my coworker treats me like his assistant

A reader writes:

I work in a small office, seven people total. I love my job and I’ve always received glowing reviews from my boss. However, I have an irritating, ever-present problem.

My coworker, Jim, refuses to learn our operating system, which includes all client data. He will walk up to my desk and interrupt whatever work I’m currently in the middle of to ask me to look up a customer and information about their service. He will even interrupt my lunch break (while I have headphones in) and ask me to look up client information. If he sees me on the phone with a client, he will instead walk over to the only other woman in our office, Mandy, and ask her to look up information instead. He will even call Mandy or me with questions about clients when he is out of the office, at home, sitting in front of his (company-issued) laptop!

Jim treats both of us as his assistants, although neither of our jobs are related to his. He will ask Mandy or me to prepare presentations for customers who neither of us have contact with. He’s asked me to help him format his email signature, or to save a picture onto his desktop, and other things that are incredibly simple to do. All of these tasks he has the time to do, but he just doesn’t want to do them. Our company operating system has been in place for years, and Jim has had mandatory training on this system. But it’s as if he’s scared or intimidated by technology, and won’t use the system.

Jim has worn a path in the carpet of our office, from his desk, to my desk, to Mandy’s desk, and back. There’s nothing he won’t ask either of us to do, and it doesn’t matter how busy we are. I’m starting to feel like he’s using Mandy and I to do his “busy work” because he thinks it’s beneath him. He’s never asked any other coworkers for help, and I feel like he’s asking Mandy and I because we’re the women in the office.

How do I politely but tactfully ask him to stop bothering me with tasks that he should know how to do? Mandy has worked for this company for a lot longer than I have, and I know it’s wearing her thin.

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.

{ 183 comments… read them below }

      1. fposte

        The original post has a lot more information from the OP in the comments, including the fact that Mandy got a writeup for saying no. (It seemed like the OP’s manager, who isn’t Mandy’s or Jim’s manager, might have been more willing to back a refusal by the OP.)

                1. anotherescape

                  Being told that I am “inflexible and “manufacturing conflict” (after a full weekend of unpaid overtime work to fix another department’s mistake) was one of the highlights of my summer.

            1. RUKiddingMe

              Ok then…the women are there merely to help out the males/do their work for them so that they (the males) can shine. Women exist to be assistants to males. Got it.

              I know the original letter is like four years old, but I wish I’d read it when it was first published. I know myself way too well and I have to say that no amount of security or paycheck would stop me from telling Jim to go fuck himself and do his own work. I’d probably have a few choice words for the ineffectual manager who is perpetuating the whole ‘women exist to serve men’ thing as well.

              I wouldn’t have a job at the end of the day (or my diatribe as the case may be) but I am not all that attached to my nose and would happily cut it off over shit like this…no problem. <–nose, spite face reference just in case anyone doesn't get my 'humor.'

              If anyone has Amazon Prime, use the Prime video and watch the series "Good Girls Revolt.' It's only one season and about 11 episodes IIRC. It's a true story.

              I try to keep in mind the historical context but whenever I've watched it (like five times now) I so want to time travel back to 1970, waltz into Newsweek (that's the actual magazine that was sued, they just don't name it *exactly* in the show) and drop some of those (all?) chauvinistic, misogynistic bastards out of the window and tell the women they don't have to take this shit at work or in life.

              Alas in 1970 I was only seven years old… more's the pity.

              If anyone is still with me, sorry about the little mini-rant there.

              1. TrainerGirl

                Interestingly enough, I’m dealing with a similar issue right now, but it’s with a female coworker. It’s an interesting dynamic…she has far more experience with the software we use, but I have the industry experience (she has none). At first, I wasn’t sure if she was treating the rest of the team as her employees, but slowly, I became aware that she had a tendency to want to “assign” work to the rest of the team while giving herself very little. She stated one day that she had a team that reported to her in her previous position, and I think she’s not used to everyone being equal. Specifically with me, she pretty much dismisses anything I say out of turn, and only when one of my teammates (who’s been there longer than both of us and has a longstanding relationship with our manager) makes a statement does she relent. She’s been out for a few days, and I’ve realized that the team is humming along and working together really well, because we believe in pitching in and helping each other when needed and none of us thinks we’re above that. I don’t plan in this position forever, so I can deal but anyone can do this.

              2. Melonhead

                You are a woman after my own heart. I was 9/10 in 1970, and already well-versed in the way the world worked – for men and against women. I happened upon Ms. Magazine in a waiting room when I was 12, thank the lard.

                Also: have you read the excerpt from Rebecca Traister’s new book? It’s called “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” and there’s a fantastic excerpt at The Cut.

            2. Close Bracket

              Woooooooooooooooooooooow

              “No, there is no time for me to do this project for you. I have X, Y, and Z due by COB today.”

              That is a perfectly reasonable response. The double standard is real, y’all.

        1. Imaginary Number

          I’ve been in that situation before, where I’ve been expected to “not just say no” by my boss (when asked to do things by someone else.) I found the best option is to say yes, but make sure it takes as much of their time as mine. “Let me walk you through it on your computer.” Or “Sure, let’s sit down at 1 pm and go through this.” If it’s truly someone relying on my particular expertise they shouldn’t mind. If they’re just being lazy that will put them off.

          1. RecoveringSWO

            I absolutely pulled that with a “go get me coffee” request. Took about 45min to get coffee from 1 floor down. This was for a manager who was not my supervisor and was notorious for repeatedly tasking those who weren’t his subordinates and generally being a jerk. It worked for me.

                1. Decima Dewey

                  Bringing him coffee laced with soap from the ladies’ room could be considered illegal. Bringing him lukewarm, watered down coffee is perfectly legal.

          2. BRR

            I do something similar when I have to be more diplomatic. I teach them the task and if I show them in person, I email a follow up (usually a link, I don’t spend time typing it up). If they ask again, I ask what part of the process I showed/sent them isn’t working. If they dig their heels in, I offer to watch them do the thing and I’ll trouble shoot when there’s an issue.

            1. Not So NewReader

              This throws some people into unbelievable agony. Well done.

              It’s interesting, you know, because I have used the same method with people who WANT to learn. The process goes very quickly and they thank me a bizillion times.

              I always think that we are very transparent to each other.

          3. RUKiddingMe

            Someone got hired a while back. I would not have hired him I don’t think. I’m pretty good at detecting bullshit, but ok sure give him a chance. Dude Bro didn’t know who the players are and tried to boss around the CEO…that would be me.

            He was chauvinistic and sexist, made really inappropriate jokes, tried to fob off his work on the women (our office is about 90% women) and said some stuff about women in the workplace.

            Business partner was directed to take care of that guy. He has one shot at getting his shit together and to stop being such a colossal douche bag. Apparently Dude Bro didn’t understand the complexity of “knock it off or you will be fired.” Dude Bro tried to tell me I didn’t hire him so I didn’t have the authority to fire him. Ahahahaha

            Business partner (i.e. Husband) is no longer allowed to unilaterally hire people.

            1. Not So NewReader

              Love this.
              Did he understand he was actually fired or did he have to run to your hubby to get a translation?

          4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

            “Sure, let’s sit down at 1 pm and go through this.”

            I had a coworker whose response anytime I had a question was, “let’s call a meeting, invite a few more people, and discuss”. I very quickly stopped having questions for that guy. It works!

            1. Imaginary Number

              The benefit to “let’s sit down at 1 PM” is that you’re forcing the person to decide whether they actually need your help or just spontaneously decided that asking you would be expedient at the time.

              1. Mongrel

                Also book the time in your calendar and make sure to invite him so you can “innocuously” keep track of the requests and how much time is being wasted on showing him a core component of his job. Make sure you have an accurate description of his query in the meeting request

                If he twigs and ignores\declines the meeting then it becomes a self solving problem.

        2. Amber Rose

          Wow, that is some BS. :/
          I guess my first comment has this addendum: *Assuming your boss isn’t a jerk.

      2. No Mas Pantalones

        It’s also a complete sentence. No extra “No, I’m….” or “No, I’m sorry …”

        Don’t apologise. You have nothing to apologise for. (He, on the other hand….)

        Just “No.” Full stop. –easier said than done, I know. But the first few times are the hardest. Then it’s kinda fun.

    1. Jerry

      I’ll admit this post confused me. He asked them to prepare presentations on other clients? Format his email signature? Look up client data? This is ridiculous. The answer is just flat, unadulterated, unsoftened, “No.”

        1. Jerry

          Tell me more about that? I just find this so utterly daffy. Alright, “Hey can you help me find the IT guy’s phone number?” or “Help, I’m drowning, I have a deadline in an hour and our vendors didn’t show up” or “Can you pass me a tissue” shouldn’t be met with just “No.” But seceterial work when one isn’t a secretary? Alright fine, maybe not no, I have an icy stare that works pretty well, but I simply cannot fathom this happening between peers.

          1. Perse's Mom

            Some companies and some bosses are just terrible. The flat “No” or a softer “I have my own priorities and won’t be able to help you” or even a(n overly gentle) “I need to get X done in the next hour but I can get you the info you need after that” only work if you have a manager who’s willing to back you up.

          2. Emily K

            A lot of times, slow boundary creep is the issue. The guy never starts by asking for a whole Powerpoint presentation, he’ll start off by asking for something so quick and easy to do that the other person, even if it’s completely not their job, feels like they don’t want to die on the hill of arguing about whose job this 30-second task is, and worries they’ll look too precious or too rigid about what they’re willing to do. Over time, the requests gradually become more and more involved, but each escalation is so small that some people who are less sure of themselves in the workplace–maybe they’re young, or new to the industry/town, or coming out of a bad prior working environment–won’t realize until it’s too late that they should have said no several favors ago…and then they feel like because they complied for so long, now they need to have a good justification for “changing their mind,” and they think if they can’t provide such a justification then well, they’re stuck doing the unwanted tasks.

            People who violate boundaries this aggressively often do it in ways that play on other people’s desire to get along, not rock the boat, and be reasonable. They push people into situations and force them to act before they’ve had a chance to fully assess and evaluate the situation and decide what they can or should do, and then use that initial acquiescence against the person if they try to withdraw their agreement.

          3. SusanIvanova

            Ah, but you see your co-workers as peers. Unless you’re more Jerry Hall than Jerry Garcia, I’d bet Jim would see you as a peer too.

        1. Traffic_Spiral

          this is a good one. Also “I just showed you how to do that last week. Was there one thing in particular you couldn’t understand, or do you need me to teach you again?”

      1. designbot

        I think ‘no’ doesn’t go far enough, because it doesn’t close the door for future requests. I’d be more like, “If you’re having trouble handling your workload you should talk to (boss) about it, but I have my own job to do. You’re going to have to get used to being more self sufficient if you want to succeed here.”

    2. RUKiddingMe

      I am so sick of the belief that women have to always be polite no matter how outrageous others’ behavior towards them/requests.

      1. paralegal beagle

        I was just thinking this morning that I wanted that on a t-shirt. It’s especially problematic (IME) when there is an older generation of men in the office because they tend to influence the behavior of the younger men, who may know better. I honestly think this problem of expecting women to be deferential, in the workplace and in general, will take several more generations to (mostly) disappear.

    3. Lora

      There’s an opportunity to turn the Splaining right around though – big condescending smirk, “did…did you not know how to do that?”

      1. Jill

        Yeah, ridicule is an underused tool against, well, tools.

        “Christ, Jim, how long have you worked here and you don’t even know how to create a freaking email signature? If I were you, I’d Google that right away before your boss finds out how incompetent you are. I mean, if word got back to her that you couldn’t even use the operating system that has our entire client database, I’m guessing your ass would be fired immediately. Wow.”

        Put on the headphones and turn back to your own work.

    4. Nanani

      This.

      The scripts in the article are WAY too soft and nice.

      Don’t redirect to other colleagues, don’t explain how to do it, don’t tell him what you’re busy with (because that sounds like an excuse. Just shut it down. Professionally of course, but bluntly.

      “No.”
      and
      “Don’t interrupt me on my lunch break”
      are what you want to reach for, here.

  1. Sharkie

    This is horribly annoying. I’m sorry OP. If he is wearing a path in the carpet I wonder if your other coworkers notice his behavior.

    1. No Mas Pantalones

      I took that as hyperbole, but it would be kinda funny to put glowing paint on his shoes and then blacklight the carpet.

      1. Sharkie

        Lol my old boss wore down the carpet to the cube farm from all his pacing all day! It was kinda funny,

        I LOVE the black light idea! Although you might find out TOO much about the office carpet :P

        1. No Mas Pantalones

          Yeah, that’s more than I want to know, ya know? Kinda like why I don’t bring a blacklight to a hotel. Or watch any of the expose shows that do. LALALALAICANNOTHEARYOULALALALA

  2. Viki

    Just double check with your manager that Jim doesn’t have the permission to push his busy work on you and Mandy as per the answer. Then, like Eulerian says ‘No’ is your best friend.

    1. JokeyJules

      I did this and it worked.
      A coworker referred to me as his assistant to a client in an email and told me to look something up for him that was on the network drive that he has full access to. I forwarded said email to my manager and didn’t ever hear about that again.

    2. Anonymosity

      I used to send those requests TO my manager at OldExjob. There was one guy who would ask me to do things all the time that he *should* have been doing. I was the only admin for the entire business for quite a while after my original boss left (they refused to hire my new boss an assistant, which was one reason she eventually left). I was supposed to help other departments out, but he would try to overstep.

      If I suspected him of doing that, I would just redirect: “Hey Clint, I’m not sure if Nick would want me to do that on top of the other stuff he’s given me. Why don’t you check with him and make sure?” If it was just busywork he didn’t want to do, he’d go away, hahaha. No way he was going to go to Nick and ask me to do his crap.

    3. MLB

      I come from the school of “teach a man to fish”, so I never would have done it for him in the first place. But now that OP and Mandy have become enablers, they need to push back. I agree with Alison that OP needs to have a conversation with her boss on expectations, but she needs to set clear boundaries if boss agrees that he should be doing it himself. Being in a work situation doesn’t mean you have to bend over backwards for everyone and everything. And it is okay to say no, without excuse or explanation.

    1. McWhadden

      I think we have to acknowledge that saying “no” with nothing else is just not an option for a lot of women in the office. It can be perceived much more hostile than when a man does it. And can get her labelled as uncooperative and “not a team player” and other things that can be detrimental to her career. As illustrated by the fact that Mandy was written up for saying no in a calm professional way.

      1. Aleta

        Even outside of work, just saying “no” doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is just going to back off. If they’re someone unreasonable enough that giving a normal reason is a problem, they’re also unreasonable enough to respond to a no with “but why not?” ad nauseum. You’d think it makes them look like a toddler, but IME it makes you look very hostile for refusing to answer what, for most people, is a simple question. I do take that stand, but I do it with the full knowledge that I’m getting harassed either way.

        1. Emily K

          Yeah, I think ultimately gruff men get let off way more easily than women who are perceived as gruff, but I can’t imagine anyone I work with just saying, “No,” to another without some kind of explanation for why the request isn’t possible. It helps people learn general principles of what they can and cannot ask of you.

          “I want you to post this video of our employees playing beer pong in the office on our Facebook account.”
          “No, we can’t post anything on Facebook that the VP of Communications hasn’t signed off on, and I doubt this will meet his standards. Please review the social media guidance on the company intranet.”

          “I need the image from today’s email so I can use it in a postcard mailing.”
          “No, we only purchased the digital rights for that image. You can’t put it on postcards unless you purchase a new license.”

          “Please send the attached email to our subscribers this afternoon.”
          “Not possible. The soonest we can launch an email is 3 business days after we receive the HTML file from you.”

          If someone doesn’t accept your answer and tries to argue with you, you don’t need to convince them of your reason or keep trying until you find one they accept, but in any of the above scenarios just saying, “No,” would be needlessly aggressive and rude.

        2. Lavender Menace

          Yeah, I was going to say this. There’s definitely a gender element, but even most men can’t get away with just saying “no” with no follow-up or reason or justification.

      2. Project Mangler

        I am a woman and I’m aware of the stigma, but maybe I’ve reached an age where I just don’t care. Jim can learn to do his job. It’s not a woman’s job to make it all nice and easy for everyone.

        1. bonkerballs

          That would be great if saying no would make Jim learn his own job. However, as evidenced by Mandy getting written up for saying no, it’s not going to do that at all. What it’s going to do is jeopardize OP’s career. So telling her and other women “just say no!” and “no is a complete sentence!” is actually quite harmful advice.

      3. Geneva

        AGREED! And it’s even less of an option for women of color. I (a black woman) got in trouble at ex-toxic job for saying no politely. My boss (older, white male), called me rude, disrespectful and disloyal.

      4. tangerineRose

        The way I usually deal with this is to say I need to check with my manager before doing the work – that usually makes people back off.

      5. Le Sigh

        I worked in a dysfunctional office with a guy like Jim. I’m kind of a known crabby person, but I always responded with a “cheery” smile and, “Oh sorry, we’re slammed this week. We don’t have any extra capacity.” “Oh what about (junior co-worker), can she help?” “Nope, she’s busy, too, helping me actually. Sorry!”

        Didn’t matter how much work we really had, I just refused to help because the Jims of the world will ask again and again if you say yes even once. I wasn’t very high ranking, so the fake smile and comments about being slammed gave me a little professional padding in case I needed it.

    1. London Calling

      ‘No Jim, I’m not your assistant.’ The bit about lunch makes it sound as if once she is back at work, she might do the jobs he’s asking if he’s nice enough.

      1. Clorinda

        I keep hearing these “No, Jim,” suggestions in a Dr McCoy voice. No, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a secretary! If No doesn’t work, I’d like to strongly second everyone who’s advising OP to teach Jim and make sure that the teaching takes just as long or longer than doing it himself. Yes, I know that means OP isn’t getting her own work done, but a little investment in making it inconvenient for Jim might be worth it.

          1. No Mas Pantalones

            “Dammit Jim, I’m a AwesomeJobTitle, not your secretary!”

            I also hope Jim is wearing a red shirt if you ever say this to him.

            (Did I just go way too deep?)

            1. Snark

              And we know what happens to the redshirts. Don’t go on any away missions, Jim.

              (Aww yeaaahhh I just touched on TWO sci-fi nerd references simultaneously)

              1. Kat in VA

                Around here, we refer to the red shirts as “Ensign Ricky”.

                “Oh look, it’s Spock, Kirk, Bones…and Ensign Ricky.”

                Probably lifted from some comedian somewhere.

  3. Artemesia

    The more you do this the more you become his assistant. It may be too late since you have already accepted the role, so a very delicate conversation with your own boss needs to happen first of the order of ‘Jim keeps interrupting my work to get me to do the parts he can’t seem to get the hang of. Perhaps Bob or Cecil could show him how to use the data base they all use and prepare client presentations?’ Don’t make it easy for your boss to tell you that you should just help him out since that is easiest for everyone in this scene except you and Mandy.

  4. Aunt Betty

    I have a male coworker who tries similar things with me, a woman. I do two things, usually. When he asks me to do something I say, “Yes, you can do that,” then walk away. Or I just let him talk, say nothing, and then don’t do what he wants. The things he asks me to do are his responsibilities so if they don’t get done he’ll be held accountable, not me.

    1. Hills to Die on

      You would think he would have stopped after the first few times. In my experience, people who ask others to do their admin work usually aren’t quick to take the hint.

  5. Jen

    I have had trainees basically try to treat me as a decision maker for them. I will straight up say “the answer is in your resources, go find it”. These are trainees, though.

    I would loop your boss in on what is going on, then bring the hammer down.

    1. Down with bad training

      I think that is a different context. Trainees are expected to have questions for the person that gave training, and it is part of the trainer’s job to answer those questions. “Go look at subparagraph 5.7(a)(ii)(1)(B) on page 378” is not an adequate response.

      1. Perse's Mom

        Questions for clarity or better understanding, sure. Questions because X hasn’t come up in awhile and they’ve forgotten because it’s a rare circumstance, sure. Questions about how to run the TPS report that they’ve been walked through half a dozen times in the last two weeks AND have the printed (and digital) process manual in reach but it’s just faster to waste my time again rather than consult said manuals and/or take notes… nope.

        1. Michaela Westen

          There’s another aspect to this too. When someone is learning, the process of going through the steps by themselves helps them retain it. So they’re not willing to take the time to figure it out/look it up, and they’re not willing to learn. :p

  6. Gumption

    It might take many “No” replies for it to sink in. Asking the nearest woman for assistance is done by women too. I knew of one, she was a one-man architect department in a larger office of engineers and she repeatedly kept asking the nearest woman to her for the simplest of things despite it being clear that the woman was not an administrative assistant. The architect simply didn’t have space in her brain to remember the No for the next time she needed something (and I’m being kind because otherwise, she was a very nice but very disorganized person).

    Do say “No” and do expect to repeat it, often.

    1. Jadelyn

      I’m sorry, I can’t help but notice the irony of “she was a one-man architect department” in a post about unfair gendered expectations in the workplace. (Not that I think you intended anything by it, but it caught my eye in passing and made me chuckle a little.)

      1. RUKiddingMe

        I noticed that too. Patriarchal language favoring males is so strong…it is like second nature to default to male-centric verbiage…sigh.

      2. TCPA

        THANK YOU for pointing this out! I make so many changes in our boilerplate reports that still use terms like “key man insurance” and “workman’s comp.” I try to do it verbally too – if someone starts discussing key man insurance, the next time I say it I use “key person insurance” and it starts to catch on. While I know people don’t mean anything by it, it is easy for it to be overlooked and I think it’s important for people who notice it to help change the language :) So anyways – thanks for commenting on that!

        1. JeanB in NC

          I have been telling people for 25 years that it’s “workers comp” not “workman’s comp”. It hasn’t sunk in yet, I guess.

          1. Emily K

            In general I try to use job titles that are in the form of “Object Actor” not “Object man”/”Object woman” (or even “Object person”).

            Instead of mail man/mail woman, letter carrier.

            Instead of trash man/trash woman, garbage collector.

            Instead of fire man/fire woman, fire fighter.

            Instead of delivery man/delivery woman, deliver driver.

            Instead of busboy (busgirl?), table busser.

            And so on. Not only does it remove the gender from the title, but I feel like there’s also something about the “Object man”/”Object woman” construction that feels a bit reductive, in kinda the same way “handicapped person” is understood as reductive compared to “person with a disability.” My letter carrier is just a regular human person, not a special class of person known as mail people (lol).

    2. RUKiddingMe

      That’s because we are socialized to go to women for help. That type of behavior is part and parcel with internalized misogyny.

      We are taught to believe that women are nurturers/helpers and that any work males are doing is important ergo they can’t be disturbed. It’s sick, gross, and it sucks.

      Unfortunately patriarchy has had such a stranglehold for so many millennia that we have to help other women unlearn this type of behavior as well as teach males that we do not exist for them but rather for our own purposes that don’t revolve around/are not dependent upon them/their wants, needs, or desires.

    3. Close Bracket

      If I need help, I’d rather ask a woman than a man. There is a lot more to the gendering than who you ask. I’m a woman, and while it varies from person to person, another woman is more likely to help me without being a condescending ass about it. So there’s that.

      1. Autumnheart

        There’s also the unfortunate connotation where, if you ask a man for help, somehow it means that you and all women everywhere can’t achieve something without the natural superiority of the menfolk. (Just to be abundantly clear, this is not a concept with which I agree in the slightest.)

      2. RUKiddingMe

        Yes you’d rather ask a woman because women are more inclined 1) to help and 2) not be condescending ashats about it.

        Which circles back to my point about internalized misogyny, patriarchy, and women being socialized to be helpers, to be “nice,” and never say no.

        That you prefer to ask women instead of males based on how women respond to/treat you compared to the behavior of males pretty much underscores how fucked up society’s expectations of women *are.*

  7. Imaginary Number

    A one time friendly response: “Why don’t you show me where you’re struggling with this -on your computer- so you can don’t have to keep coming to me?”

    Next time: “No.”

    1. Beatrice

      This. I’ll show anyone how to do anything, in their own space and on their own equipment, with them doing the work and me providing the direction. I’ll even do it multiple times. I will NEVER AGAIN do someone else’s job for them just because they don’t know how to do it, or because I can do it faster or better.

  8. Sarah

    I have a coworker trying to do this right now. My strategy has been a cheerful, “Let me make sure you’re set up to do this on your own. *checks everything* Okay, great, you’re set up. You can find everything you need in client folders and check other client folders for examples of x report. Glad we’ve confirmed you’re set up, the process could really hit a bottleneck if you were waiting on me to do something you could do yourself!”

    Followed by really straightforward, “No, I won’t do that. This is your project, you are running it, our boss has given you specific instructions so you know what needs to be done. I have to get back to my own clients now.”

    There was a bit of a curve where he was new and I was giving him some help, but he’s abused it and I’m done. After I drew the line in the sand, I looped my boss in and said, “If you need me to handle this differently, let me know, but this is my plan going forward.”

    Do not, do not, DO NOT try to pass your work off to me. Ever.

    1. Amber Rose

      I don’t get people who do that. If I had to ask someone to do everything for me I’d feel like a loser. I understand laziness but it’s weird to me that people would rather be lazy and have a reputation for incompetence than put in the bare minimum of effort.

      1. henrietta

        I volunteered to do some research work for a colleague once. Took me an hour. They responded in surprise that I was so quick with it. I replied with my librarian mother’s favorite maxim: It’s not what you know, its what you know how to look up. They replied, “For me, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can get other people to do for you.” So the whole ‘feel like a loser’ thing is definitely not as widespread as you’d think/like it to be.

        It was actually good to hear that naked admission of laziness, as it made my choice to never volunteer to help them again an easy one!

      2. Dust Bunny

        OMG this. I’ve had to ask coworkers for legitimate help with stuff and it’s *mortifying*. Sometimes it really is new, or the operating system has changed and it’s not something I usually do. Sometimes I just haven’t done it in forever and, yeah, I’ve forgotten. But a) I don’t want to interrupt my coworkers, who are all busy, and b) I don’t want to be the goober who can’t remember how to do XYZ.

      3. Camellia

        They don’t feel lazy, incompetent, or like a loser. They feel powerful because they have gotten to order someone around and to force them do work that they shouldn’t be doing and don’t want to do.

        1. Not So NewReader

          Yes, it’s two different value systems. Their value system is that they place a high value on not having to work and finding as many different ways that they can to get out of their work. The worst thing that could ever happen to them is that they … have to do WORK. And I have seen enough women subscribe to this value system, too.

        2. Michaela Westen

          When I was still pretty young and naïve, I worked for a man whose thing was to see how much he could get from people. I was noticing some weirdness, but I didn’t put it together until a colleague described how my boss had bragged about getting a hotel to upgrade him to a suite and give him some free stuff – none of which he needed.
          He didn’t do very much real work either, and quit one jump ahead of being fired. Since I had been his secretary (with a very light workload that allowed me to do other things in life, yay), my job went away too.
          I’m doing much better now. :)

      4. Close Bracket

        It’s called strategic incompetence, and it’s generally reserved for unpleasant or annoying (or low status) tasks. It gets you out of having to do them. Sometimes having someone else do a task is a power move to indicate that you are too important to, say, schedule your own meetings in Outlook.

        1. Kathlynn

          The one thing I do this on is cleaning an expensive machine. I am terrified of breaking it. And they won’t give me the extra time I need to learn to clean it. So I haven’t learned how to clean it yet.

        2. It's OK to have a PA

          But if someone has been hired as an assistant, it is reasonable to expect they’ll schedule Outlook appointment for the person they report to, no?

          The key point isn’t the task, it’s whether the person was hired to do that task. I agree with AAM’s original advice, which was for OP first to check with her manager to see whether she was expected to handle these tasks. If not, then she should refuse. If yes, then she either needs to do it, ask for a change in her duties, or find a new job.

    2. delta cat

      I had a coworker who did things like this a lot. She was a part-timer and often worked outside the office. As a result, she often forgot how to use our office computer systems, and would come in insisting that someone else should do the most basic of tasks for her, things like checking her schedule and printing her reports, because remembering how to do them would take too much time and she was Very Busy. It got to the point where her accesses all ended up frozen from inactivity, which created a whole new set of problems. Trying to tell her “no” was exhausting. It would just be, “but I don’t have time” repeated over and over with increasing levels of shrill panic in her voice. Our admin person usually gave in. It ended up one day, when the admin person was out, with me physically standing over her, dialling the IT extension for her, and saying to them, “I’m here with Jane, she needs you to reset her login credentials please.” I’d never seen her so upset. It made me wonder if she had some sort of phobia about technology, frankly.

      1. Not So NewReader

        It could be that she never had to do it before and she was very certain they would talk over her head. OR If we don’t use specific knowledge we tend to lose that knowledge. It could be that she did not want them to see how much she did not know.

  9. Adlib

    There’s a reason my favorite manager (in a different department, but our functions cross paths a decent amount) is my favorite. I told him I love that he always wants to learn how to do things for himself. His answer was that he had to because the company had never given him much admin assistance at all. I get tired of all the people around me who think certain tasks are “beneath” them.

    1. jraz

      I think this is a different situation than a coworker. Honestly, there are things that should be “beneath” a manager. It’s not a matter of being polite, it’s a matter of efficiency and making proper use of everyone’s time.

  10. Never

    I’d be interested in what would happen if you respond with honest confusion, “Huh? Why are you asking me to do this? That’s not something I do.”

  11. Mike C.

    Why are you doing the work to begin with? Do you feel pressured to do it in some way? Are you afraid of not being seen “as a team player” or something like that?

    1. Camellia

      Unfortunately, most women are still “raised” to be nice, polite, and helpful, and many still fall into that trap.

    2. Close Bracket

      “Are you afraid of not being seen “as a team player” or something like that?”

      For women, that is a legitimate fear, and the outcome has real consequences on their careers.

    3. Not So NewReader

      Women are reprimanded for saying no, when men are not.

      There are too many times where I have seen a woman say, “I am concerned about machine X. There is a problem that I think can lead to a dangerous situation.” The woman is told to quit refusing to do her job. If a man said there was a problem with machine X, the machine would get shut down and technical support would be called in.

      I had problem Y with a machine. My (female) boss told me that I should just figure it out myself. Oddly, I actually did figure out and the explanation was a bizarre explanation. So my boss told everyone I was mentally ill. (One of her go-to expressions.) Tech came and watched the machine operate for a while. Then asked me if I had any thoughts on it. I told him the bizarre explanation (dealing with infrared beams getting reflected back in odd ways) and he shook his head. “Yep, that is exactly what is wrong.” I said, “Good. Explain it to my boss.” He said that exact same thing I said and it was okay when he said it.

      It’s not just men who discredit/ dis-empower women. Any thing that slows/stops work flows can cause a problem for a female employee. Everything must work perfectly at all times or she has failed in some manner.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        It’s not just at work. Any and everything in life that goes wrong is the woman’s fault.

        The easiest illustration of this: sexual assault. “Well what did SHE do to make him do that?” It’s somehow her fault that some male is a rapist. Or she’s yanno “lying” or “regrets” it or some such.

        1. Tisiphone

          This is older than civilization. Consider creation myths. Is there a creation myth that doesn’t blame a woman for causing the downfall of a previously all-male world? Eve. Pandora. I’m sure there are others.

    4. AnonInfinity

      I’m so late to this, but I can think of a handful of other AAM threads along these same lines, where the majority advice is “help out your coworkers when they ask you to do little things; if you say no, you’ll look like a rude non-team-player and probably ruin your career.” Off the top of my head, a few months ago there was the thread about a newly-hired female non-assistant whose older coworkers kept coming to her with piddly tasks that needed done, up to and including detangling necklaces. The majority advice was “absolutely, yes, do these things! Be helpful!” Maybe it’s in how each respective OP frames the question, but popular opinion seems to sway and back and forth on “yes, be helpful! Why would you refuse the chance to be nice?!” and “…why the heck did you start helping in the first place? ‘No’ is a complete sentence!”

      (It’s sad that it seems to usually only be women who write in with these things and have to worry about ending her career by saying “no, I’m not an assistant and won’t do your work.” And a lot of the advice is still, “be sure to check with your boss to MAKE SURE you’re not secretly an assistant and just never knew it before now!” …)

  12. RUKiddingMe

    Of course he’s asking you and Mandy because you are the women in the office. OP practice thisuntil it is the most natural thing in the world to say: “I am not your assistant. You need to learn how to do that and then do it yourself. I do not work for you.” Then say it, every.single.time. Maybe you and Mandy can work together rehearsing it and helping to perfect each other’s delivery.

    1. Winifred

      Or , after checking with boss (excellent suggestion), “I wasn’t sure, so I checked. According to my boss, I’m not your assistant, so I can’t help any longer.” For non work related requests, “Sorry, I can’t.” I also like the “Yes, you can do that” reply above.

      1. Rainy

        I once had an awkward situation with a coworker where for some reason she’d gotten the idea that I was her backup. She was public facing, I was not. She had no tasks except phones, scheduling, and checking people in. I had high-priority tasks with inflexible deadlines that I did not set and could not alter.

        My office was, however, right behind the main reception desk since I often had people dropping by for help, and there’d been some vague “if X, Y, and Z are all out you might need to answer phones sometimes” talk which she somehow interpreted as “Rainy is my first-line backup”.

        One day she demanded “Why aren’t you ever free to take the desk when I need to do something else?” after asking me to watch the phones for 2 hours and being told no (I was on deadline). I said “Because you ask when I’m on deadline. I’m happy to watch the phones for a minute when you need a break, but I can’t do it today because I’m doing my job.” She said “But you’re my backup!” and I said “No, I am not your backup. I sit at the desk if and only if you and the two other people who are your backups are all out, and that’s only if I’m not on deadline.” She was furious, marched herself off to talk to the head of Ops, and then came back 15 minutes later, chastened, and stopped demanding I sit at her desk all the time. But that’s what it took, because she assumed I was her backup, I knew I wasn’t, and I had no idea she was trying to give me orders until she blew up at me.

    2. Jill

      It’s entirely possible that Jim is a mysogynist on top of all his other multitude of asshole qualities, and he’s asking them because they’re the women in the office. Or it could simply be that he’s asking them because they’re the ones who agree to do all this work, for years(?) now, or however long it’s taken to wear a path to their desks. I’m guessing that Jim would be just as happy to have Gavin or Bob do his work, but they’ve laughed at him when he tried and he hasn’t been back.

      I don’t get why OP and CW said yes more than the first couple times when they’re trying to be team players and assuming that he’s likewise a team player who needs a hand. But even now, the OP writes, “I’m starting to feel like he’s using Mandy and I to do his ‘busy work’…” Yeah. Yeah, that’s a possibility…

      In other words, I think the relevance of the genders here isn’t so much to whatever degree Jim is a sexist pig, it’s the people pleasing mindset that many women have had instilled in them from childhood.

      I agree with all the commenters and Alison that they need to shut him down, and that it would be helpful to get OP’s boss behind the effort. In fact, when she does that, that may take care of the problem itself right then and there. If OP has even a semi-decent boss, she/he will be outraged by this abuse of her/his employees and kick Jim in the ass via Jim’s manager. And I gotta say, if I were OP’s manager, I’d be a little irritated that she waited all this time to bring it up to me and was just letting herself get played by this jerk for years(?). I certainly wouldn’t punish the victim, but I’d certainly mentor her more closely. It’s not just some men who need a mindset change in order to improve the retrograde office culture, it’s some women as well. I don’t mean that in as harsh a way as that may sound, but workplace cultures obviously aren’t created in isolation; they’re a subset of the larger society, and to change that, it’s not enough to fight the enemy, you have to rally your own troops as well.

  13. Undine

    “Gosh, I’m pretty busy right now. Last time I checked, the coffee was out and I don’t have time to deal with it. Could you fix me a cup?”

  14. Bea

    “I’m busy with my own work, you’ll need to handle your tasks yourself.”

    And I pray Mandy starts turning him away as well. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

  15. Liz

    OP, I get that it’s hard to speak up sometimes, but read what you wrote. You are performing an absurd level of work that is not in your job description and you have for long enough for the carpet to get worn out. This is because you are not using your words. I mean this kindly, but you need to learn how to establish basic boundaries well before this point is ever reached in a work scenario. Your coworker is in the wrong to treat you like his assistant ONCE – you are in the wrong to let it continue.

  16. Arya Snark

    Jim is in sales, isn’t he?

    Given the history of this older letter and the apparent expectation that they assist or get written up, if I were the OP or Mandy I would loop in my manager and let them know Jim has requested assistance with X then they then won’t be able to complete their already assigned tasks A, B & C and ask how everything should be prioritized.

  17. Workfromhome

    The last part of the advice is key. “Check with your manger to make sure there is not some other arrangement “ . This has multiple benefits. If there is an arrangement then you keep yourself out of trouble, maybe can discuss how this is impacting your work or decide if you want to continue to do your job and be an assistant to a peer or find a new job.

    If there isn’t you can alert the manger to the issue without coming off as throwing the perpetrator under the bus. After all you were just making sure you were supposed to do what the manager wanted.

    I’d be tempted to do it via email. “ Dear boss. I am receiving a lot of requests from Bob to do xyz admin taks for him. Since these are all tasks he is trained to do and doing them would take time away from x.yz critical tasks or impact my ability to make this big sale please give me some guidance. Does Bob have an arrangement to have me do his admin tasks I’m not aware of? If not do you want me to allocate my time to my x,y z duties or to doing Bobs paperwork ?” I’d probably edit it to seem a little less factious but you get the idea.

    The fact that he instructs you when you clearly have headphones on or are eating lunch makes me inclined to be unconcerned if he becomes upset you called him out. The few rude people who have tried to do stuff like that I just point at my headphones and glare at them.
    When he asks for help with the system I’ve had good Susie’s with “ oh I’ll email you a copy of the instruction manual so you can do it yourself and you won’t have to ask again “ ;-)

    1. tangerineRose

      Yeah, what Workfromhome says. If you can say “My manager said …” while saying “no”, that tends to work well.

  18. Pizza Manager

    This was happening to me a lot with a co-worker. He refused to process credit cards because he “didn’t like the way he had to type in the numbers” and would call me anytime he needed to run a card. It finally stopped when I told him I could no longer drop what I was doing to just run cards for him. It’s a tough conversation but worth it in the long run!

  19. Essess

    Next time he comes over with a customer lookup task, you say “Jim, I’m no longer going to be able to keep doing your lookups on top of my own work. I will do this last lookup for you today, but you will need to do these yourself in the future like the rest of us have to do.” And next time he shows up, “Jim, I already told you that I am not able to keep doing your task for you. If you need help, the documentation for doing a lookup is located [location]”. If you really feel like it, you could type up a help sheet for him for lookups and email it to him when you give him the first “not going to do this anymore” statement.

    1. Essess

      Oh.. I had an additional thought. Give your boss a head’s up that you are tired of doing Jim’s work for him and that you are pushing back. Then in the future, if Jim comes to you to do his tasks, you can use the above script and add ” if you are still stuck after following the documentation, let [his boss’s name] know that you still need additional training to be able to do your tasks.

  20. ragazza

    At a former job we had a sort of in-house library where we could “check out” books. A male coworker who was leaving the job asked if he could just sign all the books he’d checked out and lost track of over to me so he didn’t have to find them. I just looked at him incredulously and said, “So you want me to look for YOUR books so you don’t have to?”

  21. LadyPhoenix

    You know that scene where Marilyn Monroe is sing “No” right before she starts singing “Diamond Are a Girl’s Best Friend”?

    That should be you, siging all then no’s at hin for trying to shanghai you into beig hos secratary.

    And if he doth protest too much—rope in a manager and explain how you have been doing the jobs of 2 people while he does barely 1.

  22. Master Bean Counter

    Friendly response:
    “Jim is there some part of this process that’s confusing you and keeping you from doing it on your own?”
    Not so friendly response:
    “Jim, do your own work.”
    Nuclear response:
    “Jim are you going to ask HR to portion some of your pay to me since I seem to being part of your job now?”

    1. irene adler

      I’d like to see the nuclear option moved up to first.
      OP and Mandy are performing a portion of his job, they need to be compensated for it.

      This letter reminds me of something said to me many years ago: “If it wears a skirt, then it must type.” Argh!

      1. Not So NewReader

        Bring in a teddy bear wearing a skirt. “Here’s your typist!… Well you set ‘it’ so I assumed you meant an object not a human being.”

  23. Observer

    I think that what the OP (or someone in a similar position) needs to do is to go to their boss and TELL them something like “Joe keeps on coming to me to do tasks that have nothing to do with my job, and the projects you need me to do. Aside from the fact that his behavior looks really sexist and would make the company vulnerable, there’s not enough time in the day for me to do both my job and his. So, I’m going to start telling him no. I just wanted to loop you in, in case his supervisor says something to you.”

    1. The Doctor

      Better yet: “Joe keeps demanding that I do HIS JOB. If I’m required to do HIS JOB in addition to my own, I’d like to receive HIS PAYCHECK in addition to my own.”

      1. Not So NewReader

        This would be my tactic. “I did tasks 1-24 for Joe this week and today is only Wednesday. Since others are not required to do people’s work for them, I believe that I have earned additional compensation .”

  24. J.E.

    I had a coworker kind of like this once. He would ask me or other coworkers (female or male) to do tech related stuff for him all the time. He’d been laid off from a position he had really enjoyed several years before and was working at my office just because he’d needed another job and didn’t really like it as much. I think that may have played a part in him not wanting to deal with some of the technology, but he’d ask for help with personal stuff too like how to download photos off his digital camera to his computer, so it wasn’t just because he didn’t want to use some of the tech at work. He just wasn’t that up to speed. Also, he was only a few years from retiring and I think he thought he’d just coast until retirement. That’s still no excuse not to learn the system and neither is age. Another coworker, who was older than him, kept up with technologies right up until she retired.

  25. Close Bracket

    If OP is still a reader and has an update, I would love to see it! I’m especially interested in whether the write up situation.

  26. Muse of Ire

    “Jim, I’m concerned that although you’ve been here a number of years, you still don’t know this aspect of your job. Maybe we need to raise this issue to [Manager]?”

  27. HailRobonia

    My current job is the first one where I ever had a manager who protected my time. I used to be the “universal go-to guy” in my previous job and was doing so much of other people’s work (it was my first office job and I really didn’t know better).

    When I moved this office, the very first time I got saddled with someone else’s responsibility my manager saw it right away and put an end to it. It was weird for me since I was used to being such a people pleaser (I still have this tendency).

  28. Orange You Glad

    You need to be very clear when you are on your lunch break. Your break is your time and you should not be doing any work during that time (even if you are taking your lunch at your desk). I have a boss that frequently interrupts me with similar stupid requests (he also won’t learn our customer database software, but he is my manager so the requests aren’t as out of line as OP’s situation) but if I’m on lunch or really busy to hit a deadline, I’ll make it clear that I won’t be dealing with his request until I’m done.

    Boss: Can you look up contract #?
    Me: Sure as soon as I’m done with my break
    Boss: *rattles off more info about issue”
    Me: Again, I will look into it after my break

    Our company recently switched everyone to non-exempt employees. Now when my boss interrupts my lunch, I clock back in for whatever discussion he wants to have then clock back out so I get my full 30 min break.

  29. Specialist

    I would happily make his presentations–with all kinds of little surprises. Thundering music, flashing things that didn’t help the presentation, all kinds of sabotage. I would also put my name in flashing lights.

    I have had issues with this as well. I remember years ago I was overnight coverage and the day team left me with a small procedure that they really should have done. I said I’d try to get to it if I could. I didn’t get to it. Three days later on my next overnight call they asked me to do the same thing. I asked if it was the same small procedure and they said yes. I said that it wouldn’t be done overnight. And I got away with saying that.

    And it still continues. I’m still dealing with issues with my group leadership where they think I should be doing more of the low pay stuff.

  30. DoctorateStrange

    Had two situations where people acted ridiculous like in this letter. So the library I work at has a computer lab, where the computer lab assistants are specifically told that they can guide the patrons when navigating the computers, but they can’t work on their applications or anything like that. A woman was crying when an assistant told her that she cannot work with a device that is not library property. She kept claiming that she didn’t know how to upload photos from her camera into the computer, but refused to listen to their directions. She kept claiming it was because her child was with her, which was confusing in of itself. Her child was actually really quiet and kept to himself while he was beside her.

    The other situation had a coworker of mine (known for being lazy) try to get me to run copies for her. Problem is that she tries to do this right before I have a meeting to run! I told her that I could not help her and she foisted the errand on another coworker. *sighs*

  31. Gnatalie

    My first job after college was entry level and, while I wasn’t an administrative assistant, I still had a group of three people I helped out. There was a woman who also worked in our office who had no one working for her and really seemed to resent it when she needed to lower herself to do her own office work. One day she breezed by my desk with a pile of papers to fax and didn’t ask for my help; just dumped them on my desk. I said to her, “would you like me to write down how to use the fax machine? This new one has a lot more steps to it.” “No,” she said, “I didn’t go to college to fax” . I just snapped. I told her something along the lines of maybe she should have so she’d know how to do it.

    I got fired. But that’s okay; I found a better job soon after and I have a good story to tell :)

    1. The Doctor

      None of us went to college just to watch photocopiers collate papers, but sometimes we have to do that, too.

    2. Not So NewReader

      And she had to fax it herself anyway, because you were no longer there?

      Helplessness does not look attractive on anyone. Ever.

  32. Marthooh

    “Jim, you should have learned how to do the technical side of the job by now. Check the manual if you’re not sure about the details.”

  33. Goya de la Mancha

    :( I’m a little disappointed in the stock art for this one. They usually have such gems!

    OP, not sure HOW you’ve put up with this for so long. My first step would have been to my manager to make sure that I was on the correct page of how the office flow was supposed to work. Then after confirming that Jim is just being an ass-hat, I would definitely begin replying with big ol’ “nope”s.

  34. Alex

    At a certain point, I’d stare him right in the face and ask “Is my name Google? Go look it up yourself”

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