“I have my whole career thanks to my willingness to make the coffee!”

I loved this comment that Kat just left on an old post about a receptionist who was fired for refusing to make coffee:

I have my whole career thanks to my willingness to get/make the coffee! In my last semester of college, I decided the LAST thing I wanted to do was teach, but I had NO idea what I did want to do, so I sucked it up and finished my degree and figured I’d temp through the summer and then decide what to do. The first call I get was for data entry, and I turned it down because it was too far away/low paying (this was ten years ago, better economy!), then they called me back 10 minutes later and asked if I’d be interested in an Executive Assistant position with the same company (which technically, I was grossly under qualified for) for a much more reasonable salary, but the catch was that I had to be willing to make the coffee. My agency rep wasn’t sure if it was every day or for meetings, I just had to make the coffee, the last person wouldn’t/couldn’t do it, so they quit.

Being fresh out of college, I said sure, I figured making coffee would be a “paying my dues” type thing. So, I show up for my first day and the first thing out of my mouth is, “Where’s the coffee pot? I was told I needed to make the coffee?”

Of course, it turns out that the other temp was crazy, they’d never asked her to make the coffee…the real issue is that there was no set tasks or anything for the job, you needed to be a self starter, and figure it all out on your own and ask questions, and know when to just be quiet and work. So what was supposed to be a summer job has turned into a 10 year (so far) career with 2 promotions and a decent salary (more than I would have made teaching, although less time off)!

All because I was willing to make the coffee… :)

Me again.  This is exactly why people at the beginning of their careers should be willing to jump in and help with whatever’s needed, without grousing about it, feeling undervalued, or feeling above certain tasks. If you have a great attitude and take ownership even for the little things, you’ll quickly work your way into something better. Even if your current employer doesn’t reward you for it, you’ll start impressing other people who see how you approach your job, and you’ll start creating a network full of people who will be glad to help propel you forward.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    It’s always interesting to me that people keeps saying: What’s a big deal about getting coffee, that’s what you do when you are at an entry level.
    But what about when your position is an Executive Assistant like mine that doesnt’ really have a carrer path? I never had to get coffee in my past jobs, except for the very last one, with a boss who was very high maintenance like Mimi’s? All day long as I was busy getting her water, coffee (a few times a day), lunch, etc.
    My current boss wouldn’t even dream of asking me to get her lunch, let alone coffee.
    I’d be interested to hear from other EA’s about this topic

    1. Anonymous*

      Sounds like that boss was looking for a personal assistant, while you were expecting a more business oriented role. The executive assistants I’ve known spent their time arranging office wide logistics including calendars, writing up presentations or emails for their boss, and tracking/replenishing office resources. They were always warm, accommodating people who wouldn’t mind picking up lunch, but ‘go-fer’ was not their job description, and they weren’t treated like one. I guess this is why communicating job descriptions is so important during interviews!

  2. Anonymous*

    My advice is always: take any job, work hard, ask smart questions, learn, and give your employer good value. Do that, and you will only have to job hunt once. After that, they will hunt you.

  3. JC*

    I pick up lunch for my boss if I know she’s having a busy day. She doesn’t ask me to do it, but I’m her assistant, and I’m there to make her job easier so that she and the entire organization can keep on track. It’s not beneath me, and I’m happy to help out in any way I can. So I don’t understand why people make such a big fuss about something like coffee. Sometimes we all just have to roll up our sleeves, push our pride aside, and jump right in! I don’t plan on being an assistant forever, but while I’m here, I want to do the best job I can do and I know that will leave a mark somehow.

    1. Anonymous*

      It’s about being a team player. Your boss’ time is more in important then yours (typically) so it’s makes sense for the good of the organization to have you (or me) get the coffee. I gladly pick up lunch for my co-workers if they’re having a crazy day because it would be more damaging to have them stop in the middle of their project. If our custodians were in the middle of something like waxing floors I would be happy to get their lunch so they could keep working.

  4. Anonymous*

    EA here… I’ve never once been asked to get or make coffee. The pet peeve in my old office among admins was cutting cakes. Didn’t matter what the party was, or even if the AA was invited, you were expected to cut the cake and maintain your own cake cutting supplies. Most of the time we didn’t even get any of the cake and we certainly didn’t have cake brought in for our own milestones or celebrations.

    1. Anonymous*

      you were expected to cut the cake and maintain your own cake cutting supplies

      I trust that you deemed a chainsaw to fall under the heading of ‘cake cutting supplies.’

    2. Long Time Admin*

      The cardinal rule of serving refreshements is SERVE YOURSELF FIRST! Well, maybe second or third, after the guest(s) of honor.

      If you don’t get any cake, it’s your own fault.

      1. Jen Hanlon*

        BEST best advice:

        If you don’t get any cake, it’s your own fault.

        My corollary: You don’t get what you don’t ask for. (or, in the case of cake, TAKE.)

  5. Cruella*

    And people wonder why American jobs are being outsourced to other countries! Because they are willing to do whatever American’s won’t!

    I started at the bottom, and much like the OP, being willing to handle the little things helped me get where I am today.

    No disrespect to Anon 5:17pm, but I’d expect an assistant’s duties to include things like this. Isn’t that part of assisting the boss?

    I guess assistants like those in “Working Girl,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “The Proposal” are purely fictional (just like their bosses..lol!).

    I am in management and I’m still willing to get coffee for my boss (but I also make coffee for meetings with my subordinates) and many other little tasks that help our day go smoother. Just because I’m a manager now doesn’t mean I’m too good to pitch in.

    My boss probably wouldn’t dream of asking me to pick up lunch either, but I also don’t give the chance to ask, because I offer first.

    I want to be the example of what I expect from my team.

  6. Laura*

    I think the huge difference lies in the attitude. I’ve been the person having to fetch coffee even though it wasn’t part of my job description, but my willingness and pleasant attitude got me a promotion within the company. The place I recently worked at had a receptionist who complained constantly and loudly about that task, sabotaged it and eventually refused to do it. I know she’s been passed over for promotions which I imagine has something to do with that attitude. Unless the requests are really unreasonable, it’s always best to try to contribute where you can.

  7. Anonymous*

    In response to the first Anonymous comment:

    As an Executive Assistant (I myself am one) it is our job to assist the Executive to be as productive and efficient as possible – to support them in their job in whatever ways possible to further the success of the company. Getting the coffee can mean you are saving the company a lot of time (and subsequently money) by electing to get the coffee for your executive – rather than them getting up (even for a few minutes) and disrupting their brain flow and potentially the next big idea! Getting the coffee for them may just be the one thing that moves the company to the next level. Take pride! You were involved in that critical moment!

    This concept was explained to me when I took over the job of Executive Assistant and has really stuck with me. You are making a contribution to the greater good by simply sucking it up and understanding your role is to assist – whatever the need may be.

      1. Cruella*

        Actually, if you are drawing a salary, you ARE getting paid for it.
        And if your company gains success from it, you get to keep your job instead of getting laid off/downsized, like so many people are facing these days.

        And who goes first? The whiney, uncooperative, low man on the ladder.

      2. Anonymous J*

        …Or thanked, generally, and therein lies the problem.

        That said, I’ve been know to OFFER to get people coffee where I work, particularly guests.

  8. Karen*

    I think the range of workplace environments, the possibility of promotion, and the appropriateness of the task in relation to one’s job title vary wildly. That said…

    – You could have a job where you need to pitch in with menial tasks like this, and it will be in an environment where people are appreciative and will take notice of your good work
    – You could be in a job where you are expected to do these things and are consequently treated like a peon
    – Coffee-making may not be expected at all, and you may do it anyway, and people will appreciate it
    – Coffee-making won’t be expected, but because you assume the task, people will start viewing you as a peon

    Now, that’s not to say don’t make the coffee unless you see an immediate benefit. But I will slightly disagree with AAM’s assertion that there is always a benefit to jumping in with this stuff, as I think it’s a bit overly optimistic (I’ve been in one of those nightmare workplaces where the sunny, hard-working coffee-maker types weren’t looked upon with any additional favor).

    [I also have beef with the whole “pay your dues” concept, as it can often indicate a spitefulness on the part of more seasoned employees]

    I say that if you like your job, and are asked to pitch in with “other duties as needed,” make the coffee. If it’s a great job otherwise and you’re working with good people, it’s worth it, and it can demonstrate a certain level of “go-getterness” (yeah, I just made up that word). But if you hate your life when you go to work, and feel totally unappreciated, make the coffee if you must – but start looking for a new job.

  9. once an assistant*

    Regarding Alison’s comment in the last paragraph that new grads should be willing to do this kind of thing: True, but as the OP said, she felt she had nothing to lose because she didn’t want to work in her field and saw it as temporary anyway. Some graduates know exactly what kind of position they want and having some standards about what they won’t do isn’t a bad thing. Plus, this situation worked out VERY well for Kat, it could have gone either way. I’m willing to jump in and help with whatever is needed too, even after having a couple years of experience, but making coffee is kind of on another plane in a professional environment.

  10. Anonymous*

    I’m not in a management position, and I don’t see what the big deal about making coffee is because it really only takes a few minutes. It’s better than being asked to clean the bathroom in a small office or wiping down a dirty microwave.

    At work, I picked up the vacuum cleaner a few times even though we have maintanance workers after I left shredded paper all over the floor next to the shredder. It wowed my manager but I never got any praise or reward for it. I think it helps build positive character traits and work ethic by doing little things like that.

    1. Talyssa*

      Yeah I don’t see the big deal either – I mean unless its impacting your OTHER responsibilities in which case you can be like “I am in the middle of creating our organizations seating chart and I need to turn it in to Sir William, Lord of Cubicle Placement in 30 minutes, can I make you that coffee afterwards?”

      But really. Coffee. Picking up some trash on the floor. Heck even wiping out the microwave really quick (assuming its not disgusting). If you have some time available I think anyone should be willing to pop out and do stuff like that, although I draw the line at bathrooms. When you DON’T have time to do any of that hopefully someone else will. It supports the team as a whole.

      Although… its important to make sure you don’t pick the WRONG task to do in your free time. Your manager could be annoyed if they think you are spending time doing stuff that is way outside your responsibilities.

  11. Anonymous*

    A similar situation is the community coffee pot where everyone is expected to make a new pot when they finish one. It’s amazing how many people refuse to make a new pot. If I get 3 cups of coffee, I usually make at least 2 pots a day. Who do you think makes the coffee? Maybe it’s the same person that picked up your dirty socks in high school.

    And think execs don’t notice? Think again. I’ve heard lots of comments from VP-level and above about it. I had one senior VP tell me she wishes there was a spot on resumes for things like making coffee and picking up scraps of paper in the hallways. Wouldn’t that be a sweet tie breaker in interviews?

  12. Melanie*

    Seriously, you don’t get the gender powerplay here? I agree it should never have come to a lawsuit, but still…

    There’s a vast difference between an assistant making her or his own coffee and making the bosses at the same time (‘I’m making coffee. The usual for you?’) and the ‘Girl, make coffee. Quick. Jump.’ vibe I get here. Good bosses, I have found, will be aware of the potentially icky power dynamic with the traditionally female assistant or reception roles (both situated firmly in the pink ghetto, as they say), and make sure their behaviour to their assistant is always respectful. It really depends on whether you see your assistant or receptionist as a valuable employee who can partner with you to add value to your business with her skills and experience, or simply a menial dogsbody to jump when you say ‘Jump!’. Also, in my experience as an executive assistant and, later, as a manager, I have observed distinct differences in manager’s attitude and expectations when it comes to female assistants/receptionists (traditional and still most common) vs male assistants/receptionists. Not all managers, certainly, but enough to say that we are not living in a post-sexist society.

    Now, maybe in specific the instance above you could argue it was a fundamental difference of values and ‘fit’. The employee wasn’t comfortable with the company culture, and her employers consequently saw her as uncooperative and having a bad attitude. It would have been better for the woman in question to handle the situation professionally (although that word is too often used as code for ‘don’t make a fuss’) and simply serve the coffee, look for another job and move on, right?

    Yes and no. Perhaps she handled the situation in an inflammatory way, but I don’t think it was fundamentally wrong for her to make her employers aware that their coffee-making expectations made her uncomfortable and could be perceived as perpetuating a sexist dynamic. The real question is: Would these employers have hired a male receptionist (i.e. had they EVER previously hired a male receptionist) and, if so, was coffee making explicitly part of his duties?

  13. Melissa*

    Oh, how I love me a “coffee post”! Among other things that I’ve done in my life, I’ve made the coffee. It has never been the making of the coffee that has bothered me, it’s always been the attitude with which some clients often treat the person who makes/gets the coffee. Some clients often see you/treat you as a “lesser person” because you make/get the coffee, instead of just a person with a job to do. Anyway, it’s an easy job and I’ve never really minded because it’s just a task, not an “identity maker” (despite the attitude of some clients). Thank goodness for the Krueger! In the same vein, I remember working in the recruitment office for a very large law firm (largest one in DC at the time) 20 years ago. I was the low man out of five ladies and did whatever I was told to do (mostly running errands, delivering stuff, etc.) There were no coffee drinkers in the office, so making the coffee was never an issue. But what I clearly remember to this day was a lady in the office (“Joanie”) who once stood in front of the copy machine and said, “I didn’t go to college to get a job so I could make copies all day”. I never forgot that. Because making copies is part of everyone’s job at one point or another. Everyone should know how to use the copier, from the clerk to the boss, because at some point, everyone will need to make a copy. I thought she was so arrogant to make that statement. Seriously. What is the big deal? It’s making a copy, not scrubbing the boss’s toilet. But I digress …..

  14. Angela*

    I always find out the best response when my boss asks me to do something is to smile and say “I’d be happy to!” And get the task done as efficiently and quickly as possible.

    This is something I hope to teach my children in the years ahead.

    As long as they are paying me, I am happy to make the damn coffee, fetch the dry cleaning, or do any tasks to keep the office running smoothly.

  15. Cassie*

    I work in an academic dept and we usually have a pot of coffee each morning (4 or 5 staff members rotate on making the coffee). The airpot holds 2.2 liters of coffee – but by about 9am, when the faculty start showing up, the coffee is all gone. Sometimes faculty will ask if someone can make more coffee, and this drives most of the staff batty. They feel like they are being disrespected by being tasked to do such a menial job (the staff members range from clerical workers all the way up to the dept manager).

    I am not an EA, but I am an assistant to a couple of academic execs within our dept (my job duties are more financial). They have never asked me to make coffee for them. Once, though, one boss asked me to make coffee for his meeting with visitors, and the other boss told me to tell the first boss “next time make your own coffee”. Of course, this doesn’t prevent them from asking some of the other staff (including the manager!) to make more coffee.

    Personally, I wouldn’t care if someone asked to make coffee. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I wouldn’t take it as an offense. I just laugh at the fact that faculty may be geniuses and brainiacs, but they can’t operate the simplest machines or follow instructions. (I mean, sure, they make loads more money and have a lot more prestige than me, but at least I’m better than them in one regard :p ).

    Besides, the coffee is a perk for everyone who enters the suite (faculty, staff, vendor, whomever). It’s not that big of a deal.

  16. Charles*

    As a corporate trainer, not only do I get the coffee; but I also supply the donuts!

    And, the snacks, the pens & pencils, the note paper, the copied training materials, scheduling the classes, emailing reminders, etc; whatever is needed or wanted for the training class – and yes, it would be a great help if I could pass those “menial” tasks onto someone else.

    But, training budgets usually don’t allow for the trainer to have an assistant. I would love to have someone help out, not because I feel that these tasks are beneath me; but because I am so often focused on mentally preparing for the class (i.e., going over my notes, hoping that I don’t forget a critical part of the training agenda, etc.) that I will often neglect something like extra pens, or maybe to copy one of the handouts needed for class. So, I would imagine that the boss also has her mind full of other things besides “I need to make my own coffee.”

    And, Melissa, it isn’t just some clients. I worked in mailrooms, was an office gopher, etc. while in college and far too many folks treat mailroom staff and physical maintenance staff as ignorant, illiterate, drunken peasants.

    I remember (back in the dark ages when not only was there no email or internet, fax machines were also unheard of) this one time I had to hand-deliver a letter to another office. One of the maintenance guys drove me over to that office (it was too far to walk) in downtown DC; the one woman in that office turned to me and asked in a loud voice if I wanted a beer for my trouble (it was two in the afternoon). After I politely turned her down, she then started saying to her co-workers: “Did you hear that I offered him a beer and he turned me down.” I had to stand there and listen to her put-downs,and her laughing about it, as I was waiting for the one boss to sign off on the letter before I could leave. Some folks are just plain jerks – and making, or not making, the coffee has nothing to do with it.

  17. Jen*

    How about “I have my whole career thanks to generations of women who have fought for my rights in the workplace”?

    I say that, but I am not fighting the good fight myself. At best you could say that I am fighting with sneaky, underhanded, guerrilla warfare.

    I like getting people coffee if I’m getting it for myself too. I bring in cookies and cupcakes that I’ve baked at home. I let myself be called “a good girl” by men in their 50s. I am genuinely cheerful and happy and accommodating in tasks related and unrelated to my job description. I fail at salary negotiation in the most gender-stereotypical way you can imagine (ugh, which I’m working on). When I call colleagues out on their views, I work hard to do it in a way that inflicts as little damage on our working relationship as possible, which often means a lot of self-depreciation. And if it’s a superior and we don’t have the kind of close relationship where I feel I can bring it up without damaging my position, I don’t call them out at all.

    But you know what else I do? An amazing job. And I will and do get promoted and headhunted. I’m not aiming for upper management, but I’m (now freelancing) in a creative field and I’m 4 years in to this career (and 6 months into freelancing) and starting to make a name for myself.

    But just because I have the luxury of not fighting the battles myself, I don’t pretend that it’s not a battlefield.

    There is a difference between workplaces where getting the coffee is “woman’s work” and where getting the coffee naturally falls to the assistant or the young, new hire or the lowliest employee. I get the best damn coffee I can, either way. This benefits me and my employment status, but does it do so at the expense of the position of women in the workplace?

    Women who take a stand and take on all the damage and disadvantages that come with it might not be “smart”, but it’s brave. And assuming that they are accurately reading what kind of workplace they’re in (women’s work v. assistant work), it might even be the Right Thing To Do.

    And now, you better believe that I’m off to get myself a giant cup of coffee.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree wholeheartedly with Jen, it’s about the intent not the coffee. I also offer to get coffee for whomever I’m with if I’m getting some for myself, but I do it as a co-worker, not a woman.

      Personally, I do bridle at being called a “good girl” – it’s always been by someone old enough to be my father and well intentioned (like their way of saying “thank you”) so I’ve never made a fuss about it…but there’s a definite squick factor there for me. Maybe it’s because it’s said in the same syrupy tone I use when I say it to my dog.

  18. Lynda*

    The ability to get the photocopier unblocked worked very well for a male friend in an English Tax office.

    Actually, that works in any office…

  19. Lau@corridorkitchen*

    I’m with Karen. But I also have another point to add: the sentiment of this post applies to all employees at all levels. A willingness to do ‘the little things’ shows you have common sense, you’re taking in what’s around you and no detail gets by you.

    Sure, some employees will have more time for ‘menial’ jobs than others, but a senior level executive making coffee for everyone? Now that’s impressive. I don’t care if you’re entry level or way at the top of the pyramid, the more ‘stuff’ you know how to do, the better.

  20. Phyr*

    Making the coffee was supposed to be a big part of my job, then someone stole the coffee maker. There is a new coffee maker someplace but it seems to be the company secret now.

  21. Andrea*

    My husband just started a new job (he’s an IT consultant). He’s experienced and educated and has several sought-after certifications–this is not his first job, by any means. He gets along great with people and always has, and he’s very good at what he does. But you know what–he makes the coffee, every day, without being asked, for his coworkers and bosses. He has done this at every job. (He doesn’t drink coffee; he likes tea, and he brings it from home.) He even sometimes brings coffee to the woman who schedules the appointments for the consultants. A lot of the people there (and let’s face it, we’re mostly talking about men, since it’s IT) always expected her to make the coffee, since she’s a woman, and she hated it (also, she’s not a secretary or assistant, so it wasn’t her job, anyway). Guess who gets the best assignments even though he’s the new guy? Also, pretty much everyone there knows his name–from the top bosses on down–and he’s been there for a month. Making coffee isn’t just for new grads at their first jobs or for assistants; busy experienced professionals can pitch in, too.

  22. Jenna*

    Very timely– I just was talking to a co-worker the other day about how impressed I am that our COO is like this. He makes coffee, helps clear dishes in the kitchen, picks things up as he goes by, etc. Very much a “roll up your sleeves and pitch in” kinda guy. It’s so rare you see people at that level willing to do that kind of work that it’s pretty impressive when you do. And it absolutely sets the tone for the rest of the place– if our COO can make a pot of coffee, the mid-level manager has NO place saying no, and they know it.

    He says he likes to do it cause it keeps him grounded and more in touch with the employees, in addition to getting him away from his desk for a few minutes here and there. All in all, a pretty solid guy.

  23. Long Time Admin*

    Been there, done that, burned that darn t-shirt after 40+ years. I do make coffee, but no one is demanding it, and that makes all the difference. In fact, our big boss makes coffee in our office. Personally, I think “how to make coffee and clean up after yourself” should be part of orientation for every new hire, every where.

    If I didn’t drink coffee, however, I would not make it.

  24. CK*

    I had the privilege of being an Executive Assistant to one of the best bosses I’ve had so far in the 15 years I’ve been in the workforce. He never asked me to make him coffee because he preferred that I assist him with higher level tasks – scheduling important client meetings, polishing his reports and presentations, and maintaining relationships with stakeholders. He preferred getting his coffee from the shop around the corner very early in the morning (usually 5.30am) and read the morning paper in this office before starting the workday. During the busy times, he even brought in his own mini coffee maker and used it in his office!

    So what is my point? The point is, it can depend on who you are supporting and what his/her expectations are of his/her assistant. Even though this particularly boss was a Senior Director in the organization, he was the type to empty the dishwasher in the morning and make a fresh pot of coffee if he noticed that the communal pot was getting low. And one day when he was busy with back to back client meetings (he made the coffee for the client to boot), he said to me, “I’m sorry – I know this is below your station, but could you please take out the empty coffee mugs from the meeting room? I’m just running into another meeting right now. I would normally not make you do this.” Even though this was more than two years ago, I still remember that so clearly to this day.

    So if your boss expects that one of your tasks are to make coffee everyday, you have to make the decision of whether or not you can accept this. Same goes for office culture – if it’s the expectation that the EA (or new grad, etc) is to make the coffee, just make the choice – can you accept this or not? If not, move on. If so, then do it with a smile and remember that you made the conscious choice to stay.

  25. Kat*

    Aww, I’m flattered that my story turned into a post!

    The coffee-centric comments have me smiling though because in the end, my story wasn’t really about coffee, it was about attitude! I never *had* to make coffee, it’s actually a huge joke now. Thankfully my workplace is one where we all get our own coffee! (We have a keurig, one of the BEST workplace inventions ever. Always fresh, no burnt pots, no nasty leftovers, minimal mess…)

    I’ve gone from an Executive Assistant to a Sr. Executive Assistant to an Environmental Coordinator (with on the job training, and school after work) and am looking at a promotion to Project Manager as my next step in my current career path. I think, however, I finally figured out that what I really want to do is be a Pharmacist, so I’m also in night school for that.

    Due to my EA roots, and the fact we’ve downsized due to the economy, I still have some EA tasks like ordering supplies for my department. This used to kind of bother me, but someone has to do it, I can do it quicker than anyone else, I do love shopping for office supplies and unpacking the boxes, and when I’m gone on vacation, everyone kind of freaks out a bit. (They can do it, they just don’t want to.)

    The comment about getting lunch for the janitors really hit home with me, I do that for my staff all of the time. But not so they can keep working, so they can stop, take a break and recharge.

    Ultimately, I was in the right place in the right time, and definitely got a lucky break, but I’ve also put a lot of hard work into where I am today. Had it turned into a “making coffee/copies” and solely menial task job with no room for advancement, I would NOT have stayed beyond my initial assignment!

  26. Marie*

    I have never understood employees who claim to feel demeaned when asked to make coffee! (I happen to enjoy making coffee for others.) In any case, it’s such a simple task and doesn’t take much time to do. Hell, my father was the president of his own company, and he frequently volunteered to make coffee for his workers.

  27. FrauTech*

    I think like others have said there’s a difference to making coffee to pitch in and help out versus being asked to just because you’re a woman.

    Back when I was an admin I made coffee, but also because I drank coffee. It was every coffee drinker’s responsibility to brew a new cup if it was low. In that case I was more an office assistant to a whole department rather than one person’s assistant. It’s a fine line between making a bunch of professionals’ lives easier versus becoming their maid. Sometimes I’d notice them follow me into the breakroom waiting for me to make coffee for them. I’d usually politely tell them I’d teach them how to use the coffee machine. Only once or twice did somebody make a snide comment about how it was “my job” to make the coffee. I feel lumping all these tasks into one administrative individual tends to give everyone else a free pass for cleaning up after themselves or pitching in to the team.

    Now, I used to cover for an EA and I think that is a different situation. The exec was often in meetings ALL DAY LONG so when he asked for water or to refill his coffee or something it wasn’t a big deal (in fact he made coffee for me once too). I just think there’s a difference between assisting an overworked and single executive you work for who’s powering through meetings versus being expected to be “girl assistant” to every man in the office. When I transitioned out of being an admin I had to work hard to shake off these labels as the more they expect you to make coffee the less they take you seriously technically. But honestly haven’t had any problems with most people now.

    So I think the admin in the original handled it poorly, but at the same time I think it shows a non-team player attitude from her management to expect that she is the sole maker of coffee (surely she’s not the only drinker?) for a whole team of people and all the time. Entitled managers are the worst. Others above have talked about great managers who show that by contributing to a lot of these team responsibilities as equally as they expect their lowliest admin to.

  28. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I want to be clear that if I ever had grounds to think that I was being repeatedly singled out to do something because I was a woman, I’d raise a stink.

    But I do mean having actual grounds for thinking this — not just being asked to do a task that some people think of as gendered. Grounds would mean there are both men and women in jobs similar to mine, and only women are ever asked to do it. But if I were, say, the only person in an assistant role, there’d be no reason to assume the coffee requests were gender-based; it’s more reasonable to think that they’re position-based.

  29. Jon*

    I made coffee in the morning (when I used to drink it) even though it was the secretary’s job. That was because coffee wasn’t made until 11am (our office is 10:30am-6:30pm) and I am used to getting an earlier head start on the day from previous jobs.

    If you want something bad enough you’ll do it yourself!

  30. Rana*

    At my first non-retail job, back in high school, part of my responsibilities was opening the office in the morning, turning off the alarms, and, yes, making the coffee. I never minded, because grinding the beans was fun and I liked the smell.

    The funny thing was, I didn’t drink coffee (and I only rarely do now, many years later) and I’d never made it before. So my coffee tended to be STRONG! *laughs*

    In this particular office, it was a task related to position–I was a receptionist/office clerk–rather than gender. As this was an all-woman law office, that wouldn’t have gone over well!

  31. Carrie*

    I fall into the category of “My title is X, my job description says X”, but I’m constantly getting “Y” tasks. My boss is an old school male, and often gives me his dirty work. I’m a team player, and not above doing anything (I’ll even clean the microwave), but I will give you a snotty attitude if you come up to me demanding rather than asking nicely. It’s not my job to get your coffee/lunch, do your expenses, update your contacts, etc. I just do it because you tell me too, and quite frankly, I know if I raise the issue with you, you will tell me there are thousands of people that would kill to be in my position, so suck it up (I’ve heard it before). I’ve been in the marketing/advertising industry for 5.5 years now. I think I’ve earned my stripes by now, don’t you think? Lesson learned: (thanks AAM) communicate the job description in the interview.

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