our boss constantly asks us to do personal favors for her

A reader writes:

I work in a small group of five professionals with a director. The five professionals all do medium-level financial/data work; the director also does similar work and is our project and personnel manager. She often asks us (and me in particular) to do personal favors during work time. Examples include taking her to the dentist, driving her to a different building when it is raining, bringing in a belt when she forgot hers, picking up books for her at the library, borrowing our coats/shoes, getting her mail at a previous apartment building, etc. They’re generally things a friend might ask of you, but I feel like she uses the fact that she’s our boss to get us to say yes.

Would you have any suggestions for saying no to at least some of these requests? I feel like I always have to say yes because she’s the boss, but sometimes I would prefer to focus on my actual work, or don’t want to loan her my things.

Borrowing your shoes!? I’m dying to know that context for that one.

In any case, all of this is inappropriate and obnoxious. She either realizes that there’s a power dynamic and is taking advantage of it, or she’s so clueless about managing that she doesn’t realize that the power dynamic makes this kind of thing problematic and wrong. Either way, it’s a problem.

As for what to do, I’d lean as much as you can on giving reasons why you can’t say yes when she asks for personal favors:

* “Sorry, I’m about to get on a conference call.”
* “I only have one belt and I’m wearing it.”
* “I have plans after work tonight so can’t pick anything up for you.”
* “I’m really busy this month so can’t commit to getting your mail.”
* Etc. etc. etc.

However, if you have decent rapport with her and she’s a generally reasonable person — two big if’s — you could address it directly with her as well. For example: “I don’t know if you realize that you often ask us for personal favors, like picking up your mail or driving you places. Because you’re the boss, there’s pressure to say yes that wouldn’t be there if you were just a peer. And that’s a tough situation to be in, especially when it would conflict with something work-related or things outside of work. I figure you didn’t realize how often it was happening or how it can come across, so I wanted to mention it to you.”

Of course, if she’s terrible at hearing dissent or she’s into lording her power over others or she’s generally an unreasonable person, that route may not lead anywhere good. If that’s your sense of the situation, then just stick with having reasons to say no each time.

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. jamlady*

    Good. Grief.

    It’s amazing how many people don’t understand basic professional boundaries, or worse, understand them and purposely choose to charge through them.

    1. Zombii*

      Agreed. There is a lot of context missing in this letter though. How old is the company? How long have all the coworkers been there? What’s the culture like?

      It’s entirely possible, especially with such a small company, that this is one of those “we’re like a family!” workplaces (personal opinion: yuck) and maybe they’ve all been doing this forever and then the LW stumbles in expecting to work in a company that has professional norms. Or the LW has been there the whole time and the overstepping manager is new and from a company where these things were normal. Or they’ve both been there the same amount of time and it’s always been like this but now the LW is sick of it.

      Tl;dr: Needs more context.

        1. Zombii*

          I completely agree it’s inappropriate but context would be useful in deciding how to shut it down and what the impact might be.

          I worked at a place where my boss borrowed a lot of things from subordinates, like lip balm (ew ew ew), and no one understood what my issue was for not wanting in on that action. I left eventually for other reasons but I could be projecting here thinking there’s a way I could have gotten around this huge cultural mismatch and hoping the LW can navigate it better than I did.

          1. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

            There’s an old SNL skit where someone with lip balm keeps getting asked if others can use it. I think it was Jon Lovitz who played the poor guy who didn’t want to share it. I was in high school when I saw it and it’s always stuck with me, especially when people ask to borrow some lip balm. Of all the things to ask to borrow that is probably one of the grossest.

            1. Arbynka*

              I was once about to apply my lip balm when a coworker just took it out of my hand and started to apply it herself while saying :” Oh, I really need this, I feel cold sore coming up” . Then she said “thanks” and put the balm back in my hand. I just handed it right back over to her “please keep it, I insist”.

              1. Allison*

                Oh jesus, nope! In what universe is that okay? If you feel a cold sore coming on, buy yourself some cold sore stuff, and Blistex medicated balm, swiping random people’s balm isn’t gonna save you.

              2. Sabine the Very Mean*

                I have a friend who would ask to use my mascara, eyeliner and eyelash curler (?!) I have a hard time hiding my emotions. My look of pure horror really offended her. I told her even the cleanest person’s eye bacteria would infect my eyes–that’s just kinda how eyes work. I won’t even use a pair of safety goggles in the lab unless I know they’re clean. People. Are. Weird.

                1. Artemesia*

                  My daughter’s SIL had to drag her 9 year old to the pharmacy when she went to pick up the meds for his pink eye as of course he was home from school that day and she couldn’t leave him alone. How did she find him amusing himself when she was buying the meds? Why trying on every pair of dark glasses on the rack of course.

                2. NoMoreMrFixit*

                  When I got my first hearing aid one coworker asked to try wearing it. And was somewhat offended when I said h*ll no.

                  Some people really don’t have a clue. Unfortunately with people like the poster is referring to I have found they keep pushing because they don’t know anything else but. Even after pushing back they keep at it because it works so often for them and they genuinely can’t understand why it’s wrong. Yeah I’ve worked with some real gems over the years.

                3. Triangle Pose*

                  @ Karanda I will ask close friends to try on their sunglasses to see if I like the shape. I knew about not sharing mascara, eyeliner and eyelash curlers for prevent eye infections but is is unsafe to try on sunglasses? Am I being rude by asking friends to try on sunglasses? Oof.

                4. Mephyle*

                  @Triangle Pose, maybe it’s different with non-prescription sunglasses, because that’s more like a fashion accessory. If someone’s ok with you trying on their scarf or their necklace, probably sunglasses fall into that category.
                  Prescription glasses are different because (for me) I can’t function without them, and they are like a prosthetic for my eyes. It would be rather like grabbing the crutches from your amputee friend and leaving them unable to walk until you return them.

              3. Jadelyn*

                Ew ew ew ew…yes, please yoink a personal care item that is designed for use on a mucus membrane out of my hand, tell me how you’re infected with a virus while you use said personal care item, and then hand back the personal care item thoughtfully smeared with your viral infection. That’s a perfectly normal and polite thing to do.

                What PLANET are some of these people from???

              4. Frozen up North*

                I would have immediately thrown it in the garbage right in front of her. Not saying a word, but maintaining a healthy level of disgust on my face. But I have personal boundary issues which extend to my items.

          2. Allison*

            Lip balm? Ew! I mean, I know some people feel it’s totes okay as long as you just rub your finger on the top and wipe it on your lips (no double dipping, I hope) but even that’s kinda icky, I rub that directly on my lips!

            In 5th grade when my friends and I were all getting into makeup, my friends would give me a hard time for not sharing mine. I’d read somewhere that it’s unhygienic to share cosmetics, even stuff like blush and eyeshadow – it made sense, any time that brush went from one’s face back to the cake of powder it deposits some oil and bacteria from that face – so I didn’t want people using mine, but to them that made me selfish and rude.

            1. Arbynka*

              Oh, we shared make up in middle school. It was all great, bonding and giggling and stuff – until the “seventh grade pink eye incident” showed us, in not very fun way, what a bad idea sharing make up is.

              1. Allison*

                Oh I know sharing makeup is a great bonding experience, which is probably part of why my friends wanted me to participate. But yeah, your pinkeye story illustrates exactly why you don’t do it.

            2. Thumper*

              I’m the same way. My senior year of high school I was reapplying my makeup in art class after gym, and I left to go apply my powder in the bathroom so I wouldn’t make a mess. When I came back, this girl I was only somewhat acquainted with was using my MASCARA without even asking first (though either way I wouldn’t have let her). She didn’t understand why I got mad and threw it away immediately.

            3. Simonthegreywarden*

              I share makeup with my best friend, but it’s costume makeup for conventions. However, I would never loan it to anyone else. Also, I use my own brush/disposable wipes to apply and don’t share those. However, we do NOT share lipstick. Some things are too much even for us!

              1. Alienor*

                I share with my daughter, but since we live together our germs are already all over everything in the house (plus I’d be the first to know if she had pink eye and vice versa), so that doesn’t bother me. I wouldn’t share with anyone but her, though, and I used to hate it when friends would ask.

          3. AMT*

            Haha, lip balm! Actual conversation between my wife and her former (insane) boss:

            BOSS: Do you have any chapstick?

            WIFE: No.

            BOSS: What did you just put on your lips?

            WIFE: Vaseline.

            BOSS: Can I have some?

            WIFE: Uh…sure.

            (Boss proceeds to stick his gross finger into her vaseline jar.)

      1. OP*

        OP here! Thanks to everyone for your comments. It’s a small group in a very large company so not family-owned. We’re off to ourselves which is partly how she gets away with it.

        1. Observer*

          There must be an HR department, then. Could you ask them for advice?

          Also, does she do it only or primarily to women vs men (or the reverse)? That would be something that any halfway competent HR department would definitely want to know about.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        It’s not a small company. It’s a small GROUP. It’s a company large enough to have multiple buildings. So I am betting the OP and her coworkers have someone they could complain to about this.

  2. Less anonymous than before*

    I’m imagining this and I am mortified.

    I picture boss casually complimenting a new pair of shoes I just wore for the first time, and then casually asking what size I wear. Picture boss making mental note that we are the same size. Picturing boss being fake-friendly and chatty for the remainder of the week. Picturing boss asking if I could bring in “those fabulous heels you had on last week monday and thursday” and let her “borrow them just for the weekend!” because she has this amazing outfit and has a dinner party and just couldn’t find the right shoes and my shoes “go perfectly!”

    I picture me uncomfortable and cornered and not knowing how to say no. I picture me panicking because these shoes were not cheap, they are mine and I don’t like sharing my frigging shoes!!! I picture me uncomfortable and trying to laugh it off, because surely she is just kidding right? We aren’t really friendly like that!! She’s my boss!!! I picture me wanting to say no but afraid to because SHE’S MY BOSS. Arghh the agony.

    Then on Friday I conveniently “forget” to bring them to work and hope she forgets, but she’s clearly miffed and aggravated with me.

    Then I realize, I can never wear these fabulous new shoes to the office ever again.

    WTTTTTFFFFFFF lol. Good luck LW!!

    1. Artemesia*

      Vivid. And probably how it goes with the OP. This is one where early push back is critical as in Alison’s suggestions of the conference call, the too busy etc. Once you do this a few times, setting the appropriate boundary is more difficult. There is probably a reason why the boss chooses the OP to abuse — those early ‘yeses’ really set the frame for future abuse. Clothing? Shoes? It has got to be from the first request ‘Oh I NEVER lend my clothing’. And errands from the first request “I am covered up tonight and can’t get to that.’

      Hard to imagine a boss who doesn’t know they are being abusive with this sort of thing unless they are the owner and thus make no distinction between their personal and professional power with employees. Still obnoxious, but a different sort of thing than a boss in a larger organization which this appears to be.

      The OP will have to move this boundary back an inch at a time.

      1. Less anonymous than before*

        Yes indeed, and I do not envy their predicament at all. It probably started off fairly innocuously but this boss was testing an inch and now is taking miles and miles. (shes on mile 5 for sure, if she’s comfortable asking to borrow your SHOES!!) so this can’t be an easy one to work on, but OP definitely needs to start on drawing those boundaries and being firm. I always love seeing updates to most letters, but this is one I am going to be VERY curious to see if it turns out for the best down the line.

        1. Artemesia*

          Yeah I am afraid the OP is going to learn the meaning of things like ‘extinction bursts’ when she tries to assert herself, but the more matter of fact and consistent she can be, the likelier she is to extricate herself from this quicksand.

      2. NicoleK*

        I feel for the OP and her coworkers. I had a coworker like OP’s boss. She’d ask for favors from everyone. Thankfully the majority of her asks were work related but still, it became annoying quickly. For this coworker, it was a combination of cluelessness, disorganization, and self centeredness. I helped her out several times but began noticing that it was a pattern with her and nipped it in the bud. It’s bad enough when it’s a coworker, I can’t imagine when it’s your boss.

      3. Zombii*

        What abuse? A manager asking a subordinate (or subordinates—not just the LW—as stated in this letter) for way too many personal favors is unprofessional and/or clueless but that kind of hyperbole trivializes a lot of real examples of abuse we’ve seen in other letters.

        Disagree that LW should try to ease boundaries back into place. Seems like it would be better to cut things off now and firmly establish the new, more standard boundaries. Moving boundaries back a little at a time is just confusing for the person who’s been overstepping and now has to learn the new social rules.

        1. Edith*

          What do you mean what abuse? The boss is asking personal favors of subordinates who are in a position that makes turning down said favors problematic, which of course means they’re not favors at all, no matter how the boss is couching it. This is an abuse of the boss’s power. Words can have multiple meanings or indicate a sliding scale of meaning based on context, and I don’t think policing which LWs’ situations meet one commenter’s personal threshold of being abusive enough to qualify as abuse is a great use of our time.

          1. Zombii*

            Abuse of power is an entirely valid interpretation of this situation. My intent was not to police the LW, I thought it was the commenter I was responding to who had characterized it as “abuse” (full stop) and said the boss was “being abusive.”

            My mistake if I that was in the letter and I missed it.

      4. Z*

        I’d never let any random person borrow my shoes–what if we’re not wearing socks???? NONONO
        I’d put the stop on all sharing, and just say, “Sorry I’m not swapping shoes/belts/whatever”

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Wait, why couldn’t OP reinforce the boundary? I’ve found it’s easier to put in a firm boundary than to try to inch it back, but I feel like I may not be understanding your advice, Artemesia.

      1. Artemesia*

        I would say ‘Oh I never share intimate things like shoes’ period. full stop. The only way to deal with people who do this sort of thing is firmly and with a personal rule. e.g. if someone wants you to come to a sales party, it is easier to say ‘oh I never do sales parties.’ then to have to come up with countless thin excuses each time she asks. So for shoes ‘you never’. for running errands, you either do it on company time (if your productivity hit won’t hurt you) or you are unable to do it on your own time. ‘That won’t work for me.’ “I am covered up the next few days.’ etc.

        I am assuming if the OP felt they could report it to the grandboss they would have done so, but they should be thinking about how to go about that if it doesn’t stop.

        And if the company is small and unprofessional enough they need to not be the go to person for this boss’s personal needs or they may find ‘personal assistant’ being assigned to them as a duty. so first back away before taking it further.

    2. MillersSpring*

      I think I’d be repeating back each request in a confused tone: “Wha..? You want to borrow my what??” “Huh, you want me to what?”

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is seriously one of my favorite strategies when someone is being insane. I think we’re often so caught off guard that it’s hard to remember that it’s ok to telegraph that this is an insane request. Only the most flagrant/non-self-aware folks miss the hint. But for the ones who try to bulldoze past your confused questions, I find a steely but polite “no” works well.

    3. snuck*

      I had a colleague ask to borrow my shoes one day. She knew I had a couple of pairs tucked under my desk (used to walk to work in sports shoes)….

      She’d been so intent on getting her kids to school she hadn’t noticed until she had driven to work, parked, and walked to the office that she had two different shoes on. Of two different HEIGHTS.

      Ahahahahah. Needless to say I lent her some. (She was half a size bigger than me, not my problem that her shoes were a bit tight all day)

      1. Orca*

        Ahh! Not only did I have a dream last night I went to work in my slippers, earlier this year I went to work with two different shoes on. They were flats and felt EXACTLY the same on, and each kind of independently went with my outfit (I had grabbed them in the dark), but I didn’t realize until I was walking to my building from my car and looked down.

        1. Allison*

          I’ve done this! I was getting ready, put on two black Oxford shoes, and it wasn’t until I was waiting in the front vestibule of my date’s building that I looked down and realized only one shoe was of the pair I’d intended to put on, the other was a similar shape and color but different design. I’d barely even noticed as I was walking to the subway!

        2. Cassandra*

          Been there, done this… on the day I was being introduced to the rest of staff as a new staff member. AAAAAAUGH.

          I don’t think anyone noticed, thank goodness. (It was one black and one navy-blue shoe in the same style.)

      2. Jenbug*

        I was thinking something like that was totally reasonable. I mean, with all the OTHER stuff going on here, I have a feeling that wasn’t the case though. At OldJob, I kept several pairs of shoes under my desk for various reasons and lent them out on occasion when something weird happened.

      3. anonderella*

        Haven’t worn two different shoes to work (that I’m aware of), but I HAVE gotten to work, been unable to determine a certain horrid smell under my desk, and then later realized my wonderful, loving cat had *pissed in my shoes* sometime the night before.
        I’m actually not close enough to ask anyone if they had extra shoes – though it sounds like that’s a good perspective to have at work from this thread! -, so I ran out at lunch and got new shoes (they were just oxford-style Safe-t Steps, so Piss Cat was not punished too badly : ) )

        1. Jadelyn*

          Ugh, I had that happen with a pair of suede boots once. I got to work, and was freaking out because why the hell was I smelling cat pee??? Until I bent down to get something out of my desk’s bottom drawer, and inhaled as I did so, and realized it was *my boots* I was smelling. Thankfully they were fairly cheap – I just threw the damn things away and bought a new pair, but that was awkward as hell.

          1. anonderella*

            Re: awkward, yes. and gross. as if I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t *me* who’d peed in my shoes, so I shouldn’t feel *that* bad.
            Smelling cat pee for an extended amount of time is the woooorst – like, it makes you angry if not just distressed. Picture me fairly angrily standing over a copier going “yes, I AM in socks. Problem?” (was wearing long pants, so not too obnoxious… need to get emergency CatPee/ColdWeather work slippers.)

            1. Jadelyn*

              Sadly my whole outfit was built around those boots – tunic and leggings kind of thing – so I couldn’t just ditch them. I just hid in my office and stayed away from people as much as possible that day.

      4. Sparrow*

        Ha, I did that once. I had two pairs of black pumps with different heel heights. I was going out with friends and didn’t notice I’d grabbed one of each until it was too late to do anything about it! I have no excuse or explanation (and I was completely sober at the time, too!)

      5. Lisa*

        Wow, you’re nice. No one’s borrowing my shoes unless it’s a blood relative and they’d otherwise be standing on broken clam shells. I guess you’re going to be giving that client presentation barefoot or in two unmatched shoes, homes, because you’re not putting those crusty toes in these puppies, no matter how many spare pairs I might have under my desk. :D And it’s not like you’d want to be borrowing mine anyway, as I’m someone with feet that sweat constantly! I just find foot related issues gross. You might as well be asking to borrow a pair of underwear or my toothbrush.

    4. Sled dog mama*

      The shoe thing makes me so happy I work in a male dominated profession. They don’t comment on my shoes and would not ask to borrow them.

    5. OP*

      OP here – thanks for the commiserating! The shoes in question were athletic shoes I kept under my desk for lunch-time walks.

        1. Triangle Pose*

          I like this better than saying you have a fungus or athlete’s foot, which could be a temporary fix because boss would expect you to have that cleared up by the next time she asks. If you say it’s a rule, it’s forever and if she pushes back you just say “I’ve had bad experiences in the past lending shoes (umbrellas, coats, belts(?!)) so now I have a personal rule and never lend them.”

        2. Simonthegreywarden*

          For me, because I have back problems and therefore custom orthotics in my shoes, I would just stick stubbornly to the “I never lend them out” rule. My sister and I used to swap around ballet flats and such, but we don’t even do that any more.

    6. Former Retail Manager*

      As an avid heel wearer and owner of many fabulous heels, this would be my worst nightmare! I can totally see the scenario you outlined playing out. In high school, I loaned my best friend a pair of my Airwalks (back before Payless sold them) and she put them through the ringer and stretched them out terribly. From that point on, I refused to loan shoes to anyone. To some degree, I see teenagers doing this sort of thing with shoes, clothes, etc, but grown women??? Utterly bizarre under any except the most extreme of circumstances. Good luck to the letter writer indeed!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I loaned a coworker a DVD once and never got it back. I don’t lend books anymore or DVDs or anything, really. Call me selfish, but I’ve been burned too many times. If you’re my SO, maybe, but by then I will have seen how you handle that sort of thing.

        1. Lisa*

          Totally agree. I don’t even lend things to my sister anymore, because I’d like them back, thank you very much! And shoes?! My God, you’d better be standing on broken glass and desperately need them, because otherwise, have fun going barefoot.

  3. Overbooked*

    I would have a terrible time in this situation. I’m sorry, LW. One thing that occurs to me – do you have to drive to work? Several of the favors/errands you mention seem car-dependent. Could your car manage to be in for repairs for a month or two?

  4. MC from NJ*

    ” Gee, I’ve picked up a pretty nasty case of athletes foot. You really don’t want to wear my shoes.”

    1. Elder Dog*

      Also if you have to drive her around, mention you’re almost out of gas and ask for gas money every other time you take her anywhere, and ask after she’s in the car and you’re almost there, so you can get gas on the way back after dropping her off.

      1. Joseph*

        Good idea, except that I’d get the gas while she’s still in the car, not after dropping her off. “Ooh, yeah, I forgot I’m low on gas. No worries, we’ll swing by a station.” Nothing teaches people “don’t ask him to drive” faster than you turning a 10-minute quick trip into a 20-minute one by stopping for gas.

    2. Charlie*

      Why lie? So many of the suggested responses try to soften the no with white lies, including Alison’s. “No, I don’t lend out my clothing.” “No, I won’t be able to pick up your mail.” “No, I won’t be able to give you a ride.”

      People have a weird resistance to a frank, simple no.

      1. Jadelyn*

        …because there are documented potential social consequences for “a frank, simple no.” Because, especially when it’s your boss who is obviously not in tune with appropriate boundaries in the workplace, just saying “Nope” could have repercussions ranging from social awkwardness to a sulking boss who makes your job more difficult to a bad performance review (you’re “not a team player” or some other BS).

        I would love to live in a world where people’s “frank, simple no”s are accepted without pushback or question. But that’s not the world we live in currently. So the fact that people feel the need to consider potential consequences to a “frank, simple no” before feeling like they can try that tactic is not a “weird resistance”, it’s practical social survival skills.

        1. Charlie*

          Note that I didn’t say to be unpleasant or blunt. I just said to be frank and simple. In any dynamic where boundaries are ignored, it’s the fault of the boundary-crosser…but if the people on the other side lack the confidence to gently push back, they allow it to continue. You don’t need to be abrupt to be firm, and you don’t have to lie to manage a person with poor boundaries.

          The excuse-making rubs me in the same wrong way that the “So, this is kinda crazy and you can all say no if you want, but….” habit of self-negation does.

          1. drashizu*

            People have a “weird resistance” to giving frank, simple no’s because other people have a “weird resistance” to hearing them.

            You don’t have to be blunt or unpleasant to get pushback when you refuse someone. This is just how our culture works. And it also makes a difference who you are and what your hierarchical power relationship is to the person you’re trying to say no to — that’s how culture in general works.

            People aren’t being unreasonable pointing this out, or offering the LW practical tips for how to actually get the result she wants, even if she’s not in a position of being able to say “No” to her boss and have the conversation end painlessly right there.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m with Charlie. Also, we haven’t really been told what the negative repercussions would be for OP. Assuming boss is clueless (instead of evil), then I don’t understand why directness is riskier than lying?

  5. LS*

    Eugh. What a horrible situation. I find the borrowing of personal things much more yuck and inappropriate than being sent on errands. I would push back on that first.

    You mentioned that she’s the personnel manager – she should definitely know better if that’s the case.

    It can be difficult to start saying no after a long period of saying yes, so OP might want to practice some responses so that it feels natural. “Sorry, I didn’t see your message until I’d left home.” “Sorry, those shoes need new heels.” “Sorry, my podiatrist says I shouldn’t lend out my shoes until this fungus has cleared up.”

    Good luck – I’d love to see an update on this one!

      1. Arbynka*

        He he :) Little OT – I became bit obsessed with Passenger Shaming on Facebook. There are lot of pictures of feet because some people, for some reason, just insist on going barefoot and putting their feet on food tray, arm rests, head rest, yep, right next to the head of passenger in front of them. Then they go to the lavatory (where the “wet” on the floor is often not just water) and they do it again…..And most of the people who like to do that seem to have horrible, terrible, “I could swoon down and pick up rodents” feet. Some look clearly infected with fungus. So now when I hear “fungus” I have not so nice visual in my head. (And I also bring sanitizing wipes in my bag and when I board the plane I wipe the hell out of my food tray and arm rests. I don’t consider myself too scared about germs but those photos will haunt me for rest of my travels…..)

        1. Sabine the Very Mean*

          OMG. No, no, no!!! I would not be able to stop myself from jabbing the bottom of their soles with my fork. Oops! Sorry! No idea there would be a bare foot where my food should be!

  6. LexiAnn Morris*

    Maybe treating the requests like business requests will reduce the number (and then you can attack the completely unreasonable ones). For example, if she asks you to pick up her mail, calculate how long it will take (say an hour), tell her what time you’ll be leaving (an hour before normal) and then point out that the analysis report on the White Walkers might be delayed a day because of this, but if the mail is more important… And, don’t forget to look horrified or completely confused if she suggests that you do this on your own time.

    1. Marzipan*

      Yes – given that the OP said these are work-time requests I was going to suggest this. “If I pick up your mail, I won’t be able to finish the spout designs by the deadline. Can you confirm which is your priority?” and so on.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Exactly. Though if your boss is Cersei she might not see it that way – she may put you on wildfire inventory duty then, oops…!

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Great idea, especially if the boss feels that personal assistant-type duties really are the province of her direct reports. (I’ve worked for a boss who treated her bookkeeper that way, although she owned the company so I guess she had a right to make those the terms of the job. It’s not a job I would have wanted!)

      The requests to borrow clothing cross an even worse line, though. I think OP can start taking a hard line on that — “Of course not! They’ve been on my FEET!”

    3. EB*

      Treat it like a business request and submarine mileage reimbursement request, as well as an overtime approval request to HR.

  7. InspiringIvy*

    At a previous job I had a director who borrowed my coworker’s shoes! She would wear sneakers on the way in to work on public transport, and one day she forgot to bring business shoes to change in to. She had an important meeting with people from outside the company that day and she asked my poor coworker to swap shoes with her so she wasn’t wearing sneakers to the meeting. So there was a (sort of) logical reason for the request, but it still came across as really inappropriate and boundary-pushing. In that situation I would have gone out and bought new shoes, or just gone to the meeting in sneakers and laughed it off, before I even thought of asking someone to do that.

    1. Kate the Little Teapot*

      I feel like a one-off “hey can I borrow your x” is way different from what seems to be a pattern of behavior!

      1. InspiringIvy*

        After re-reading my comment it does seem a bit harsh without context – I should have added that it definitely wasn’t the only time she pushed professional boundaries, and the person whose shoes she borrowed was a subordinate in a junior role who wasn’t really in a position to say no. If a peer who I had a friendly relationship with asked me for a favour like that as a one-off, I’d be happy to help them out.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          oooooooh not cool of that boss. I’m with you, I would have gone to the meeting in sneakers and apologized rather than make a subordinate uncomfortable like that!

          Also, people who regularly commute in sneakers should just…keep a pair of dress shoes at the office. Lots of people in NYC do this (including my one coworker who practically has a shoe store under her desk!).

          1. JessaB*

            Exactly. This is not hard stuff. If you regularly meet with very important people then keep a spare pair of shoes and possibly a clean blouse (in case you spill lunch all over yourself, which you will at least once.)

            1. Jean*

              That is an excellent idea. I’m so prone to spilling stuff on myself that a second blouse at work would be great!

    2. acmx*

      I got called into a last minute internal interview the day I decided to wear lace up shoes (like keds or Sketchers) . A coworker asked another if I could borrow her shoes for a bit but I ran to Payless and picked up a pair.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes, exactly. This is what we did if someone had a shoe-mergency (but also, none of my coworkers wore the same size shoe, so sharing was not possible even if we had wanted to… which we didn’t).

        1. Simonthegreywarden*

          This is one reason I am glad to have inherited my grandma’s tiny feet and high arches.

    3. MK*

      That’s very different. I mean, it’s inappropriate, but if she was too far away from home to go get shoes and there weren’t stores around, she probably panicked.

    4. OhNo*

      If it’s a one-off it’s… slightly less terrible. But still very weird. Even if it was only once it would still leave me second guessing their professionalism for a while.

      If it was a real emergency, it seems like it would have been slightly less weird to throw the request out to the department as a whole (e.g.: “Does anyone have a pair of shoes I can borrow for this meeting?”), rather than ask one specific person. Asking one person directly puts a lot of pressure on them to say yes, but asking a group lessens the pressure somewhat and can make it easier to say no.

    5. OP*

      OP here – I’m with you, she runs errands a lot during the day so I have no idea why she doesn’t just pop out to Target to go buy things she forgets. That’s what I would do instead of asking people for personal things.

      1. Allison*

        Exactly. I didn’t want to bring that up because I don’t know where you work, maybe it’s a suburban office like where I work and there aren’t a lot of stores nearby. But yeah, if popping out to Target is an option, she should be doing that.

        Even busy, important people need to take care of themselves.

      2. Candi*

        Wait, she’s running all kinds of errands during the day AND asking her direct reports to do more??

        Okay then.

        If gifting up were permitted, a book on time management might be a good idea.

        And I really, really, really, want to know what grandboss and payroll would think of so much personal stuff on company time, especially since it’s hurting productivity and salary flexibility aside.

    6. NW Mossy*

      Have shoe-borrowers never heard of the concept of “desk shoes”? I thought every office-working woman kept two pairs (one dressy and one for walking) at her desk for precisely this sort of emergency need. I even have a little under-desk shelf that’s perfect for storing them, but an empty file drawer with no crossbars will do.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Nobody I know does that but me. And I only do it because I happen to have bought two pairs of this one style, I get cold feet, and these shoes are really warm. So on a day when my feet are really cold, I can switch to these shoes. But I don’t know anyone else who keeps work shoes at their desk. I do know some women who go to the gym on their lunch break and keep their gym shoes at work, but not many.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I do this, but I walk to work – so right now I’m walking in big clunky boots! And then I change to my dressy shoes once I’m there.

      2. Artemesia*

        After 9/11 everyone should know that you need to always have a pair of shoes at your desk, you can walk 20 miles in if you need to. so yeah — a shoe store needs to be under your desk. Most male executives have a clean shirt on its cardboard tucked away in a drawer somewhere so they can be presentable if they spill coffee on their shirt before an important meeting; good idea for women to do the same.

        1. NW Mossy*

          I keep a complete outfit in my desk as part of basic emergency preparedness – my husband coaxed me into setting up a kit after he took a citizen emergency response course. It’s unlikely I’ll ever need it, but if a quake hits, I’m going to be really glad I spent the 10 minutes of effort to throw it together.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          I used to keep a stain pen in my desk locker at work just in case of situations like this: along with a spare cardigan, a hairbrush, and my blotting papers.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        My impression is that this varies a little bit by geography and sector. When I worked in New England, literally everyone (men and women) kept desk shoes. When I worked in LA, I was the only one, and people teased me about it. I still keep them, and of course they’re not visibly out.

        But I think I might be one of those people who’s into supplies, including supplies for small-scale emergencies (first aid kit with women’s hygiene supplies, sewing kit, disaster kit, extra suit jacket, sometimes a full on extra suit).

  8. Ive BeenThere*

    I think you are on a slippery slope to, “Oh hi my underling, I really love those heels you’re wearing today. I hope you don’t mind going barefoot for the rest of the day. And I like that watch and those earrings, too! Please hand them over.” Talk about a shakedown. I don’t think the fake excuse thing will work. I think you are going to have to choose between doing these inappropriate activities and finding a new job. I just can’t see her suddenly finding appropriate boundaries.

  9. No, please*

    I just can’t get past borrowing a belt. How oversized are her pants? How did she get to work without noticing or having her pants fall down? It’s all too much too much!

    1. Doodle*

      I had to lend a belt once to a woman who got called to go to a meeting with the “big boss” — she was wearing a dress shirt untucked (which looked nice), but the boss had a thing about untucked shirts. So, a belt was then needed. It was fine because we were friends and had a good laugh about it, but I wouldn’t want my boss asking.

    2. Fraunch*

      Not everyone is wearing a belt with pants. I wear them over dresses to emphasize my waist. The boss may have just liked a particular belt an employee was wearing and thought it would go with a dress.

      1. No, please*

        Sure, but that’s when boss should say, “Nice belt! Where did you buy it?” Or just try it on and then give it right back. Frequently borrowing clothing from your employees is crossing a lot of boundaries.

    3. MK*

      I think that’s not what the OP means by “borrowing”. I took it to mean that the boss is asking them to bring things she has seen them wear and liked on some other day, not take off what they are wearing then and there.

      1. No, please*

        That doesn’t make it any better, to me at least. And either way, the LW wrote in because it’s a problem. I like Alison’s advice.

        1. OhNo*

          I think that actually makes it worse. It means she’s noticing what people are wearing, remembering those items, and planning her wardrobe around what her direct reports own.

          It’s one thing if she’s just really forgetful and didn’t bring a belt for the fourth time this week. It’s another thing entirely if she feels so entitled to her subordinate’s clothing that she is okay planning her outfits to incorporate their belongings.

          1. Allison*

            I interpreted MK’s comment to imply she did forget things, then remembered that so-and-so owns a nice belt and asks them to bring it to work with them, not that she starts her day planning to wear someone else’s clothing.

            That said, forgetting your stuff is your problem, you should try your best not to make it other people’s problem. If I forgot a belt and needed one, I’d find a store near the office and buy one rather than ask someone to bring one of theirs for me.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Pre-work gym-going could explain all this borrowing. It’s easy to forget a belt when you leave the house in gym clothes and pack work clothes. It’s also easy to not realize you need a belt if it’s a different outfit/combination that you don’t normally wear. I wore ankle boots with a small heel yesterday, but the pants I wore really called for flats. I didn’t ask to borrow anyone’s shoes, but I did feel like I looked a little weird all day.

      1. NW Mossy*

        Or outerwear, if you live in an inclement place. Years ago I lived in Chicago and would wear snow pants during my commute because it involved an extended stretch of walking in frigid temperatures. The time that I forgot to bring regular pants and ended up wearing the snow pants all day was the stuff of legend at that job.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Ha! Your story is the corollary to the time we got on the ski lift, and my mom says, “Oh! I don’t have my ski pants on!” She left the condo with only her sweats and skied the whole day that way.

          I think your experience would be worse though. . .and hot.

    5. OP*

      Right? So weird! I come in about half an hour after her so would get a text/call to bring in a belt. Was just to “complete” her outfit. The more I think about it, I agree with the commenters that she tests boundaries with people on purpose.

      1. No, please*

        Wow. Clothing, be it a belt or anything else, is just not something you ask an employee to lend you so that you feel complete. It’s just too personal for my tastes. I’m mostly bothered that it’s happening enough to warrant this letter to AMA. So sorry OP.

        1. Jadelyn*

          +100 – suddenly you’re “stopping for coffee” every morning or “left early to stop by the store to pick up my lunch” or something. Or “I don’t check my phone while I’m getting ready to leave, sorry!”

  10. Rebecca*

    It sounds like many of these issues involve driving. I mean, taking someone to the dentist? Who does that? Why can’t she drive herself to the dentist? And picking up mail at an old apartment building, more driving, and asking for a chauffeur to go to a different building when it’s raining? She can’t use an umbrella?

    I have so many questions! I wonder if she’s done something to lose her driver’s license and is trying to cover it up by asking the OP to run all her errands. Quite possibly she can get public transportation to and from work, but not on the odd side errands she’s requesting.

    1. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

      I have such a fear of the dentist that I literally cannot drive myself or I won’t go. I do arrange for rides to and from the dentist and actually arrange for the person driving me to walk me in so I don’t bolt. However, I have never asked, nor plan to ask, a co-worker to do this for me.

    2. a different Vicki*

      The dentist seems a bit more reasonable than the rest of it; depending on the kind of dental work, it might not have been safe for the supervisor to drive herself home, or back to work, afterward. Yes, she should have asked a friend, or arranged for a car service, but everything else on the list (trips to the library, picking up her mail, keeping her out of the rain) are things she should be able to do for herself.

      Even if she doesn’t/can’t drive, getting her subordinates to run her errands on company time, or their own time, isn’t the appropriate way of dealing with it. But the appropriate ways of dealing with it, like hiring someone to run those errands, would come out of the supervisor’s own pocket, not the company’s.

      I wonder whether the supervisor’s boss approves of, or even knows, what’s going on here, and whether the OP is next going to be pressured to work overtime (=running those errands off the clock) to “make up for” not finishing her company-assigned work because she was driving her supervisor to the dentist and picking up her mail. That feels like another argument for leaning on the “I can’t do that, I have to finish the paisley teapot report” approach.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh that’s so fascinating. For me the dentist goes way way over the line (kind of like requiring someone to drop you off at any medical appointment, like your OB/GYN). I’m just confused about why BossLady won’t make a plan that doesn’t include stealing company resources for her personal benefit.

  11. Kira*

    Are you expending your gas? If not, you should! I’d expense it and be super clear about why you were driving e.g. “sent to pick up Minerva’s mail.” Which should highlight how inappropriate it is as well as show that you’re doing it as an employee and not a friend. (Also, if you’re hourly make sure you’re billing those hours!)

      1. Why Don't We Do It in the Code*

        Perfect typo. She’s expending it and therefore should be expensing it!

        And, yes, you absolutely should expense it. I bet the first time you do that will raise some eyebrows as to what’s happening. It’s obvious others already know about this behavior but this might make it hit home.

  12. Ann Furthermore*

    This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been glad to have gigantic feet that are hard to fit.

  13. Lady Bug*

    No one touches my shoes. Ever. You just don’t cross that line!

    I think a job hunt is in order here, your boss has no personal boundaries and isn’t going to improve.

  14. shep*

    My first boss was like this. We were about the same age (early to mid-twenties at the time) and she seemed really lonely and began to blur the lines between boss and friend. Part of me regrets letting her walk all over me like that, but she was also notoriously foul-tempered with everyone else (another red flag), so I think being friends and running the occasional (and sometimes NOT so occasional) errand for/with her kept me safe while I battened down the hatches and attempted to (1) finish graduate school and (2) find a new job. Which is certainly not a healthy work/life balance, but I was inexperienced and a little desperate.

    1. shep*

      (Also, luckily, she never asked to share clothes because I am super-short and she is super-tall. I might’ve actually pushed back on that if we’d been comparable in clothing sizes.)

  15. Allison*

    Sounds like someone who may have had a personal assistant at a former job, and got used to it, and now she doesn’t have one but still either feels like she needs someone at work to handle that stuff for her (because readjusting to a life where she does it herself is just too darn hard), or feels entitled to that level of assistance because she’s important and shouldn’t have to deal with that stuff herself. Either one of these mindsets could be totally subconscious, she may not even realize that’s what she’s doing or why she’s doing it. I’d start looking for a new job, and in the meantime try to get used to saying “that’s not appropriate.”

    We’ve been told nowadays that you can’t refuse a request with “that’s not my job.” It always sounds bad, even if it’s true, because in these days we’re supposed to be flexible and wear many hats at work. But that doesn’t mean all requests are appropriate. Asking you to drive her somewhere not work related, or run personal errands, or asking to borrow your clothing, is never appropriate and it’s okay to say so.

    1. Observer*

      No, this is not about losing a personal assistant. Yes, there is SOME overlap between the typical duties of a personal assistant and what this supervisor is asking, the broader context is totally out of line. It is NOT the job of a personal assistant to share her clothes!

  16. Not So NewReader*

    Since you have a history of saying yes, OP, it could be hard to start saying no.

    One thing you might consider is saying, “I realized I loan out things to a lot of people and I can’t keep track of who has what. Then I go for the item to use it and POOF! it’s no where in sight and I forgot where it went. So I have to stop lending things out.” I actually did this one years ago and it worked very well.

    I tend to favor this general statement over say the fungal excuse for the shoes. It’s less effort for one thing in that you don’t have to keep track of why you said no to each request.

    When it comes to errands or rides, you can tell her that you have been working on your budget and you realize that you need to watch what you are spending on your car. So you will be asking for help with gas money for these errands. I do agree that showing how it interferes with your work might help. But how you handle your money is your business and if you say you need help with gas money it’s going to be tough for her to argue that point with you.

    Am chuckling, all it takes is that one person who asks for too much for us to start thinking about where our boundaries are in general. You can make this work to your advantage by setting boundaries for aspects of your personal life, too. That is what I ended up doing; I ended up thinking about work life and personal life.

    Currently, I have a wonderful boss. I will offer to run a work related errand IF I am going that way anyway. Sometimes this means waiting until the day I travel to X town for Y reason and I will do the task on my way there. I am always the one to offer, my boss never asks. And she responds with great appreciation. (Usually the task is to drop something off, so the time involved is tiny.)

    Conversely, I had another boss who was an okay boss, but not great. He had his moments. One day he went to a meeting 30 miles away from work. He forgot something. He called work and asked me to bring it to him. Well, I was on the clock and this was not his habit, so not a big issue. He gave me a $20 for gas and I did not even ask. My point here that even a boss who is not incredibly outstanding, can still see that extra consideration is due for extra effort.

    Honestly, OP, it kind of frosts me that she is asking for rides to the dentist. I plan on having some dental work done. I know I will need a driver. My friend has volunteered. Even if we use my car with my gas, I will still buy him lunch or something for taking time out of his (self-employed) workday to help me. I would not treat friends the way your boss is treating you guys.

    1. Izzy*

      It is hard to start saying no after a history of saying yes, but you could frame it as a New Year’s resolution. If you need an explanation for the sudden 180.

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      YES! I used to have this problem with books. Got to the point people were walking up and taking them off my desk and not leaving a note that they’d borrowed them. In the end I got a lock on the enclosed shelf I kept my personal collection in and only allowed others to look something at my desk to prevent more books walking away. Sadly some of my books never were returned. And the price of IT books at the time was nuts.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, to all of this. And while it can be difficult to say “no” after saying “yes,” the truth is it’s within your rights to say “no” to BossLady’s insane requests.

      It’s not normal to make people go get your mail from your old apartment building or bring your clothing/shoes for their use. She’s not your liege, and you’re not her serfs. It’s also an enormous waste of company resources. Either she’s wasting your time by making you do these errands outside of work, or she’s wasting the company’s time by making you do this when you’re on the clock. And neither set up is acceptable/appropriate.

  17. Christina*

    Ugh, a friend of mine loaned her shoes at work once. She worked at an undergrad music school, a student had to do a performance in class and was wearing flip-flops or something, so the professor went and found my friend (an admin for the school), brought her down to the classroom, and asked if student could borrow her shoes. Friend was so sunned (and is also rather non-confrontational) she said ok. Walked back to her desk in socks until shoes were returned at the end of class.

    Bonus weirdness–the prof knew my friend was pregnant at the time and asked before the shoe loan question how she was doing. Student says, in front of the class “She’s pregnant? She doesn’t look pregnant.”

    When friend told me this story, I wanted to go on a rampage in her behalf.

  18. Mockingjay*

    Regarding the driving, the OP might want to check her employee handbook. Many companies have a policy banning use of employees’ personal vehicles for business. I’ve worked for several companies with that policy. The policy was in place for various reasons, such as the company did not want insurance liability, the job description did not warrant use of POV, reimbursement for mileage and fuel was not budgeted for that position/contract, or travel (local and distant) is only permitted with a rental vehicle.

    Also, does the OP’s personal insurance cover driving for work? Check the fine print to ensure you’re covered.

    1. fposte*

      I was initially thinking that this was a five-person company, but upon rereading I think you’re right, that this may be a group within a bigger enterprise, and that the company probably doesn’t want their money spent like this.

    1. Karanda Baywood*

      Exactly. “I don’t feel comfortable running personal errands for coworkers.” “I don’t feel comfortable loaning my clothes.” “I don’t feel comfortable picking up your mail.”

      And when she says, “What?! You did it the last time I asked!” you say, “I did, and now I’m afraid I have to say to say no.”

      1. burnout*

        I wouldn’t even be that nice about it. “No” is a complete answer. No qualifiers needed.

        I don’t understand why it is so difficult for people to say “no” , boss requesting or not. I guess if it was easy, there would be no advice columns. LOL

        1. Observer*

          Well, the whole “power differential” bit is not a figment of people’s imaginations. Your boss has a lot of power, and it’s not so easy to push back, even when you have the legal “right”.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          Because the boss has the power to fire you and/or make your life miserable if she doesn’t like you?

          This is not to say that I’d be willing to stay in a situation like this long-term — I mentioned upthread having a boss who treated the bookkeeper like this (although never going so far as to BORROW CLOTHES), and had I been in bookkeeper’s shoes, I would have looked for another job. But in the meantime, I probably would have said yes to the personal requests because after all, the boss owned the freakin’ company and she could be pretty quick to fire people she didn’t like.

          It sucks to have a boss who crosses boundaries, but it would have sucked more to be out of a job. OP knows her boss better than we do and whether she’s likely to be dumb enough to visit professional consequences on an employee who pushes back on these kinds of boundary violations.

        1. BBBizAnalyst*

          It doesn’t actually sound like OP has actually said “no” so we don’t know if she has that kind of boss.

          I think a lot of people try to push boundaries and are successful at it because no one has ever refused them and/or they’re giving the other person the opportunity to argue them into saying yes.

          Just say no.

          1. Jadelyn*

            “Just” do a thing that may potentially endanger your livelihood or create social/professional consequences at work! No problem, right?

            Especially given that women, in particular, are heavily socialized against saying “no” for fear of being perceived as selfish, “just say no” is not helpful advice to someone in this kind of situation.

            1. Allison*

              Yup . . . as a kid I felt like I couldn’t say “no” to things without getting in trouble. My dad would often tell me a good girl would want to say “yes.” A good girl would want to share her toys, her clothes, her snacks, everything. And a good girl would want to help out in any way she could. So “no” never really felt like an acceptable answer, even in adulthood. My dad might not always be there to give me a hard time, but people expect women to say “yes” to just about every request, and if you say “no,” you’re a bad person.

              1. Charlie*

                I’m sure your dad has many fine qualities, but no little girl should ever be told that perfect compliance is the way to be a good person. Good grief, that’s awful.

          2. Myrin*

            Seeing how we did have some updates lately where the OP’s suddenly saying No turned out to indeed be the solution and had the other person back off, I agree that it’s important/necessary and often successful to take that step. However, especially when there’s a power differential involved and with the way that many, many people are uncomfortable saying “No” in general, fullstop, I think it’s important that we keep in mind that “just saying no” very often isn’t that simple.

    1. Caledonia*

      I bet it’s because it’s holiday time. Alison deserves a break! After the new year, it’ll revert back.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not doing any work this week so I pre-wrote and pre-scheduled a minimum of stuff for this week (including some short-answer posts still to come). We’ll be back to normal next week.

  19. Triangle Pose*

    Alison, what would you recommend if OP were to address this with her boss directly with your suggested language and boss said “Part of your job is to assist me so I can do my job more efficiently. I need you to do these tasks so I can be freed up to do more important things/deal with big picture items.”

    Would you push back with a “that’s not my job” discussion? Or is it more of a “your manager sucks and that’s not going to change?” Or do you escalate above the boss because these tasks are clearly personal, like borrowing belt, shoes, coat etc.?

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      I too would be interested to see what Alison says in this scenario. If I were the OP and got that response, I’d agree to continue with errands and such as long as any expenses (gas, etc) were reimbursed though the company (which may well stop the Boss dead in her tracks) and any deadlines/work expectations were adjusted accordingly to account for the time spent running these errands and I’d want it in writing, be it in a revised position description or otherwise, and I’d want to know that HR and upper management are aware of it. As for the personal stuff, I’d hold my ground. A requirement to share my personal items with you is not a job requirement that I am willing to agree to. I’d perhaps suggest keeping a spare change of clothing/shoes/accessories at the office or in Boss’ car to alleviate the issues on that front, but I’d stand firm that I will no longer be loaning out my personal items for any length of time.

      1. Triangle Pose*

        Interesting. I don’t think I would ask for a revised position description but I see what you’re saying in that if Boss really wants you to spend time on her personal stuff you want that to be documented. Even if you get the green light from Boss, documentation to back it up and expense reimbursement for gas, etc. I still feel like the main issue (unless you’re actually in an assistant type role) is that you would be spending business time on personal tasks to the detriment of your own career-development.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on what her job is. If it’s an assistant-type job, it’s possible that’s legit (although you’d want to make sure the company agrees with her take on the job; some would and some wuldn’t). If your job has nothing to do with that, you’d push back and say “I took this job because I want to spend my time on building teapots. If acting as your personal assistant is really what you need from this role, we need to figure out how to proceed, because that’s not what I signed on for.”

      More here:




      1. Triangle Pose*

        Ah, thanks. I haven’t worked in environments where there wasn’t a clearly defined assistant/NOT assistant type roles so I wondered if my perspective was skewed. On smaller teams and smaller businesses it seems the roles can be more flexible. I think calling out that the role was originaly accepted focusing on X-business tasks and that now boss is asking OP to spend not insignificant time on Y-personal tasks is helpful.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Our office has 2 admins I can make use of, even though they don’t report directly to me.
      I’m always very careful when I do need to ask them to help me with something and to be clear it is within reason because the situation is not clear cut.

      For example, I book my own travel (though they do book travel for other managers) but I will ask them to run out to ship/mail things for a trade show, book meeting rooms, or occasionally order-in-pickup lunch if there is a meeting or training happening. They also help with things like creating PO’s and getting invoices paid, where I admit I am woefully lost with our complex system. To be honest, I always feel kind of bad asking them to do theses things (as they are not “my” assistants), so I generally save it for when I truly DO need the extra help!

  20. The Bimmer Guy*

    I will say, this is one thing we men don’t seem to have to deal with. No one expects us to loan out clothes and (as other commenters have said) lip products. I mean, my best friend is also a coworker and wears the same shoe size as I do. And we’re both gay, just to throw that stereotype out there. We’ve never once tried to swap shoes with each other, or been asked by anyone else. I don’t envy you.

    On one hand, if your coworkers are as perturbed as you are, I wonder if you could all go and speak to her as a group. On the other hand, that might make her feel like you’re ganging up on her and cause her to get defensive; it might not do the best job of preserving your relationship. So maybe Alison’s suggestion of a one-on-one is a better way to go, if she’s reasonable.

    1. Triangle Pose*

      That might be true for lip balm and shoes, but with this kind of boss I’d bet she’d still ask you for rides to the dentist, picking up personal mail from an old apartment, umbrella/raincoat etc.

    2. MashaKasha*

      No one has asked me to borrow my clothes or shoes since college! I wouldn’t know what to say or do if someone did. At my very first job in the US, a coworker brought one of her dresses in and insisted that I borrow it to go to my husband’s company holiday party that had a dress code. I did borrow the dress, cleaned it and returned it to her after the party. I still think it was a nice and thoughtful gesture; pretty much the opposite of what OP’s boss is doing! We were very low on money and she knew that. It may have been weird, but was definitely better than the helpful advice another coworker had given me – “just buy a dress from a nice store, wear it to the party with the tags on, and return it after the party. I always do that.” (Eww.)

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      HA! While you are correct about men and clothes/shoes….tools and car stuff are an entirely different ball game. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has been asked to borrow tools, amps, head units, air compressors, welders, etc., some cheap and some very expensive, to never see them again. Sometimes it has caused the friendship to end and sometimes the person is “asshole taxed,” a practice in which he evens the playing field by causing that person some type of financial loss commensurate to what he sustained. This has also worked when his boss has sent him on errands to pick up lunch for her……”oh, since I went to pick it up, I thought you were buying my lunch as well. Thanks so much…that’s so thoughtful of you!” A couple of times, and she stopped sending him to get her lunch for her. (Note: Lunch is not nearby….it’s at least a 15 minute trip each way, using his gas, at his expense.)

      And I do think that a group convo would make the boss feel ganged up on. Maybe a one-on-one in which OP mentions that other co-workers feel the same if that is in fact true.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Maybe my son doesn’t have his man card yet (he’s 19), but he’s infamous for borrowing clothes and shoes. He has a pair of shoes at our house right now that he borrowed from one of his apartment neighbors because the neighbor borrowed his belt. He has a coat from another friend. My husband got so tired of him “borrowing” his headphones that he bought new ones, took the cost out of money he owed our son for work at the house, and gave my son the old ones (which were gross because he has waxy ears.)

      I’m not sure what his deal is. Maybe some people are just like that, because the rest of our household does not borrow anything from anyone.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’ve worked with men who borrow one another’s shoes/belts (at work) in a pinch. It’s often not as persistent as OP’s situation, but I’ve seen it between coworkers and bosses/subordinates. It may be more common among women to request to borrow shoes/clothes (I don’t know if it is, I’m just guessing), but it’s not limited to one gender.

  21. AnonNurse*

    Oh wow. These are definitely the kinds of things friends ask of each other, not a boss asking a subordinate. And when friends ask me they usually do it with an offer of a side of Starbucks for the trouble. So yeah, this is not ok and she’s taking advantage of the power dynamic. Yuck.

  22. Charlie*

    I don’t really understand why Alison and others are framing the suggested responses with little white lies. “I only have one belt and I’m wearing it.” or “I have plans after work tonight so can’t pick anything up for you.” or “I’m really busy this month so can’t commit to getting your mail” all seem to make this strenuous effort to soften and and deflect the no – like, “Oh, I would, but reasons!” It just leaves you open to more negotiation and begging.

    But no, you wouldn’t want to do these things in any circumstances, would you? “No, I don’t lend out my clothing,” “No, I won’t be available to pick something up for you after work,” and “No, I can’t pick up your mail for you,” put a little more finality on the response.

    1. Charlie*

      Note, too, that I don’t mean to be rude. Delivered with a confident, bright tone, “No, I won’t be available to do that,” isn’t harsh. You can even soften it with a “sorry,” if you want. But the excuses just invite negotiation: “Aw, it’ll just take a minute! Please?”

      If you’re unsure how, ask any parent of a toddler. We get to be goddamn ninjas at saying no to volatile people with boundary issues.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      While I totally agree with you, and I wouldn’t utilize Alison’s responses either as I tend to be more blunt, that just isn’t everyone’s style and her responses are a polite way of conveying that she “can’t” assist the boss without creating a contentious atmosphere. My own response likely would have been a sarcastic toned “are you serious?” when I was initially asked to do these ridiculous errands, but once again, not everyone can pull that off.

      1. Charlie*

        I’d be really tempted to deliver a deadpan, “Sure, and what project code should I charge for that?”

  23. SometimesALurker*

    When I worked at a summer camp, my supervisor once (with permission) borrowed a pair of cut-off jeans shorts out of my hamper. I found it funny, but summer camp is /absolutely/ the only work situation in which that level of sharing is okay.

  24. Erin*

    I’d find it really hard to believe she didn’t know exactly what she’s doing. Although I do like to err on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt. Either way, hopefully after reading Alison’s response/the comments you can forge on to deny her requests guilt-free.

    I bet as other employees see you setting the example and turning her down they’ll feel more comfortable doing it as well, and then you’ll have shifted the power dynamic a bit.

    I know it might be hard to say something more direct to her other than turning her down each individual time but if it were me I’d probably say something like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mind picking up your mail or bringing in a belt for you once or twice, but these personal favors have become habitual and it’s not sustainable for me. Going forward I need to be able to concentrate on work while I’m at work so I can do my job to the best of my ability, and I need time I’m not at work for personal commitments and to recharge.” Although I’d likely only have the guts to do this via text or email, I’m sure it would be more powerful in person.

    1. Charlie*

      I like that, but I feel like I personally run out of steam delivering a long justification like that.

      How ’bout “I don’t mind a personal favor once or twice, but when it happens often, it puts me in kind of a weird spot, because you’re my boss and it’s awkward to say no to you.”

  25. Person of Interest*

    I once worked for a Big Boss who was not really into office wear – she mostly wore yoga clothes to work. One day she had an unexpected fancy meeting to go to and came into my office to ask if she could borrow … my trousers. Oh, also she was a size 0 and I’m a size 10, so, not sure whose clothes I was meant to wear while she was out in mine.

    1. Less anonymous than before*

      lol. Please tell me you gave her a hearty laugh and she backed away red-faced. This is SOOOOO odd.

      1. Person of Interest*

        She had no shame whatsoever (about anything). She ended up borrowing trousers from someone else who was much more willing to put up with her shenanigans than I was :)

  26. CrispyBearcat*

    Since it is nearly the New Year OP can make a resolution and get her point across at the same time. Ex: I understand why you are asking, but goal for the New Year is to reduce my stress level by saying no more often and better defining my workplace and personal relationships. It would mean a lot if you could support me by only asking me to handle work related tasks.

  27. Persephone*

    OP, I have a question. Does your work ever suffer because of your boss asking you to drive her or for you to go out for her? Do you ever miss deadlines? I would think this might be even a larger issue than the boundary violations, though those are serious, because it could impact your career if you are seen as not being capable.

  28. Tea leaves*

    I once had a co-worker ask to borrow money from me. I said I had a previous bad experience, thus I was not able to, sorry. In most of these cases, you can just say you had a bad past experience as the reason to say ‘no’. You don’t need to go into any details, just keep saying it was a bad experience and you don’t want to talk about it in detail. They will have to accept it as the reason. For the case of on-going behaviour that you wish to stop, the problem person doesn’t need to know that THEY are the previous bad experience. ;)

  29. MissDisplaced*

    If you’re the admin, there are some items on your list I could see as being “reasonable,” such as the driving them to a different building for a meeting or event, and picking up books/mail/lunch/gifts etc., IF these are work or semi- work -related things and you’re being paid for it. But borrowing clothing? That’s plain weird and inappropriate and this person has no boundaries.

  30. Lisa*

    Maybe I’m a freak of nature, but I would have absolutely no problem saying “no” to every single one of these, using hygiene or not having time/not going in that direction as excuses, and that’s if a simple “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to help you with that” with no further explanation isn’t enough for some reason. If someone then presses, or asks “why not?”, they’d better be prepared for some serious glares. None ya business. I think I’m just old and cranky, because I might have done this when younger, but age has perhaps made me more disagreeable/impatient with other people’s drama. ;)

Comments are closed.