I’m being asked to cover for an under-performing coworker

A reader writes:

Recently, a superior in a different unit of my department, to whom I do not report, told me in a confidential email that one of the executive assistants in her unit was having performance issues — “letting things slip,” in her words. In that email, she asked me to make myself available to the faculty member this EA works for as a “backstop,” to complete missed tasks, schedule and follow up with appointments, etc. — essentially, to be responsible for following through on work that the EA has not done up to par.

While I want to be a team player and help where I can in the department, I am hesitant to take on this role for a few reasons: first, I used to work as this faculty member’s administrative assistant a few years ago, but no longer do. My role in the department is different now. Second, acting as the EA’s “accountability person” would be an unofficial role — basically, additional responsibility without additional compensation (I am a non-exempt hourly employee, while the EA is salaried exempt). Third, having two people (one officially, one unofficially) responsible for the same tasks sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Personally, I think the EA’s supervisor should address those performance problems and create a plan for remediation, rather than asking the faculty member’s former assistant to fill in the gaps. Am I in the wrong here? What would be a useful way to address this, both to the superior who is requesting this, and perhaps to my own supervisor, who I believe is unaware of the situation?

It’s possible that the EA’s manager is currently working to address the performance problems but feels like she needs a back-up to ensure work is getting done correctly meanwhile … and it’s possible that they wouldn’t specifically tell you that part of it. But it’s also possible that that’s not happening, and this is just a wimpy way of avoiding managing her. If it’s the former, it’s not necessarily wrongheaded to bring in help for a limited period of time. But if it’s the latter, that’s ridiculous and her manager needs to do her job and manage the situation.

It’s reasonable for you to get a better idea of which of these it is — not necessarily about the details of the EA’s employment situation, but about what it means for you and what you’re being asked to take on. For example, you could say, “Can you give me an idea of how long you’d want me to do this? It’s not something I could do indefinitely, so I’d want to know that there’s a plan in progress to resolve the issues within a specific amount of time.”

But before you even do that, you definitely need to loop your own manager in. At a minimum, she should be aware if you’re taking on significant new work and should have the chance to say no, that she wants you focused on your primary job. It’s possible that she could be overruled if the person making this request of you is higher up than she is, but she should at least be involved in the conversation. And in addition to that, if you just don’t want to do this for the reasons you mentioned in your letter, it’s reasonable to share that with her and see if she’s able to help get you out of it.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    Before I said yes to anything, regardless of whether the manager is managing the EA appropriately or not, I’d want to know that MY boss was aware of and approved of this request of the use of my time.

    1. Artemesia*

      I was assuming that they both have the same boss i.e. it is an academic department and both the poor performing EA and the OP are under the same manager. This would make it even trickier if so and even more reason to push back hard on this. And overtime should be involved. And there should be a time limit ‘while you work with Clunkella to get the job in hand.’ I would be pretty direct about assuming she is supervising closely and has an improvement plan for the EA and would want to know when the PIP or plan for her improvement is expected to be finished and thus her role terminated as backup. This is quicksand otherwise and probably even so.

      1. fposte*

        I thought the same thing at first, but the OP outright says “to whom I do not report.” It’s the same department, so it’s not an egregious line-overstep, but for an admin it still needs to go through a supervisor.

        1. fposte*

          Ah, I misread–the OP isn’t in admin any more. If she’s risen to a level where she really doesn’t have a supervisor, which can happen pretty fast in academics, that’ll limit her options–but if she’s on that level, she likely has the authority to push back on her own.

            1. fposte*

              It makes it less likely, but there are plenty of non-exempts in my unit who’d have that authority. Though that would be more true of the unionized staff, and I’m pretty sure the OP isn’t unionized or that would have come up.

    2. INTP*

      Yes! I learned to do this early in my career when I figured out that an EA that my boss had told me to work closely with on some things was also trying to unload work on me that she was supposed to do by herself, without differentiating it from the tasks my boss had told her to give me. I now have a go-to response to anyone besides my boss trying to give me work: “Sure, I’d be happy to help. Just let me check with Boss first to confirm that I can prioritize this amongst my other tasks.” That way, you’ve gotten out of doing work that isn’t a good use of your time without offending anyone, and if the work IS a good use of your time, your boss knows that you’re doing it and you get credit for it.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        “Sure, I’d be happy to help. Just let me check with Boss first to confirm that I can prioritize this amongst my other tasks.”

        Learning this phrase was a tipping point in my career.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Same here!! I used to resist using that phrase because I felt like it was “hiding behind” my boss and her authority when I should be able to fight my own battles, but I’ve gotten to a point where I see it more as A: buying myself time to think before responding, and B: putting people on notice that I’m not going to be easily taken advantage of. It’s kind of amazing how often the response to “I’d love to – let me check with my boss to make sure this will work with my other responsibilities” is something along the lines of “Oh…no need to bother her, I can take care of it.”

          (I then get a kind of sadistic satisfaction out of being super-sweet and making a big show of concern, like “Oh no, are you sure? I totally understand being swamped and I’d really love to help, are you *sure* you don’t want me to check with my boss? It’s just that I want to make sure this won’t conflict with anything she’s planning on giving me to do in the next few days, but I’d really like to help if I can!” because it’s highly entertaining to me to watch someone who was trying to pawn their work off onto me squirming uncomfortably and trying to backtrack lest I actually follow through on letting anyone’s manager know what they’re up to. But then, I am not really a very nice person sometimes. ^_^ )

    3. Elizabeth West*


      She’s doing an end run around the boss, which tells me that the boss probably doesn’t know. Otherwise, the OP’s boss would have been the one to approach her about this (in a perfect world where all bosses are reasonable).

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’ve been in your exact place, and it totally backfired.

    Your manager needs to know about this.  In fact, she should have known about this before you were asked because her approval is essential.  You working in another department takes you away from the work you’re supposed to be doing.  It could also make your work performance suffer. 

    It is totally reasonable to ask for a time frame on this.  You can’t be expected to do someone else’s job indefinitely with no increase in pay.  That’s working for free.  Your second paragraph sums this up perfectly.

    It is also totally reasonable to ask if your back up assistance is part of an improvement strategy for this EA.  The EA needs to know why you’re there and what you’re doing because if she doesn’t, then your presence is going to be very awkward and/or she’ll shluff off all her tasks to you if you start helping her because hey why not? The “hey why not” response is what happened to me, and my performance suffered.

    (I’m betting that your presence is requested as a lazy way to get someone else’s job done and your boss and the EA know nothing.)

    1. AMG*

      And probably should have come from OP’s boss, who would have been approached by the other manager first before speaking to the OP.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        That was the first thing that jumped out at me from the letter – the request didn’t come from OP’s boss, but from another manager. I’ve filled in for multiple people on multiple different teams at multiple different jobs/companies, and every time I’ve done this, it was at the request of my own manager who was asked by the other group’s manager first to even see if I was available. The fact that that seemingly didn’t happen here is odd.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          This was what stood out to me as well. As far as I can remember, every time I’ve been asked to help out/fill in for someone, my manager was the one who made the request.

          I would definitely be checking in with my manager first to make sure she was aware this was happening – depending on the OP’s relationship with her manager, that might also be an opportunity to voice some of her concerns because her manager might be able to help place some stricter limits around OP’s time if needed so this doesn’t become an ongoing part of her job.

    2. AMG*

      And I can think of no faster way to piss off your coworkers than to make sure they are performing the way they should but don’t know that their boss assigned you that task. Been there and am never doing it again!

    3. INTP*

      And besides the extra work being unpaid, it also sounds like the OP is expected to do it on the down-low, so she would be given no credit for it, either. If it’s for a reasonable amount of time, the ability to pick up slack in a pinch and be discreet about a sensitive situation could work the the OP’s advantage with promotions, IF her boss knows about it. But over the long-term, she’d be spending loads of time covering for this EA in secret that she would otherwise be able to spend on going above and beyond in her own role and other tasks with visibility. Even if her boss knows about it, others in the org that might play a role in her career advancement won’t, and it would essentially have the same effect on the perception of her work quality as if she spent the same amount of time doing absolutely nothing!

      I’m a big proponent of avoiding work that won’t actually be rewarded, financially or in more abstract currencies like reputation. I like Alison’s suggestion to try to figure out the expected time frame for the scenario, because I think it would be fine to help with OP’s boss’ knowledge and blessing for a short amount of time. If they don’t have an end game here, I say avoid it.

      1. Temperance*

        I also think that they’re effectively asking her to take a step back, career-wise. She’s no longer an admin, and they’re effectively putting her back to that level.

        1. Izzy*

          Yes, this happened to me. I was hired in Position A, (which had a large administrative component). After six months, I was promoted to Position B, and “Jane” was hired to fill Position A. After a few months, Jane left. At my supervisor’s request, I agreed to cover a few vital tasks of Position A, since I knew how to do them, until a replacement could be hired. Then came a hiring freeze, and Jane was not replaced. The manager of the program Position A supported started assigning me more tasks than just the ones agreed on, and insisted that they take precedence over my other work. When I pushed back, we had a meeting with my boss, and other manager said “But this is what you were hired to do!” Technically true, but as my boss said, I wasn’t demoted back to my old position when Jane quit.

          1. Kassy*

            “What you were hired to do” doesn’t work when you’ve been promoted and those aren’t your job duties any more. Really glad that your boss backed you up on this!!

        2. Doriana Gray*

          I also think that they’re effectively asking her to take a step back, career-wise.

          That’s another thing that irked me about that letter – this place seems to have an, “Once an admin, always an admin” attitude.

        3. INTP*

          Yep, good point. I don’t think it’s necessarily completely out of line to ever ask someone to pitch in with duties they know how to perform but aren’t part of their job description anymore, because someone has to do it. But this situation is sketchy because 1) OP’s boss doesn’t seem to have been consulted, 2) their reasoning sucks – essentially they’re recruiting the OP so two people (the EA and her manager) don’t have to do their jobs satisfactorily, and 3) former admins generally have to be strategic about developing a new reputation at work and not being tasked with admin work to the point that it hurts their ability to advance in their new duties in a way that people with other career trajectories usually don’t.

    4. Ama*

      When I was still working in academia, there were always managers who were notorious for asking to “borrow” other admins “just for this one little project.” They almost always had the other admins’ manager sign off on the “one little project” and then would continue to rely on that authority to keep piling on unrelated work until the admin thought to loop their manager back in on what was happening. Then they’d claim a “miscommunication” when they were called out.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    Yes, yes, yes, go to your boss!

    Not in an accusatory way, not to say, “Jane’s not doing her work and now Fergus wants me to pick it up!” but rather to say, “Hey, boss, Fergus has asked me to be a backup on his team. Are you okay with that?” (You can follow up with, “I want to make sure that I’m still getting X, Y, and Z done for you and not running afoul of overtime” if you want.)

    Do not mention Jane’s low performance as part of the conversation, especially since Fergus said it was a “confidential” email. Fergus has no right to expect that you will keep back things from YOUR manager, but if you can avoid bringing Jane’s name into it, there’s less chance of fallout.

    1. Shannon*

      Being “backup” sounds perfectly reasonable. It sounds like they’re just asking for her to pitch in if Jane were out sick or something. I’d be a little more explicit about what they’re asking for.

      1. Liane*

        No, they aren’t asking for sick day coverage. The email to OP specfically said the EA wasn’t doing everything &/or not doing things well and OP was to step in and do things right.

        1. Liane*

          And even if that were the case, EA’s boss should still have gone to the OP’s boss first. Yes, even if the EA’s boss is higher ranking.

        2. TL -*

          Right, but if OP goes to boss and says “oh, they want me to be backup,” boss is going to think that they’re asking for OP to cover when Jane is out sick or something.

          On the other hand, if the OP forwards the request to her boss or explicitly states the full extent of the request, the boss is much more likely to understand the depth of what’s being asked (which is what I would recommend doing.)

        3. Sadsack*

          Yes, I’d be asking how much of your time is going to be taken up with this. Is this going to come up every couple of weeks, or do you have to check in every day to make sure the other person is doing their job.

        4. Shannon*

          Perhaps I was a little unclear.

          If the OP were to tell her boss she had been asked to be backup, that doesn’t sound unreasonable. The boss might even go for it.

          If the OP were to tell her boss more explicitly what this person wants from them, it’s far more likely their boss will put their foot down.

    2. Artemesia*

      No you have to be explicit. There is no confidential when one boss undermines another which is what poaching you would entail. The boss needs to know exactly what is going on. And the EA needs to know also and it should be part of an improvement plan. The fact that it is ‘confidential’ says ‘I want you to do this work so I don’t have to confront EA and can get her job done without any effort at management on my part.’ This is a disaster waiting to happen. You don’t assign someone to follow the elephants with the broom, keeping the elephants in the dark about it unless you don’t want to do the hard management and want the work to fall on someone else.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, if I were having this conversation with my boss, I’d lay out the entire situation, because I’d want him to make his decision based upon full, not partial, information. He might say ‘yes’ if you just say “Fergus wants me to serve as backup on his team”, and his answer might change if he realizes the complete situation. I wouldn’t withhold from him any information that was available to me.

        1. fposte*

          And if it’s a good boss relationship, I’d include the information that I’d like to be a team player, but I’d really rather not do this. There may be political reasons why a boss couldn’t shield the OP, but it’s also possible that a boss could.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Right. If this is all above board, and OP is simply being (say) asked to backstop Jane for the next three weeks while Jane is on a PIP, then there’s no harm in being explicitly. If this is instead one manager dumping a bad employee’s work on OP, then failing to be explicit is going to make everything worse.

        1. Sadsack*

          Agreed. Also, what’s going to happen at the end of the PIP if the other employee does not improve? Will the writer be saddled with the full workload until they find a replacement? These are all questions I would have for my own manager.

        2. fposte*

          And the failure to be explicit up front makes me think that any time frames that come out subsequently might be more elastic than they seem.

    3. Observer*

      I’d say the reverse – if you don’t lay out the full situation, then things are REALLY going to hit the fan. The issue is not the name of the person involved, but the details of what is being asked. The OP is essentially being asked to take on a second job and it’s vital that her boss knows about this.

    4. Anna*

      It’s not confidential in this case. The supervisor is going about this in exactly the wrong way. The OP owes no fealty to the supervisor, especially since throwing the “confidential” part of it sounds a bit like the supervisor doesn’t have the approval to ask the OP to do this. Forward the email, OP. That way there is no way it can be misconstrued.

      1. J.B.*

        Well, if there were political elements at play she could print out the email and show her own supervisor. Then if supervisor instructs her to forward she should do so. It does depend on the interactions at play and if requestor is high enough to cause some stink.

        1. J.B.*

          Or, more directly respond back to the requestor and say that she is not able to commit to anything until after approaching her boss. And explain that it is really impossible to keep the details of the request confidential.

      2. Kassy*

        I agree that “confidential” does not extend to your boss. I had a sneaky manager from another department try that – ask me to keep something “quiet for the time being” about a change she wanted to make. I didn’t have standing to fight back on it, but my boss did (thanks to our mystifying org chart, my direct sup is a woman who probably should be several supervisory levels above me by all rights). I don’t bring her in on every little thing, nor do I want to, but she has made it clear that I am to come to her when this other department is attempting to steamroll everyone else (it’s a fairly common thing). I am sure that your supervisor would not want you to be steamrolled either, OP.

  4. Jane*

    It definitely sounds like your boss doesn’t know and should be brought into the loop, otherwise at the very least the person requesting the favor (which is essentially what this is – he’s asking you to help him out without going through the proper channels) would have mentioned discussing it with your boss. It puts you in an awkward position and the requester should know better, but now that its on the table, the only thing to be done is clear it with your boss. Be prepared that your boss would be totally fine with it and see nothing inappropriate with the request (or could lack the authority or could have reasons for wanting to help out the requester). I would be careful trying to out of it – it may reflect negatively you even though your reasons seem sound to me. People tend to throw around accusations like “you’re not a team player” when they don’t get their way, and who knows if the requester could be of help to you sometime down the line. I suppose it all depends on how good of a relationship you have with your boss. If you have the time and can take on the work, and your boss happens to react poorly to trying to get out of it anyway, that would suddenly be a problem for you (it really ought not to be, but I’ve seen this type of thing happen too many times). So, if you have time (if you truly don’t, then that is a legitimate way to escape this, especially since you are paid hourly and presumably there would be overtime pay required if you could not get it all done during your normal working hours) and your boss is OK with it, you will be stuck with helping out, unfortunately.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Good point — OP, this person having asked you is probably deliberately leaving your boss out of the loop to avoid managing the problem herself.

      I would respond to the request with a cheerful, “Let me check with my boss to make sure she’s okay with that.” That’s not “I don’t want to help,” it’s “let’s go through the proper channels.”

      If this person answers with, “Oh, no, no, no, Lucinda doesn’t need to be part of this,” you can say, “I wouldn’t be comfortable making commitments without her knowing about it.” And if this person knows she’s out of line at that point, she may back off.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        Yeah, I’d write back and tell the other manager that I would talk to my manager about how to fit this in with my current duties and then get back to him. I think that’ll be the most defensible course of action if this situation devolves. (It’s also the most sensible one in the meantime of course.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          Actually, I might write back and say, “YOU talk to my boss about it, please.” And then right away go to my boss and say, “Fergus is going to ask you if I can help him with some of Jane’s work–he brought it up, and I told him to take the request to you. Just between us–I’d really rather not. I’m not an admin anymore, and I really don’t want to be seen as going backward. Heck, I’d rather not GO backward. I want to be a team player, and pitch in, and everything–so if it’s really the only way, OK. But between us, I’d rather not.”

          1. Ultraviolet*

            Yeah, I think in some settings that would work and in some it would be weird for the person in OP’s position to deflect a quasi-reasonable request from a higher-up. Though it does seem like it’s got to end with OP’s boss and the other manager talking!

  5. Bend & Snap*

    If your boss isn’t aware/on board, I’d be pretty vocal about not wanting to do this role and why.

  6. Mike C.*

    Holy hell this is going to suck. Talk to your boss right now and emphasize how this is going to get in the way of the stuff s/he actually cares about.

  7. Weasel007*

    I would think that any sanctioned assustance requests would come from your manager, not another manager you don’t report to. The request should have come from your manager. Makes me think this manager is bypassing your reporting structure. Just my 2 cents.

  8. Dr. Doll*

    A *faculty member* has an executive assistant to begin with?!!

    I have no substantial comments to add, just amazed that a faculty member in any university anywhere rates an EA! Maybe in some high-powered medical school?

    1. Bend & Snap*

      My very first professional job was as an assistant to non-tenured faculty at Harvard. Most faculty members had admins.

      It was also one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had because all three of my faculty members were arrogant, condescending assholes, and I am no longer in that line of work as a result, but that’s beside the point.

    2. AcidMeFlux*

      A full-time tenured faculty member might have a large number of students in lecture classes plus TAs responsible for smaller seminars; might have administrative/committee responsibilities in the university, and memberships or consultancy with committess/projects in other U’s; and lots of other responsibilities. All of which would need EA support (paperwork in universities rivals that of government.) Even in smaller non-world-class universities. Whether you’re full-time tenured or an adjucnt working in 3 different places, teaching isn’t just teaching.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        Almost any faculty member would benefit from EA support, but I don’t think it’s all that common to have it! Most faculty rely on the administrative staff that serves their whole department or research center.

        1. Artemesia*

          I worked once in a department where a very visible and productive full professor who did not type or use a computer was assigned a full time EA to transcribe his dictation and get his publications ready to go out. It was rare but worth it to the University as this guy was important and visible enough as a scholar for them to cater to this. He wasn’t all that old either i.e. in his 50s when I knew him, not 75 or something from an era where people had secretaries.

      2. fposte*

        Right, but I’m at an R1 university and not only don’t we have that, we’ve been told we *already* have too many staff employees. So it’s not an automatic thing at the university level; using student research assistants and unit admin staff to fill the same purpose is pretty common.

        1. Callie*

          Yeah, at my R1 we’ve just been told that there will be a lot of consolidation of admin/staff types across the university. Right now a lot of schools/colleges within the university have their own marketing, purchasing/payroll, and IT staffs, and our department has dedicated graduate and undergraduate advisors just for our program. Word is that they want to consolidate advisors universitywide… but there is no way that centrally-located advisors are going to be able to keep up with every detail of every one of 300+ academic programs. mrrrrrrrr.

          1. Chalupa Batman*

            As an advisor who has worked in both centralized and departmental advising models, I’m going to say that unless you have an obscene number of advisors (or a very small student population), asking them to keep track of the requirements in 300+ programs will work about as well as you expect. And I consider myself a badass advisor.

            1. Callie*

              I did advising for a few years in our department. We have degrees like this:

              BA in teapot design (three options)
              BS in teapot design (three options)
              Bachelor of Teapot Design Education – four tracks with accompanying state licenses, and each track has from two to ten “teapot media” choices
              Bachelor of Teapot Design with about seventeen different “teapot media” choices
              Bachelor of Teapot Design in Construction
              Bachelor of Teapot Design Management
              Bachelor of Teapot Design in Alternative Designs

              There are different rules about general ed studies for the BA/BS and Bachelor of Teapot Designs, rules about how many teapot courses you can take, minimum grades, etc. and they vary between every degree.

              And that’s just the undergrad degrees… we also offer masters degrees in all of these areas, plus Doctor of Teapot Arts and PhD in Teapot Design Education, with a ton of associated options. Oh, and all the doctorate degrees have secondary areas, of which there are about twenty. Our IN HOUSE advisors have an enormous task, the faculty can’t keep up with the numerous requirements, and we often have cross campus advisors screwing things up by trying to “help” students who get accidentally assigned to them instead of routing them to us.

    3. Anon College AA*

      I could see it if the person faculty member has moved into a position that is mostly administrative (Dean’s office, etc) but still teaches an occasional class and is therefore still considered Faculty AND Administrative. At the school I worked at, faculty members that had worked their way from faculty into the Dean’s offices or Admissions, etc were often still referred to as faculty (even though they technically weren’t anymore) whereas people who were formerly faculty at another school (or were never faculty in the first place) and were hired into a Dean’s Office weren’t generally referred to as faculty. It’s basically just semantics.

      I also know of a few faculty members that were given positions that were “special assistant to the president for X” [often fundraising related], but again, still occasionally taught a class or two that were given EAs or a shared EA after the department AAs threw up their hands and said “I have enough on my plate dealing with the normal departmental stuff, just because one of my faculty got a promotion doesn’t mean I have to do all the administrative stuff that goes along with the new position!” – because often there was a lot more AA work like making travel arrangements, processing expense reports and doing special event planning to go along with the new “special assistant” position.

      I wonder if this isn’t really a demotion for OP as others have mentioned, but rather that they worked for this faculty member in the past (before the faculty member got promoted to a position with his/her own EA) and now both OP and the faculty member have since risen in the ranks.

      1. Izzy*

        I would not consider this an actual demotion. However, one needs to be careful that a de facto demotion doesn’t happen due to job creep.

    4. Calacademic*

      My faculty lead is currently looking into getting an EA (still figuring out the budget) because he’s setting up a new Center. The EA would be responsible for booking rooms/flights/dealing with visitors, setting up conferences, and would probably be asked to help deal with a lot of purchasing and travel requests from current students. Plus, almost all deans and department chairs have their own EAs. EAs tend to be shared in smaller departments/colleges, but the Important Professors do have them.

    5. Lia*

      I work at a university with a law school, and every one of our law faculty have either their own assistants (if they are tenured or on tenure track) or share an assistant with 2-3 other faculty (if they are adjuncts). It is definitely common in law schools, for sure, and to a lesser degree in other programs.

      1. Brisvegan*

        Elite US law school?

        I work at a high ranking Australian law school. We faculty definitely don’t have our own assistants! Even our Dean’s PA has substantial other, non-Dean support aspects to her job. Non of the rest of our high ranking people have their own support staff. We are pretty typical of Australian University arrangements.

        1. Lia*

          Actually, no. Solidly second tier. They did some research on law school staffing a while back because the CFO thought they were overstaffed and the results showed they had typical staffing compared to similar law schools.

    6. Koko*

      From my experience in academia it’s very common, although it’s more common for one EA to support 2 or 3 faculty members. A faculty with a dedicated EA might be a department chair or otherwise in a demanding additional role.

    7. get some perspective*

      “just amazed that a faculty member in any university anywhere rates an EA! ”

      Why is this amazing?

      1. fposte*

        Because those of us in academia making do with bad toilet paper and bringing our own pens are wide-eyed to hear that there are places with more support.

        1. get some perspective*

          I’d urge you not to assume things don’t exist based on your own experience — “a faculty member in any university anywhere” is a pretty wide net.

            1. get some perspective*

              Up to you.

              I try to avoid it by not overgeneralizing from my limited experiences. I don’t always succeed, but it seems to be a good approach.

              But it’s up to you.

        2. blackcat*


          A round of budget cuts has made my university’s toilet paper go from bad but usable to so, so awful. The students call it half-ply. I keep my own TP in my desk drawer and dread peeing in any building other than my own. Except the building with admissions. They have the good stuff.

    8. Ghost Town*

      At our state university, many (if not all) the Law/Business/other professional school professors have assistants. I’m not sure if several faculty share one assistant or not, but it is certainly a thing, especially in some disciplines (or if you get high enough in the structure).

  9. LBK*

    I would be particularly hesitant to go back to covering an EA role when you’ve moved on to something else because I think EAs have a tendency to get pigeonholed. It can be extremely hard to shake the image of being the assistant and getting admin tasks dumped on you as a result. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to do something like this that clearly reinforces that image, even if it were temporary.

    I don’t know if you can necessarily raise that point with your manager since I think it will be hard to convey without coming off a little selfish, but maybe you can see if there’s a more natural alternate backup, like an admin from another department or someone else who actually works there? If you point out that it’s really far removed from the work you’re doing now, they may realize it doesn’t make sense to have you be the backup even if it was your job years ago.

    Honestly, the more I reflect on this, the more bizarre it sounds. I can’t imagine my former manager asking me to come back and cover my old role and I’ve only been out of it for a year; the only way it might seem logical is if I were still doing similar work on a related team, but borrowing another manager’s employee to have them do a totally different job? Weird.

    1. Happy Lurker*

      I have had former bosses ask me to “take on” former responsibilities that I thought I left when I moved into another position. When I was asked if I would help out, my response was “I already work 60-70 hours per week in my new position. I really don’t see how I can help out”. Within 1 day those duties I denied were put back on my plate. I was promised that I would receive a co-admin to help. After 4 months I quit, with no job in place and no additional admin support.

    2. LQ*

      Yeah, I can’t fathom my old boss asking me to come back and do the other work I did before what I do now, even though I was awesome at it. But more than that I can’t imagine my boss’s boss and my old boss’s boss (a director) being ok with that. (Which kind of makes me happy about my job so yay for good realizations!)

    3. Shelby Drink the Juice*

      Admin pigeon holing is a big deal. I work for a Fortune 100 and used to be an admin. I was finishing up with my MBA, and I moved between divisions to insulate myself from being dragged back into an admin role. Sure, I’ve helped people with expense reports a few times and showed them some tips for finding conference rooms, but no one asks me to do other admin like things.

    4. TootsNYC*

      “Fergus, I’m not an EA anymore. I don’t think I can help you with this. And anyway, you’d need to speak to my manager.”

  10. Bibliovore*

    Yes. First of all your direct supervisor needs to be informed. Second, it is possible that having another EA complete tasks of the underperforming EA is a way to document that the tasks and deadlines were reasonable. These should be specific tasks, not the underperforming EA’s job. This should be a finite period of time. Six weeks or less. The underperforming EA should not be kept in the dark. The manager needs to say- if I observe that you are unable to complete these task of your job description in a timely and accurate manner they will be reassigned.

    1. Judy*

      But it’s not asking another EA to complete tasks. It’s asking someone who was an EA, but has moved on to another role in the department to complete tasks.

      1. Bibliovore*

        Yes. I am an academic department in a University setting. It is possible that the some of the tasks of the former job are essential to reputation and work of the assigning manager. It would not be unusual to as someone to “help out” for the short time during an evaluation period. Certainly with permission of supervisors. The odd thing about this situation is that it seems that OP’s direct supervisor has not been consulted. OP’s direct supervisor should have been apprised of the situation and been in on the meeting with OP. The vagueness and secrecy are troubling.

  11. Sascha*

    I was recently in a similar situation, also at a university. I was asked to basically do two full-time jobs – my current one, and my old one – by a different department who needed to fill the position. I told my manager I simply didn’t have the time to do both, and if the higher-ups wanted me to do both, neither would be done well. Also, I felt like saying yes to the other department would just be enabling them to keep stalling in filling their position.

  12. AndersonDarling*

    Ick. This isn’t something that should be asked in an email, this requires a face to face meeting. Does the under performing admin know the OP will be stalking her work? How will the OP know what tasks the other employee is working on? Will the OP be copied on all the emails? Is the OP supposed to re-train the employee, or just lurk in the shadows?
    It sounds like the manager did not think this through. An unofficial request for assistance is not going to work.

    1. snuck*

      Yeah. I’m scanning down comments to find something like this.

      This needs to be up front not just with all managers, but with the other staff member too – so you can communicate clearly. If you are scheduling in the diary and following up the emails then it’s going to be a fast fast ride to the top of issues land if they don’t know you are in the same mailbox!

      Another thought I’ve got is this might be a quick cover while they upskill or remove the underperforming EA, and a way around the gaps in calendar and so on as they change from one EA to another (and any recruitment time between which can be painfully slow in universities). In light of that I’d ask for an end date, an understanding of how long this is for and what the expectations are if the other EA leaves for any reason.

  13. neverjaunty*

    OP, keep in mind that you are NOT going to get any credit for being a “team player” for doing this. You are not an EA anymore, you don’t work for that boss or in that unit, and the other manager wants this to be “confidential”. This is not something that you are going to get credit for or that will be seen as a reason for you to move up.

    1. fposte*

      Actually, you would get credit for it in my department. You wouldn’t get a ton of credit, and doing it open-ended risks hurting you more than credit can compensate for. But there could definitely be political reasons to say yes if the situation were a little more clearly defined.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Sure, if it were an entirely different situation, pitching in can be a good thing. But being the ‘team player’ who picks up slack – and particularly in the undefined, not very above board, ‘hey you used to do this’ manner OP’s being asked to do? No.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not saying that it *should* get you credit, or what exactly that credit will get you, and I don’t know the specifics of the OP’s unit. But yes, you could definitely get credit to help out your old job that you used to do; more significantly, it could hurt you in some situations if you don’t. That’s a big reason of why you pull the manager in–to give it some shape and to get more information about the politics of the situation.

      2. Kelly O*

        I really do think this is one of those things that could work to the OP’s advantage, with the caveat that her manager be included in this, and that there is a defined period of time for the action.

        Although honestly I have rarely seen PIPs be effective. Generally by the time someone is on a PIP, the problem has become about more than just what the stated reason for the PIP is. At least from an administrative perspective, one or both parties knows it’s time to move on, and the PIP tends to be less about alleviating the real problem and more about ameliorating the damage (on either side.)

        In this case, if Sandy is filling in for Patty, then when Patty inevitably leaves or is let go, then Sandy is stuck with “helping” until they find a replacement for Patty, and then probably training that replacement as well. That’s just how it’s tended to go in my observation.

        So if Sandy and Rizzo decide up front that there is a limit to what they’ll do to help out, and are on the same page, then when Eugene asks if she can help “just a little longer/more” then it will be a lot easier to flip that back on them.

        I mean, it has the potential to completely backfire, and I don’t know that it would really be the best solution, but it could help relations in the short-term (depending on departments, that might be useful) but ONLY if everyone is on the same page and there are defined limits to what is being done. I’d also add I think Patty needs to be aware that someone is picking up her slack, and who exactly that someone is. Eugene needs to be in close communication with the WHOLE team throughout this, and make certain this is not done on the DL. Principal McGee needs to know the ramifications on the department as a whole, and have that information to use when making decisions about whether or not Patty stays on.

        (Tangent: As a matter of fact, I DID watch Grease Live last night. How did you know?)

        1. neverjaunty*

          That’s exactly the problem – and even if there is an agreed-upon end date, they’ve already talked the OP into ‘pitching in’ and ‘being a team player’ for this long, why not a little longer until the new hire comes in… until the new hire gets up to speed…. say, OP, how come you’re not getting your own work done in a timely fashion? And you’re so good at the EA stuff, didn’t you used to be an EA?

          Certainly, there are SOME circumstances where this might work out okay. What I meant was the phenomenon where people think being a ‘team player’ means never saying no, and that agreeing to help all the time will always be rewarded.

          1. Doriana Gray*

            Exactly. You need to be strategic about the things you say yes to. Preferably, these would be things that would benefit you in some way (e.g. networking opportunities so that the next time a position opens up, you’re the first person on everyone’s mind – something like that).

    2. Temperance*

      Why is my gut feeling that OP is female? I don’t think they would ask a man in a higher position to go back to doing admin work, for no actual credit.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I can think of two times I saw that happen to a man :)

        I don’t disagree that it seems to more common for it to happen to women, but I also think it’s important to be wary of sweeping statements like that.

        1. C*

          Agree with Amy. I work in a university setting (same as OP) and there are many males in admin or admin-level jobs. I don’t think this is a situation that is exclusive to females, and that assumption is a little gauche.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Nothing in the post says the LW has moved on to a higher position. Just a different one.

      3. Pwyll*

        I’m a man and this happened to me, with a pat on the back and a thank you. Took years to shed the admin part of the job. AND I was managing other people at the time. Strangeness.

        I do think a lot of bad workplaces seem to put the admin tasks on their female employees, though.

  14. OmniPeixe*

    OP here. Thank you so much, everyone, for your helpful comments and suggestions. It’s heartening to know that this situation isn’t as uncommon as I thought – and that my sense the other manager’s request was a bit “off,” as well. It sounds like keeping things (tactfully) above board for all will be key. First course of action, I’ll speak to my direct supervisor to let her know, and discussing 1) a finite time frame my help would be needed, 2) that the EA also be aware of the arrangement (the comment about not following elephants around with a broom without their knowledge was spot-on), and 3) that the other unit/manager will have an improvement plan in place for the EA.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      Careful with #3–it’s not really your business whether the other manager wants to set an improvement plan in place for that EA or just let her go or whatever. You have a legitimate interest in finding out how long you’re being asked to serve as back up, but asking whether there’s an improvement plan for the EA would be out of line.

      Do you think there’ll be a problem with you telling your manager about the confidential email without first letting the sender know you’re going to do it? Depending on what “confidential” specifically means in this context, that would worry me a little. I’d rather tell the other manager you’re going to discuss it with your boss before you do so. That doesn’t mean that if he asks you not to, you can’t.

      1. neverjaunty*

        “Don’t tell your boss I asked you to do this” is virtually never an appropriate request. Definitely OP should reply stating she’s going to check with her boss, but with the implication of ‘I’m just informing you and now I’m off to talk to Bossinda’, not ‘is this OK?’ or anything else that suggests the sender has a say in whether OP is doing so.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, managers are kind of like parents–nobody gets to assume that you will keep secrets from them, and it’s bad to ask. I’m with you that a straight out “Let me talk to Boss” is all the response that the request needs. And Boss would get talked to even if the requesting supervisor requests that that not happen.

        2. Mike C.*

          Yeah, that is so sketchy. Holy cow. The OP isn’t working as a spy or undercover regulatory group, there’s no need for secrets here.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Okay, but in fairness, nothing in the letter says that the other manager asked her not to tell her manager. It’s pretty normal to say “confidential” when talking about someone else’s performance problems (i.e., “don’t go talking about this all over the office”) without it meaning “you can’t share this work request with your manager.” I’d assume the other manager will be fine with the OP looping in her manager, because in the majority of cases like this, they would be.

            1. Mike C.*

              I missed that, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a similar situation.

              It starts with an adjacent manager trying to rope me into some crazy project while “accidentally neglecting” to speak with my manager as well. It’s never an accident and when I bring my manager in suddenly the project becomes a lot less smaller and has a much longer deadline.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Sure, I think the point if that if this is on the up and up – where “confidential” simply is a reminder that this is about Jane’s performance problems – then the sender won’t have any problem at all with OP talking to her own boss.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Sure. But I also think the OP can just assume that’s true and proceed with talking to her boss, and that we’re getting sidetracked by the idea that the other manager might intend for her not to.

                1. Observer*

                  That’s the point, it seems to me. Ultraviolet worried that the other manager (OM) would not want the OP to talk to her manager. But, it’s so normal to talk to her manager, that either the OM would be expecting it or there is a problem and the manager needs to be looped in. But, because it’s so normal, the OM can’t really expect the OP to not talk to her manager.

                  So, the most straightforward way to approach it is with the assumption that this is what anyone would expect.

                2. Ultraviolet*

                  @Observer — I definitely worded my post above poorly. I only meant to say, “If this email was labeled ‘confidential’ somewhere, maybe you should notify the sender that you’re going to discuss part of it with someone,” which is kind of a matter of principle to me. I didn’t manage to convey that though!

                  @Alison and all — sorry for accidentally kicking off a counterproductive line of discussion!

            3. Jane*

              I think there are two possible scenarios: (1) the requester is trying to go around the OP’s boss or (2) the requester never intended to exclude the boss from the discussion and just overlooked it completely and forgot to mention that he had already spoken to the boss or to note that it would of course be fine to run it by the OP’s boss first, so would be totally fine with it. My guess is that it’s (1) since most people would know better, but its entirely possible this particular requester just doesn’t know any better or intended to but simply forgot to loop in the person’s boss.

              1. Jane*

                Or forgot to mention that he’d already run it by the OP’s boss. Anything’s possible, but my gut based on what the person actually said in the message to the OP tells me it’s most likely that the requester is trying to avoid looping in OP’s boss.

        3. Shannon*

          “Don’t tell your boss I asked you to do this”

          I immediately went to visions of strangers with candy in vans. “Your mom sent me, but, don’t tell her I’m here.”

        4. Ultraviolet*

          Yeah, I’d be pretty surprised if the other manager actually explicitly said “Don’t tell your boss I asked you to do this.” I think it’s more likely that they just opened the email with, “This is all confidential” and either expected that OP would talk to her own boss as appropriate, or didn’t think it through one way or the other.

          I was asking OP about confidentiality because I take confidentiality and discretion pretty seriously, so if I’d gotten an email that said “this is confidential,” I would want to notify the sender that I was going to share some part of that email with another person. I’d just feel much more honest that way. I didn’t mean to imply that I thought it was very likely that the other manager intended OP not to tell her own manager.

          (I also have the impression there’s going to be a lot of miscommunication about this down the line and OP will benefit in the long run if she’s really explicit and forthright.)

    2. Hlyssande*

      You probably also want to know how many hours they expect this to take each week and how it will impact your current hours/workload. You’re hourly, after all. Adding new tasks will take more time.

      1. Hlyssande*

        Aaand that would bring up budgetary concerns. If you need to work more hours to be this ‘backstop’ for the other EA, whose budget does that come out of? That would be an issue for your boss and the other person to work out, but it could get super complicated very quickly.

        Basically, this seems really shady.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I had concerns about that. The supervisor may not even realize the OP is non-exempt and may assume that a few extra hours won’t make a difference pay and budget-wise. But she is and they do, and even a boss who would be okay with the OP doing the other unit’s work is likely to balk at paying for it out of this unit’s budget.

          1. Hlyssande*

            Can we say paperwork? And which budget would pay for OT if that many hours are required? Ick.

            Bottom line is that the OP has gotta run this by their boss either way. Let their boss and this other person hash it out from there.

    3. videogame Princess*

      Also, remember that since you are non-exempt and hourly, you have to be paid for all hours worked, and overtime, regardless of whether the EA position would have been exempt. Please do not work for additional unpaid hours.

    4. Anon College AA*

      You and your manager need to also be careful that this doesn’t turn into “the EA quits or goes out on medical or administrative leave and now OP is stuck doing 2 jobs because she’s the only one trained to do both”. I could absolutely see this situation turning into that, and/or you would be stuck training and/or supervising a temp trying to cover the EA’s work. Or worse, OP winds up doing all the EA work (which I’m assuming she doesn’t prefer) and has to give up or backburner her own position.

      At the very least, if OP and the EA aren’t in the same departmental budget line items, OP’s boss should get an account code to start charging OP’s hours if she winds up working overtime to the EA’s unit – there is no way OP’s groups’ budget should be impacted by this.

      1. Mike C.*

        This is a great point and something I’d be worried about as well. The whole situation sounds like a terrible idea to be involved with.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, I was pondering something similar when I was writing my comment above. Who covers for the admin now if she’s out sick or on vacation? Or if she were to quit today, who would be expected to pick up the slack? If their answer to that is really “someone who works in another department who used to be an admin years ago,” that’s a horrifyingly bad business plan.

    5. Jenny Next*

      OP, if you don’t actually want to do this work — and “backstopping” someone’s work usually means putting in all the effort needed to do it yourself plus the extra effort of figuring out what they did wrong — I’d start from there.

      If your supervisor wasn’t included in this decision, this person is basically trying to get you to work for free. Being a team player doesn’t mean that you do everything that you’re asked to do. It means that you know what your own role is, do it competently, and be aware of the big picture. But sometimes other people need to fail.

      So instead of saying that you’ll talk to your own boss — which means that you’re considering responding in the affirmative, consider saying something like, “Oh, I’m sorry Clunkella is having such a hard time! But unfortunately, I have way too much on my plate and can’t take on extra duties.”

      This puts the ball back into Sneaky Manager’s court. Now, if that person wants to go to your boss, they can, and you’ll have to deal with it. But you’ve let them know that you’re on to the game.

  15. Jwal*

    I used to work in a call centre before my current role (same organisation but higher position and very different). For the past two years I’ve been volun-told to help that department during their busy period, which essentially means 1 week + of answering phones non-stop and not doing my own work. I hated it and was seriously considering leaving the organisation.

    I chatted to my manager about it and it turned out that what she thought I’d be doing (actually being a massive help to that department half the time and doing my own work for the other half) was completely the opposite from what I was actually doing. She promised to have my back if I get ‘requested’ to help next year.

    If I were the OP I’d want to be clear on what my boss’ understanding of the situation was from the get-go, so that if it does evolve into something else further down the line that I didn’t want to be doing (so, essentially doing the EA’s role for her, for instance) that she has my back when I put my foot down.

  16. Temperance*

    Call your boss and see if she knows about this request. If she doesn’t, I would get her support in saying no due to your own workload.

    If you no longer work in an administrative capacity, I would be especially salty about this request. You’re basically getting asked to serve as the EA’s assistant when that’s presumably not your job. If you are a woman and getting asked to take on secretarial duties, I would be even more salty (assuming that it’s Not Your Job).

  17. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m seeing a lot of people saying “Tell your boss.” I usually go the other way—if someone outside my department asks me for a significant commitment to something that might have a noticeable impact on my workload or hours, instead of telling my boss “So-and-so asked me to do blah,” I usually put the onus on the person asking: “It’s probably best if you talk to my boss and clear it with her. It’s not my call.”

    If the person then talks to my boss and my boss is cool with it, my boss can let me know “So-and-so talked with me and asked if you could do blah, and I said it’s cool for you to do blah” or if she’s not cool with it, then, “So-and-so talked with me and ask if you could do blah, and I said I can’t spare you for that.”

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s better for the OP to get to her boss first, because that gives her the chance to say she’s rather not do this before the boss unknowingly assures the other unit that this is fine.

      1. Dasha*

        Yeah, I agree with fposte.

        “It’s probably best if you talk to my boss and clear it with her. It’s not my call” – is a really good line but I’m not sure if that would work best in this specific situation.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        To each her own.

        If I’m in the sort of situation in which I can’t trust my boss to properly manage my workload, I’m probably going to be looking for another job anyway. In my experience, my managers have tended to be fairly territorial about my work (i.e., they’d rather I do more work for them and less work for other departments), so there isn’t a ton of incentive to throw me under the bus.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It’s not about distrust of your boss – it’s about avoiding a mess. If you tell them ‘ask my boss’ but don’t give your boss the heads up, who knows what they’ll claim about the job or your willingness and ability to do it, and then you’re put into the position of being the Debbie Downer. Especially if your boss assumes, or is falsely told, that your message to Sneaky Manager was ‘it’s OK with me if it’s OK with my boss’.”

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Again, hasn’t been my experience. Even when I have been willing to help out other departments, my managers have tended to be reluctant to have me do too much work for them, because she/he wants me spending as much time/energy as possible doing work for our department.

    2. Shannon*

      No way. I’d want to hit the boss first. God only knows what the other manager will tell the OP’s boss.

    3. LQ*

      This is something where I think you can make a judgement call. I’ve told people they’ll have to talk to my director knowing that they won’t bother to do that and I’ve just stopped the conversation there. But for the most part I would rather talk to my boss so I can give him a good idea of what will be needed, if I want to do it or not, and any other reasons for doing it or not (I want to generate good will with this department because we are going to be doing a big ask for help from them later in the year, or they’ve finally opened up to asking us for stuff so even though this might be small, it could be a foot in the door and here’s a way to do it that won’t take much time). You have so much more control if you have that conversation first I think.

      1. Beezus*

        Yup, I agree it’s a judgement call. I have a lot of autonomy with regards to what I do/don’t do with my time, and I’m pretty closely linked with my boss on priorities and workload, so I am comfortable saying yes or no to a lot of requests without clearing them with my boss individually, I just catch up with him later. I usually only send people to him if I’m trying to discourage them from asking, or if he’s asked me to send them his way. I talk to him if I want to do it, but need help arranging priorities or figuring out what degree of support I can offer, or if I want to say no, but there are politics around it that I need help navigating.

        I had a former manager who graduated from “please clear this with my boss first” to “you need to get your director to call my boss” when she was still making unreasonable demands on my time more than six months after I transferred out of her department. She had a weird perspective on rank and authority, and I found that it helped to make her go to someone above her on the chain of command, rather than someone she saw as lateral (my boss), or below (me).

    4. TootsNYC*

      yeah, the request for approval should come from them, not you.

      But, I’d also be glad of the heads-up, bcs I’d get in first and say, “this request is coming, and between us, I don’t really want to do it. I don’t want to get pigeon-holed as an admin, and it’s going to be a royal pain in the neck, to do her work for her without hurting her feelings, or it looking weird, etc. And it’s so open-ended. Maybe Fergus will have more complete info, but I wanted you to know that I’ll do it if it’s truly necessary, but honestly I’d rather not.”

      So often I’ve seen that the first person to frame the situation is the one who gets people to see it their way.

  18. SusanIvanova*

    I would be suspicious that this is going to be used to disguise the fact that the EA is having problems. If there’s no task tracking, the EA or the manager could claim there’s no problem because everything got done.

    On a software team there will be times when you’re not busy and your coworkers are, just because some tasks have to finish before you can do your part. So sometimes we’d pick up a co-worker’s bug/minor feature; maybe it would take longer than the original assignee, but we had the time right then and they didn’t. But after Mr Coffeecup had got on the bad side of the entire team by slacking off, and everything assigned to him was so trivial we could live without it (but still nice to have) – I didn’t touch it. I didn’t want to risk him saying “but things assigned to me got done” – even though the bug tracking software would have shown who actually did it, someone would have had to look, and that’s the sort of bluff he was best at.

    (And then, just to prove the point, when he finally did get fired I finished half his assigned tasks in one day.)

  19. Dasha*

    Hmm.. this just sounds weird. The only reason I can think that they went to you first and not your boss is that they wanted to see how you felt about it first? (and that’s reaching) Any way, OP I hope you will update us on everything.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      The LW is no longer an EA, and there’s no reason to assume she’s actually covering a desk.

  20. M from NY*

    Are you sure she was trained properly? If you’re open to it are you willing to write (or update) a manual for the position? This way there is documentation regarding common tasks with expected completion time and in worse case scenario if they let go of EA it will be easier to train the new hire (& make it clear that you cannot take on those duties in addition to your current position).

    Unless there is an urgent time sensitive project that must be completed (like registration) I’d push back from actually agreeing to doing her tasks and place focus on how you can assist in a supervisory manner. Your old boss may know that he/she needs things done but is unable to identify the things you did to make it happen. Play up your expertise to be a teacher towards for a long term solution and not the fill in which is not a desirable position for you.

    I had an old employer call me every time he lost an EA. For 10 years. Even after I moved on to supervisor positions. In his mind I was the best he ever had but it long stopped being a compliment as there was no room for growth (or salary) & his desire to keep me in place ruined our professional relationship. (I couldn’t use him as reference because he’d deliberately say things hoping with no other option I’d come back. Yes, he admitted he did that).

    1. fposte*

      Writing a manual for a job you left a few years ago is pretty out there, though. I wouldn’t let another supervisor use my staffer’s hours for that.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah this seems way out of bounds to me. Not saying that that new staff person is definitely properly trained, that could be the issue. But expecting someone a couple years out from the job to do it is super strange. (Unless the OP has gone into writing training manuals, in which case, super on target!) I think push back, but I don’t think offering to do this is needed, or a good idea.

        1. M from NY*

          It’s all about how one pitches it. I think it can shows OP is a team player willing to help them find a solution to problem just not the way they asked. Show them how to fish vs. giving them the fish and being stuck indefinitely.

          OP current manager also gets to be team player allowing OP to be borrowed for this specific task (& can be the heavy insisting on time limit so it won’t affect overtime etc). Operate from a position of strength as an expert with an offer they can’t refuse vs feeling like you are being punished or demoted.

      2. M from NY*

        If they’ve asked her to perform the duties two years later then she has the institutional knowledge to at least write out the steps for important tasks they expect her to fill in on. Writing it out for current or future employee is better than “borrowing” staffer indefinitely to perform the job duties.

    2. Temperance*

      I left my first “real job” because they liked me in my admin capacity and actively kept me from better opportunities.

    3. OmniPeixe*

      Actually, I don’t think the issue was EA’s training; she had been (as far as I know) doing her job satisfactorily for the past two years. The performance problems were recent. An update: I learned today (back-channel) that the EA Who Is Letting Things Slip gave her notice and will be leaving the organization, so it appears there will be a search for a permanent replacement.

  21. A.D. Kay*

    Doesn’t anyone else think it’s hinky and unprofessional that a manager told one employee about another employee’s performance issues? The other manager could have asked the OP for help without going into detail about the EA’s problems. And that’s on top of the manager coming to the OP directly, apparently not running it through the OP’s manager first.

  22. New Commenter*

    We have a Manager in our area who likes to borrow other people’s subordinates without permission. I think we have all been borrowed at one time or another. Sunlight is the only thing that works to discourage this behavior. “Boss, I’ve been asked to catalog the teapot molds for Mgr. Sneaky Slacker this afternoon, but I haven’t finished the TPS reports. How shall I prioritize these tasks?”

  23. EB*

    One thing to consider is that departments have different budget lines that are kept very separate. I know that my department would not want to pay our administrative assistant to do work for another department. It becomes even more complicated if OP is being paid through a grant because the grant definitely can’t be used to pay for the other departmets staffing.

  24. OmniPeixe*

    OP here with an update (re: my current job description; it’s actually an odd hybrid of IT and administrative components in an academic setting, so my being asked to perform admin tasks wouldn’t be completely off-base, but yes, any work hours for the other unit would need to be tracked and charged to different internal accounts):

    I spoke with my own supervisor (with whom I have a good relationship), explaining that Other Supervisor approached me about helping make sure tasks for Faculty Member in Other Unit are completed, etc. She did not seem surprised, but did tell me that she didn’t feel those functions would be an efficient use of my time, and that she would discuss with Other Supervisor.

    I learned today (back-channel) that the EA Who Is Letting Things Slip gave her notice and will be leaving the organization, so it appears there will be a search for a permanent replacement rather than “patching” the leaks, so to speak. Thank you again, everyone on AAM!

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