should an admin show people how to do clerical tasks themselves?

This post was originally published on November 17, 2011.

A reader writes:

As an administrative assistant, my job is to do things for other people. I completely get that, and I have not been an admin for over fifteen years by not getting that. That said, I pride myself in being very polite and helpful.

Sometimes, people will come to me with tasks or with a question on how something is done. I do the task for them, and I also tend to offer to show them how to do it themselves (if it’s something really easy,) so that in the future–if I’m not here one day, or if they decide it’s more efficient to just do it themselves really quickly–they can do it themselves.

I will reiterate: I do complete the task they ask for, with the addition of offering to show them how.

Twice in a row now, this has been held against me on my reviews! (My workplace is really toxic anyway, but this is about this one issue, because if offering to show someone how to do something is wrong, I really want to know, so I don’t screw up when I get a good job!)

Is it a bad thing for an admin to teach his/her staff how to do things, along with doing these things for them?

Here’s what’s going on:  When you offer to show them how to do it themselves, they think you’re hinting that they should do it themselves in the future. And then they’re feeling resentful that you’re making them feel guilty for asking you to do something that they’re entitled to ask you to do. Which, of course, is not your intent at all, but that’s how it’s playing out on their side.

There might be a way to avoid this. You could try being really, really clear that you’re not hinting that they should really learn how to handle this themselves. Instead of just saying, “Let me know if you ever want me to show you how to do this,” say something like this:  “I’m glad to do this for you whenever you need it. But if you ever want me to show you how, just let me know!  But if not, don’t be hesitant about continuing to ask me for it. I like doing this stuff.”  (You must say this very cheerfully and sincerely. Otherwise it’ll sound passive-aggressive, like you don’t really mean it.)

But if your workplace is full of people who won’t take this at face value, then yeah, I’d just stop offering. Or only offer it to people who you know will appreciate it. But keep it mind that it’s genuinely hard for a lot of people to say, “No, that’s okay, I prefer for you to keep changing the toner in my printer” or whatever the task is, without feeling like a prima donna. So it’s worth being sensitive to that.

You sound awesome, by the way.

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    This story reminds me of when I used to work in a call centre for a cable company, and customers would always call to ask to have their cable boxes rebooted. I did it, and told them how to do it themselves in case they didn’t want to call next time. (Seriously, people, just unplug the power cord!!) Most people yelled at me.

    The moral of the story is don’t try to help anyone learn anything.

      1. Jen in RO

        Thanks for reminding me! The IT Crowd will be the next show I watch on lunch break (I never got past the first few episodes).

  2. Anna

    But the unplugging the power cord thing WORKS! Every time! My cable company call center also told me to do this, and it’s saved me hours of frustration. Frankly, it was the most useful tech advice I’ve ever been given!

  3. AnonAdmin

    As an admin in my office, I am constantly asked to book the conference room. I don’t mind doing it at all, it’s very easy! But it does kind of boggle my mind sometimes because all managers can do it themselves, and it often takes longer for the manager to email me, I check the calendar, email the manager back to confirm availability, then book the conference room than it would for the manager to just do it themselves. I used to try and offer to show people how to do it as well like the OP above, but even though managers would take me up on showing them how to do it themselves, they would still continue to email me requests. So I just gave up and now I book the conference room without offering to show anyone how to do it anymore. I guess it’s something they’d rather me do than do it themselves, even if it takes longer to do it that way.

    1. Cat

      I think there’s a subset of tasks that don’t necessarily take longer to do yourself but do take more attention. Sending someone an e-mail doesn’t take much attention. Remembering yet another system for booking a conference room might.

      1. Jessa

        This, and also there’s a subset of tasks that management has been taught belong to the admin, for all you know managers used to do all their own booking and screwed it up majorly and had been told, “We pay talented admins, do not DO this stuff, you’re screwing up, let the admin do it.” And this may have changed. The booking method may be idiot proof now, but the 3 admins ago rule is still in place.

      2. AnonAdmin

        This is one of those reasons why I love reading this blog! Helps me to see the other side when I get another conference room request.

        1. Marcy

          If it makes you feel better, the admin in my department came in one morning to find a piece of paper on her chair with a post-it note on it from her boss asking her to please punch holes in the piece of paper and put it in his inbox. And yes, he has a hole-punch on his desk. So you are not alone.

      3. Gjest

        Exactly this! It may seem simple if you do it all of the time, but if you only have to do it every once in a while, it takes too much time and brain energy to remember the process. It is actually easier and quicker to just email someone that you know knows exactly how to do it, quickly.

      4. tcookson

        It takes longer from the adminsperspective to have to do it. From the requestor’s perspective, it doesn’t take longer to send a request (by phone or email) for the admin to do it. Plus, it’s easier for the requestor not to have to think about all the details of the request.

        1. sean

          hi t,

          i think you’re right about the way the problem appears from one perspective, but workable solutions seldom come out of examining a single perspective. setting aside both the admin’s and requestor’s perspectives, what is most efficient for the group/dept/organization? admins can fail to complete important business functions due to stopping 100 times a day to take care of simple tasks requestors could easily handle. likewise, requestors can fail to complete their own responsibilities if they have to micromanage every little item (this is why admin positions exist, after all).

          for the organization (both requestors and admins) to be successful, some functioning middle ground has to be found. unfortunately in the politics of a hierarchical body (in which admins are often at the bottom), the pendulum often swings to the “over-delegation” extreme instead of finding some working middle ground.

          -sean

          1. Green

            Sean,

            The over-delegation extreme usually benefits the admins. In many industries, it is cheaper (and more efficient) for the organization to eliminate admins altogether (helllllooooo law).

            I can keep my own calendar on Outlook and it would cost me an extra 5 minutes a day in time, but then my admin wouldn’t have anything to do from me in between those 2 hour personal calls. (My previous admin in another organization was awesome, BTW, but it’s because she took stress off of my desk by doing plenty of things I could easily/more efficiently do for myself but made my life easier/better when she did them for me. She is also not going to be getting axed anytime soon because she’s made herself indispensable.)

      5. Bea W

        If I have no idea who to book a conference room, and there is someone being paid to book conference rooms as their job, the easiest and most efficient way to get that done is send an email to the person who already knows how to do the booking and gets paid to do it. That’s what they do. They can get it done in 2 minutes where it might take me more like 20 minutes to figure out WTH I’m doing and then pray I don’t screw it up. :D Sure, it’s easy, but only when you know what you are doing and do it regularly enough that you remember how to do it.

    2. Callie

      I’m a graduate student and my supervising prof (who is the chair of their area) will often email the rest of the profs in the area with a day and time for a meeting and cc me, adding, “Callie, find a room for our meeting and let us know where.”) Whis is so annoying, because they often pick a date/time where there are no classrooms or conference rooms available! Also, because grad students aren’t provided computers, we don’t have access to the Outlook calendar for the department, so I have to go ask the receptionist to look up the availability, which has to be done in person. If prof did it themselves, all they would have to do is look on the calendar and click a button to reserve it. (and then she could see BEFORE emailing hte rest of the faculty what was availble.) I think they just like reminding me of my “place”.

      1. Gjest

        While they could be just reminding you of your place, more than likely it’s probably that she seriously just doesn’t think of what it takes for you to do what she’s asking. My grad school supervisor was like this, but when I realized that it was just because she was clueless about the actual process, it made me feel better about having to do it.

      2. Ellie H.

        I have no idea what the dynamic in your department is but as someone who works with graduate departments, it strikes me as bizarre that booking a meeting room would be delegated to a graduate student. Your graduate student is not your administrative assistant; the student is a research assistant. If you’re participating in the meeting and it just has to be the job of one person who’s coming to the meeting to find the meeting room, that would be a little different, but the department admin (a paid staff person! like me!) is “supposed” to find the room, if the idea is simply that it’s a secretarial task to be delegated. This just seems weird.

      3. Chameleon

        Yeah, that’s weird. I’m also a grad student, and if my PI asked me to do a task for him that was not directly related to my work, it would be strange and off-putting. I’m his student, not his secretary; my work is for my benefit, not his.

      4. A fellow grad student

        It wouldn’t be bizarre to me if a normal professor did this kind of thing- my PI doesn’t have a secretary and asks us to do things like this from time to time, particularly if there’s a grant deadline or the like looking. The department chair though? Usually they’re pretty close with the receptionists precisely because this stuff comes up so much for them. Grad students have enough to worry about!

    3. Original_OP

      I have no issue at all with being asked to book rooms, change toner, or any of that. It is all part of my job. My intent was just to share knowledge.

      I actually don’t GET admins who don’t think we should have to set up meetings. That’s a central function of being an admin, FFS! LOL!

      1. Aussiegirl

        Woah! Calm your farm OP. No-one was having a go at you. They are all just sharing their stories, too. I work in Accounts admin, but I have set duties and therefore, just because I’m “admin” doesn’t mean I’m in charge of duties I’m not paid for. I go above and beyond for the clueless managers, even when I shouldn’t have to, but, hey, I’m just nice. Then I’ll whinge to the other admin girls about how annoying and stupid the managers are! We even tell the managers how to do things for themselves, but when the boss employs people with no experience, you get what you pay for, then we all pay the price of stupidity! Someone has to keep the place running, and that’s usually admin. Think I’ll ask for a pay rise! ;-)

        1. Original_OP

          Sorry. Don’t get where I was not calm. I was just saying that I think it’s funny that there are admins that think we shouldn’t book conference rooms. *shrug*

          Oh, yes. Me and my admin buddies have a blast blasting the stupid! One year, my review was so ridiculous, I took it to our “girls’ night out”, and we all had a good laugh.

    4. Bea W

      Why do you have to email the manager back before booking? Do they not give you their availability before asking you to book a room? That would probably drive any admin nuts!

      It might be more useful for you if you can train them to give you some set times when they can have the meeting they are requesting you to book for them. You’ll never get them to book their own rooms, but maybe at least you can get them to confirm their availability up front so it’s less back and forth for everyone.

      1. Original_OP

        I finally ended up having to create a meeting request form, because people were not giving me ANY details: How many people, was equipment needed? Outside visitors? Visitor parking needed? Food needed? Start and end time, etc. It was getting ridiculous.

        The form cuts down on all of that back and forth, and I think everyone is happier for it.

    5. Lisa

      But the manager is paid a higher salary to do mid-senior level tasks. You were hired to book the conference room and paid less. My boss constantly tells me that I can’t do the support work myself and that “I don’t pay you 80k to format excel.”

  4. Cat

    I think it’s a safe bet that if someone wants to learn how to do something, they’ll feel comfortable asking. I think, given that, the benefits of offering to show someone how to do something are pretty unlikely to outweigh the risks of coming off as passive aggressive (especially given that most people will have come across the passive aggressive way of offering at some point and thus be primed to expect it).

    Personally, there’s a subset of administrative tasks I actively avoid learning how to do because they never come up in an emergent or time sensitive manner and I just don’t want to occupy brain space on them. Filling out expense reports is the main one that comes to mind right now.

    1. Jamie

      I agree, if they want to know how to do certain things they’ll ask.

      We shut down twice a year where for a part of the week I’m alone in the office and I have a list of things I ask the office manager to go over with me because I’ve been screwed before spending hours trying to figure out how to do routine stuff.

      1. How to work the postage meter.
      2. Copier tutorial – how to unjam, how to do that printing on both side thing, collating, etc.
      3. Where she keeps the received and deposit stamps for the mail.
      4. How the fax machine from the early 1700’s works because we have one person who still prefers faxes to email attachments (I am just thankful it’s slightly more advanced than chiseling the message into stone tablets.)

      That kind of thing.

      I totally get the OP is being helpful in offering and not passive aggressive, but i would think the vast majority would take it as nice way of saying do it yourself. I would.

      I run into the same thing in IT, so I don’t offer unless it is something I expect them to do themselves…and then it’s not so much an offer but a pleasant but mandatory and totally non-negotiable extemporaneous training session.

      Otherwise I have people who would think it’s ITs job to change toner, mouse batteries, or resize columns in Excel. (And ftr Excel is an IT issue only as it pertains to installation, licensing, and actual software issues…but in a small business you do what you have to do so I gave up then hard line a long time ago. So basically I’ll show you how to freeze panes, but I expect you to pay attention and learn to do it yourself.)

        1. Gjest

          I used to overhear my coworker in the next cubicle at my old job ask IT things like this all the time, and I would think What the Hell???

          1. Zahra

            That’s how I became the unofficial front-line for IT issues in each and every office I worked at. From VLookups to freezing panes (even in the IT consulting firm I work at now!), to un-jamming the printer and mail merges, I was the go-to person.

            Oh and the dreaded transition from Office 2003 to 2007/2010. I had a folder on Dropbox with links to the Microsoft page with the flash animation “It was this place in 2003, where did it go now?” and a download of the Excel workbooks with the same information. I could (and would) transfer the information over to my new coworkers, especially when temping. Same with telephone manuals. (Yes, I’m the research wiz in my team, why do you ask?)

            1. Jamie

              That’s the thing – the ability to google and figure stuff out from the help files is a rarer skill than people will think.

              What annoys me is when people get irritated I don’t know everything about every program. Office I don’t know because I’m IT, I know it because I use it and I know how to RTFM. Come to me asking how to do whatever in SolidWorks or AutoCAD because I’m IT? Ridiculous. I know how to admin the software and manage licenses. Period.

                1. Chinook

                  I have added those things to my resume quietly by including “created and presented tutorials on various programs.”. Now, wherever I work, I get calls that start “help, my —- won’t work.”

              1. tcookson

                the ability to google and figure stuff out from the help files is a rarer skill than people will think.

                Really?? I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself, then, because I’ve learned everything I know about Excel by googling and using the help files every time I need to know how to make it do something new.

                I’m with Anonymous below — feeling inspired to add it to my resume ;-)

                1. Jen in RO

                  I was pretty shocked to see that my google-fu made me the team’s software expert. I always got wide-eyed questions about “how do I know all this stuff???” and my attempts to gently point them towards google failed. On the bright side, I did enjoy having the expert status.

                2. Jamie

                  I know you were kidding about the resume, but I do screen for this kind of self sufficiency in interviews.

                  I ask what if questions for various scenarios and I love when the answer is that they would look in the help files, google, and/or check company reference material and then ask if they need confirmation or still don’t understand.

                  I used to joke that I wanted to charge a fee for every question I got where the answer was in the top three google hits.

                  And on the subject, when I’m screening people’s Office skills I love the answer that they are self taught and learned by figuring things out by the files. Nothing wrong with classes, but you can tell the people who are comfortable learning by use and not limiting themselves to what someone else showed them to do.

                  None of this is to say I mind helping people. I don’t – and I have users of all levels of skill. But I really appreciate the end user that says look, I need to do X and I looked through the help files and googled X and I’m still having trouble. (Common for something complicated like pivot tables or queries for the first time). The stand in stark contrast to the users who come without trying anything on their own to ask how to change a font or resize a column without trying at all on their own.

                  I’m all about help, but if handholding is necessary that’s an issue.

              2. Zelos

                Yes to RTFM! Also, it continuously amazes me how reluctant people are at just flat out pressing buttons…doubly so when those buttons tell you that they’re harmless (because they spell out what their harmless function is). I mean, yes, if you’re on specialized software that’s resistant to corrections maybe you’re really careful about doing things right the first time, but Office? Open a blank document and click around the menus. That’s how I learned the transition from 2003 to 2007/2010.

                At my old lab, I amazed coworkers who were senior to me by years by being willing to click on the CoC button. (“Oh, we can look at the chain of custody?!?!”) They’d rather email the account managers about everything.

                1. Jessica (the celt)

                  Back when we got our first computer at home (I was in 8th grade and it was the mid-90s), the guy who came over to show my parents how to use it told me, “You can’t really break it so that you can’t fix it, so do whatever and explore.” I learned some DOS stuff from him and then took off. Ever since, I am self-taught on everything computer related, but somehow I become the database expert and the all-software expert, simply because I think, “I’ll bet there’s a way to do that faster. Let me see if I can figure out how…”

                  The #1 thing missing for most people is curiosity to figure things out. (One coworker even told me, as she watched me figuring out new software, “I would never just click that button to find out what it does! Your first reaction is Huh, what does this thing do?, but my first reaction is I don’t know what that does, so I’d better not touch it.” ;)

                  The second thing missing is critical thinking skills. I’ve come in after a weekend to have people tell me that they tried doing [X] all weekend, but they couldn’t get it to work. I’d say, “Okay, what all did you try?” and they reply, “Oh, I tried [x] five times, but it didn’t work.” Why are they trying the same thing five times in a row? Why not try it, maybe, twice and then try something else that might work? Google is indeed your friend, or even just playing around with things. One coworker couldn’t get Office 2011 (Mac, although I was Windows both at home and work at the time) to do a merge with an Excel file. I couldn’t get it to work for her either and Google failed me for once. After 10 minutes of searching, I said, “Well, let’s go to Plan B for all merges and imports: have you tried saving it as a text file with a delimiter?” Having used multiple types of software with multiple OSes, some on-brand and some off-brand, really helps a person figure out multiple ways to do something as well.

                  I’m the type of person that if I can’t figure it out, it just bugs me. I always think that there MUST be a way to do what I want to be able to do. Maybe I’m just too stubborn…

        2. Ellie H.

          I’m an admin not IT but you definitely get people saying “I can’t see the data you said was in this spreadsheet” when it’s because they didn’t scroll to the right.

      1. Jessa

        Honestly, I’d make a manual for that stuff – the copier, the postage meter, the fax. There should be a folder with instructions.

        Heck at home I have a wireless printer, most of the people I share space with know how to basically use it, but if it falls off the wireless or something they have no clue. So there’s a folder slid underneath it with basic “here’s how to put it back on wireless, here’s how to do x y and z on it.” Just a couple of sheets of paper but if I’m asleep or not home, it’s a godsend for them.

      2. Min

        I would kill to be able to change my own toner. We have to call IT to come from another building, which is never as urgent for them as it is for us (for obvious reasons). When it’s my own printer, it’s a mild inconvenience, but I work in a mail order warehouse so it’s a major issue when the one that prints the orders runs out of toner.

        I’ve only managed to wheedle them into letting us have a spare toner cartridge once. *sigh*

        1. Jen M.

          That’s insane! A mail order warehouse is the LAST place I’d think should have to rely on a department in a different building! Wowzers.

          1. Min

            I know, right? It’s madness!

            Even in a traditional office setting, I’d think IT professionals would have more important things to do than change the toner.

            1. Jamie

              Yes, they do. This is crazy, I’d be so frustrated on both ends of this. If it’s a question of toner theft then they should put inventory control in place, but to not be allowed to change that’s really bizarre.

              At least I know where all the new people who think IT should change toner come from, companies like this.

    2. some1

      “Filling out expense reports is the main one that comes to mind right now.”

      You may want to re-think this. Not because your admin shouldn’t do them, but you want to be able to double-check someone else’s work when it comes to your own money.

    3. AdminAnon

      Not necessarily! This is a crazy example, but one of my co-workers once walked down the street to the office where she used to work because no one had made coffee yet that morning and she wanted some.

      When she came back, I made a joke about their coffee being better and she told me that she didn’t know how to make coffee (our coffee maker is beyond simple–place filter in basket, rip open pre-measured packet and dump into filter, pour water, wait). I asked if she wanted to learn and she was thrilled. Obviously she had not been comfortable asking, despite the fact that she drinks coffee daily and has been working in office settings for the past 15 years. Sometimes people are just embarrassed to ask for help!

      1. Chinook

        I have come across many people who don’t know how to make coffee. The most recent was at a church bazaar run by our women’s group. Everyone in the kitchen with me didn’t know how to make coffee in a standard office machine (and I’m not talking about the giant urn) and paid close attention to how to do it were fascinated to learn that you can use a paper napkin as a substitute filter your if there were no proper ones left.

    4. Chinook

      In general, I would agree that those who want to know how will ask, but that is not always the case. I once assisted a partner who would have me scan personal documents for him. After the third time, when he asked me to do it when we were both at the scanner, I told him I had no issues with doing this for him but i was curious if he knew how to do it when I wasn’t around. He said yes – it turned out that, when new technology like modern copiers were brought in, no one showed the senior staff how to use them (since they had assistants to do the work). I joked how we were even technology wise because I had no clue how to use a dictaphone which he was known to still use).

  5. Jessa

    Um, this is going to maybe sound snarky because I don’t know how to phrase this in print. So I don’t MEAN it to.

    You get a review saying X is a problem (whatever x is, but in this case it’s telling people how to do something.) Why do you not 1. Ask the boss why it’s a problem and how to deal with the misunderstanding that you mean a and they hear b. and follow those instructions or 2. STOP DOING IT.

    You say you got TWO reviews saying this is a problem. The solution is to NOT do it. It should have been questioned/stopped after review number one.

    And this doesn’t matter what the thing on the review is. It’d be the same no matter what. If I was a boss who reviewed someone and said don’t do something and then had to review them again about the same thing, I’d be ticked.

    Having adminned for a lot of my career, you get to realise that part of what makes it fun for managers is having an admin to do this stuff. They don’t care how to do it, you’re paid to do it for them even if it’s something easy that they could do in two seconds flat. And yes I know a lot of managers really aren’t like that. But just as many are as aren’t. If you want to be able to teach people things for efficiency and your manager is obviously pushing back, you need to discuss it with them. Not just keep doing it.

    1. Jamie

      I would agree if I wasn’t tagged for the same thing every single review. I get one negative thing, I get it every year…as does very single person who reports directly to my boss…we all have one one negative and it’s identical. It’s kinda funny, we should all get together and change at the same time…cool sociological experiment. Because of we all fixed this particular flaw we’d all take a huge productivity hit.

        1. Jamie

          Okay, I’ll post it here and everyone will specifically know in what area I suck and I’ll never get another job should I chose to look because I will have outed myself online as being found wanting. :)

          Everyone who reports directly to my boss is high level engineering and me. We have peaks where sometimes the work load is very heavy with a lot of highly technical urgent tasks. While our attitude and behavior is always professional (always confirmed) during these times we can be too focused and intense, and less approachable than normal. We need to remember how important we are to the tone of the office and have to remember to smile and relax even during crunch time. Don’t let them see you stress.

          It’s literally verbatim to each of us.

          And yes, quiet under pressure is my MO – I understand the feedback but the truth is I do the best I can, but my nature when focused is to be very much inside my own brain so I can be most effective, and if I have 100 urgent tasks waiting for me I won’t pull off forced chit chat well.

          And the funny thing, he’s just like us. Which he admits when he gives us this feedback that it’s something he struggles with and knows he has the same issue.

          If I wanted to be pretend work psychologist I’d say he hired people with a similar work style to his own because he understands it and respects it – and truth be told, rewards it. We’re all highly valued and well treated – but he knows this sometimes grates the more social and relationship oriented employees so it’s something we can all work on.

          And I do try – but as I told him during the crunch times when I get up over 65 hours a week I get very businesslike. Up over 75-80 which happens twice a year…I don’t yell, I don’t berate anyone, I’m not overtly rude, and I don’t throw stuff – but at that point I will never give a s**t about anyone’s weekend or cute kiddo stories. I’ll care later when I’ve had some sleep.

          Ftr in my performance reviews I always bring up stuff I can do better and things I’ve already started working on – so he knows I’m aware. So it’s not like I’m perfect aside (far from it), I’m just proactive in self improvement because I tend to be way harder on myself than anyone else could be.

        1. Jamie

          Ours aren’t formal, it’s just a matter of their always being room for improvement (unless the job is very basic and limited) which I do agree with.

          I did work a company with formal reviews and my boss wanted to give me 10s (scale of 1-10) for the job I had just been promoted out of, but he was told no 10s and had to have 3 negatives. THAT pissed me off. I ended up with a 9.98 overall and I know this is the not healthy part of my brain, but that still bothers me.

          Like the class I took once and I missed an A by .8 – less than one point. And one answer I knew was wrong, but couldn’t go back as it was an online test…I actually considered retaking the class because the B bothered me so much.

          It’s just the part of my psyche that is in charge of making sure I’m never fully relaxed or happy.

          1. Susie

            You’re not alone. I got 90 instead of 100 in my high-school co-op because the form my supervisor had to fill out required a letter grade and she put A+. The co-op office thought A = 80 and A+ = 90 but my supervisor told me she meant for me to get 100. The co-op office had already submitted the grade and refused to change it. That will bug me for the rest of my life.

    2. Original_OP

      Normally, I WOULD ask why things are problems; however, my workplace is VERY dysfunctional. They also dinged me for being sick and needing surgery, so there you go.

      I took AAM’s advice, and I don’t offer any more. I do what people ask me to do. If THEY ask ME, I will happily teach them whatever they want to know.

      You did not sound snarky at all. In a LOGICAL, SANE environment, your suggestions would make perfect sense. My approach to my reviews now, because I have learned that nothing I say matters, is to say nothing and scribble a half-assed version of my signature on the form.

      I am also continuing to look for a new job.

      1. PEBCAK

        Have you documented any of these things? I think your intentions are good, and maybe you could make a binder that had this stuff, for when you are out or something. Then it would be on other people to seek out the info, but you’d have put it together.

      2. Jessa

        Yes in your situation you’re right, nothing is going to help and your sanity is more important than their idiocy.

  6. Ann Furthermore

    I just don’t get why this is held against people like the OP, but I get that it does happen. My view is that everyone is busy, overworked, and has more than enough to do. If I can learn how to do something myself, I’ll take that option every time. It’s not only quicker in the end, but it means that I don’t have to interrupt someone else’s day.

    But I have found that some people just don’t want to do things for themselves. They want someone else to do it for them. Whether this is laziness, fear that they’ll make a mistake, or just a sense that such things are “beneath” them, I couldn’t tell you. I was involved in the implementation of a new self-service tool a couple years ago, that managers could use to do their administrative stuff for their employees: move them to another group, change their job/cost center, enter promotions, or initiate the termination when someone left. It was pretty easy to use, and completely got rid of the endless cycle of emailing HR asking them to make the change, then following up with more emails or calls to make sure it got done, waiting for the change, checking the system to see if it was there, emailing again if it wasn’t, and so on. Instead, you would go into the system, execute the change, and you’d be done and could move on with your life.

    But the grumbling by everyone was that HR was just making everyone else do their work. The points that doing this freed up HR to do more value-adding stuff like compensation analysis, management coaching, and that it is SO much easier to just do this stuff yourself and then not have to keep worrying about it and following up and so on was of course lost.

    1. some1

      “Whether this is laziness, fear that they’ll make a mistake, or just a sense that such things are “beneath” them, I couldn’t tell you.”

      Or some people are too ashamed to admit that they don’t know how to do something like change the toner or post a file on the server.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        That could also be it too, in some cases. But I don’t get that either. I’m never ashamed to admit I don’t know how to do something. I’ve found you can head off alot of head-shaking and eye-rolling by just being honest about it, and try to put a light spin on it, if it’s something you think you should know how to do but don’t.

        I was really having trouble with one of my company’s benefit sites awhile back, and I emailed someone in HR to ask for help. In the email I included something like, “I realize that as an IT professional, I should be able to figure this out on my own, but I just can’t do it!” And I got a very fast and good-natured reply.

        1. Jamie

          I’m never ashamed to admit I don’t know how to do something

          This is one of those things that really separates different types of people and I really think in the vast majority of cases it stems from intellectual confidence.

          I am always baffled by people who feel stupid for not knowing stuff, because I don’t get it. Because for me how smart I think I am has nothing to do with the collection of knowledge I happen to possess right now. No one knows everything about everything, so if I don’t know something I’ll ask then I’ll have the info I need.

          But I’ve worked with so many people who equate intellect with how much they have stored in their fact bank. So when they don’t know something they feel shame – so when they can they fake it or avoid situations where they might have to challenge themselves. Being an expert in your own wheelhouse is awesome, without stretching it’s a recipe for stagnation.

          I think that kind of intellectual insecurity has to be really crippling.

          1. tcookson

            We had a new budget officer a few years ago who was very insecure, when she first started, about having people find out about anything she didn’t know. It would have been so much easier for her to ask questions and get help from people; we’re all really nice and would gladly have helped her. Instead, she kind of alienated a lot of people by not asking questions, and then making mistakes that she tried to blame on others — all because she was too insecure to reveal the gaps in her knowledge to anyone.

          2. Anonymous

            Here is a different perspective on the “intellectual insecurity” angle. I spent my childhood being teased by 4 older siblings and a parent. That has left me vulnerable to any kind of disdain. And when I ask for help at work and get the eye roll or snicker I react inside – cringe internally. I’ve spent years trying to overcome this. It is hard for me to ask for help from certain people at work. I’ll do it because it is the only way to get my job done. But it is painful to me because some people enjoy rolling their eyes and snickering at those who do not “know everything about everything” (like they do).

            Just a different slant on why some may feel uncomfortable asking for help. It really isn’t because I think I should know everything. I just hate the attitude I get from some coworkers. But I just smile and say thank you.

            1. tcookson

              That sounds awful, and I’m sorry that happened to you. I have a 13-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. My son struggles with self-confidence issues, and his sister doesn’t seem to understand that her occasional (okay, frequent) unkind words to him can have a deep impact on him. I try to make sure that both children feel emotionally safe at home; bickering and snipping at one another is one thing, but my daughter always escalates from that to cruel digs about his most sensitive insecurities, just for the sake of winning the argument. I don’t know what to do about it sometimes. Her dad and I both have appealed to her sympathies, we’ve threatened, reminded, given her THE LOOK when she’s getting to close to the line . . . but in the heat of sibling rivalry, she’s always the one who plays dirty. I’m proud of her (otherwise) as a person; she’s kind, smart, and sensitive in every other respect. But her attitude toward and treatment of her brother is something I’m disappointed in her about.

          3. Jen in RO

            I used to hate admitting I don’t know something. I’m embarrassed by how scared I was of *everything* in my previous job (first non-freelance). I had to work with the software we produced, which was extremely complex and dealt with a topic I was utterly clueless about. The documentation wasn’t very good, and it was geared at the clients who knew way more than me about the industry. There was no formal (or even informal) training process, everyone was busy, and I’m fairly shy and hate “bothering” people. I wanted to resign in my first week and I felt like the dumbest person in the office for a year. Eventually, through trial and error, I learned the basics of the software and I felt confident enough to ask more complex questions. It was a very unpleasant experience, but it made my new job go so much better. I still feel stupid asking questions, but at least I’m more confident and people don’t scare me anymore :)

            So yeah, rationally I know that my approach doesn’t make sense, but it’s not that easy to change.

      2. Jen

        This is also true. I’ll never forget when my husband called me from work at like 7:30 p.m. – they needed to make the midnight pick up for UPS and he and the three other guys left in the office did not know how to ship something via UPS. I was like “Are you kidding me?” and he said they’d never had to do it, there was always an assistant who would do it. Just showed how different my husband’s trajectory was from mine. As a younger female, I was always asked to do grunt work like that around the office so I knew how to change toner, ship via UPS and fax things. A man around my same age had no idea because no one had ever asked it of him. Killed me.

      3. KatieinCC

        If I don’t use information on a regular basis, it tends to fly out of my brain. So if you showed me how to, for example, use the postage meter, I can guarantee you that I’m not going to remember how to use it the next time I need to send mail. So there may be that element, too, that it is essentially a waste of everybody’s time for you to teach me something that I’m just going to have to relearn the next time.

        1. Jessa

          In this case however somewhere near the postage meter should be a piece of paper in a protector or laminated with instructions. There shouldn’t be an issue with people remembering. Equipment should have rules attached.

          1. fposte

            Sure, but if it also has people attached, and those people’s job is to support the postage meter when they’re on duty, it’s okay to ask the people. The organizational goal is to maximize productivity per labor dollar, not to ensure admins aren’t bothered.

            We have a thing that requires periodic feedback from certain faculty. They could post stuff to a calendar directly, but even though we provided them with an easy how-to we found out they don’t like to do that–they prefer to email us and have us post it to the calendar. Maybe it’s because they’re not calendar users, maybe they hate the calendar, I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter–the seconds more it takes us are less expensive overall than making them take seconds more to break their workflow.

    2. Apollo Warbucks

      The firm I work for is putting in a. new self service HR system, at the start of next year, have you any advice to get the managers to use the system not just carry on asking HR to process the changes?

      1. Ann Furthermore

        Oh my goodness, I could go on and on about this. But I’ll try to be brief and distill it to a few key points:

        1. If the system you’re implementing uses any kind of workflow tool to route notification requests and so on, keep those workflows as simple as possible. In fact I would recommend starting with the standard out-of-the-box processes, and then add steps as you need them, after you’ve been using the tool for awhile. A complex system full of approvals and controls will look great on paper, and may work well when being tested by a small pool of people with knowledge of the subject matter. But it will be an absolute monster to manage in a Production environment. Keep it simple.

        2. Do everything you can think of to publicize the new system, how it will work, and what benefit it’s bringing to the organization. If possible, have someone from the project team ask for 10 minutes in the staff meetings of directors and VP’s. There are usually other managers in those meetings so you can reach more people. This will reduce the grumbling about how HR is just shifting their work onto everyone else.

        3. If at all possible, make training sessions on how to use the new tool mandatory for managers. If they’re presented as informational sessions, people will blow them off because they’re too busy. Then when the system goes live, they won’t know how to use it.

        4. After a grace period of 2-4 weeks, politely but firmly direct people to the new process, with no exceptions. If HR keeps handling requests for people, they’ll never learn the new process. Have plenty of online training material available if you can, and point people to it. This is hard, because then when people complain it invariably comes back as the dreaded “poor customer service” negative feedback. But if you don’t stand firm, there will always be people who refuse to follow the new process.

        5. Make sure the new tool/process has the approval and buy-in of senior management. People will resist the change, and will take their complaints up the food chain until they find someone who will make an exception for them.

        Good luck!

        1. Zahra

          #5, absolutely. Many IT projects fail because they forget to get buy-in, or the end result does not match the business needs of the users. Get testers from each department/sector of the business/physical area, so you can have an expert close at hand for those who have questions/forgot a detail, etc. Also, those testers can give you insights on who is more likely to grumble and how to get them to use the new tool.

          1. Jessa

            This totally. Best practise if you can do it is to have one of the programmers actually have the end users walk through their actual tasks with them. Because I cannot count how many times we’d gotten stuff that just would NOT do what we really needed to do or took twice as long as how we’d been doing it in the first place. Make sure you know what the USERS need (not the people who don’t actually do the work.)

        2. Apollo Warbucks

          Thanks for the advice. Hopefully it will be a smooth switch over but there’s so much work left to do.

          1. Ann Furthermore

            I feel your pain…I’m about a month out from the launch of a financials/projects implementation.

            The challenge with these HR tools is that they affect every single person in the company, if you’re including a self-service tool for employees too.

            Best of luck — I hope your launch is successful!

    3. Windchime

      There is also the flip side of this. We are a team of 10 or 12 and we all report to a Director-level person. He is a super smart person, perhaps genius level. He’s perfectly capable of booking a conference room or accepting/rejecting meetings, but sometimes that results in him being triple-booked or with no travel time between meetings. So he finally threw in the towel and gave over control of his calendar to his Admin. This leaves him free to concentrate on the brainy stuff that he digs, and means that his calendar is sane because she is a great gate-keeper.

      Just because a task is easy, doesn’t mean that the executive should have to do it himself/herself. Usually, they have bigger issues to worry about. I’m not an executive, though, so I happily manage my own calendar, make my own copies, etc.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        I think you’re right about this, for the most part. Once you get to the level where you get an administrative assistant, then you should definitely hand things off to that person. Should a director spend his or her day scheduling meetings and booking travel? No. But I do think that the rest of us schlubs without assistants (and let’s be clear that I do include myself in this category) should be able to be somewhat self-sufficient, and seek out help when we need it.

        1. EngineerGirl

          Its not just director level. Some tasks carry a high level of concentration. Forcing me to break that concentration to book a conference room creates huge inefficiencies – it usually takes me an hour to get back into the groove. But sending an e-mail takes only a minute (no concentration break) and I can look at the follow up emails on my own time (after I’ve finished the task).

          I do like knowing how to do things, as the amins are usually only in the office 8 hours a day and I can work longer hours than that. But my pay rate is much, much, much higher than an admin, and I shouldn’t waste the companies money on doing tasks that can be performed by a lower paid person.

          1. Jamie

            I agree that people should do what they are hired for…I can’t imagine my boss would be thrilled if I neglected by duties to help the receptionist mail the holiday cards to our customers, but you lost me on your example.

            In my place scheduling a meeting or reserving scoffer wince room takes no longer than an email…and asking someone else to do it and the resulting follow ups would take a lot longer.

            1. Jessa

              Actually, scheduling is the one major thing that the admin SHOULD do. I’ve seen admins paid more than partners in large firms who had nothing more to do than gatekeep their boss’ time. I know one who had her own secretary because she didn’t TYPE letters anymore. That was below HER paygrade. The number one thing an admin is for is to keep things from bothering their boss.

              1. Jamie

                Yeah, after I commented I realized that I was speaking specifically from my type of environment where there is one conference room, maybe 6 people who can call meetings …outlook invites do the trick. But for more meeting intensive companies or bigger places I get that it would be better to have one person own the process.

                1. Bea W

                  I work in a 12 story building with 1000 employees and lord knows how many conference rooms of all different sizes with different technological capabilities. Some of those rooms are restricted access and require special phone calls to book them. In my previous jobs I did most of my own scheduling, but in this one it’s really best left up to the experts. Sometimes I make a valiant go of it, but then I find myself painfully scrolling through the schedules of 50+ rooms to find the needle in the haystack room that is free for my entire meeting, and trying to guess at which of these open rooms are really not open at all and have to admit I am not qualified to complete the task!

            2. Anonymous

              I’m not quite sure what a “scoffer wince room” is, or why one would need to be reserved. It sounds painful.

            3. Windchime

              Actually, scheduling a meeting *does* take longer than sending an email where I work. There are only a few conference rooms, and finding one that is the right size and will accommodate everyone, plus one that has a computer, plus is available at a time when all the attendees are available….it’s not an easy task, and the Admin often has the ability to shuffle other meetings around when others wouldn’t know if/when it was OK to do that.

          2. Ann Furthermore

            I see what you’re saying, and I do this as well sometimes, when it’s something I’m not sure how to do, or don’t do often. And most of the admins are happy to help out from time to time.

            But the fact is, those admins were not hired to support me, they were hired to support people higher up in the food chain than I am. So even though I may make more money than they do, and you could argue that it’s not a good use of company resources for me to spend time doing something an admin could do, it’s not the admin’s job to support me in that manner. So I keep it to occasional requests for help because doing it too often eats into the admin’s time to focus on her (or his) primary responsibilities. Just because I make more money than an admin doesn’t make my job any more important. And at least at my company, the admins mostly support 2 or 3 directors, so they’re just as overworked as I am. It’s only the VP’s that get dedicated assistants.

      2. tcookson

        Just because a task is easy, doesn’t mean that the executive should have to do it himself/herself.

        This. A person’s entire day could be completely filled with tasks that, taken individually, are easy (and not time-consuming). The reason admins are needed is that all those short, easy tasks can add up to a huge interruption to the rest of what non-admin people should be spending their time on.

        1. Ann Furthermore

          But…my point is that if people who the admin was not hired to support continually ask him or her for assistance on just “one quick thing” that adds up too. If 4 or 5 people a day ask for the admin’s help on something that takes 15-20 minutes each time, that can be up to 8 hours a week. So then, when you get right down to it, the admin is only doing work for the person they were hired to support 4 days a week instead of 5. Or they’re probably working overtime to make up for the time spent doing those “quick” little things everyone asks for — which costs money too.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I think this conversation is assuming, though, that the stuff in question is appropriate to be asking the admin to do. If it’s not — if she doesn’t support the people making the requests — that would be a whole different issue.

    4. EngineerGirl

      Managers are usually at a higher pay rate than HR people (unless the HR person is far up the ladder). I would argue that it is not the best use of company assets to work this way. An request for that the manager fills out to initiate the process? Yes. Forcing the manager to track computer moves, phone moves, accounts, etc. No.

      1. FiveNine

        It seems this extends to call center supervisors too. At least, when I was reading the original post, what was going through my mind was: Yes, the call center supervisers could do this. But honestly, what is HR there for if not to process employee job changes like promotions or moves or raises? The idea that having supervisers take on this work to free up HR to do different types of analyses rather than process the actual employee changes just, yeah, I can understand why that didn’t fly.

      2. Ann Furthermore

        My feeling has always been that the rationale of people who get the bigger paychecks being exempted from more tedious responsibilities because it’s a “more efficient use of company resources” is dangerously close to saying that some people are better than others, and I just don’t agree with that message.

        That being said, should directors or VP’s spend all their time booking conference rooms or making their own travel arrangements? No, of course not. And sure, if an admin orders office supplies all the time, then asking them to include something for you once in awhile is no big deal. Or if you need help booking a conference room that doesn’t have its schedule published in Outlook, then sure, ask an admin who’s probably more likely to know what to do than you are. But it’s a fuzzy line, and I think it’s important to be aware that it’s there.

        But should an admin automatically be expected to have to change the toner cartridge in the printer every single time, even though just about everyone uses it for their print jobs and is therefore using the ink in said cartridge just because I think my time is deemed to be more valuable than hers? In fact, she probably hasn’t even used that printer at all, because she’s got a dedicated printer so she can print sensitive/confidential documents for the directors she supports. No, I can get down off my high horse and take 10 minutes out of my day to do it myself.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But how is it saying that one person is better than another to simply acknowledge that if Jane’s time costs $10/hour and Sarah’s costs $150/hour, it makes far more sense for Jane to do copying, collating, and scheduling rather than Sarah doing it at her pay rate? That’s just practical, and it only becomes about Sarah being better than Jane if someone decides they’re going to take it that way. Most of the really good admins I’ve known haven’t been bothered by that at all; they understand what their job is and they take pride in it. (It tends to be the not-great ones who take issue with it.)

          1. Ann Furthermore

            But if Jane doesn’t report to Sarah, and is not the admin for the entire department that Sarah works in, does Sarah have the authority to foist this work off onto Jane? And if no one else at Sarah’s level gets an assistant, why does Sarah feel that she’s allowed to hijack someone else’s?

            Even though I’ve never been an admin myself (I have the absolute wrong personality for it) I’ve seen admins treated terribly by people who think they’re superior in some way. I’ve seen managers demand that admins to manage their calendars, book travel, schedule meetings, and answer their phones — all when the admin does not report to them, and all when no other manager at that same level has an assistant. In one case it got so bad that the admin had to ask her boss, the CFO, to intervene and tell this other officious pretentious manager to back off.

            And I’m not talking about an admin doing this kind of work for someone they were hired to support. Of course an admin should be doing this kind of work for the director(s) they work for, and if someone has an issue with that, then being an admin is not for you.

            I’m talking about people at the individual contributor level who treat admins like they’re just there to do all the grunt work, for everyone — not just who they were hired to support. Sure, I have to do dull tedious things like copy my receipts after I travel, or look for a conference room when I need to schedule a meeting, or manage my own email/voicemail. But no one else at my level in my company gets an assistant, so why should I whine and complain that my time is more “valuable” than everyone else’s, and consider myself exempt?

            1. Ann Furthermore

              And what really kills me is that if you treat the admins with respect, they can be one of your biggest allies.

            2. Judy

              These days, I wouldn’t ever ask an admin to do anything, because we’ve got one admin handling two directors. But 20 years ago, a manager plus 20 engineers had 4 admins to share. At that time, we did send emails to them to set up a meeting with these 5 people, find a conference room and schedule drinks and snacks. (That’s how long ago that was, some meetings had snacks.)

              In the individual contributor level, we only go to the admins to process the POs, because they are the only ones who have access to the system. Anything else, we’re on our own.

              1. Ann Furthermore

                Yeah, that’s my point exactly. The admins have more than enough on their plates. At my company, one admin supports 2 or even 3 directors. That right there is *a lot* of call screening, calendar management, travel booking, and all the rest of it. They’re being asked to take on more work and do more with less, just like the rest of us.

                I am very, very selective about what I ask an admin for help with – and it’s usually after I’ve tried to figure out something myself, and run into a snag. And because I am, they’re always happy to help me out. If I were emailing them all the time with requests that other people at my same level take care of on their own, I’m pretty sure I’d use up that goodwill in a big hurry.

              1. Ann Furthermore

                Ah, perhaps that’s where the miscommunication is. I’m talking about individual contributors asking (or even assuming) that a director’s admin is there to do clerical stuff for them too. I’ve seen people do that, and I just want to say, “OK, what exactly makes you think that you’re such a Special Snowflake ? No one else at your level has an assistant.”

                So like I said, I don’t mind asking my director’s admin to add something for me to her regular office supply order. That’s no big deal. Or at my company, finding a conference room on the Outlook calendar that is open for the whole day is as rare as a sasquatch sighting. So if I do need a whole day (or even a block of days), I’ll ask my director’s admin if she can help me with that, if she has time. She’s plugged into the admin network across the company, and can usually work with the other assistants to get people to move meetings around, much more easily than I can. Plus the admins have more rights in Outlook than the rest of us, so they can see who has booked a room, not just that it’s occupied.

                But I’m hyper-conscious about making those requests, because she’s got more than enough to do, just like me. In general people don’t mind doing favors for others once in awhile, but when it starts happening all the time, they feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

                1. Gjest

                  I can see your point of not taking advantage of the admins. However, if the admin is the “departmental admin” and not assigned to a specific person, then I would think it would be fine for an individual contributor in that department to ask the admin to perform tasks that are within the scope of their job.

                2. Bea W

                  To what Gjest says, we have an admin that covers the group. She reports to one person, but her job also includes providing support to the team as a whole. That’s what she was hired to do.

                  I would never think of asking someone’s dedicated admin to do work for me, not unless I had explicit permission from that person’s boss first. You don’t poach other people’s admin staff without asking. That is a serious business faux pas!

            3. Jamie

              I have seen admins treated terribly, also, and that is wrong but it’s a different issue than different peoples time being valued differently.

              No one should think they are inherently better than anyone else as a person based on their job, money, or anything in that line. Because on a human level everyone is equal and everyone should be treated with professional courtesy.

              But Alison is right in that it just makes sense that people who make considerably more money should spend the bulk of their time doing what they are paid to do.

              We have a small office and we do most of our admin stuff ourselves, but when there is something time consuming or conflicting we ask the admins to help us out.

              I personally don’t like asking for help for something I can do myself without interrupting my job, but on the occasion where I do (complicated or time consuming copier job, getting lunch orders while I’m getting ready for a meeting, etc.) I do give as much lead time as possible, I say please and thank you, because I understand that they aren’t just sitting there waiting for me to dump something on their desk and I give them enough time to work it into their schedule – they have a lot of other tasks.

              But regarding the division of tasks…answering phones, ordering lunch for customers, processing mail, and all of the million things our receptionist does is crucial to the business…it’s an important role. So is mine, but it’s different and not interchangeable. My boss would be rightfully pissed if I neglected my job to file invoices or take lunch orders because I’m paid more because of a scarcer skill set and if I’m not going to use it and do reception work that’s a huge waste of money.

              But level on the org chart is no reason to treat anyone as less than. And believe me, when people do that it’s noticed by other people and they don’t look good.

              1. Bea W

                +1

                Likewise your admin’s boss would be pissed if the admin spent her time doing IT-things instead of filing invoices. It’s not about who’s better than whom. Division of labor makes sure all the things that need to get done, get done.

        2. Original_OP

          Actually, that falls under admin job duties, typically. I have no issue with doing ANY of the tasks we’ve discussed here. None.

  7. LV

    I’m in a similar situation. I’m a government librarian, and I get a lot of emails from patrons (the researchers in my department) with very basic requests like “Do you have [book] in the collection?”, “Send me a copy of this article” etc.

    I’m more than happy to do it, but I also have to be mindful of the fact that next fiscal year, the library is going from 12 staff members to 3. There simply won’t be enough time/manpower to fulfil these requests which the patrons could very easily tackle themselves. So along with the answer to their question, I’ll also include instructions on how to search the catalogue, how to retrieve an article from our subscription databases, etc.

    I hate the thought that I’m coming across as resentful for having to do my job (which I love!) but the sad truth is, a few months from now these people will have to choose between doing it themselves very quickly or waiting potentially several days for someone else to have the time to do it for them.

    1. EngineerGirl

      I’d encourage you to start training patrons NOW. Set up a website with some sort of banner saying “Want an answer FAST?”. Then a FAQ/instructions on how to get the info. From this point on, cheerfully answer the question. Then alert your patrons that staffing cuts are coming and refer them to the new website. Use this transition time for training so that when the hit comes, the change has already been implemented.

    2. Jessa

      I also think that you might want to make part of your boilerplate responses to these people the information that the library staff is going down. Unless it’s top secret, they need to know that in x time you will NOT be answering these requests anymore. So they need to build time into their own work to get it done.

    3. Layla

      I think receiving instructions by email is not as bad
      1. We are not wasting each other’s time for you to teach me and me to not remember
      2. I don’t feel obligated to say Yes I want to learn , I can just disregard it if I don’t ever feel I’d do it
      3. Future reference assuming things haven’t changed by the time I need it again

      But I’d still feel that you are saying that I should be doing it myself instead of asking you ; which you are ! So that’s fine

    4. Jessica (the celt)

      For things that I am regularly asked, I do a one-time “how-to” email and used the Canned Responses feature in Gmail to save it and distribute it when I get asked the question. It has saved me so much time that I can’t begin to tell you how much I love that feature. Before I had that, though, I’d make how-to documents and just attach those to the response email. If my boss would let me, I’d make a FAQ for our part of the website and just direct people to that.

  8. Ruffingit

    Not exactly the same, but I had a boss once who assigned me a task that actually made way more sense for her to do. I had just been hired and one of the first tasks she gave me was dealing with the yellow pages ad rep for the ad she wanted placed. I was on the phone with the rep, I’d then go back to boss and tell her what was said, boss would ask questions/change things, I’d go back to rep and tell her, repeat ad naseum two or three times. It was so ridiculous because a ton of time would have been saved had boss just done it herself since she knew what she wanted and I didn’t. Finally, boss did take over the job and I was relieved. It was just stupid to have me be the middle man and such a waste of time with all the meetings we were having so boss could tell me what to tell the rep, etc.

    1. Jen M.

      That, or she should have sent you a very detailed email with the info she wanted in the ad, you could have looked it over and discussed it with her and THEN talked to the rep.

      1. Ruffingit

        That would have made sense Jen except that she kept changing her mind on what she wanted, which necessitated my having to ask the ad rep about the changes, etc. She changed her mind on wording, ad size, the graphic they were going to use and on and on it went. She had no idea what she wanted. Given that, it would have made sense for her to discuss things directly with the ad rep.

    2. Carpe Librarium

      Your comment reminded me of an Australian Yellow Pages ad from the ’90s.
      “Not happy, Jan!”

  9. alfie

    I work in a nonprofit and we’re all overworked. We mostly do our own admin stuff but for larger projects we can ask some of the central admins to take care of some of the things for us — booking rooms, ordering food, bringing coffee, sending out reminders, etc.

    I definitely know how to do this stuff myself, and I usually take care of it myself. When the admins explain how to me how to do something, I definitely think they are telling me to do it myself, because I obviously have demonstrated that I know how to do it. However, this has resulted in me being told by my boss repeatedly that the admins aren’t being used and don’t have enough to do (which kind of drives me nuts because I am always so swamped — in fact, I love the other post about what to do when you are overworked). Also, it often results in me being way overpaid to get coffee, print fliers, mail things and such, and being pressed for time on the other work I’m particularly skilled in that no one else in the office does.

    1. Original_OP

      I think you’ve misunderstood. No one, anywhere, is saying people should do things themselves instead of relying on their admin. What my question was was how unusual was it for people to be offended if, in helping with a mundane task, like changing the toner, the admin offered to teach them how to do it?

      I have no issue with any aspect of my job. At all. Never have. I just work with crazy people, I think.

      1. alfie

        Oh yes I get that OP. I just think, in my case, they are telling me to do it myself, so I can certainly see how it could be taken that way in your case(s), even if you don’t mean it that way, which you obviously don’t.

        I will say, I go way out of my way to show that I don’t think any kind of work is beneath me (I don’t), but that has had an unintended consequence of the admins sometimes treating me like I’m an admin too and I’m not.

        So it could be that people aren’t interested in learning to change the toner or book the conference room or make the coffee because they don’t want to do that stuff, or because they’re not interested.

        I will say at my work place there should be mandatory training for all the Executive VPs and higher to teach them how to rinse out their coffee cup and remove it from the sink. I used to think this was a male/female thing because all the top staff were male, but it turns out when females get to that level they can’t figure out how to do it either.

      2. fposte

        Offended? Not sure. But I’d definitely think you were telling me I should do it myself.

        That’s one way manuals and instruction sheets can be really useful–it’s more like telling them how you can help them even when you’re not there :-). That’s pretty much how our staff phrases it–“If we’re not at our desk, feel free to use the tip sheet to operate the thingy yourself if you don’t want to wait.”

      3. Green

        While your intentions may be in the interest of organizational efficiency, many people have had enough passive aggressive coworkers to to assume that you are actually trying to tell them they should be doing something themselves.

        I would be a little irked by the “Would you like me to show you how to do it?” line by an admin. Because if I’m asking you to do it, it means I don’t have time or want to do it, and if that’s the case, I don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to do it and then do it myself from there on out. And despite never having been an admin, I’ve been on the recipient end of ridiculously inefficient requests, so I do feel your pain. (True story: one of my former bosses had me print out every single email that came in so he could write in a response at his leisure and then I could type in the response to an email. Another didn’t know how to create folders on her computer desktop and ‘put things in them’. I just did what they asked and moved on.)

  10. Ruffingit

    OK CONFESSION TIME!! What do you NOT know how to do that most other people might find very easy? This is a no-judgment zone just to be clear :) I’ll start:

    I always have trouble working the fax machine.

    1. Jessa

      Any coffee machine past “put filter in filter cup, tear open package and pour and put pot of water in top.” I have no idea how to set up one of those single cup things, or those fancy espresso ones. But I don’t drink coffee and the last time I adminned at a level where I handled the coffee pots was like 20 years ago. So anything much newer than a Bunn-o-matic is past me.

    2. fposte

      I made my first pot of coffee in the office coffeemaker last week! (I don’t drink coffee, so I have some excuse.)

    3. tcookson

      There are some things that I don’t know how to do on my computer, and I have to call the IT guy to see if he can talk me through it. Here are a few I’ve had within the past 2 – 3 months:

      I accidentally downloaded a virus because my boss wanted a document written in a font (Helvetica Neue — NOT just plain Helvetica) that I didn’t have on my computer. I tried to uninstall all the malware myself, because I was too ashamed to call the IT guy, but some of the stuff would NOT go away. So I had to suck it up and admit defeat, call him, and bear the weight of his tremendous indignation (along with a lecture along the lines of . . . “and this is why we shouldn’t let users be admins of their own computers.”) I’m sure Jamie can totally sympathize with my IT guy :-(

      This is part of the above malware/font debacle: when trying to uninstall malware programs myself, I uninstalled the program that allows my speakers to work, and I couldn’t figure out how to get my speakers back. IT guy got them back for me.

      We got Office 2013 Professional Plus, but it didn’t have OneNote activated. I called the IT guy and he gave me verbal instructions for how to activate it, which sounded simple enough while I was on the phone with him. But when I tried to do the actual steps, I couldn’t figure out how come it wouldn’t work; it wasn’t obvious to me what the next step should be. So I had to call him back and have him walk me through it screen by screen.

      I can do anything with software programs, or figure it out if I don’t know how to do it. But with PC systems stuff, sometimes even the really simple (for others!) stuff is not simple to me. So I have to feel like an idiot and call the IT guy.

      1. Jamie

        Nah, nothing you described should be a reason to be embarrassed to call the IT guy. The virus thing, just say you’re sorry and you will never do it again and don’t, you’ll be fine. Besides, that’s what you get when your user login have admin rights to install. :)

        Besides, even if you thought you got it all always tell IT when you get a virus because you do t know what’s hidden in the registry and root kits can lie dormant.

        What makes IT like people like you is your ability to communicate clearly. I dont expect my users to be computer experts, but the ones who send me a concise email explaining what they are experiencing and including screen shots of any error messages are awesome. They make my Nice list (in keeping with the season.). On my naughty list are those who email, call, or stop me on the way to the bathroom and tell me “I have a file and its broken what do I do?” How the hell do I know? What file? What program is trying to open it? What error messages are you getting? Facts help, people.

        1. tcookson

          Thanks, Jamie — I feel better now. I think our IT guy likes me, too, despite the virus thing. I think he knows that I don’t call him as a first resort, but only after I’ve tried to fix the situation myself, and I’m pretty clear with him about what’s going on, what I tried, and what the corresponding error messages were.

    4. Windchime

      We have a trouble ticket system at work that I have never been able to figure out. When I try to close a ticket, I usually somehow either put it into limbo or don’t really close it. When I try to assign it to someone else, I always end up with it either assigned to the other person AND me or, once again, in limbo. I’m not a stupid person (most of the time!), but I cannot get this ticket system figured out.

    5. Jen in RO

      My new source control system (SVN). Coming from ex-job when I was the source control expert (different system), this makes me feel very inadequate! (But I do admit it’s my fault for not experimenting enough with it.)

      And I can’t make regular coffee (in a kettle). I don’t like the taste of coffee and espresso is the one thing I kinda like (with tons of milk), but it either comes from the coffee vending machine or the espresso maker. I am a terrible host – if guests wants regular coffee, I ask them to make it themselves.

      1. Jeanne

        I’m with you on SVN, Jen in RO. And experimenting with source control software is a little more daunting that experimenting with Office!

    6. Jamie

      Label maker, postage meter, and I just this year learned you can turn the water off to the toilet by this little knob on the bottom.

      When the toilet went nuts at work I realized this was common knowledge for everyone but me when the maintenance guy had to talk me through it (it was after hours).

      And I wish I’d know JenRO when I accidentally switched the language on the label maker to Romanian and had NO idea how to get it back to English. I am ashamed to say I spent an embarrassing amount of time on it and then when I failed input it back in the drawer for someone else to figure out.

      Not my finest hour.

    7. SamaD

      I can’t work keys.
      no idea, we just do not get along – hand me a new key and it will take me minutes to get it in the lock and turned and the lock opening. I know how keys and locks work! I swear! but if it’s time-critical or in front of someone important, someone else does the lock thing :)

    8. Bea W

      Transfer phone calls.

      For the longest time I could not open a pop-top, like on a soda can.

      My brother found himself without power recently, wanted to open a can, and did not know how to operate a manual can opener.

      I will never ever be able to fold a fitted sheet properly. So I gave up trying and now just roll them up and put them in a drawer.

  11. Esther

    I think you’re a really nice admin. I think it’s probably best to wait for them to ask you to show them how.

    At work, if it’s something that looks really simple I’ll usually ask admin to do it and to show me how (I.e. Booking a meeting room). But sometimes I’m really busy and I would rather delegate those tasks.

    One thing that annoys me and my colleagues is admin trying to tell us how to format Word docs. Our firm is really specific abt what type of font goes where (ie. Certain tables with numbers are one font and tables without numbers are a different font) and when we’re working until 3am to meet a deadline the last thing we want to do is format that report. It’s going to be checked by admin anyway, they might as well fix it from the start. Especially when they’re trained to do it and do it all the time and more efficiently.

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