our new assistant doesn’t have boundaries

A reader writes:

My company last year acquired another company in the same industry, and we’ve finally merged offices. The acquired company’s offices were larger and less expensive, so we moved in with them. As a senior team member in our old place, I had my own office. But we went from 10 team members to 60 when we moved, so now I have a little cubicle. I’m not bothered at all by the change. As long as I have an electrical outlet and wifi, I can work from anywhere.

In our new office, we have an administrative assistant who is amazing. She makes coffee, orders food, sets up for meetings, cleans common areas, orders supplies, liaises with the building manager, and makes sure things like cable and phones stay on. At my old office, all of those responsibilities were divided up among my few colleagues and me, in addition to our client work, so I feel especially grateful to have this woman around in our new space.

However, she may have some boundary issues. I came in earlier this week to find she had added a lamp to my area (lamps aren’t standard issue, this one was just sitting around unused). She said when she saw me, “I left a gift on your desk.” I just let it go. Things on my shelves have been moved, and I have a space heater that automatically turns off for safety and energy efficiency and I came in to find a company-wide email from this admin demanding space heaters be turned off, and mine had been unplugged, presumably by her.

In fact, this company-wide email approach is common with her. The other day I was in a hurry to get a client settled into a meeting and I grabbed two used glasses off the conference table, ran to put them in the kitchen sink and ran back to welcome the client. When our meeting was done, there was a company-wide email in my inbox demanding that glasses not be left in the sink.

I try to be very direct with people, so I can’t help feeling like this approach of email blasting every time you don’t like something is both distracting and unprofessional. First, it doesn’t solve anything (if it did, she wouldn’t have to send so many of them repeatedly). Second, it creates an environment of suspicion and uncertainty, and opens the door for gossip (Coworker 1: “Do you know who she was talking about?” Coworker 2: “I bet it was _____, she’s so messy.”). Also, she’s not anyone’s supervisor, so she really has no business asserting authority over people via email.

Am I off base? How should I approach her about it without making her feel like I don’t appreciate her?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. Karen D*

    I think a lot depends on the tone of the emails.

    If they consistently take a very harsh, admonishing tone (particularly in a recently blended office that has new people in it) then that is something I would address, in a general way. Different offices have different rules, and scolding new office members (especially senior ones) for not following unwritten rules is probably beyond what an admin should be doing.

    1. Karen D*

      And I should add*: The admin, under no circumstances outside of health and safety, should be messing with items on people’s desks. The lamp – probably OK to leave it. Unplugging the space heater – only if it really is a rule, and not just this admin’s say-so. Moving anything else on that desk? Oh heck no, and a brisk “please don’t move anything on my desk” is perfectly in order.

      *so I will.

        1. Samiratou*

          I’m guessing this is a big part of it–LW goes from an office with sort-of natural boundaries to a cube and now it feels like the admin is in it (physically and “mentally” with the scoldy emails). It’s gotta be a bit of an adjustment.

          1. Sleepy Coder*

            That really doesn’t hold much water here. Cubicle or office, leave things that aren’t specifically infractions alone. In that regard, it’s absolutely something she needs to address.

            1. Clare*

              Does he know for sure the admin moved his things? Lots of offices have overnight cleaning staff, or maybe he has a clumsy cube neighbor who knocked things over and put them back in the place.

              I just wouldn’t be too harsh if/when the LW does speak to the admin about it, cause if he’s wrong he might end up looking like a jerk.

        2. JessaB*

          Yes, especially because the admin does not know for instance (as would be the case with me or Mr B,) that due to disabilities that make it nearly impossible for us to crawl under desks, you do NOT unplug our stuff, we can’t plug it back in without getting someone to do it for us.

          IF there is a rule about unplugging/turning a switch on the cord off/etc. to make sure it can’t turn on accidentally then tell me. I’ll arrange for facilities to inspect my safety procedures and sign off on them as part of my reasonable accommodation. Which the admin at this point has no right to know about, independent of asking me.

          And if there is an unplug rule and facilities won’t sign off on a master switch, I might talk to management and then after getting it approved, go to the admin privately and explain reasonable accommodation now needs a little bit extra, which is you need to put it on your list to plug it back IN, in the morning, because I can’t do that. And it then becomes part of the admin’s actual JOB to manage that heater in both directions.

          But having been an admin for a loooooong time of my life, I’d first go for other methods than constantly plugging and unplugging because that runs the risk of damaging the plug or the outlet if you do it all the time and don’t need to. There are many switches that I could velcro to the inside of the desk well that would cut that circuit for me and be safe enough that most facilities agents would approve them.

          1. Anonymoose*

            Well, and I think there might have been some oversensitiveness on the part of the OP. Because frankly, OP’s heater could have been the LAST STRAW of space heaters being left on after hours that week – ergo the unplugging and email reminder to group. Same with the glass/sink scenario.

            I know as an ex office manager, I also noticed annoying patterns of behavior too. Like the same folks always leaving dishes in the sick, or leaving their heaters on, etc. It’s really hard not to get trigger happy (in the scolding sense, not actual triggers – gulp!) to jump down someone’s throat. Not proud of it, but we’re all only human.

    2. Bostonian*

      I agree. I think tone and frequency matter. If the kitchen is generally messy with dishes in the sink, I think it’s fair for the admin to point out, but that doesn’t sound like it was the case here. It seems kind of petty to send out an email blast for EVERY infraction.

      That’s why it’s key to directly address specific emails that are about you. It provides the admin with some background and signals “hey, sometimes there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation other than assuming people are being lazy and sloppy.”

      1. a1*

        It sounds like there are a lot of them per the quote below (emphasis mine).

        I try to be very direct with people, so I can’t help feeling like this approach of email blasting every time you don’t like something is both distracting and unprofessional. First, it doesn’t solve anything (if it did, >b>she wouldn’t have to send so many of them repeatedly).

        Also, this is an archived post, so still worth discussing and fun to discuss, but don’t know about proposing solutions/behavior to LW, they might not still be around. But then again, I guess they might.

        1. a1*

          And I messed up the bold tag, so no emphasis. Hee. It was this line:
          she wouldn’t have to send so many of them repeatedly

    3. dr_silverware*

      Also, cubicles have different rules than individual offices. Someone venturing into your office to do what the admin was doing would be a lot less appropriate than someone dipping into your cube. It takes a little while to adjust to those different boundaries and to adjust to the low level of psychological discomfort from not having your own space like you used to.

      1. JessaB*

        Yes but doing things that are required – unplugging if that’s the only option facilities gives you, turning off the computer at the end of the day if that’s the rules, signing you OFF that computer if you walk away with it without doing so, are NOT the same as adding a lamp without asking or messing with someone’s STUFF. OMG my anxiety hits the roof if someone screws with my stuff. There’s medical reasons (processing disorder, hearing impairment, etc.) that my stuff is exactly the way my stuff is and OMG do not ever on pain of death touch my chair. Seriously not joking, what is it with grown adults and people screwing with the chairs?

      2. Alienor*

        I wish all workspaces had the same boundary rules as individual offices. A couple of years ago my company moved to an open configuration with shared pods (four people to a pod, two people back to back on either side of the pod in what is essentially a no-walled cubicle). My podmate is great, quiet and unobtrusive and I hardly know she’s there, but when people come to talk to her, they walk into the shared space and stand directly behind my chair, sometimes jostling it. It makes me so uncomfortable that I usually get up and leave until they’re done.

  2. Murphy*

    Ha, we just got an email from our admin about dirty dishes in the sink. (I’m not an offender though!)

    I do think her emails sound a bit much. People aren’t perfect. Does everyone in the company really need an email every time one person does something mildly inappropriate? Like if suddenly lots of people were bringing in space heaters, or dirty dishes were being left in the sink regularly, then sure, send out an email.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I think it’s quite possible there were other space heaters and dirty dishes, actually! OP won’t necessarily see everything other people are leaving around, if it’s in someone else’s office or at a time she’s not using the common areas, etc. We definitely have a few office “sins” around here that are committed by lots of different people.

      1. Murphy*

        That’s very true. The one about glasses immediately after the glasses were left in the sink seems pretty specific though.

        I’m probably somewhat biased in my opinion. At my old job, we got passive aggressive emails like this all the time from management. They were sent to everyone, when they were clearly about one person, and usually that person was never talked to about it. Person in Department B would complain to Manager A that Person A did XYZ. Manager A would never talk to Person A directly or attempt to get their side of the story (which was often quite different!) but would send out an email to Department A saying “Don’t do XYZ.”

        1. Colette*

          I can see there being more emails than usual now because they are merging two groups with different habits, and the new people may not know how things work at this location. She may be taking the first occurrence as an opportunity to remind everyone how it’s supposed to work.

          But also for something like glasses in the sink, she’s not likely to know who put them there and so targeted feedback is impossible.

          1. tigerlily*

            Agreed. And on the other hand, sometimes targeted feedback is impossible because it literally is just about everyone who keeps making the mistake. I’m an admin and every morning I’m supposed to backup our database, but it can only be done when no one else is logged in. About half the time I come in in the mornings to the system telling me I can’t back it up because someone forgot to log out before going home. And the person still logged in ranges from one of the assistants on up to the directors and the CEO. So about once a week I have to send out a company wide email saying I haven’t been able to back up in a few days and remind everyone to log out before going home.

            1. JessaB*

              Honestly, anyone with responsibility to back up should also have authority to either log out or HAVE logged out by IT anyone still in. Because seriously? You need to back up. If you’re not able to and it crashes you’re seriously in problem territory. This needs to be dealt with way more than a reminder email. IT and management need to be brought in because this is not functional. And backups are a major thing to have.

              1. tigerlily*

                We don’t have IT and as I said, it’s management who’s just as bad as everyone else in logging off. Sure, we should have those things. But we don’t.

        2. Karo*

          That’s very true. The one about glasses immediately after the glasses were left in the sink seems pretty specific though.

          This is all hypothetical, but it could be that the OP’s glasses were the straw that broke the camel’s back. In which case they’d be the immediate catalyst for the email, but there’d still be reason for an all-office email.

        3. nonegiven*

          Leaving them in the conference room was a bigger no-no than leaving them in the sink. I’m not washing them if I didn’t use them. Two options are leave them in the sink or put them in the trash, pick one.

          1. JessaB*

            And especially if I need the room now. I’m not wasting my time washing glasses when I have to set up a conference room to be used. And I agree nonegiven that I’m not the scullery, I’m not washing other people’s stuff even if it’s the CEO that left them.

            Don’t get me wrong there were companies where light scullery duty was part of being an admin. I served coffee, black tea and green tea at meetings in one company and yes I was supposed to clean that up.

            However people still did their own lunch stuff and non meeting cleanups.

      2. AnitaJ*

        THIS is an excellent point. So much happens around the office that people don’t see because an admin is taking care of it behind the scenes. For example: at my last job, lunches for meetings were ordered regularly. At the end of the meeting, I would clean up the lunch, move it to the kitchen, and send an email to the group. I guarantee you nobody thought about HOW the lunch got there or WHY the conference room was clean, it just got done. By me. It would be generous to come at this situation from the point of view of ‘admin has already been taking steps to remedy these problems and her email is one of the last resorts’.

        1. Badmin*

          Yup. I was just out for a few days and no one thought to throw away the empty containers of shared food on the kitchen table (munchkins, chocolate etc.)

    2. MCM*

      I think there is an adjustment issue going on. Her e-mails may have picked up because office norms may not be followed by the new staff members sharing the space. The OP and others may be unaware of the unwritten rules, and just maybe the Admin is picking up after the new staff a bit more than he’s aware. Do not forget, that this admin is supporting a larger group of people and she is probably having trouble figuring out who is leaving messes, etc. now that the OP and fellow co-workers have moved to the new building.

      I’m an admin and I have worked at places where I was required by the safety officer or fire marshal to walk through the offices at the end of the day and unplug heaters.

    3. Badmin*

      Hmmm as an admin, it is frustrating when people leave stuff and don’t pick up after themselves. For example, my office leaves their food in the refrigerator for way too long and I end up having to throw it out. I feel bad about throwing away whole containers of food (even though they have mold on them) and it makes me feel like people just assume I’ll do it instead of being courteous. I could see the same going for the dishes in the sink, sometimes the same dish is in there and it just falls on the admin to wash it as part of our duty to keep common areas clean.

      I think the emails are justified, personally, I only send them a lot a couple of times a year at that/let people know I will be throwing away their stuff and to rescue it or label it before it’s up to me to determine if it stays or goes. I’ve thrown away truly unrecognizable things and no one has ever complained that I threw something out I shouldn’t have.

    4. JulieBulie*

      OP thought that other people might be speculating/gossiping as to who the admin was referring to in those emails, but if they’re that frequent, it’s more likely that they are bad-mouthing that admin, not each other.

      At least, that’s how it was when I worked at a place with a similar office manager. (He was excessively, and verbosely, concerned about refrigerator matters.)

  3. MCMonkeyBean*

    Yeah, none of those things really sound like boundary issues. If she had bought you a lamp that might be, but if there was a spare one lying around she thought you might want that seems normal.

    And it can seem really passive aggressive for someone to send company-wide emails in response to something that you did, but both of the examples given here seem like they are probably common issues so the emails might not have been a direct response to you and genuinely needed to be sent to everyone.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I should add that especially given the recent merger, she may feel that company-wide emails are the best response right now as the people who just moved into the building adapt to the new environment. She might see one instance of something and think “oh, the new people might not realize there is a company policy against space heaters so I’ll send out a reminder!”

    2. Luna*

      Also, the admin probably doesn’t know who left the glasses in the sink, so the only way to address it is to send it to everyone. Whether or not it needs to be addressed is another question, but that kind of thing happens a lot and the OP might not be aware of how often others are doing the same thing.

    3. Radar*

      And as a former Admin myself, my boss would usually be the one to ask me to send a company-wide email blast about things like this, and there were times I thought it was over the top, but complied because, you know. He’s the boss.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        I’d say about 80% of the company wide emails I send are on the insistence of my manager. The others are usually about lost property. This admin may not have much choice in the matter.

    4. Life is Good*

      And yet, the admin may be acting passive/aggressive, since the LW’s company bought the admin’s company and moved in. There might be some anxiety about that on her part.

  4. AccountantAnonymous*

    I think a point of note here too is she might not have known where the glasses came from, and so a broad company-wide email to everyone in that case seems appropriate (I would also agree with Alison that it probably is a part of her job). This admin sounds a lot like mine in that she sounds awesome. I never pass up an opportunity to thank her for everything she does, because quite frankly we would crash and burn without her.

  5. Nonprofit manager*

    This woman takes her job seriously, does it well, and in doing so makes your job a whole bunch easier. Nothing she is doing is out of line for an admin, even if some things may be different than how you would do it. Assuming you’re still grateful that you don’t have to do this stuff anymore, how about a little bit of grace and appreciation for someone who makes things run smoothly for you and your office?

  6. jl*

    Maybe you can reply to her glasses email and ask that she remind everyone to clear the meeting room when they have finished of garbage and glasses? The room should be cleared and ready for the next meeting.

    A similar thing happened to me at an old job. The executive assistants would continuously complain when conference rooms were left dirty, yet we had no cleaning materials. It was almost like they were bullying the assistants at the company it was so bad. One day I had had enough, so I replied to all and asked for some, they got mad, but the boss put his foot down and said it was a reasonable request.

    Sometimes people don’t think of practical solutions and get upset when someone (who isn’t them) suggests one. The main issue is that the glasses were left there in the first place. Perhaps some signage would help?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Actually, I think there might be an existing line–she sets up for meetings, orders food, and cleans up the common areas for things like sponging down the counters. But it’s not her job to wash dishes, and she pushes back when people roam over that boundary. (OP had a perfectly rational reason to leave the dishes in the sink; admin had no way to know the story behind the miraculous appearance of dirty dishes.)

      A surprising number of people earnestly believe that if you leave dirty dishes and just don’t stress about it, they have a way of washing themselves and putting themselves away in the cupboard.

      1. Kiki*

        I think this is a good point, and perhaps where OP’s admin was coming from. My first job out of college wasn’t an admin job but as the youngest and most junior employee, tasks like ordering lunch for client meetings and setting the conference rooms became part of my job. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who saw me setting up coffee mugs in a conference room once who then decided I was in charge of cleaning all dishes, including their own personal lunch dishes. Nope.

      2. Was once an Admin*

        The admin should be cleaning the dishes used in meetings. Yes, employees should wash their own, but if a client/guest comes in and uses coffee mugs or water glasses, it falls under admin responsibility to clean the room, and that includes dishes. And sometimes it includes dishes used by a person higher up in the organization.

        1. Bex*

          It depends on the organization. In my office, we are each responsible for our guests/clients. It often falls to that team’s admin to take the glasses back to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher, but it’s definitely not the office manager/assistant’s responsibility. We have 20+ conference rooms and most are booked with 8-12 meetings a day. It would be insane to expect 2 people to clean them all, on top of their actual jobs.

      3. Brandy*

        I see this as I see, still, in the sink on their 2nd day of “soaking” 3 different dishes. And then people complain that their dishes are tossed or stolen. No ones going to do them for you.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          I’m convinced that’s the reasoning downthread, where someone left their dishes for an hour and came back to find that they had made a dozen friends.

    2. Luna*

      I’m not sure the OP should email the admin and ask her to send a reminder. Much better for the OP to stop by her desk and say something like “hey sorry about the dishes, I had to move them out of the conference room last minute before my meeting, someone left them there.” The admin can then decide for herself whether a reminder email is needed.

      As a former admin, I would find it a little passive-aggressive for the OP to send that email and might come across like he is trying to blame the admin for this situation because “she should have sent a reminder.” That might be a helpful thing for her to do, but also people should be grown-up enough to know not to leave their dirty dishes lying around.

      1. Was once an Admin*

        But it is her job to clean up the room after the meetings – that includes dishes. She’s responsible for washing dishes used by clients & guests.

        1. tigerlily*

          We don’t know. That may have been your job as an admin, but in my position as an admin, people having meetings clean up for themselves.

    3. Non-profiteer*

      If your solution to anything is reply-all to a company-wide email…just stop. Good strategies, all, but implement them in person or through direct email. STOP THE EMAIL MADNESS!!

  7. EA*

    I don’t think that any of this is a big deal.
    Also, if people leave things in the sink, it is probably her job to clean it. Not that company-wide emails are great or anything, but it might be her only option. When I started as an admin I had no idea office housekeeping would be part of my job, and didn’t like cleaning up after people, this might be what is behind her emails.

  8. kittymommy*

    Yes, this is important to note. If even 1/4 or 1/3 of people are leaving 2 glasses in the sink that adds up quickly (especially if she’s the one cleaning them). I left a fork and knife in the sink at my office, planning on returning in about an hour to wash it (you wash your own dishes here), I came back and there was a half a dozen coffee cups , 2 plates, tupperware, and quite a few utensils. If this is what’s happening then a office-wide email makes sense.

    The rearranging though, yeah, that’s not cool.

  9. B*

    As a current admin – please do not ever state to her she does not have the authority to assert herself. If you want an office to run efficiently your admin is going to need to assert herself for things that are in her domain. Otherwise it will become complete chaos. Since their are new employees it would make more sense to send these company-wide emails. I would suggest if you did not want them as often perhaps phrase it as “Thank you for sending these emails as we are all starting to work together and learn. Could you possibly consolidate them?”

    1. Malibu Stacey*

      This. I’m an admin, too, and many times it’s management who has *asked us* to send out an email about dirty dishes, or don’t walk away from the printer if it jams while printing your job, or don’t send your personal Christmas cards to the mail room, etc.

      1. MCM*

        You just reminded me …. do not ship person packaged to your employer. It’s more work for your admin & mailroom people. It could be opened in error.

        We have a policy here at work, personnel mail is “not to be mailed to you here at campus, and it’s not my responsibility as admin to mail your packages, etc.” I have no problem with someone throwing a letter or a bill in outgoing mail. I do with going to the post office, walking across campus with 20 pounds of wine you ordered for the holidays.

        The admin may have found herself doing a great deal more housekeeping with the new staff in the building. The department I am with now got rid of the kitchen they had before I was hired because people wouldn’t clean up after themselves. People should be grateful they have one.

        1. animaniactoo*

          I’m sorry, but that typo – I was trying to figure out how you package and ship a person to your employer and why you would do so. LOL.

        2. Broadcastlady*

          I work in radio, and this morning I interviewed our local Police department’s Public Information Officer, and her top safety tip for online shopping(not ID theft issues) was to have all packages delivered to your place of business. This has become an often repeated safety tip by LE for the past few years, because so many people are stealing packages off of doorsteps.

        3. CR*

          I think for personal packages it really depends on your office. At my office, our receptionist at the front door receives all the mail, and it’s literally no extra trouble or work for her to receive a package along with all the regular mail. She just gives you a call to come down and get it.

          1. peachie*

            Same here. As long as it’s not egregious, that’s fine in my office. (I wonder if the norms differ based on locale; we’re in a city where many folks can’t get packages delivered safely (i.e., without being stolen) or at all (for example, in apartment buildings that can’t receive packages that don’t fit in the mailbox).

            1. Brandy*

              My mom works for the city and has no issues getting packages delivered to work. I work for a private company and I think theyd be side eyeing me for this.

          2. JulieBulie*

            Same here. We have a mailroom, and we send and receive a lot of business-related packages, some of them quite large. I would be perfectly happy to go down there to pick up my personal stuff, but they deliver everyone’s packages to their desks. We can also get a UPS discount on shipping personal packages. Personal use of the mailroom amenities (at our own expense) is encouraged, and even considered an unofficial benefit of working here. It is a real life-saver.

        4. Kiki*

          I send most of my personal packages to the office because they otherwise get stolen. But the post office/UPS/FedEx deliver straight to the office mailroom and I go pick up the mail for my team once a day so it’s no extra work for anyone.

        5. As Close As Breakfast*

          I’m actually loving that they got rid of the kitchen! I imagine there’s quite a twisting tale in there somewhere. I’m picturing this threat being issued that the worst kitchen mess offenders might have thought was empty, “Clean up after yourselves or I’ll turn this car around… I mean, get rid of the kitchen altogether!” Finger wag for emphasis.

        6. Midwest Red Sox Fan*

          If you order from Amazon, use their Amazon lockers. They seem to be at most Whole Foods stores by now, as well as at other locations. It’s an extra stop on the way home, but it’s another alternative to sending items to the workplace.

          1. Need a Good Alias*

            My closest one is 14 miles away (30 minutes, more if there’s traffic and you get all the red lights), and I live in suburban Chicago. I’m guessing it’s not convenient for a LOT of people yet. Plus, it doesn’t help for non-Amazon orders.

            I’m lucky that we generally don’t have a theft problem in our neighborhood, and my husband works from home. And if I did need to have something shipped to work, it’s fine due to our setup and small-sh size.

  10. dr_silverware*

    This sounds like the kind of pain of leaving an office and entering into cubicle life. The boundaries are just…smaller and weaker when you’re in a cubicle. Sounds like the admin is doing things that would be super inappropriate if you had an office still, but that are more appropriate now that your cube is “fair game” of sorts. It sucks to make that transition even if you can work theoretically work fine anywhere.

    1. JulieBulie*

      OP said that things on a shelf had been moved. I would not consider that “fair game” whether in an office, cubicle, or even open plan.

      1. Aeon*

        On the other hand, we don’t know if it was the office manager who moved the things on the shelf. The OP (and perhaps a lot of us readers as well) asume it is the admin, but since it is a cubicle I think anyone could have done that when looking for something that OP had and the other person needed. I’m not saying that this is the case, but it is a possibility.

  11. SallytooShort*

    I think some of this is the difference between an office with 10 people and an office with 60. She probably didn’t know who left the glasses. So, it wasn’t really targeted at you. She really can’t be direct if she doesn’t know who did it. There are 60 people working there. She can’t go to everyone. And she certainly can’t just wash everyone’s glasses rather than send an email.

    And space heaters are a Huge Deal in some offices. And the problem is much more likely to come up in an office with more people (who have more space heaters taking up the grid.) So, it’s really doing an unpleasant job she was likely tasked with.

    You probably aren’t the only one with a space heater. And, again, she can’t go around to every single person explaining the policy.

    The lamp seems like a nice gesture.

    Email is just more efficient if you have more than a dozen people.

    1. AccountantAnonymous*

      I can’t second all of this enough. We aren’t allowed to have space heaters in our office for safety reasons, and this certainly can be a Huge Deal if they are allowed in offices!

    2. straws*

      Three times, we’ve had someone bring in a space heater without approval/review and the breaker was blown out. Since we have to call property management to fix it, that meant at least an hour without power in most of the office. We don’t ban them entirely, but they have to meet certain specs and there are certain outlets they just can’t be plugged into.

    3. Was once an Admin*

      The dishes were left in a conference room – that’s her job. They were presumably used by a guest & she should have picked them up and washed them without any pushback.

      1. SallytooShort*

        How could she know that they were from the conference room? Even if it was her job she didn’t know that was how the glasses got there.

        And I’ve never worked anywhere where cleaning up after clients was an admin job. It’s always been the responsibility of whoever was part of the meeting.

      2. Morning Glory*

        You’ve commented this same thing a few times, now. As others have said – that’s true in some workplaces, but not in others.

        1. Was once an Admin*

          Who else is going to clean up the dishes from a meeting? It’s the job of the executive admin or the administrative staff. Admins set up the meeting – order food – set up projectors – people come to the meeting – admins/assistants pick up. Whoever called the meeting can help and should, but won’t always.

          In my office, often the clients/board members/guest will put their dishes in the sink but not wash them. So it’s on the admin or anyone who feels like doing dishes.

          And it’s two glasses. Holy passive aggressive.

          OP (and nine other people who were part of the organization that took over the new space) are adjusting as well. The admin is adjusting and OP, as senior staff, shouldn’t be afraid to talk to her about her duties.

          1. Morning Glory*

            I have been an admin in two different offices. In my first office, the culture was just like you describe. In my current office, I do setup/cleanup for large meetings –
            when people request it – but for smaller meetings, people clean up after their own guests. That culture existed long before I joined, and nobody has an issue with it. So, like I said… it’s true for some offices, not others.

            And as many others have pointed out, the OP is only aware of two glasses: that does not mean that the admin wrote the email because of two glasses. As you say, the new people are adjusting: which means letting them know about procedures that they may not be aware of.

            1. Was once an Admin*

              I think some of it is also because they aren’t “new” people – OPs company took over the bigger company. So technically, the 60+ company are actually the “new” people. But in practice, the smaller team that moved in with the bigger team are the “new” teams. But OP, being senior staff, shouldn’t be afraid to talk to the admin about how he would like things done.

              For us, a lot of our guests/board members/clients/random people dropping by often try to pick up after themselves by putting dishes in the sink. Which means that those fall to the admin by default. If my admin sent out a company-wide email about it, it would not be taken well. I think because email just comes off so harsh in comparison to an announcement at our weekly staff meeting/catch up session.

              1. Currently an Admin*

                If the admin is the only one for the office, OP can’t just decide to tell her how *they* want things done- everyone in the office needs to be taken into consideration. A few others have also pointed out that the admin may have been told by the boss to send the emails.

                How things are done in offices change through the years and can vary by office. When you were working as an admin you were expected to take on a lot of housekeeping/cleaning duties. I am currently an admin and I’m not expected to clean up behind senior staff or their guests.

          2. WeevilWobble*

            Functioning adults clean up after themselves in most places. Admin aren’t busboys. Executives aren’t too special to not leave their glasses around.

            But regardless the admin never saw the glasses in the conference room. She wasn’t asked to remove them. This is all completely irrelevant.

          3. WeevilWobble*

            And, honestly, I’m beyond shocked and disgusted that there are places that think admins should be dishwashers.

            1. Was once an Admin*

              It’s part of the task “set up and clean up after meetings.”

              The employees of the company tend to pick up after themselves, but they can also be running from meeting to meeting to meeting, or they get caught up in an after meeting with a high-level person. So it kind of gets stuck on the admin as part of “clean up after meeting” to put the dishes that clients and guests used in the dishwasher/hand wash them.

              For us, it’s 90% coffee mugs (we have bottled water & sodas, serve lunch on disposable plates), but it kind of has to be the admin to clean up after those people. The Executive Director isn’t going to have time to wash mugs after a board meeting. She almost always ends up in smaller meetings with board members immediately following. So do other staff.

              Everyone who works in the office might wash their own stuff, but guest dishes are the kind of thing that leads to arguments unless it’s clearly defined. For us, that falls under admin tasks. If no one takes responsibility for a dish, it’s admins by default. If it’s obvious that it is an employees carelessness, then either talking to the offender, or an announcement at the staff meeting is appropriate. Company wide emails are so easily disregarded as “well, that wasn’t me” (even when it was. People forgot things.)

          4. Kate 2*

            Um no.

            First, “admins” don’t have universal job duties decided by . . . who? Just like accountants don’t, lawyers don’t, etc. That’s office by office.

            Second it’s never “just two dishes”. There are 60 people in that office, eating lunch, meeting clients, etc.

            Third, “senior” or not, which we don’t know, if OP isn’t the admin’s boss, she has no right to “talk to her about her duties”. It would be chaos to have 60 people giving orders and contradicting each other, and OP might be going against the boss’s orders in the process.

  12. GumptionIndeed*

    This statement: More broadly, it’s appropriate — in most offices, at least — for admins to to assert authority over the general office area. Not over the people in it, but over the space itself.

    Yep. Because when there are admins, it’s very often on them, or expected of them to keep it tidy or presentable or “could you take care of that?” even when not specifically outlined in their job duties. Been there, done that.

  13. Erin*

    I love these admin/receptionist kind of letters since I used to be in the role for many years. I usually find myself siding with the admin, and it’s really interesting to hear other people’s perspectives.

    Sending a company-wide email about the two glasses is a bit ballsy, but I can understand where she’s coming from. As the OP noted, she’s great about cleaning common areas. But there’s a big difference between wiping down a table before and after a meeting, and cleaning someone’s personal coffee mug (you’re not their mom or wife). One feels like a reasonable part of the job and one feels rather demeaning.

    Of course, I see where the OP is coming from too, and agree that was a reasonable thing for her to do in that situation.

    But yeah, I think the boundaries this woman is putting in place equates to “I’m going to do my job and will even go out of my way to help out other employees, but I’m going to stop short of being anyone’s personal maid.”

    1. Tisme*

      Erin just curious because I’ve never worked with an admin or as such. You say wiping a table before / after a meeting is normal, so would it be the non admin or the admin who has to remove glasses etc?
      I’m not being funny or anything, just that point confuses* me. :/

      *It could be that its because I’ve a headache and really should not be checking e-mail let alone AMM….

      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        Not Erin, but my experience is that an admin sets up for the meeting, but the clean up after is more jointly handled. Everyone picks up their own glasses, plates, etc and deals with them. The admin might swoop back in later to wipe down the table and make sure nothing was missed, but each person cleans up after themselves and leftovers put into the fridge by someone that actually attended the meeting. This is for internal, clients wouldn’t clean up after themselves. But we still don’t leave their stuff sitting there for the admin. Someone in the meeting would grab it while they are taking care of their own stuff.

        1. Tisme*

          Thanks TWBAGBN. :)
          I clear up after myself at work which is why the glasses being left confused me. I’m filing away that I should still sort my own stuff even if I move to somewhere with an admin. I’d have done that anyway out of habit, but still mentally filing it away in ‘good office manners’.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          As always, it varies, though.

          Our admins set up and clean up. We also only have disposable plates, cups, etc., so everyone throws their own away, typically even the clients. But, the admins deal with the leftover food, drinks, and any utensils that were not used. They have carts for doing this, and it’s clearly in their job description. They also get the catering from the lobby. I think it’s good to have everything clearly outlined so people know and no one is getting mad at someone else for doing/not doing something the other person doesn’t know they should (or should not) be doing.

  14. e271828*

    The lamp thing is a signal that she’s looking out for resources you might need. That is a good thing! If you don’t need it, return it to her with a smile and permission to put it up for grabs or otherwise dispose of it as she sees fit.

    The rest of it is how good admins work. If you are not used to having one, you may find it odd how some things get done invisibly and some, like dishes/glasses left in the sink, get a hard bounce. She is training the office as the office (you) trains her!

    1. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, especially as there are so many new people, this is boundaries drawing at its most basic.

  15. animaniactoo*

    Among other things – the fact that the space heater has an automatic shut-off is supposed to be a backup safety feature in case you forget. It’s NOT supposed to be a relied on feature that means you just walk away and leave it on unattended for however long until the auto-shutoff kicks in. That’s serious business, so especially as you combine offices, it’s entirely appropriate to send an office-wide e-mail to address it as a “hmmm this might be common culture for that office, I’m better addressing it that way just in case rather than bringing it up just with OP”.

    I’m curious about the glasses in the sink – did she have a way to know that it was you? And was it about not leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen area or not leaving glasses in the sink because they’re more fragile and therefore many people avoid doing that?

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, the auto shutoff function on many space heaters depends on a timer and functions when they are left in “on” mode, so if there’s a power interruption, they will switch back to actively on when the power is restored. If you’re not sure if your specific heater does this, try turning it on, unplugging it for 1-2 minutes, then plugging it back in to see if it resumes heating.

      tl;dr version: yes, the auto-shutoff feature is usually meant as more of a safety backup than a timer.

  16. AKchic*

    Space heaters:
    Just because it looks obviously “Off” to you – it doesn’t mean that it looks obviously “Off” to anyone else. To a Quality/Safety person, sometimes the only “Off” they consider is “unplugged”. For all we know, someone may have directed her, or a janitor, to unplug all space heaters when not in use.
    Space heaters are a big issue, and a big unknown. If they are personal ones from home, the company can’t know for sure what condition they are in, and that is a major risk, both for the building, and for any person within the building. It can cause a fire. I can see why they’d want them unplugged during non-business hours.

    Now, having said that – and given a semi-lecture I didn’t mean to (sorry); a quick “hey, this is on a timer/is digital/whatever” and ask that she not unplug it because it could upset the rest of the things plugged in to the same outlet isn’t out of the realm of cubefarm politeness.

  17. Jane Snow*

    OP, I can’t help but get the sense that you’re bristling at these actions because they’re coming from someone you perceive as being “lower ranked” than you. Admins are really in an unusual position, because while they’re historically seen as junior staff, they often have to enforce policies as part of their jobs, and in many cases they essentially run the office. If you’re coming from a professional background with a rigid organizational hierarchy, you may be letting that cloud your perspective on this situation, and your expectations around admins’ proper “place” may be causing you to incorrectly classify your colleague’s normal job performance as poor boundaries.

  18. Jo*

    My old office used to do this all the time, regardless of how petty the issue, and it drove me demented.

    1. Ainomiaka*

      They are a fire risk in buildings with old wiring and a blowing the breaker risk even in buildings with new wiring.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        Now that I read that again, or did you mean you don’t see why unplugging it is an issue? In which case I agree.

        1. Kate 2*

          Depending on the building, even leaving it plugged in is a problem. I used to rent a room in a really old house. One of the light fixtures in that house had the original 1900’s insulation on the wires, horse hair, I think? Another time the wall heater, which was relatively up to date, shot sparks out, a couple of times. The owner checked it out and said it looked fine, but . . . I always turned it off when I was out of the house.

        2. Vera*

          True story: my house burned down because of a faulty space heater.

          OP#5, I’ve never been an admin and I would have unplugged the thing if I were in your office, too.

      2. Brandy*

        Yeah, I only use a heating pad since we cant have heaters, but still, I make sure it is unplugged every evening along with my charger. I do have a space heater in my den because its big with only one vent, and before I leave it at all, I make sure its unplugged.

  19. hbc*

    The main thing to do if you’re annoyed by her indirect approach is…to deal with her directly. As in, “Hey, Jane, if that email was about the glasses from yesterday, I found them dirty in the conference room and I had to quickly clean up for a client. Is there a preferred way to handle it next time?” And “If I was the offender on that email, I mistakenly thought the shut-off feature on my heater was enough. Sorry about that!”

    Either she’s good-natured and you’re showing her she doesn’t need to be indirect, or she likes the public scolding and you’re showing her you’re immune.

    1. SallytooShort*

      I don’t disagree, generally. I would just say that this assumes either of those emails were targeted at the OP. She likely couldn’t know who left the dishes (and there have probably been other instances OP is unaware of.) And around this time of year there are probably multiple space heaters.

  20. bopper*

    The admin must keep in mind that the workers are there to work, not to keep the workplace pristine. So a balance has to be found.

  21. Tara*

    I’m that person for my office. If I send an email to the whole office, it’s because the message is something the whole office needs to know. If she’s sending emails about the heaters, I can almost guarantee it is a CYA email so she can say she notified everyone, probably at the building management’s request. This is a pretty standard thing and I just had to break the bad news to the cold employees that they couldn’t have heaters. Building managers can be a pain to deal with. And maybe you had a good excuse for leaving the glasses in the sink, but if she is in the position of having to clean up frequently after people, let me tell you, it gets old real fast. She wants to nip that chiz in the bud. She’s the office mom, for better or worse. She can make your life a dream or she can make it …not so dream. I would just say, choose your battles and encourage her to do the same.

  22. Tisme*

    Sounds like this new office needs to send out a list of rules for their new office mates.

    If I was a new employee there I’d have been caught out with the space heater, since I never think to unplug mine, just turn it off at the plug. (admittedly its at home but it rarely gets unplugged.)

    Moving of stuff, that would bug me though.

    Have a good Wednesday all, I’ll have to catch up with reading comments (I learn so much) tomorrow, my headache has won out.

    1. Was once an Admin*

      I think part of this is the fact that technically, the 60+ employees are the “new” employees, they just got to stay in the same building when their jobs were switched over to OPs company. Mergers are always weird. OPs company moved in with the company that they acquired, so there is probably quite a bit of adjustment on both sides.

  23. Sleepy Coder*

    I really don’t believe that all of her actions were appropriate here. Moving things on shelves a day on the desk around? Maybe I’m just territorial, but you would absolutely get a few stern words and a firm warning from me. Especially of it was someone below me doing it. The lamp I would find mildly annoying, but I would just politely ask her to return it to where she found it, or offer it to someone else.

    I’m not sure what the norms were for them when this was a ten person cubicle office, but everywhere else I worked with an arrangement like that had pretty decent privacy acknowledgement. Even in the smaller ones. For me, if she did these things I would be ruffled. I do not allow anyone to mess with my area, admin or not, unless it’s my nephews, but they don’t know any better, and stop with a soft warning.

    The company wide emails, those I can understand. She just went from a small offices to a pretty decently sized one. I’m sure she doesn’t want to be treated like a maid, and she doesn’t know who to approach, so it might be her only option. If you really want them to stop, calmly approach her, and ask her to send them out for larger things. Like leaving a space heater on forever.

    Speaking of which, that also only requires another short informative talk. Maybe tape a note onto your space heater, saying that it’ll turn off soon. But honestly, I would appreciate her doing that for me, my mind is often elsewhere when leaving the office, I could very easily let that slip.

  24. KEG*

    I was reception/admin and I still back up our reception admin. I can see both sides. Our last receptionist used to send out a few too many emails to everyone about keeping the kitchen clean, picking up your printouts, etc. Some of the more tiresome ones were passive aggressively geared towards one person who always left their crusty bowl of oatmeal remnants to soak for hours, but was sent to everyone. Why clutter everyone’s email when you can just ask that person to stop (we knew who it was). I think it’s important to wait until there’s a pattern or the kitchen is especially bad and then send an email. I also think that a lot of these problems are never going to get better, regardless of the number of emails because a lot of people don’t connect the dots between their behavior and how that makes reception feel disrespected, or just don’t care.
    Some of the menial tasks reception does, like kitchen and meeting room stuff, really is an incredibly thankless job.

  25. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I sympathize with the admin. It sounds like she’s tired of cleaning up after adults who should know how to handle their own dirty dishes and suchlike at work. It also sounds like she is trying to inform and/or remind a large number of new team members to be aware and respectful of office cleanliness and maintenance processes.

    Also, OP, I agree with other commenters that her actions don’t sound like boundary issues…but yours kind of do. She’s not inferior to you, she’s not swooping in with recommendations on how to do your job, and she’s not butting into office matters that don’t involve her. Sounds to me like she’s doing her job, but you don’t think she’s minding her place. It also sounds like she’s rubbing you the wrong way because you were called out, albeit via an all-hands email – and there’s a whiff of ‘who is SHE to do that?’ in your letter.

  26. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    The problem with the constant stream of admonishing emails is that after a while they will be greeted with an eye roll and a delete button. Which is unfortunate because the admin probably has some good points to make. However, they’ll get drowned out over two water glasses in the sink.

  27. ballpitwitch*

    Reading these comments are so disheartening – I love being an admin and keeping everything in the office running smoothly so everyone can do their jobs. So many people treat us like maids who are there to clean up their messes or some sort of Mad Men-esque secretary who is there to defer/obey everyone else in the office. It is so difficult to keep an office with dozens of people happy – whether that means ordering food, keeping supplies stocked, or planning morale-boosting activities. If she is a good admin (which it sounds like she is), she probably deals with that stuff as she sees it – that might have been the 3rd or 4th time that day she had to deal with dishes in the sink. Don’t assume the email was sent out because of that one incident. Try and appreciate all the things that magically “happen” to make your job easier and don’t be too hard on her for doing her job. If you have never been in an similar position, you have no idea how how exhausting it is to try and make an office of adults behave like they are not middle-schoolers (especially when all those people consider themselves above you).

      1. An adult who cleans up after themselves*

        Agree 100%. Seems as though most people have no empathy for their admins, whose job is to do the work no one else wants to do in order to make the office run smoothly. Just because they’re doing work you don’t want to do, doesn’t mean they are “lower” than you.

  28. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    This sound like a territory battle. The admin is asserting the old company’s rules about the kitchen and heaters and sending out emails — and the OP thinks that the admin should actually be getting used to how the new company that acquired them does things. That admin isn’t just doing her job. I would be really put off if someone rearranged anything on my desk. It’s not difficult to simply ask, “Would you like a lamp? We have extras in the storage closet.” And if she is responsible for cleaning common areas and setting up for meetings, then she missed the dirty dishes in the conference room.

    1. Luna*

      But there is no indication in the LW’s letter that the new company has any official policies, it is just his personal preferences. The LW might be more senior than the admin (which doesn’t say much, since most admins aren’t very high up on the org chart), but the LW isn’t in charge of the company or its policies. Given that the LW stated the admin is very good at her job, and gave no indication that cleaning the conference room was the admin’s responsibility, I think it is safe to say that cleaning up after meetings is not at all the admin’s job in this office.
      The moving stuff around on his shelves is a little strange, maybe, depending on how much things were rearranged. But I would caution the LW against assuming that was the admin, as most offices do have janitorial staff that come in, often after hours, to do general cleaning.

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Second paragraph, second sentence, “…sets up for meetings, cleans common areas,” so cleaning the conference room does indeed sound like the admin’s responsibility.

        If the new company has no official policy, then that IS the official policy — they have no policy against heaters and dishes in the sink. Admin should be asking what the new company prefers, not asserting that the old rules still stand.

        1. Kate 2*

          Cleaning varies. In our office that means wiping down the conference table after meetings, not hauling all the food and dishes away. And setting up for us means accepting the food delivery and putting it in the conference room, not taking it out of the bag at all or doing anything with it.

          1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

            Are you implying that she did her job cleaning common areas and setting up the meeting by wiping the table around the two used glasses but it wasn’t her job to move them so she left them there? Why then wasn’t there an email about dirty dishes in the conference room?

            1. Clare*

              Not all meetings require setup help. When I was an administrator I only set up meetings where someone was presenting PowerPoint slides, when specifically asked. And in some offices common areas really just means the reception area and maybe kitchen.

    2. aebhel*

      I wouldn’t be bothered by most of it, but I’d be pretty ticked off if someone came in and rearranged my work materials while I was out. I have very poor memory, so I need a system to keep track of things and I really would not appreciate digging through piles of stuff to find what I was looking for because someone decided to “organize”.

  29. Safely Retired*

    “”I think I might be the cause of that email about leaving things in the sink. I left some glasses there earlier today because they were in a conference room I needed to quickly prepare for a client. Sorry about that!””

    To be immediately followed by the company-wide email about not leaving glasses in the conference room.

  30. Erika22*

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to address leaving dirty mugs/dishes in an office where the only sink is in a communal kitchen down the hall and there’s no dedicated admin? The people who use our office regularly (a satellite office – our HQ is a couple hours away) tend to stick to disposable cups/travel mugs, but specifically our leadership team will use our satellite office for a meeting, use mugs for coffee/tea, and just leave them sitting around after they’ve left. There’s no one regularly in our office (a suite in a building – used mostly for trainings and meetings) so sometimes it will be a week before someone else comes in, and there will be old, moldy coffee in the mugs. I’ve mentioned it multiple times to the executive assistant who comes to these meetings, but it’s not really her responsibility to clean up after them. Does actually emailing our leadership about it sound like a reasonable thing to do? If it happens again, I’m tempted to just hide the mugs before their next meeting so they’re forced to use disposable cups (not even kidding). Thoughts?

    1. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep*

      Talk to the head of the leadership team, in a “hey, what should happen with this?” in a seeking advice type way. Mostly because you are… but don’t be surprised if the answer is a “clean them up yourself”.

  31. Former Employee*

    “She makes coffee, orders food, sets up for meetings, cleans common areas, orders supplies, liaises with the building manager, and makes sure things like cable and phones stay on.”

    If the admin cleans common areas, then she is the one responsible for the dirty glasses being in the conference room in the first place. While I wouldn’t throw this in her face, I would let her know that I was the one who left the glasses in the sink because I found them in the conference room just as a client was coming in for a meeting and ask her what I should do if I discover something similar in the future.

    (It would be tempting to ask her if I should just leave them on her desk if it happens again, but I would refrain.)

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