Now people can’t see me from where they are standing. I swear, by virtue of just not being visible to people, I get less questions. If you can’t manage that, start out with IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE! Don’t make eye contact. Don’t look over when people sigh or huff or mumble about the printer. Don’t respond in any way to questions where you haven’t been directly addressed by name. Up to the point where someone directly says “OP, blah blah blah,” IGNORE.

    2. Play dumb. This was and continues to be very difficult for me. For any and all questions/statements of issue I sort of scrunch up my face and say something like “gosh, I don’t know. I think there’s usually like, directions or pictures or something on the screen?”

    3. If someone pushes or comments on how I fixed it last time, I respond with “yeah, I don’t actually know though, I’d guess I just followed the screen’s directions?” (Yes, I actually say these things like questions, trying to further imply that I’m not sure or don’t know.)

    4. Lastly, if someone is STILL pushing or claiming they don’t understand the screen, I will kind of question what they don’t understand in a subtly not nice way. I hate doing this, tbh. But this is usually the point at which I’ve been pulled in too far because they won’t respond to anything else. I may actually get up and look at the screen and then follow up with a question along the lines of “it says it has a jam you need to clear by opening door A4. Is there… do you not understand that?” I say this in a sort of concerned way. But the implication is definitely a kind of harsh ‘what part of this basic thing is confusing to you?” Like I said, I don’t like to do this and it has been a last, last, last resort.

    All in all though, doing these things has worked for me. No one has asked me about the copier lately.

    Reply
  49. Iain

    An alternative tactic…

    “Please help me with the printer!”
    (Pick up want, gesture)
    “Expecto printjob!”

    Reply
  50. Free Meerkats

    I’m going to distill Alison’s advice a bit.

    I’ve always been a “yes woman” and feel bad declining to help.

    There’s your problem. Stop doing that.

    Reply
  51. tired anon

    I know this feeling. I spent a lot of my 20s cheerfully helping coworkers with various IT problems, because we were a small office and while it wasn’t my job, I was more technically inclined than most, and hey, I love being helpful! But it also rankled. And ate up my time. And meant that people never learned how to do basic things for themselves. And, and, and…

    Now I make it a point of saying, “Sorry, I can’t help with that! You should try talking to [Coworker Whose Job It Is]!” and getting back to what I’m doing. It’s true — I *can’t* help with it, not because I don’t know how but because I provide my value to the company by doing my *actual job* and letting the person who’s job it is handle IT issues. I’ve never gotten any push back on it, either. (And I don’t get asked very often now, after a few years of this.)

    It feels weird to do initially, but it really does get easier with time, and it is very effective.

    Reply
  52. Hiring Mgr

    Can you hire Ann from this morning’s letter to help out? She’s great with printers and loves them!

    Reply
  53. Student

    I would love to hear from one of the people that does this kind of thing – asking a co-worker to do a part of their job that they don’t like. I want to know what goes on in their heads. How many of them are knowingly offloading junk tasks to a co-worker? How many are genuinely incompetent at basic office tasks, and yet completely comfortable making that someone else’s problem? How many genuinely believe that there’s a designated “printer person” or whatnot at the office? How many of them think they’re too important for office chores and do it as a power play?

    Reply
    1. AnonymouslyAnon

      I used to think it was innocent incompetence at office equipment, until a person I started to politely stop helping with tasks that were never my job tried to give me increasingly menial tasks (“put this single sheet of paper in an envelope for me”) and then had a semi-private meltdown at work about him being an Important Teacup PhD and above doing unskilled work meant for secretaries. I never saw that coming from him. People hide it well, and I learned to not make gracious assumptions that get me walked on.

      Reply
  54. Screenwriter

    OP, I think your real problem is in your second-to-last paragraph: you say you are a “yes” woman. I totally understand that–you want to be valuable to the organization. In my first job (working on a TV show), I wanted to show the same thing; I did EVERYTHING.

    One day, standing at the xerox machine xeroxing my script, I was interrupted by an older, male TV writer, on a different show, a matter-of-fact ex-Marine I’d gotten friendly with; he asked me, friendlily, “how much do they pay you?” and followed up with “the company is paying you to WRITE SCRIPTS. They’ve given you a secretary, and are paying her much less, to do these unskilled jobs, so you can provide GREATER value to them by WRITING SCRIPTS.”

    I point out that it was a male writer, because as a female (and this was way back when, when we women were far and few between) I’d been socialized to DO EVERYTHING and BE NICE. But once I reframed it in my mind as “I have particular value to this company, and they are paying me to provide THAT value,” finally I was able to delegate tasks properly.

    I urge you to think of your worth in this way: the company is paying you, and relies on you, for the more advanced and more valuable skills you provide. You are wasting the company’s money by stopping to do a task that they have already delegated to someone else. Once you think of it this way, it should be far less difficult to stick to your own job!

    Reply
  55. Courageous cat

    I agree with all of this, although I want to put in (because I see it a lot) that I don’t agree with any wording that includes a “Thanks for understanding!” or even a “Thanks!” at the end. In written communication, it can work, but I can’t think of a single way to say that out loud that isn’t going to somehow sound patronizing. In theory it should sound like it’s lightening the mood, but I don’t see how that would work out in action, especially when you’re telling someone something they may not like.

    Not sure if anyone else has ever felt that way about the phrase but I wanted to throw it out there.

    Reply
    1. Screenwriter

      I completely agree. It’s also “deferential,” the kind of thing you say when you’re apologizing for something you regret (“I’m so sorry I can’t make our lunch meeting; thank you so much for understanding.”) You are simply reminding someone that something isn’t your job. You shouldn’t be apologizing, but merely reminding them that they need to go to X for this information or help. As though you’re sitting at a DMV window, saying “this isn’t the photo window, that’s over there.”

      Reply
  56. Oxford Coma

    General FYI: if your printer is jamming like mad, your office may have high humidity. Printer paper sucks up water like a sponge and swells. Take the paper out of the tray and fan it. For more severe cases, adjust office climate controls or keep a portable dehumidifier nearby.

    Source: Two years working at Staples copy center.

    Reply
    1. Drew

      I once (a long time ago) worked with laser printers that cared which side of the paper was up. Turns out that copy paper often has one side slightly smoother than the other, and this printer was so finicky discerning that it would jam if the paper was put in the wrong way.

      I don’t miss that printer.

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        We had a printer – regular heavy duty multi-station desktop model – that was so finicky that it had a note on it that under no circumstances were you allowed to change the toner if it ran out of toner and you had to call IT to change.

        Their argument: If you were the slightest bit rough with the door cover, it broke and put the whole printer out of commission until it could be major fixed.

        My argument: If it is that fragile, it is poorly constructed and should be replaced IMMEDIATELY. It is a waste of IT’s time to be called to regularly do a basic task like replace toner; and for everyone to have to wait until they could get to it. It was here for waaaaaaaay too long.

        Reply
  57. Canarian

    Bonus points if you look really distracted when you say this — slowly pull your eyes away from your computer screen as if you’re right in the middle of something that they’re interrupting. More bonus points if you look and sound confused about why they’re asking you.

    I love this part of the advice. Intentional body language can really be the big sell on something like this. I’ve started using this with a coworker who often comes by to chit-chat or gossip. Sometimes I’m up for a chat, but if I’m in the middle of something and she just wants to talk about last night’s Westworld then focusing my attention on my screen, continuing to type as I talk with her, and answering comments really slowly with lots of pauses – all help give the hint that now’s not a good time.

    Reply
  58. AnonymouslyConfused

    I don’t understand how this issue is that much different than OP #1 in this topic: http://www.askamanager.org/2018/05/coworkers-use-me-as-tech-support-coworker-is-demanding-thank-you-rewards-and-more.html#comments

    The tone between posts reads very differently to me, e.g., “What a great way to be the go-to, competent person working on coworkers’ personal things! Never say ‘no’ to coworkers – then you’re not going to have a career!” vs “How dare coworkers ask you how to fix the printer!”

    This issue often affects me at work, and I’m baffled by the differences in responses, mostly from commenters.

    Reply
    1. Miles

      Could be how it’s presented. That seems to be the biggest determining factor in peoples’ opinion on a lot of things, especially when they don’t have experience in the situation.

      This op has to take a minute several times a day and presents herself as genuinely not knowing any more than the others while that op has 2-3 interruptions a week and just seems annoyed at having to share his expertise for something not work related.

      I’ve also noticed that the first comment in any given thread (on any forum not just here) seems to guide the rest in terms of the tone of the responses you get.

      Reply
  59. Quake Johnson

    People always assume I’m good with computers (I’m kind of nerdy looking so I get it), but I’m the least tech savvy person you’ll ever meet. And without fail I’ll be walking by when someone has a computer malfunction or the printer jams or whatever. They always seem completely gobsmacked when I say “I don’t know how to fix that,” and then follow up with “but [person who’s jon that actually is] should be able to help!”

    Reply
  60. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

    “I’ll be with you in 15 minutes or so when I’ve finished up what I’m working on right now.” Very few people will stand by the printer waiting for that length of time. If they ask again before the 15 minutes are up, repeat.

    Reply
  61. Kristin

    This letter could’ve been written by me. In addition to being “the only one with the magic touch” to make the printer work, I also became the person who orders lunch for everyone. I work in the HR department of a medium-size company so it’s normal for me to be in charge of menus for large events (meetings, holiday parties, etc.), but not ordering a salad for Susan in accounting. I felt badly turning down requests from senior directors or those above me, but when a colleague asked, I finally had enough. I spoke to my manager about it and she gently reminded her peers that I am not their personal admin. She also commended me for standing up for myself. It’s been two months and not one person has asked me to order lunch!

    Reply
    1. OP

      Oh my goodness – I ALSO order/organize lunch for all of our meetings. That is directed by my manager, so I don’t push back. I also ordered lunch back when I WAS the admin person, but apparently that duty wasn’t passed along when I got a promotion. I think I need to take your advice and gently remind him that we have an ACTUAL admin person for that sort of stuff.

      Reply
      1. AnonymousInfinity

        I promoted from admin to non-admin/Program Director in the same office and same unit, but I had the benefit of my admin work falling back to the original two admins rather than a brand new hire (who is also a guy – and I suspect your coworkers and manager feel weird asking a guy to organize lunches, and I’d be honestly surprised if the admin is not being given higher-level work while you’re organizing lunch and fixing the printer). There are many times when people come to me because they know I can quickly do an admin task, or quickly help them figure out a clerical thing. My mantra is “I’m on a deadline,” “I have a meeting in five,” “check with your Admin,” etc. I don’t help them. I flat-out told my boss once, “Look, it’s all or nothing. I’m either Program Director for Teapots or the office admin,” and my boss knew the latter meant I was job searching. I at least have my boss’s support to say “no, can’t help,” but I know I’m burning political capital. As it is, there are days I have a strong urge to leave my wonderful job for a place that never knew me when my collar was pink. Sorry.

        Reply
  62. Miles

    It’s not really a yes or no, is it? Rather it’s about what takes priority. Try to rephrase the question in your mind before you answer and it might make it easier to refuse.

    If that works for you, make it a habit from then on

    Reply
  63. Leela

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this OP! I worked with someone who was in your exact position, and I think I was part of the problem! When I started I got an error (our printer didn’t have instructions anywhere, and it wouldn’t say “jam”, it would say “code 112” or something like that), so when I first started I asked our admin person at the front about it, and she said “Oh talk to Arya, she knows everything about that thing” so I wound up asking her when I saw new error messages because I had literally no idea who else I could ask and I had to turn in a lot of printed things to my manager. Arya also happened to sit in an office directly across from the computer.

    I found out later that people had started asking her because she sat right across from the printer, she came up to help them in order to be helpful, but the word got around that she was the “printer guru”. She was our lead accountant! The thing was none of us knew who we were supposed to ask if something happened and our job depended on us having printed material on time to show to our managers so it wasn’t feasible for us to just ask around and if I asked people, even Arya, who we were supposed to be talking to with our (constant) printer issues no one could give an answer. I left before this was resolved; I really hope that someone was designated the person, I don’t think anyone was including any of our admin staff.

    Reply
  64. Litman

    I simply don’t understand why people have so much trouble with printers. The instruction on solving the jam is on the screen and the internals are clearly labeled.

    Reply
  65. ..Kat..

    Can you put up a physical barrier between you and the printer room? For example, a row of tall filing cabinets, a tall bookshelf? If people can’t see you, if they have to physically walk over to you to talk to you, could that cut down on these questions?

    Reply
  66. Mr Cholmondley-Warner

    People suck.
    Next time they ask for your help, stay at your desk and ask “what does it say on the display”. The person would then reply “Paper jam”. Then you say “There you go.”

    Reply
  67. OP

    I just wanted to thank everyone for all of your helpful comments, and Alison for responding to my question.

    My husband graduated yesterday and we had family in town, so I was unfortunately unable to keep up with the comments!

    I think what I’ve gathered is that my ‘yes woman’ personality has encouraged people to come to me with these sort of problems. I need to rewire my thinking to realize that it’s NOT rude to redirect people to the correct person (admin) for this sort of thing.

    Again, I really appreciate all the feedback. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

    Reply
    1. a

      One more comment – which may have already been said, but I didn’t notice as I scrolled through – if it’s just 30 seconds to you, it’s also just 30 seconds to everyone else…and they happen to be standing in front of the printer, so it’s more like 20 seconds for them. Don’t let the small investment make it into your problem…small investments eventually add up.

      Reply
    2. animaniactoo

      Think of it as being a different way of helping “Yes, I can help you figure out who is responsible for helping you with that.” ;)

      Congrats to your husband!

      Reply
  68. Nicole

    If you want to gamble on wasting the extra time up-front, if I were you the next time someone came to me for help I would walk them to the copier and *make them* do every step as you read them off the screen. Once they see how simple it is (and once they feel like a child because you’re having to teach them this Very Simple Thing) they should take the hint. If not, keep doing it until they do. If they’re going to waste your time you might as well reciprocate while teaching them.

    Reply
  69. chopshop

    This is what I say: “I’m playing beat-the-clock right now because of a deadline. Can’t talk!”

    Reply
  70. MissCarrion

    I am the local computer guru at work because a) I am the youngest person here and b) I actually really kind of like helping people with their computer problems.
    But I also, every time I help someone, respond honestly when they ask how I know how to fix things. For example:

    “Oh, how on earth did you work that out?!” “I googled it”

    “That seemed so complicated, how did you make it work?” “I clicked buttons on the screen for a few minutes until it did what I wanted.” “Won’t that break the computer?” “Not really”

    “Did you do any special training to get this good with computers?” “No, I just use them all day and don’t like being on hold with IT”.

    I have also on more than one occasion replied with “Have you tried turning it on and off again?” and NO ONE gets the joke, which makes me happy.

    Reply
    1. MissCarrion

      And to be fair to our IT team, they’re working in an organisation that has software that is almost as old as I am (I’m 28) and a lot of non-tech savvy staff, which makes their work a bit chaotic at times.

      Though they did once ask my manager if she had tried turning a computer off and on again when she rang them to say it had stopped working – because it had exploded. Sparks and smoke and everything. We did not try turning it back on.

      Reply

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