I don’t want to become the office secretary

A reader writes:

I work at a large educational institution, and have a job that directly serves and faces students. I love my job! When I started, we had a part-time front office person who basically managed the office: ordered all the supplies, handled walk-in traffic, etc. We had an additional agreement with most of our office staff about divvying up the more menial tasks so that one person was never saddled with all of the dishes, cleaning the conference room, vacuuming, etc.

Our front office person left in early April of this year, so I have been covering this position for almost a year now now. I normally wouldn’t mind, but it’s starting to affect how I see my job. I took this position thinking it was be a step up (higher pay, more responsibility) from a previous front office position I had, and specifically took it because I knew I wouldn’t be “the” front office person (aka secretary).

However, dynamics have changed in the absence of a front office person. Menial things are starting to take up my time more and more. Coworkers make comments and requests of me now that are much different, like asking me if I can fix the vacuum … “You would be so proud of me, I fixed a copy jam by myself!”… “Our water tower seems gross, can we get a new one?”

I wouldn’t mind, but it’s starting to affect my confidence at work. I’m all for helping out around the office, but I’m getting sort of bitter that I’m now the “go to” for menial tasks and not the “go to” like before for more technical tasks or questions. Instead of being asked to make coffee, our main supervisor will now cry into his mug like a baby until I notice and ask if he’d like coffee. Folks who I serve will motion for a pen instead of asking me for a pen. I know these things seem small, but it’s starting to feel a little bit de-humanizing and that I’m only there to be a secretary, and not valued for the more technical skills and background I was hired for.

I’ve been trying to chalk it up as a temporary situation, but my boss seems to think we don’t need to rehire that position because it’s just an issue with office coverage (something I’ve tried to bring up multiple times). Again, I’m all for pitching in around the office, but what options do I have here to get back into loving my job? Should I suck it up and grin and bear it?

I answer this question — and four others — on the Ask a Manager podcast today. Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Considering a candidate’s Instagram when hiring
  • Does my new employee resent me getting the job he might have wanted?
  • My boss rants and rambles while I’m trying to work
  • Why can’t I land a job?

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 244 comments… read them below }

  1. hello*

    I’m so excited to listen, I have a SUPER similar situation right now, down to not rehiring the admin while all of their responsibilities are mine now, and am looking forward to hearing your response. I know it will be helpful to me.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      We have a similar situation, this is apparently a Thing in higher ed. Will definitely be listening to this on my way home!

    2. RedSoxFan*

      This is indeed a higher ed situation. I have seen it in my workplace. Our boss decided that an admin just wasn’t needed once our previous admin transferred to another area. The tasks have been divvied up among my work group, with the exception of office supply ordering. It’s a drag, and not in the awesome RuPaul way.

      And I certainly know my boss, with an MBA, wasn’t hired to revise the staff contact directory.

      1. AnonymousIT*

        I have a similar situation, and am also in the field of education. Our Facilities/front office service department was let go and the work officially reassigned to our IT department. Needless to say, staff retention is now a real problem.

        1. Future Homesteader*

          Ooof good IT people are better than gold. Talk about seriously shooting yourself in the foot.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Being detail oriented, maybe…both need that. And a good admin does need a certain amount of troubleshooting skill, and the basics of troubleshooting are the same, whether it’s a computer, a car, or pretty much anything else: start with the obvious, and work your way through to the less obvious.

          2. greenlily*

            No. No you are not.

            signed, the person who has gotten at least one job primarily on the strength of demonstrated ability to act as a communications bridge between IT people and…everyone else, really.

      2. AnonymousIT*

        Detail oriented and basic troubleshooting skills are helpful, yes, but professional IT staff have specific skill sets and knowledge that are really wasted fixing the water cooler, reorganizing office supplies or updating the staff directory. It’s a poor use of resources, to put it mildly.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Oh, I don’t disagree; it is wasteful of time and resources. Just pointing out that there is a bit move overlap in the basic skills needed than might be immediately apparent.

    3. Going Anon*

      Something kind of similar started to happen to me. I also work in higher ed. It wasn’t an admin position, but it was a set of duties that should have come with a raise. My grandboss isn’t willing to give the raise for a person to take on the extra set of duties. Slowly, everyone started treating me like I was the one to handle this new set of duties. Luckily, my boss shut that right down when I went to her.

      I think you have to stop responding to the non-verbal cues for one. They gesture for the pen, you look blank. When they finally use their words, you point them to the supply closet.

  2. WellRed*

    For starters, don’t ask people if they want coffee (And fake crying into his mug? How bizarre). Also, feel free to ignore people motioning to you for a pen (I am having trouble picturing this). It seems like the office equivalent of snapping fingers at a waiter. Just, no!

    1. WellRed*

      To be clear, I don’t think these are “small” annoyances. Maybe on the surface, but the bigger pattern is a huge problem. You are definitely being perceived differently.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I definitely didn’t think you were coming from a place of, oh, those are simple things. Just do this. You don’t have a bigger problem. Your solutions indicate that you do see the very real, very big problem that is OP’s situation.
        Shut this crap down yesterday.
        Not in the, “don’t fake cry, I’ll get your coffee, just leave your cup there.” but in the “nope, your mom went home, there’s a new sheriff in town.” of saying, “I’ve found that I’ve been caught up doing general office tasks and I won’t be doing them anymore. I need to focus on my own tasks. If you need help with something work related, I’m available. But I won’t be dedicating time to running the office. Thanks.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        These are not small. I am very clearly an underling in my office and *nobody* would treat me like this. Ever. These are really, really, disrespectful.

        1. Serin*

          Mindbogglingly disrespectful! When I WAS a secretary, no one would ever have motioned me for a pen. Or pretend-cried into their coffee cup, wtf?

          When it’s someone’s job to get you coffee or bring you office supplies, you say, “Serin, could you get coffee when you get a moment?” “Serin, I’m out of pens — next time you go to the supply closet, can you grab me one?” You do not act like your valued colleague is a dog that you’ve trained to respond to hand signals.

          I think the problem you can solve is the one that Alison has offered a solution for, but I also think that co-workers who demonstrate that they would treat an admin like this are maaaaybe people you should be wary of.

        2. Kat in VA*

          I *am* an executive assistant and my bosses have turned me down when I’ve OFFERED to get them coffee or a plate of lunch that was ordered (because they’re hung up on a call or whatever).

          Not one of them would fake cry into their mug or waggle their fingers at me for a pen. And it’s my JOB to support these men in an administrative capacity. Requests are prefaced with “Would you/could you please…” and always asked, not demanded – or expected to be intuited.

          Even if it’s something I have no problem doing (like getting standard rate envelopes at the post office for a personal mailing), they’re always super respectful, always give me the option to say no, and are always effusively thankful that I’m willing to do that task which they consider outside my purview but I do not.

          Some people just have no tact, class, or professional decency.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I don’t know how to make coffee. This is a pretty amazing thing, because when I say it people will offer to show me (“it’s easy”), and then they’ve made their own coffee and they don’t need me.

      And I’ve still never made coffee.

      1. henrietta*

        I don’t drink coffee. In my first managerial job (way back in the 80s), we had a regional meeting at my location. I made coffee (it’s easy!) because it was before office hours and I was host. At the next regional meeting at another manager’s place, they asked me to make coffee because I was the only woman. “Oh, gosh, I don’t drink it, I don’t know how!”

        And I have never made coffee since. Even when hosting meetings. (I’ll cater it in if nobody is around making it.) It’s my longtime Feminist resistance.

      2. Les G*

        This may work for you, but I don’t think it’s a great suggestion (particularly for someone who *is* supposed to make the coffee at least some of the time, it sounds like) to avoid learning how to to a very basic task that most adults can already do or can learn how to do. I’d be pretty unimpressed by someone who acted like making coffee was too difficult for them to figure out. (This is not to say that the OP should make this weird crybaby coffee).

        1. Justme, the OG*

          I agree with this. My 10 year-old can make coffee. I would be unimpressed by an adult (either in a personal or professional setting) who couldn’t measure out grounds and add water and press a button.

          1. Seriously?*

            I am unimpressed by an adult who passes judgement on other adults for not knowing how to make a beverage they don’t even consume.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Eh, if it’s actually part of the role, you learn. (That’s not the case with the OP.) Otherwise it’s like saying “oh, I can’t change the water bottle for the water cooler because I don’t know how” when it’s actually appropriate for you to be asked to do it.

              1. Seriously*

                Fair enough, but the comment made was ” I would be unimpressed by an adult (either in a personal or professional setting) who couldn’t measure out grounds and add water and press a button. ” The poster wasn’t just referring to people’s roles at work.

            2. Kat in VA*

              Point being, if you drink it, you can learn how to make it…and not act as if you have no clue because you’d rather someone else do it for you.

              “Gosh, I just loooove coffee so much but I’m just so helpless, I don’t understaaand how to make it, could you make it foooorrrr me?”

              How the hell do they get their caffeine fix at home? Do they all have a significant other / personal servant to make it for them?

              If you can operate a car (or figure out the Metro, or a bus) to get to work, you can damned well figure out the intricacies of an office coffee machine, assuming it’s not some fancy espresso maker…and even those have manuals.

          2. RabbitRabbit*

            How much grounds?

            My home coffee maker doesn’t even have an ‘on’ button. I’m sure I could figure it out if I cared to, but my husband makes the coffee. He loves coffee. I love morning caffeine and would settle for delivery via IV if need be. I leave the coffee-making up to him in the morning.

            During the day I stick a packet in the automatic machine like anyone else in my office could do for themselves, which is what they do.

          3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I mean, I *can* do it, but since I don’t drink coffee I have no idea how much of what to measure, and usually when I’m at work I’m a little too busy to be googling “how to make coffee for people who are apparently unable to make their own.”

            1. SarahKay*

              Back before I was a coffee drinker, I used to keep a jar of instant coffee in the house for coffee-drinking visitors. I would make them a coffee, they would decline a second cup, or jump up saying “No, no, let me make it!”. These days I drink coffee myself and I’m impressed that any of them finished the first cup (clearly my friends and family are nice polite people) because looking back, what I was serving them was lightly browned water, with milk and sugar to taste….

              Now, okay, when it became my *job* to make coffee (bar-work for an Italian restaurant, thankfully 25 years ago so coffee was still pretty basic, even in a restaurant) I did a perfectly respectable job, because the coffee maker came with very clear instructions for quantities, etc. But if that’d been an office job where I was expected to make coffee simply because *female* – you can bet I’d have been playing the “Sorry, I don’t drink it, so don’t know how to make it” card.

            2. Emily K*

              I made it clear through college and grad school without ever making my own coffee. I had roommates who always got up and made a full pot before I woke up on weekends, and on weekdays I stopped at a coffee shop for a fancy espresso drink, so I just never had needed to learn how to make coffee despite drinking it daily for years.

              At my first job after grad school there was a coffee maker in the officer but nobody really used it. I was trying to save money by going to the coffee shop less often, so I decided bravely I was going to learn how to use a coffee maker. It really only took me about 30 seconds to figure it out – it was a very basic model with only one button controlling off/on, no timer, the coffee maker instructions were printed on the coffee maker, the water measurements are marked on the carafe and inside the water tank on the coffee maker, and the measurement instructions are printed on the side of the coffee can.

              It was funny that I had been kind of intimidated by the task for so long when it turned out to be painfully simple.

          4. Rusty Shackelford*

            I’m unimpressed by someone who presumes all adults know how to make coffee, even if it’s not their job and they don’t drink it.

          5. Bookworm*

            Not everyone drinks coffee. So why would a non-drinker know how to make it if it has never been part of their job?

          6. OfOtherWorlds*

            1. The first time I tried to make coffee I didn’t know about filters and the result was disgusting and messy.

            2. While I can now make coffee without making a mess, since my coffee maker at home mostly sits around collecting dust, my attempts at coffee will often end up too weak or too strong since I don’t know how much coffee to use for a given size of pot.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          I don’t drink coffee, and therefore, I don’t know how to make coffee. I have no reason to learn how.

          I have learned how to make coffee for my spouse, but I didn’t learn until he broke his pelvis in a freak pogo stick accident and was unable to make it for himself. I haven’t forgotten, even though he went back to making it himself when he recovered.

          1. Les G*

            That’s great for you. Someone who has basically any kind of administrative responsibility in a university setting certainly does have a reason to learn how.

            1. Forrest*

              Except that’s not her job. It’s someone else’s job that she’s been straddled with and doesn’t want to do.

              1. Yorick*

                If she’s covering the position, then it’s her job right now. And she has already made coffee for people, so she can’t really pretend to not know how.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  If they want coffee-making to be part of her job description, they can re-categorize her as an employee and tell her that she’s now the receptionist, instead of the student advisor role she was hired to do.

                  And I wouldn’t make coffee for anyone who couldn’t ask me politely like a grown-up, instead of crying into his coffee cup like a baby demanding Mommy to feed him. That’s inappropriate and disrespectful.

            2. UnderwaterOphelia*

              I’m an admin in a university setting and we have no coffeepots. If anyone wants coffee, they bring their own in.

            3. Asenath*

              No, university admin does not invariably require coffee making. I’ve done basic admin work at university; making coffee has never been part of my job description which is fortunate since I don’t drink it and have never (successfully) made it. I have had organizing food for events as part of my job – in that case, I learned the necessary procedures to get the funding approved to pay someone to send coffee (and other food as required).

              Anyone wants coffee at a non-catered event, they bring or make their own. I have heard that there are offices in which this doesn’t happen.

            4. Astor*

              I’ve had three different non-supervisory administrative roles in three different offices in a University and never been expected to make coffee. That’s a really weird assumption.

              1. Aggretsuko*

                That may depend on the office, but yeah, I’ve never made coffee for anyone either. There’s an office Keurig or something if anyone wants to deal with that. Maybe coffeemaking is an executive assistant thing.

                1. Kat in VA*

                  Nope, I’m an executive assistant and when the executives want coffee, they damn well make their own. I have made coffee once – once! – for our GM who was switching between calls and was clearly desperate for a cup…and I offered, nay, insisted on doing it for him. (And then learned that his “little bit of sugar” didn’t mean a 1/4 teaspoon like I thought but more like a dusting, which was funny in its own right but to be fair, he drank my overly-sweet coffee anyway because I made it for him.)

                  Given that the average corporate coffee pot these days (in my experience) is an almost idiot-proof Keurig, I’d be hard pressed to not laugh at an executive who professed an inability to make their own coffee on a machine that literally tells you, step by step, how to use it on the screen.

                  Feigned helplessness annoys the crap out of me.

          2. curly sue*

            I’m sorry your spouse went through this, as it sounds incredibly uncomfortable, but this: “broke his pelvis in a freak pogo stick accident” is a sentence that inspires some amazing visuals.

          3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I … don’t know whether I want that to be a true story or a ridiculous made up example. (If it’s true, I apologize for dying of a snickerfit and I hope he has healed well and fully.)

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              It’s really funny in retrospect. No, it was funny when it happened, too. It was my birthday gift to him. He pogoed for a while in the garage (it was winter) and then angled the pogo stick back to the door, hit some sand and went down hard. He was lying on the floor and we were all standing around asking him if he could get up, and his sister finally called for an ambulance. While we were waiting, his other sister called to wish him a happy birthday, so we handed him the phone. They sang to him and then asked how his birthday was going. His reply: “Oh, it has been great. We had a really good dinner and I got presents, and now I’m on the garage floor waiting for the ambulance to arrive.”

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                I have to confess to a pogo stick scar of my own. Ever see pics of vintage pogo sticks that have the spring showing? Well I may be an exanple of why they have covered the springs… I managed to fall in a way that the spring pinched my leg. Perfectly oval bruise that left a weird little stretch scar.
                I can’t be the only one can I?

          4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            I also do not drink coffee and do not know how to make it. If people didn’t have such strong *feelings* about exactly how strong/weak coffee is supposed to be I probably would have learned by now, but there are a lot of emotions tied up in the right strength to make coffee that I don’t want to deal with, being completely unwilling to try the results myself.

        3. Tisiphone*

          Do not ask permission to stop doing these tasks. They’re not your job to begin with and you were being helpful for a short while. The short while is over. If the company can get away with not hiring someone because someone picked up the ball, they’re never going to hire anyone and as you’ve noticed, you’re getting stuck with it and the worst part is that it may affect your next performance review and your pay. The boss won’t praise you for being an ideal team player.

          Fun fact: In my earliest days as a computer tech in hardware repair and later IT, I actively avoided these tasks but not once has any boss ever gave me a low Teamwork score for failing to help out in this way.

          1. Cat wrangler*

            I can’t make coffee unless it’s instant or now, from a pod as I have never learned how to and I have no reason to learn as I don’t wait tables. I would equally ignore anyone indicating that they wanted a pen unless they asked for it. Push back against these tasks before they become engrained as your responsibility.

          2. Anon for this*

            Okay, I post under another name that I want to keep anonymous, but every time I see your user name it makes me smile because Tisiphone has appeared in some of my books…

            Also I definitely agree that OP should be able to stop performing some of these menial tasks that AREN’T related to their job. Especially the coffee-making and pen-supplying.

        4. Tisiphone*

          Yikes! Sorry! I thought I was replying to the thread as a whole. One stray mouse click….

        5. Guacamole Bob*

          It depends on the situation. I was an admin who did occasionally have to make coffee, and was not a coffee drinker. I definitely had to get someone who was a coffee drinker to give me clear instructions about the best ratio of grounds to water. I was perfectly willing, but I was often worried that I was making bad coffee because I didn’t really know what I was aiming for and didn’t drink it myself. Especially if I was only making half a pot or something I was worried about making overly strong or weak coffee.

          It depends a bit on the audience – people who really care about their coffee may not want a non-coffee-drinker making it. But then, people who are very particular about their coffee may not want to drink office coffee at all.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Like not knowing how to deal with copier jams. Oh my god, just read the display. It’s more straightforward than my coffee machine at home; I’d actually need the instruction manual for that.

            1. Rachael*

              A couple of weeks ago I had this happen to me. (Background: I am not anyone who is tasked to unjam other people’s copy machine issues). I walked up to get a print job and a dude was standing there with the red blinking light. As soon as I walked up he started backing away with an air of “the copier is jammed, now unjam it” and as if to give me room to unjam it. I just picked up my paper from the machine in one swoop and kept walking.

              Dude. You didn’t even ask me to help you….you just expected it. It was weird.

          2. Vemasi*

            I have had my friends’ boyfriends try to argue at me that I or my friend should fold their laundry, because I enjoyed it so much (I don’t, I would just do it right away to get it over with, and because I only had one laundry basket) and they didn’t know how. Do they think I went to Laundry University? You just do it, and “learn” as you go. Same with other “wifely” tasks (dishes, vacuuming, putting groceries away???).

            Which is not to say that OP should make coffee. Whoever wants the coffee made should make it, obviously, unless it is part of someone’s job description.

            1. Kat in VA*

              My husband tried that crap with me. “But I’m no good at folding laundry and you’re really good at it…”

              I told him I wasn’t good at folding laundry because of some special gene or innate ability, I was good at folding laundry because I’ve been doing it since I was six – and practice makes perfect.

              He helps me fold laundry now.

        6. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Yes, but knowing how to make coffee isn’t as easy as you’d think. You have to know the ratio of grounds to water, you have to know how to put the filter in correctly, and you have to know that the little “cups” on the carafe are 6 oz markers, while most people like a 10-12 oz cup of coffee.

          If you skip putting the filter in the basket, guesstimate the amount of grounds, and then use the lines on the carafe to measure water, you are going to make some TERRIBLE coffee.

          1. Temperance*

            It’s not even a little bit hard to make coffee, but I think the bigger issue is the grown adults who do drink coffee and feel like it’s beneath them to make it.

            1. pope suburban*

              Yes. This. It is so antisocial, in my opinion, to expect other people to make your coffee for you. Unless someone is a barista, or employed in a hospitality capacity at your workplace, they are not obligated to make your drink. If you want to enjoy the shared amenity of free coffee, then by god, you can throw a scoop of grounds in and make a new pot when you finish the old one.

              1. Au contrarie*

                Unless someone is a barista, or employed in a hospitality capacity at your workplace, they are not obligated to make your drink.

                They are if management has decided it’s part of that person ‘s job duties to make coffee. And different offices can have different policies on this. One office might opt for a free-for-all (everyone makes their own coffee), another might say “person who takes the last cup makes another pot,” another might rotate duties, and another might assign the duty to a receptionist/admin.

                That last office is 100% within its rights to do so, and frankly, I think that’s the best arrangement. Otherwise you get “tragedy of the commons” problems; you solve that by making someone take ownership of the coffee pot, and that should generally be the administrative person. If you feel that’s beneath you, don’t apply to be an admin.

                (Again, Keurigs and single-serving coffee may have changed the equation a bit, but lots of offices still have coffee makers.)

                1. pope suburban*

                  “Employed in a hospitality capacity” was right there in the quoted text, and yet.

                  Something like this isn’t beneath anybody, nor are common courtesies. Not that I can compel anyone to be polite, but I would recommend it; in my experience, the old adage about flies and honey is fairly accurate.

                2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Let’s pull back a bit — the letter were focused on is from someone who was NOT hired to be an admin.

            2. Au contrarie*

              It is entirely legitimate for an office to include coffee-making in an administrative assistant’s duties. (Keurigs and such may have obviated this a bit, but that’s not universally true.) You don’t want your CEO delaying meetings for ten minutes to brew coffee.

          2. WellRed*

            Yesterday I took the basket, complete with filter and coffee to pour in the water for it. Instead of the carafe. Because I had not yet had any caffeine to make me think clearly.

            1. an infinite number of monkeys*

              Ha! I, too, sometimes have difficulty making coffee before I’ve had my coffee.

        7. Amber Rose*

          It wasn’t a suggestion, just a comment.

          If you think you’re unimpressed by someone who thinks making coffee is too hard to figure out, please believe that I am twice as unimpressed by someone who already knows how and still asks me to do it.

        8. The New Wanderer*

          I’d say it’s actually pretty complicated to make coffee in a machine if you’re completely unfamiliar with the machine, the type of coffee, the desired final amount, filter/no filter, and the degree of boldness that people generally prefer. It’s rare to find useful instructions printed directly on the machine. I drink coffee every day and if it’s not my home machine or a Keurig, I’d have to look up how to use a different machine. My dad has made his own coffee every morning for 50+ years on a variety of machines and couldn’t figure out my (cheap, single-serve) home machine. Someone accidentally made me coffee with decaf grounds instead of caf and nobody realized until I got an afternoon withdrawal headache.

          But more to the point: making coffee for an office doesn’t have to be a menial chore. It’s only viewed that way if people who insist on having coffee also insist that someone other than themselves makes it. If it’s not someone’s actual job to do so, the coffee drinkers should figure it out amongst themselves and not insist on delegating to someone who appears to be absorbing more admin work.

          1. Psyche*

            I do drink coffee and pretty much every time I use a coffee maker I am unfamiliar with for the first time it is not good. I am picky about my coffee and the shape of the basket makes a huge difference so it isn’t as simple as “follow the directions on the can”.

        9. n*

          Eh. There’s a lot of different ways to make coffee. I grew up using a french press, so am not very comfortable with automatic drip machines. My current office uses some kind of annoying K-Cup machine and I have no interest in learning how to use it. Those things are 1. gross and 2. an environmental blight. So anytime anyone asks me how to use it, I tell them I have no idea because I get my coffee at the coffee shop downstairs.

      3. emmelemm*

        I’m the same way. (To be fair, I do always seem to manage to f*ck up making coffee when I make it. But still…)

      4. Tysons in NE*

        In a previous office, we had both a pot and a Keurig machine, so really making coffee wasn’t an issue. I usually did make a pot, because I drank it. If a guest wanted coffee I used the Keurig machine.

        Most of the guys there did admit, while they knew how to make a pot, they were simply too lazy. Even the CFO (male) would make a pot. I was told by the C-suite that they really didn’t expect me to make coffee but were glad that I did. And if I hadn’t for whatever reason, they never asked me to.

        Other places I have worked have pretty much moved over to the Keurig system. It tends to be a non-issue.
        Most places no matter what male:female ratio, assigned cleaners, signs “Your mother doesn’t work here clean up after yourself”, every one still expects the magic fairies to do the picking up.
        Larger places have clean communication on who does the office supplies and who is the back up. Most often someone on the admin staff.

    3. ArtK*

      One of the things that the OP needs to take away from this is that she isn’t obligated to read people’s “silent signals.” They’re adults, they can use their words. They guy crying into his cup is ridiculous and needs to be ignored until he grows up. Getting him coffee is only enabling.

      1. Artemesia*

        I fear that her job has now changed, she is no longer ‘volunteering’ and will be told that, well we have no one else to do this, it is part of your job now. Never allow this sort of slippery slope so that menial work becomes suddenly fait acompli.

      2. Peachkins*

        Oh my goodness, yes. I find it ridiculous that a grown adult can’t get their own cup of coffee, and considering it’s not part of her job, OP shouldn’t be doing it. Anyone using hand signals to ask me for something is either going to get ignored or asked “Is there something I can help you with?” if I’m feeling generous and/or they keep bothering me.

    4. Amber T*

      The only time I fake cried into my empty mug for coffee was when literally all of our coffee machines broke at the same time (we have three or four). So no one could make coffee. Then I went out to Dunkin and bought myself a coffee, because I’m a big kid and can take care of myself when need be.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        They moved our Bucks across a busy intersection. My boss’s response was “I’ll never go there again!” then he laughed and crossed the road when he wanted coffee and our maker was dead. Seriously. He’s the CEO and can get his own coffee.

        1. pope suburban*

          Imagine that! Seriously, though, in an office with a shared coffeepot in the kitchen, or where people are generally understood to be responsible for their own food/drink (As in, no shared amenities, but delivery services or nearby vendors available), one would be hard-pressed to make the argument that it’s a waste of anyone’s more valuable time (I use this in the sense Alison uses it, where some people’s time costs more because of their expertise or training, not to disparage any role) to caffeinate themselves. Refilling a typical commercial or home coffeepot takes a couple of minutes, and you can go back to your desk or talk to a colleague while it brews, if you would prefer not to spend those five-ish minutes waiting in the kitchen. In an office without anyone officially assigned in a hospitality capacity, there is no reason not to take a couple of minutes to perform a small gesture toward the common good. Heck, in an office where there is someone, I’d even consider giving them a polite heads-up to be the same thing. We are all in our workplace together, so it behooves us all to be prosocial and treat others how we would like to be treated.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Anyone who needs someone to make their coffee can pay a barista or figure it out themselves. They don’t really “need” coffee if they can’t get their own without handholding. I can’t with acting like a spoiled child crying into a mug.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      My jaw dropped at that. Moreover, that’s not how you ask someone to get you coffee (and I’m not even convinced it’s a normal task for an exec. assistant, or a secretary). Making the coffee? Sure. Getting you coffee? Unless you have mobility or other accommodation requirements, it’s ridiculous to treat someone like your personal pen/coffee gopher.

      1. solar flare*

        i offer to grab one of my execs coffee or lunch when his day is back to back meetings, and i wash his coffee mug once a week when he’s remote. but this? is all because i like him, NOT because it’s expected of me

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah even as an EA, I only got coffee occasionally when someone was having a crazy day. Sometimes my old boss didn’t have time to go get lunch and forgot to bring something. I would get him food on my break. He never acted entitled and thanked me sincerely for caring so much! That’s how you treat an assistant.

          1. Farrah Sahara*

            Yes, I do this too for my boss, if he’s exceptionally busy. He will ask politely, hand me a $20 bill and will always tell me to get something for myself as well, food and drink, if I want it.

            But he is a rare gem and awesome that way.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              That’s how it is with my boss; he’ll politely ask for me to get him a sandwich if he’s swamped and working through lunch, and he always gives me enough to get something for myself, as well.

            2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I’ve never found them rare myself! Any good business person knows you treat your EA with respect and acknowledge that they aren’t your servant!

              If you want someone to bring you everything your heart desires, hire a butler or personal assistant! We’re here to make the business run and only occasionally toss you a sandwich that you better appreciate!!

              1. Allonge*

                Honestly. Even my worst boss did this right, and she had Issues. What is so difficult about asking? What is it that makes it necessary to go the weird route?

      2. Jane of All Trades*

        I think I would get into serious trouble if I treated my administrative assistant this way (outside of the context of welcoming clients, who she offers a coffee to when the meeting starts.) She is a professional. There are tasks that she provides support for, including formatting, expense reports, and the like. If I run out of coffee or pens I go get them.
        It seems to me that LWs problem here is beyond the typical “I tried to be helpful and now everybody treats me like their secretary”. Presumably, even if this office had an administrative assistant that person’s duties would be to provide the administrative support to the team, not to fill the coffee mug of people too lazy to go to the kitchen and make coffee.
        LW, I may be completely projecting here, but it seems to me that people sometimes do things for their coworkers to get them to like them more, or to respect them. This is not the right path to achieve that, because at least some of your coworkers are perfectly happy treating you like their personal server. Focus on the job you were hired for, and earn their respect by being the most competent you can be at that job. If somebody waved at you and points to their coffee, or pen, or whatever, depending on hown cheeky you’re feeling you could (1) ignore them, (2) wave back with your mug full of fresh coffee, or say (3) “yes, I will have coffee. Thanks for offering.”
        Especially when I was more junior I made it my personal rule that I would try to impress the bosses by asking for the bigger projects, and do the projects as well as I could, but not to get coffee / cut the cake / organize the meal or do similar tasks that present the “junior female staffer -> must be the secretary” trap.

        1. Cat wrangler*

          When I was a conference administrator, someone attending the meeting told me, not asked if I could, to get her a coffee. I told her that we had freshly drawn water in the jug on the table or there was a canteen downstairs she could visit (this was in the public sector so tap water was only ever on offer). Even if she had asked me nicely, I would have still refused as it wasn’t part of my job to fetch drinks and I wasn’t allowed to leave the conference room once it was set up.

    2. T. Boone Pickens*

      I’d be hard pressed not to mock this person by looking at this person dead in the eyes, taking a long, slowwwwww sip of coffee (while not breaking eye contact) and going, “Mhmmmmmmmm”

    3. Lucille2*

      That and miming for a pen. Both are pretty disrespectful ways of asking a colleague for something. Also, is it actually in a person’s job description to fetch coffee and pens for people? Making the coffee and refilling the office supply of pens, sure, but actually going to get it for a person? Especially in an office where there has been an unfilled role for nearly a year. That in and of itself means everyone should feel obligated to step up in the areas of administrative responsibilities and not expect someone else to fetch coffee or pens for them.

  3. solar flare*

    Alison’s answer to the first question was really good, but I wish she had pushed back more on the asker’s devaluation of administrative workers. The way she talks about being treated as a “secretary” rubs me wrong. As an executive assistant, if the people I support motioned for office supplies or pretended to cry that they didn’t have coffee, I would absolutely be offended that they weren’t treating me like a professional. I am one.

    1. Michelle*

      Absolutely agree. Some people still treat administrative workers as second-class citizens.

      I worked with a lady who tried to delegate all her typing tasks to me. Her direct quote was “It takes too much time for me to type this stuff so I will hand write it and you can type it up”. I asked my boss if he wanted me to do that. He took the pile of papers back to the her, told her I was not her personal assistant and she could type her own paperwork. ( I know typing generally falls to someone in my role but this was her personal notes, not business forms or letters).

      1. Michelle*

        P.S. My boss has never asked me to make or bring him coffee and he asks where the pens are kept and gets his own.

    2. UnderwaterOphelia*

      I took it as OP was hired in as a specialized worker at a higher salary with a serior position, and now OP is doing the role of what’s considered junior/part time position and it feels like a demotion in many ways for them. It’s a misuse of OPs talent and skills.

      1. solar flare*

        yes, it is a misuse of OP’s talent and skillset. but she conflated administrative work with junior work, which i took exception to.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          There is a difference between EA and junior front office personnel though. I have been an EA and I have been junior front office girl (and I do say girl there to call attention to the obvious fact they predominately are younger women).

          As a professional, you probably know there are material differences between your EA position and a front office part-timer position. If you were hired into your EA role and performed it for a while, which presumably comes with access to executives and responsibility for their high-level projects, but were later “voluntold” to assume the much less substantive tasks of a job that was staffed at a part-time level when it was being staffed, I expect you’d chafe too.

          From managing potentially international projects and communications with the Board, to running between the vacuum cleaner, the dishes, and the copy/scan station, you too would probably be wondering what happened to the formerly high esteem in which your skill set and your work history had been held. Maybe not immediately because all EAs have to do things like run coffee for meetings occasionally. But eventually you would likely have a serious issue with the fact they weren’t re-hiring for the vacated position.

          EA work and all the levels below it require a certain skill and panache. Not everyone can do what you do, or even what a front office part-timer does. And those who know they do not have the skill set or gift for it have chosen other work for a reason, and shouldn’t have to apologize for being frustrated at finding themselves hedged into it. I don’t think the LWs position is unreasonable.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Came here to say this, solar flare. I don’t know when or why the word ‘secretary’ became such an insult, and bristle when I hear this kind of attitude. No one is ‘just a (fill in the blank)’

      1. DarlaMushrooms*

        The word “secretary” should not be taken as an insult or un-PC. I feel like it’s become a dirty word because women are associated with it. My title in a past, unionized job was “secretary II” and I’ve been questioned and corrected on it (“we prefer the term administrative assistant”) when it was my actual freaking title.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Sure if it’s an actual title with a job description as such.

          Women are called secretaries as a default catch all term. Even those of us who are running the MF place. I answered the phone because I do everything not because I’m a secretary. When I say no, it sticks. No you can’t talk to someone higher up. My manager is the owner who is semi retired and pays me to handle it all, etc etc etc.

        2. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          Our union still has secretaries and my personal favourite, the clerk-typist.

          The hierarchy, each with their own pay band, is receptionist, mail room clerk, clerk typist, statistical clerk typist, secretary, secretary in a single clerical support office, executive secretary and finally administrative assistant.

          Having been in private sector exclusively before this union job, I can tell you, the clerks and secretaries would most certainly be called admin assistants in private sector.

          Secretary feels dated. But not “bad.”

          1. Kat in VA*

            Hmm…I had it slightly different in terms of hierarchy.

            Receptionist, general administrative assistant (sometimes “office clerk”), unit or division admin assistant, then executive assistant – the latter generally dealing with VPS up to the C-suite (nowadays I have both flavors, two SVPS, a VP, and a CTO).

            One of my VP’s directors keeps referring to me as an administrative assistant in emails. (“Bossman’s administrative assistant can help you with…”) Fortunately we have a great relationship so I’m going to go in and tell him to drop the “administrative” part since I haven’t been an admin assistant since I was in my 20s and it was hard going to get to the EA level where I am now…or I’m going to kick him in the shins.

            Small distinctions, but still important ones.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s because there’s a gross demeaning POV in some people’s minds about being the “Secretary”. They get the image we also associate with interns and PAs. The people hired only to clean up after the “important” boors in the office.

      I’m previously an EA. I’m still prone to do EA work because it’s second nature and nobody seems to think to.

      The rub is I’m recognized and treated like a pure gold unicorn, this has gotten me many raises. Except once. Once I was then suddenly Cinderella of the office, despite a high rank but mediocre pay. I left that dump in the dust. No patience for patronizing, demeaning jerk offices/employers.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      I doubt the OP meant it as a disrespect to Admins, it sounded like she very much valued and appreciated the previous Admin, but more to capture the essence of what’s been happening. And it happens to MANY women in MANY offices who happen to want to be helpful.
      The fact that her manager doesn’t think he needs to hire another Admin underscores how she’s being devalued.
      I know. It’s happening to me. And I’m a highly technical role with a masters degree+ on a team of all men. Guess who’s “expected” to play secretary?
      It sounds grating because it IS grating to have worked so hard for 20 years to advance and still be devalued like that in your career because it’s not what you were hired to do, nor is it your role.

    6. Important Moi*

      I think there is a difference between the “devaluation of administrative workers” versus inartfully stating that one is being asked to do things that were not a part of her job function.

      People who motion for office supplies are rude.

      People who pretend to cry that they don’t have coffee are odd.

      The word secretary is definitely NOT an insult.

    7. Lucille2*

      That rubs me wrong too. I love our office EA’s and find them to be highly skilled an invaluable. In offices where it isn’t in someone’s job description to maintain the coffee machine and pen supply, things start to break down rather quickly. We should all respect the people who’s job it is to make our workplace comfortable and operate smoothly. I feel the same way about cleaning staff – it is a professional and essential position that deserves respect.

    8. Mas*

      If a doctor or surgeon were being pulled in to do the job of a CNA, they would probably view that as somewhat ‘below them’ and react similarly to the caller. Is that wrong? Not really, and I’m saying that as someone in an ‘assistant’ role.

      That doesn’t mean that CNAs aren’t valuable or important. Any doctor worth their salt will acknowledge that they are. But it’s not what they spent years training for, and it sounds like OP is in a similar situation.

  4. KaloraKid*

    I got myself into a similar situation as the first LW. Different duties but same end result: my interesting job was completely pushed aside by “admin” stuff that I found soul crushing. I was just trying to help out but it was shocking how quickly I went from being viewed as a respected peer to “that girl that does the receipts, by the way take this to FedEx for me.” Then I struggled mightily with the whole “how do I say ‘hey I’m not an admin’ without sounding like I myself was looking down on/dismissing the value of admins the same way these people are” (still looking for that script, never found one myself, not sure it exists).
    I had to leave the position to get away from it, there was no going back in my case. I told my replacement “under no circumstances should you take on task xyz because no one will ever respect you and it will become your full time job” and thankfully, she took my advice and avoided the whole trap from the get go.

    1. solar flare*

      “still looking for that script, never found one myself, not sure it exists”

      i think somewhere to start on this is to emphasize that administrative work (like, in this case, office management) is important and complex enough to need a dedicated staff member, and that the office work itself won’t be well served by being wrapped into another job

      1. Temperance*

        So I see one big flaw with this is that if she says that, it will become her job over the interesting, non-administrative stuff that she wants to do.

        1. mr. brightside*

          Or they’ll be like “oh, just add it in, it can’t take that long” and then you’re spending 2 months trying to arrange a meeting with various people who don’t reply to your e-mail because you’re not important to them. When that’s not even your dang job.

          1. LCH*

            in that case, do the regular job stuff first. if there is time for the office admin stuff (since it doesn’t take very long!), then do it. but there might never be time. oh well! it doesn’t take that long, maybe everyone can do their own office admin stuff themselves.

    2. Temperance*

      So, unpopular opinion, but I don’t think pushing back on admin tasks by saying that you aren’t an admin is a bad thing or demeaning. I look at it this way: if you’re youngish and female, you’re likely going to be the person pegged to do the admin work, and once you do, the more interesting, complex tasks that your job actually includes are going away.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Admin work, or being an Admin is NOT demeaning, provided you WANT to be an Admin and it’s what you were hired to do! A good Admin is a godsend and a real go-to in many offices.

        But when you’ve been working in your career for many years, have your higher degrees and/or have specific technical skills, to be treated and “expected” to take on secretarial or admin duties (let’s face it usually by men) feels demeaning and is devaluing you. And often you’re penalized and not seen as a “team player” if you push back on doing these tasks. That’s a real problem. It’s not a disrespect to actual Admins. Actually they’re very much needed!

        1. Asenath*

          That’s the point – being a secretary is perfectly respectable and a good one is worth their weight in gold. Being assigned secretary’s duties when they’re not part of your job – that’s bad. And the people who do that sort of thing (reassigning work) often demonstrate that they have no respect at all for the work itself, or the time and effort it takes. They’re acting as though it’s of little or no importance – anyone can take it over in addition to their regular job. Once that happens, the person who does take it over is automatically seen as the person who does trivial tedious stuff that anyone can manage…..

        2. Artemesia*

          I particularly love that junior men who shun admin tasks get all smug about women who avoid them ‘demeaning’ the roll. None of us who has been around the track for decades does not have stories of being the most senior woman in the room and expected to get coffee or take minutes or whatever. None of us does not have stories of people walking past half a dozen junior men in an open office to expect the long female to greet them, assist them etc. Some of us have the experience of people actually seeking professional women out in their office for these admin tasks walking right by the offices of several lower or equal ranking men. The whole ‘don’t demean secretarial work’ is disingenuous.

          1. ..Kat..*

            THIS! Amen, sister!

            Stop changing the subject and claiming we are impuning the role of admin or secretary. And make your own damn coffee!

        3. SavannahMiranda*

          Excellent point. It’s possible to respect the position, and respect the work. But there has to be a pathway to say “this is not my job.”

          Otherwise that leads us straight back into the trap of doing the work because otherwise who do we think we are? Do we think we’re better than someone? (A question we’re likely to ask ourselves than to be verbalized to us, unless it’s a particularly toxic office. Although it might definitely be silently implied.)

          Errr…no. That’s not the point. It’s a red herring.

          This is called a double bind. And it’s a real and legitimate thing. And it doesn’t mean women are disrespecting or looking down on other women. That kind of divisiveness only serves the people who are benefited by the women being divisive with each other, or being divided in their own consciences.

        4. n*

          Yep, and it feels especially demeaning when you’re expected to take on those duties not because you’re particularly or specifically qualified, but *just because* you are a woman.

          Imagine this scenario happening to a man. A man is hired to be a programmer but then ends up doing administrative duties 90% of the time. That would *immediately* be seen as a problem 9/10 times.

    3. Jane of All Trades*

      I agree that it can be a hard thing to articulate correctly. I think the way I look at it is simply that it isn’t the job I was hired to do, and it is therefore not a job I am able to do during work hours (aside from the fact that for a lot of the tasks I don’t have the training). Just like I could try to learn the HR person’s job, or the marketing person’s job, I could try to learn the Admin’s job. But that would prevent me from doing the tasks I was hired to do, and would therefore mean that I’m not meeting my responsibilities, which are to do my job.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        This is all absolutely true. However, for many women, if you try to articulate that you are seen as not being a team player or as being unhelpful. Often you will be dinged for it come review time, even though these were not your duties to begin with.

        1. Temperance*

          Women are between a rock and a hard place with this crap. We’re either not “team players” or we start picking up menial office housekeeping tasks and lose footing in our careers and become the perma-note taker.

        2. Jane of All Trades*

          Totally agree. It’s not an easy situation to navigate. I think my recommendation to LW would be to navigate this by taking on some administrative tasks, since it seems that this is expected of all employees, but to draw very clear boundaries as to what she will do.
          Because she’s already spent a lot of time doing much more administrative work than others, if I were her I’d probably pick a project that’s part of her main job duties and if somebody wanted her to do administrative work push back by saying “I know we’re all sharing the responsibility for the administrative tasks [so as to emphasize this is not only her job, but everybody’s], but the next two weeks I really have to focus on project A. During that time I think somebody else will need to step in and take over [getting the mail / ordering new pens / whatever the tasks are]” (so that she is generally saying that she will do the things, and therefore avoids being seen as the meanie who won’t step in and help, but in reality sharply limits what she will contribute). And then when that project is completed she can take over a small number of duties, roughly similar to the duties that other people have.
          Although to be honest I think in her case it might just be better to ask if her boss would be willing to assign either different tasks to different people, or to implement a rotation, so that she isn’t the only person doing these tasks.

      2. Mas*

        I don’t think that’s all there is to it.

        If the caller had been assigned to different work that was higher level or equal to her current work, she might not feel as offended. And that’s okay.

        It’s okay that entry level positions aren’t interchangeable with higher level technical positions. As a fellow assistant, I know that the engineers probably wouldn’t be thrilled to switch roles with me. How is that in any way shocking or offensive?

        1. Jane of All Trades*

          Yes I think you’re right. Somebody in the comments above made the point that employers who will just assign administrative jobs to whoever demonstrate that they don’t appreciate the nature of the work. I think in those situations there probably is an inherent value judgement, because the powers that be don’t see it as important enough to ensure that it is included in somebody’s job description and that they receive proper training, rather it is pawned off to whoever is available. And it’s a common problem for the less prestigious / career advancing work to be assigned disproportionately to women.
          But I think at least in some contexts what I say also holds true. I wouldn’t do administrative tasks because it would reduce my ability to spend time on my work – I bill by the hour. My firm hires administrative personnel who have specific training to support us, so that we can focus on generating billable hours, rather than spending time editing the word document or navigating the billing software. So in my case there isn’t a value judgment I assign to administrative work when I refuse to do it. It just is incompatible with the duties of my job, because (1) my billing rate is too high to invoice the client for me to spend time doing administrative work, and (2) I’m too expensive to my employer to spend time doing non-billable work.

          1. SavannahMiranda*

            I’m not certain what you do as there can be many careers that fit the billable/non-billable divide, but I work in the legal field and this divide is exactly why I went back to school in the evenings for post-bacc certification and retrained to move from EA/legal secretary to paralegal.

            The fact is, at least in the legal field, those who generate billable work are treated better. Are valued more. Are better supported. It’s problematic and unfair but it would have been naive of me not to face the music.

            If I wanted to be treated better and differently while remaining in the legal field, I had move from “cost center” (non-billable and someone whose salary is part of the cost of doing business) to “profit center” (someone who makes money for the enterprise via billables). It felt gross and offensive even as I was working my way out of poverty and progressing in my career.

            I my industry (and I suspect in many other industries although the make it less coldly obvious), cost center personnel are consciously or unconsciously viewed as replaceable, down-sizeable, and ever more condensable and off-siteable (I know now I’m just making up words). Profit center personnel are the geese that lay the golden eggs. They generate the money that keeps the lights turned on. It’s a harsh class divide. And god knows I bill nothing near and bring in nowhere near what partners and equity partners do. It’s not even comparable. To them I am just shy of being a cost center staff member myself. I don’t even necessarily exist.

            But because I am just over the dividing line between billable and non-billable, like you I have to fight the insidiousness of non-billable work. While being careful not to demean non-billable work or treat the job as less than, when that treatment is the whole reason I moved out of it. I have target hours I’m expected to meet, even though they are not brutal ones. And it’s hard, so hard, to walk the line between “let’s pull in Amy on this” and not being seen as a team player. At least I can ask “is this something you want me to add to my time entries” to encourage them to think it through, but sometimes there is a cost to saying that. I never say that to the managing partner. I just eat the hours.

            And when it comes right down to it, I’m topped out. Paralegal work is a pink-collar position in a current and ongoing male-dominated field. The glass ceiling is my skylight. There’s nothing above it because it’s not possible to be promoted to attorney. That’s not how any of this works.

            Nonetheless, those of us who are billable workers, who can directly tie our deliverables to our bosses’ profits, are in a better position to communicate that we are too expensive to spend time doing non-billable work, that it interrupts the firm’s targets for us and that clients should not be billed $185 an hour for me to package up FedEx document sets. Not everyone has that luxury. Not everyone works in industries where the divide between “you make me money, I like you” and “you cost me money, I tolerate you” is made so startlingly obvious. And those where it’s not so obvious have a harder time basing their objections on the business justification alone. The business justification still applies, but it’s more difficult to make it when you’re not able to say “do you want me to add this to my time entries.” I have sympathy for people who are trying to navigate this.

    4. Lucille2*

      I think the script has to be along the lines of the administrative stuff taking time away from essential work that is within your job description. I think the trap begins when a person has the time to take on some admin stuff, which can be quite complex and time consuming to figure out, and that escalates into, “Fergus understands the expense reporting system better than anyone, ask him!” Things spiral from there. Push back is important, but it should be framed as you no longer have the time to do favors for people since that is what you were originally doing. If the admin work is getting done somehow, then you run the risk of the role not being filled. I say this as someone who’s boss’s admin was let go due to a restructure, and we never regained another admin. Guess who took on all the admin work from there? None of the men. Some tricks I learned were to document some processes and save them where they could be accessed by all. “How do I refill paper in the printer?” Document. “How do I submit billing to a client?” Document.

    5. SavannahMiranda*

      “I told my replacement “under no circumstances should you take on task xyz because no one will ever respect you and it will become your full time job” and thankfully, she took my advice and avoided the whole trap from the get go.”

      Good for you! I’m glad you looked out for her and I’m glad she was able to re-set the office boundaries.

      You couldn’t un-stick the goo, but you made sure someone else didn’t get stuck in it, which is still powerful.

  5. Susan Calvin*

    I’m of two minds about the Instagram question; I agree with the answer, it truly depends on the company and role, i.e. an org that’s explicitly anti sex-work, or otherwise promotes “traditional values” has every right to hire people who aren’t hypocrites about their mission.

    On the other hand, maybe I’m not grasping the more delicate nuances of the caller’s description, but this sounds like it’s not even terribly explicit? Just more skin than would be publicly acceptable except on the beach, and vaguely kinky? Yawn. Look, as long as I don’t learn about this guy’s proclivities because he wallpapers his office with these pics, or gives me a gimp mask for secret santa, I don’t caaaaare.

    1. Magenta*

      I wasn’t in two minds, I really didn’t understand that one at all, it seemed invasive and judgy to me and I can’t imagine why anyone would have an issue with who someone follows on social media.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Perhaps ‘very conservative’ is code for a fundamentalist religious organization, of the “purity ring” variety?

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          (Thinking of the “won’t be alone with a woman not his wife” policy of a certain political figure.)

    2. kittymommy*

      I can see it being an issue in some work environments as well. Why doesn’t he just make his Instagram private???

    3. Michelle*

      The Instagram question was helpful as I am currently dealing with this issue… except it’s that someone informed me that my (current) direct report IS an “Instagram model” (or trying to be one). Long story, but I did do some sleuthing and it is a public account, exclusively selfies of the employee with little clothing and pretty sexual captions (though no explicit nudity).

      I’m feeling really torn. I’m not eager to address it as an issue because the employee is great at her job, I personally don’t feel all expressions of sexuality online = inappropriate, and I feel uncomfortable bringing this up a year into their employment (the account has been live that whole time). Given that it’s not really impacting the job, I think bringing it up would have a negative impact on our otherwise great relationship… but I’m also now hyper-concerned about a fellow employee, higher-up, or other people we work with finding out and how I would respond.

      Any ideas/advice for me, friends?


      1. mr. brightside*

        It’s not an issue. It’s your employee’s hobby. As long as she’s not doing it at work, it’s not a problem.

      2. Scarlet*

        I would leave the employee alone, but definitely look into the “informer”‘s motivations.

      3. Lulubell*

        Perhaps I’m overly pearl-clutchy, but I would think the employee is using poor judgement by having suggestive selfies on a public profile, at least if that profile is easily connected to her. Like it or not, people will judge, and it may affect her reputation in the office (since someone already reported it to you, sounds like it already has). Just because it’s not impacting her performance directly, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for her public profile. Set the profile to private.

        1. Maggie*

          Setting the profile to private would negate the purpose. As I understand it, the point of being an “instagram model” is to amass followers. This is hindered by using privacy settings.

        2. Clementine*

          Setting the profile to private defeats the purpose of being an “Instagram model”, if you are trying to attract a following. In the absence of corporate harm, I’d ignore this. (I suppose there’s a chance the employee is violating the moonlighting policy, but not likely.)

        3. Sparkly Lady*

          What is the employee did lingerie modeling in print ads for companies like Victoria’s Secret part time? Would you think that disqualifies her from having a corporate dayvjob? Because that seems obviously pearl-clutchy and not okay to me, but I can’t see any difference between that and Instagram modeling.

        4. DerJungerLudendorff*

          I do think you’re being overly pearl-clutchy to be honest.
          It’s not impacting the employee’s work, and if they want to risk this affecting their reputation that’s their problem.
          If people start to judge them for it, and that starts impacting people’s work, that seems more like a problem with the judgers.

      4. Excel Wizard*

        Could you respond by playing dumb? I know that avoiding the situation is not always ideal, and it may not work if someone repeatedly brings it up.

        Or if you wanted to be more forward, maybe saying something along the lines of “I try and stay off social media” or “I really don’t want to cross any work-life boundaries, so have never even considered looking my employees up” and then changing the subject to be focused on the good work she does, or just work. This (to me) would give a clear signal that you have no intention of having her social media be a subject of discussion at work.

      5. Susan Calvin*

        I tend to agree with most other replies that it’s probably not an issue, unless it’s like, under the first page of results for the name she goes by at work, in which case it *may* be slightly questionable judgement.

        I actually might still bring it up though, depending on my impression of the person who tipped me off – if they seem mortified and likely to take it to the grave, fine, but if there is any chance *they* might approach your report about it, or worse, start a rumor (which will presumably culminate in someone asking her hourly rates over punch at the next holiday party), I’d say she deserves a heads up.

        1. Michelle*

          Super helpful, thanks for the feedback!

          I should’ve clarified: the ‘informer’ who mentioned it isn’t a coworker at all. This is someone I know casually from an industry event (we don’t and have never interacted in an official work capacity) who used to work with my direct report at a past job. The informer said something along the lines of: “oh, you work at Company X? You must know [direct report]! We still keep in touch, she’s so ambitious with her Instagram modelling, it’s getting huge” etc etc. So it wasn’t brought up as a work issue, but at the same time, also demonstrates that it’s something that some people know and recognize about her.

          Bluntly, it’s a risk I know I myself wouldn’t take and I hope it never impacts her future career but I feel more confident now in my decision that it’s not my business at all (and I am not a big social media user, so as some suggested, I can easily pretend I’m unaware). I’ll be honest that I wonder if there are people at our work who do know (our office has a lot of young staff, most of whom are heavy social media users in their spare time) but ultimately that’s the risk she’s chosen to take and we don’t have to have the same opinion.
          Thanks again everyone, appreciated your feedback!

    4. NDC*

      Sometimes it’s not about the amount of skin on display, but the context. Broadly speaking, an Instagram of bikini shots as a shop window for a swimwear company is much less gross than an Instagram of bikini shots posted explicitly for leering at the models.

      Although if he were following a hundred swimwear companies on Instagram I would still wonder about his judgement….

      1. Susan Calvin*

        Please spell out exactly for me what you mean by ‘gross’ though.

        Is it “icky, don’t like it”? Because that’s how I feel about kale smoothies, but if the guy was fanatically following health food bloggers, I wouldn’t hold it against him either.

        Is it “morally reprehensible”? In that case we’re back to WHY. It’s INSTAGRAM, not PornHub. I’d be worried if his criterium for following was “has weird boundaries about posting pics of their kids”, or “sexy historical re-enactment, 3. Reich flavor”, but what we seem to be talking about here is between him and his browser history, as long as that’s exactly where he keeps it.

        1. Susan Calvin*

          I should add, I’m not even trying to discuss the fundamental ethical questions of ‘real’ porn, that aside was just to say, if you could’ve found his PH account with any amount of amateur sleuthing, I would agree there were concerns about his judgement.

  6. yeah*

    For what it’s worth, in some colleges, depending on when the person was hired, they will still go by “secretary”. Not sure if relevant, but just for fyi’s sake. Also cosigning the “this is a higher ed thing”. Also for fyi’s sake: It’s actually pretty annoying to admins when higher-ups try to do admin work, because, at least in my experience, it’s usually done incorrectly, and thus makes more work for the actual admin.

    1. Lemon Ginger Tea*

      I’m a legal assistant and am constantly referred to as a secretary. It reeks of the 1960’s to me and I hate it, but I get that most people don’t mean to be derisive by using it.
      “It’s actually pretty annoying to admins when higher-ups try to do admin work, because, at least in my experience, it’s usually done incorrectly, and thus makes more work for the actual admin.” YUP! It also makes me furious when a higher-up doesn’t budget sufficient time for admins to do their thing (scanning/mailings/file mgmt, etc). You might think it’s simple but that a) that’s not always the case and b) even it’s simple, simple is not the same as quick.

  7. Gently Screaming into the Void*

    Those small annoyances smell like sexism from here, and I hope the OP can nip this in the bud right away. When someone signals you for a pen, raise your hands and conduct an orchestra. When your boss cries into his mug, send him a youtube video on Making Coffee for Dummies. When you’re asked about maintaining a vacuum, provide them your list of hourly rates (plus the costs of buying coveralls).
    But, honestly, Alison’s suggestion on the direct conversation and boundary setting should be enough. I hope we get an update on this one!

  8. Four lights*

    Did not listen to the podcast, but crying into a coffee mug and waving for a pen are insulting behaviors even if done to an admin/secretary whose job it may be to take care of those things.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Exactly. Your problem isn’t just “they think I’m the admin,” it’s also “and they’re awful to admins.”

    2. Sammie*

      Was thinking this the whole time I listened to the podcast. I work in a small office where one of my MANY tasks is to make sure everyone has water, tea, and coffee for meetings. Whether it’s clients or colleagues or bosses, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are generously and sincerely given. Every single time. If they weren’t, I would be looking for a different position asap. There is never any excuse for poor manners and disrespecting admin staff. I really enjoy admin work. I enjoy taking care of my team members by making sure they have everything they need/want. But most of all I enjoy being respected for everything that I bring to the table (so to speak!).

    3. Artemesia*

      Oh yes!!!! Because someone has a ‘lower level role’ does not mean they are less a person deserving of being treated with respect.

    4. Tuxedo Cat*

      Yeah. They’re terrible ways to treat anyone, regardless of whether the task is that person’s job.

  9. ThursdaysGeek*

    The podcasts work better for me on the west coast – I can get and listen to it on my commute. And this time I set it to run a bit faster, so I got to hear the whole thing before I got to work!

    I empathize with the last caller, who 2 years after getting a degree is still looking for full time work. I got my fancy computer science degree back in the stone age and then… nothing. I worked for two years in a shoe repair before I found a part-time graveyard job changing tapes and delivering reports. Finally, finally, someone took a chance on me and I got a real programming job.

    I could have used advice like AskAManager, but Alison was just toddling (or learning to read) back then and not yet giving good work advice on resumes and interviewing. Instead, I’ve just made pretty much every mistake in the book, with a career of missteps and lower pay than the geeks around me. Thank you Alison, for helping others avoid or recover from the mistakes!

  10. Marry Poppins*

    As a long term high end admin, I concur about it being the higher education thing. I am so used to having to go from drafting strategic reviews to fetching coffee that it is not even funny. All for the same low pay. I’m based in the UK and my temp rate is lower than the starting rate for In n out servers in California.

    1. Cat wrangler*

      One of the reasons I moved away from working as a PA/ EA was the expectation that I would drop everything to make drinks for my manager when she wanted but when I wanted a drink myself after a 2hr meeting I had minuted, was told to ‘get back to your desk’!

  11. Alfonzo Mango*

    Interesting Instagram question! I know exactly what kind of accounts she’s implying, and it is such a tricky question. Unfortunately it is only answered by the business hiring. OP (or caller?) please update us if you address it with him!

  12. Taylor*

    As a former admin – don’t solicit a pat on the back from your office admin for doing menial things. You won’t believe the number of people who came to me and said, “I did my expenses by myself!” or “you weren’t here so I made the coffee today, wow!” It is so patronizing.

    Also, I may be in the minority here, but in my admin days I hated getting praise for completing menial tasks. I’m talking about other staffers who would say, “great job setting up that meeting” when the meeting was just 3 internal people in a room.

    1. AKchic*

      Yes. It is 100% patronizing to be thanked for doing the bare minimum of what we are hired to do. Great, the meeting I set up for X accomplished something, but it took me no more effort than if I’d set up a meeting for something that cost us money instead, so please don’t thank me. If the bosses want to thank me, I accept raises, monetary gifts, and paid leave.

    2. KaloraKid*

      Very much agree with you on that second paragraph. I’m not an admin but am on a team that gets confused/conflated with our admin team (I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s the only two majority female teams in a company of about 97% men /s). The head patting praise is obnoxious and you can clock it from a mile away. I know when I did a great job deserving of praise and when I just did my regular schmegular job deserving of the standard paycheck-in-exchange-for-services and nothing else. Add to that the fact that it’s often coupled with the “and a big thanks to the ladies for keeping us on the straight and narrow” comments and my patronizing BS alarm is ringing itself silly.

    3. Serin*

      Oh, yeah, one of my first managers was famous for that. I would reorganize an entire file room and he’d be like, “Good job typing that letter.”

      I think he just had no clue what I did, but had taken a management seminar or read an article in the Harvard Business Review and so he Knew How Important Positive Feedback Was.

  13. Anon Admin*

    No one wants to do the “menial” tasks, but they want them to be done and will complain if they aren’t.

    I think OP1 should try once more to speak to her manager and have her job separated from the admin tasks and really push for a dedicated admin. IGNORE the crierand pen waver. Those are insulting even to an admin.

    1. pleaset*

      I’ve been happy to do them when it was my job.

      Or, more accurately, as happy as I’ve been about work in general.

  14. SocialSally*

    With regard to the Instagram question. If he’s truly the strongest candidate, would it be appropriate to ask him to make his account private if he were to accept the job?

    1. Wendy*

      But what would they do if he said no? Pull the offer? Or make it a condition of the job be that he must change his settings?

      I gotta say, as someone who has a public IG profile dedicated to my pole dancing/fitness journey I wouldn’t accept any job that tried to control who I am outside of work hours. That’s one of the reasons I keep it public, so that if potential employers google me and don’t like what they see, they can chose not to invite me for an interview. I’m sure it may have cost me an interview or two, but I wouldn’t want to work for a place like that anyway.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m also over here thinking that if he has a common name and no photo of himself it might not even be him.
      My grandpa had an old saw about calling out “Patty Riley how are you?” And the whole bar turns around.
      I have a common name, so every now and them I google myself to make sure there’s no criminals in my state with my name… so far the most surprising overlap is obituaries.

  15. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m in a situation where people in different departments apparently assume I’m the admin now that our admin has left and won’t be replaced. I don’t know why. I’m not the youngest, I’m not the lowest on the org chart, I’m not the only female, and I can’t think of any other reasons why people tend to decide you’re the admin that I might be triggering. At first I thought maybe I was getting calls transferred to me because I’m first on the alphabetical phone list, but then I was included on a group email that said “I’m sending a package of these forms to every admin, please distribute to your division” and I was all, WTF? I responded to that with “I’m not our admin but I’d be happy to distribute those for you,” but I don’t know of a graceful way to ask the switchboard why *I* get all the random calls that would normally go to a department’s admin.

    1. Autumnheart*

      I think that’s a cue for a conversation with your boss about why you’re suddenly being tasked with admin directives.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        “Huh, that’s weird. Anyway, about those llamas…”

        (None of this is coming from my boss or even my grandboss; it’s all coming from outside my department.)

    2. mr. brightside*

      Are you listed as a point of contact in any directories, or are you the owner of the outlook mailgroup? Those sorts of things can signal “the person in the office who handles this stuff”.

      Also next time someone says “we’re sending this to the admins”, reply with “I’m not the admin please remove me from your list”.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Are you listed as a point of contact in any directories, or are you the owner of the outlook mailgroup?

        Nope, other than being first on the directory because it’s in alphabetical order. But admins are not listed first, so there’s no reason for anyone to assume being at the top of that list means anything.

        1. TheDreadnoughtDarsie*

          Maybe the exterminator who’s been using your name to avoid government scrutiny had a side-gig as an admin at your company?

          Seriously, if your boss can’t/won’t address this with management, and since you are in a client-facing role, I would talk to whoever is transferring the calls to you and tell them it’s impeding your ability to assist the clients assigned to you, since you cannot take their calls if you are acting as a quasi-receptionist. For that reason, you will no longer be able to handle other calls. Then when calls do come through, explain that you are unable to help and transfer them back to the person who sent them to you.

    3. Artemesia*

      ‘I am not the admin, so I am sending these back to you.’ If you do the admin tasks you are the admin and you won’t be able to get out of it.

    4. Temperance*

      There’s not a graceful way to ask, so just ask. For example, with the forms, I would have probably responded with “oh you must have meant someone else, I’m not an admin” and not offered to distribute paperwork.

      Can you just ignore the calls?

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I can’t ignore the calls – there’s no way to tell, before I answer, that it’s a call that would have gone to the admin if we’d had an admin. And they’re external, so I’m not going to ignore clients just to make a point.

        I told the emailer that I wasn’t the admin, but it seemed unnecessarily petty to refuse to shove a form into a few mailboxes. And if that person had said “Rusty, since you guys don’t have an admin, could you do me a favor and distribute these forms to your department?” I would have been happy to help. But I did have to suppress the urge to ask why they believed I was the admin.

        1. HappySnoopy*

          Why did you suppress the urge? It wouldve been normal to go, huh thats odd. How did you think that? Not being accusatory, just polite investigative.

          And you need to talk to the receptionist/person that sets up phone menu choices. Its one thing to do a favor, oh you got tranferred to a desk instead of b desk every once in a while, but consistently….Those few minutes here or there add up to a lot over time when it is not your job

    5. boop the first*

      Coworker: “here are the forms for distribution!”
      Not-admin: *Gazes around, looking confused, slowly turns back to make eye contact* “Are… are you talking to ME?”

  16. AKchic*

    Crying into his mug?! No. No no no no no.

    Stop. Responding. To. Their. Silent. Or. Otherwise. Not. Spoken. Word. Cues. Staaaaaahp. Also actively stop being so “helpful” as the go-to secretary. Don’t make the coffee. Don’t *offer* to refresh, fill, or do anything with coffee, water, or any kind of food or other refreshments. That is not your job. That was not what you were hired to do. Stop providing non-work comfort to these morons. You are not their wife or mother or caretaker. You were hired in a very specific, more technical role, and even a secretary is not hired as a comforting hostess. I am going to tell you what I tell myself around certain male individuals that feign helplessness around me: Quit Momming the Idiots. They are big boys and they know how to make their own coffee, get their own pens, and do their own little things that make their environments comfortable and jobs “special”, “easier” and “convenient”. If they want a “woman’s touch” to things, they can bring their mothers.

    Unless outright assigned a task that specifically correlates to a job, don’t do it. And start subtly giving them the “time to grow up” attitude. If they comment about coffee not being made “oh, do you not know how to make it? Would you like me to teach you how?” If someone comments about how their cup is empty “oh, would you like me to teach you how to go fill your cup?” Play innocent. Why of course they don’t know how to do this, but naturally you’re happy to show them how to do it. It’s normal to be 40+ and not know how to fill one’s coffee cup, we won’t make fun of that. Wide-eyed innocence. Dig deep, OP, dig deep.

    1. Artemesia*

      Don’t even engage that much. ‘oh’ is as much of a response if any response is needed. Then back to your work.

  17. Curious Cat*

    Re: Instagram. If you’re worried about people being able to connect dots back to his Instagram after he’s been hired, does your organization have an official social media use policy? For instance, at my job we’re *strongly advised* not to link anything in our personal accounts back to our job. I don’t post photos with coworkers, or include my workplace in my bio, or post about the company at all. No one would ever be able to link me back to my company. If your org doesn’t have an official social media policy, I highly recommend putting one into practice so that if anything ever comes up in the future (not even involving this guy) you have something to refer back to.

    Also – this does bother me a little bit, but it takes effort to find out who someone is following on Instagram. You can’t just accidentally stumble onto that information. You had to Google him, get to his Instagram, specifically click on who he’s following and then scrolled through to see. I’m not aware of many people who do this, it comes across as odd and invasive to me, so I wouldn’t even consider a client doing this (My org works with an outside firm and I’ve literally never once thought to Google any of the associates and see who they’re following on Instagram).

    All in all, yeah this dude should be on private just for general internet safety reasons, but he’s not, so I don’t find this important in his hiring. You say he’s the top candidate and nothing else is wrong, so why should who he chooses to follow in his free time affect that? People follow who they want to on their personal accounts, and it sounds like he’s just following some Instagram models which isn’t even very scandalous considering how many women/men have started to use Instagram as a profession. As long as the women he’s following are not underage, I find no issue with this.

    1. Snow Drift*

      I could see it being an issue if he’s being considered for a high-level infosec position, since LW finding this implies that he’s sloppy with social media or doesn’t understand privacy norms. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Another thought…perhaps it’s a conservative political organization that will be scrutinizedby opponents.

  18. TryingToReadHere*

    In college I got an (unpaid) internship where I was promised I’d get to do a bunch of different major writing projects. The actual internship ended up involving no actual writing projects, I just assisted my supervisor on her projects and cashiered in the organization’s gift shop. Totally regret not talking to my college about it and getting permission to find another internship. Do not regret telling my internship supervisor “No,” when she told me to go to Starbucks to get her a coffee or when she told me where the cleaning supplies were for cleaning her office.

    1. Politico*

      When I was in law school, a very well-known (and yes, white male) circuit court judge gave a talk on how to get political appointments in the executive branch. The subject of working on campaigns came up, and his advice was “if the campaign wants you to make the coffee, make the coffee.”

      I appreciate that volunteering on a campaign is different from a permanent job, but I do not have a problem with assigning interns gopher work. I think it is important that interns also get at least one substantive project to work on during the internship. But it is also true that interns are the most junior staff member, and someone has to answer phones, open mail, and yes, make coffee.

      When I was an intern in a congressional office several years ago, I had substantive projects. I also opened and logged mail and when on a coffee/pastry run for senior staff every morning. (Yes, I am also male.) I had no problems with this because I was given a valuable internship (and unlike many on the Hill, I was paid and a senior in HIGH SCHOOL, not college) and was making valuable professional contacts.

      I remain in touch (both professionally and as friend) with the people who consumed those pastries to this day. They remain important professional contacts for me, and I have held senior staff positions on the Hill as well as in the private sector.

      I fully agree that there’s a point after which it’s inappropriate to ask people to make coffee or essentially perform other gopher-like tasks. But at the most junior level (staff assistants/receptionists/admin/office manager) it is a reasonable part of job duties, and interns fall under that rubric. (And again, I fully agree that interns need to be given substantive work as well.) But I suggest you would do well to get off your high horse if you’re the most junior person in the office.

      1. TryingToReadHere*

        As I mentioned in my post, it was an UNPAID internship and I wasn’t doing ANY of the work they had told me I would be doing so I wasn’t getting any valuable experience. How is that comparable to your PAID internship with VALUABLE experience?

        The male intern she was sleeping with got her coffee and cleaned her office since I wouldn’t. At least he was getting something in return.

        1. Politico*

          “As I mentioned in my post, it was an UNPAID internship and I wasn’t doing ANY of the work they had told me I would be doing so I wasn’t getting any valuable experience. How is that comparable to your PAID internship with VALUABLE experience?”

          Regardless of whether the internship is paid, a certain amount of grunt work will be part of the internship duties, and I think that’s OK. (For the record, I tend to be in the “pay your interns” camp, but that’s a separate discussion.)

          If you don’t feel you were getting ANY valuable experience or making any contacts, by all means, quit the internship (or discuss it with the college, if academic credit is involved).

          I would respectfully suggest that “assisting my supervisor on her projects” does constitute getting some valuable experience and is the kind of work that is appropriate for a college intern, even if it was not fully in line with expectations. It presumably made you some professional contacts within and outside the organization. Thus, for a short-term internship, I’d be leary of walking out early even if you were (legitimately) disappointed with the overall experience, but YMMV.

          1. TryingToReadHere*

            The only people I met were her, elderly volunteers and whatever guests wanted to buy something in the gift shop, so I didn’t make any professional contacts. (When I wasn’t in the gift shop, I was alone in a rented office several blocks away.) I assisted her by filing, typing things into excel, and stuffing envelopes, which were all things I knew how to do before I started the internship.

            I suggest you would do well to get off your high horse about how all internships are automatically valuable experiences and everyone should be eager to fetch coffee and clean offices. Just because you got to do substantial projects, meet professional contacts and got paid doesn’t mean every other intern gets the same treatment.

            1. Politico*

              “I suggest you would do well to get off your high horse about how all internships are automatically valuable experiences and everyone should be eager to fetch coffee and clean offices. ”

              “Just because you got to do substantial projects, meet professional contacts and got paid doesn’t mean every other intern gets the same treatment.”

              Of course, I never said any such thing.

              What I SAID is that it’s fair to assign some degree of “grunt work” to college interns (in addition to at least one substantive project, which I SPECIFICALLY referenced), and that having to go on coffee runs/open mail/do data entry/move some furniture does not INHERENTLY mean the internship is a write-off.

              Your complaining about having to assist with “filing, typing things into excel, and stuffing envelopes, which were all things I knew how to do before I started the internship” suggests that you do not appreciate this fact and are taking a “too cool for school” attitude. Interns inevitably do SOME clerical work they knew how to do before they started an internship (this is true of most anyone, intern or not, in fact, even in really cool jobs).

              An internship is supposed to be a learning experience, yes, but not a transcendent experience 24/7. The problem with your internship appears to be that the grunt work was the ENTIRETY of it, rather than only a part of it (although to be perfectly frank, you’ve purposefully so distorted why I wrote that I wonder what your manager’s side of the story was).

              1. boop the first*

                “The problem with your internship appears to be that the grunt work was the ENTIRETY of it”

                Well yeah, that was the entire point of their original comment, wasn’t it?

          2. Batman*

            It’s not true that all internships involve fetching coffee and pastries and doing grunt work for others. I had an internship at a nonprofit for a summer during college and the only time I ever got food was when I had to pick up bottled water that an organization had donated for the event I was planning. And the only adminstrative work I did was stuff I did for myself. If I ever did administrative work for anyone else, it would have been at the very beginning when I was still being trained and they needed to keep me busy while full-time employees were working and it’s not something I remember, so I’m not even sure I did that or not.

      2. Tobias Funke*

        You have to understand that your coffee and pastry runs are viewed a lot differently than those of a young woman. I don’t think it’s about a high horse. For a young man, it’s Team Player Gumption Firm Handshake status. For a young woman, it’s That Girl Gets Coffee So Well!

        1. Politico*

          But if the intern’s duties involve coffee making, those are the duties, regardless of the intern’s gender. The relevant question is what happens when new interns arrive. If the male interns are spared the gopher work, that’s wrong. But if they do the same gopher work as female interns, that is what the job entails.

          1. n*

            The Fair Labor Standards Act actually has some regulations around what kind of work can be part of an unpaid internship. The internship is supposed to be for the benefit of the intern and is supposed to be comparable to an experience that they would have in an educational institution. So, legally (at least in the US), you’re not supposed to make your intern’s duties just getting coffee/other gopher work.

            Of course, this never gets enforced, but there it is…

      3. Batman*

        The other thing you’re missing is that the internship was completely different than advertised. And that unpaid internships are required to have benefit the internee more than the organization (otherwise it needs to be paid) so TTRH’s internships should have consisted mostly of those major writing projects.

          1. Jenny Next*

            In the United States, it’s a legal requirement, at least for internships with for-profit companies.

          2. Politico*

            It was part of the DOL guidelines under Obama for offering unpaid internships. (The Trump administration relaxed this requirement considerably in 2018.) At any rate, even under the Obama standard, the organization could benefit; it’s just that the intern had to benefit more.

    2. Politico*

      (I should add that I’m not directing my comments to the letter writer, who was clearly hired for a substantive professional position, and not an administrative one. LW is entirely within her rights to push back on this, and it should start with not volunteering to make coffee.)

      But when LEGIT administrative assistants refuse to do administrative duties? Definitely irksome at best, insubordinate at worst.

  19. Pam*

    For Questioner 1, I also recommend hiring students for the grunt work- vacuuming, front desk management, etc. If you hire a student getting work study financial aid, most of the cost doesn’t hit your budget.

  20. Carlie*

    Just regarding terminology – one of the biggest adaptations I had to make when starting to read this column and comments was that “admin” means administrative assistant. I’m in academia in a union environment, and for us “admin” means administrators who are management confidential, and “secretary” is the union official term for the administrative assistants, so the secretary term is still the main one used. (But everyone makes their own coffee! Switching to a single-serve pod coffee maker ensured that.) It is appalling how LW is being treated – nobody should be treated like that, no matter what their job description.

  21. Pickle*

    Hey Allison! You assumed that in the Instagram question that the applicant was a straight man, and I think that might not be the case and would radically change the answer. The LW doesn’t specify the gender of the people featured in the scantily clad accounts and mentions ‘a lot of latex’ which makes me think they might be gay men. I think the ‘conservative’ organization might be more worried about him being publicly gay then following sexy accounts. they would need to be very careful to make sure there aren’t any double standards at play— has LW checked that other coworkers don’t follow swimsuit models?

  22. Commenting Incognito In Case My Boss Is Here*

    Hearing “admin” and “secretarial” repeatedly equated with “menial” is painful. Vacuuming? This place needs a custodian. Dishes? The people in this place need to grow up and take care of their own. I work in sort of a quasi sales environment. I could write an encyclopedia! My job was supposed to be a promotion to supervisor, but we’ve had a revolving door of administrative staff for YEARS and I get stuck on phones all the time. Grrr! Everyone makes the right noises about “we’re a team: and “our administrative professionals,” but actions speak louder than words and the administrative staff is treated like errand boys and girls. I’d like to see some consciousness raising about the Admin Track the way we did about the Mommy Track.

  23. Ex Admin*

    As a person who worked in hospitality and as an admin for a good while I learnt an important rule – never annoy or demean a person who handles your food or drinks. Although I have never personally “compromised” anyone’s drink or food I’ve seen enough people doing it for bosses they hate or “difficult” customers who come to grab a coffee just so they can abuse others behind the counter for having a bad day, knowing that they cannot say anything back.
    I would never ask any of my coworkers to make me a coffee (I’m a grown up, wouldn’t waste anyone’s time making MY coffee, and seriously – if the person you ask doesn’t like you, you really don’t know what extras you get with it). Not mentioning that it is demeaning power play and no matter how important you are it’s really a bad reflection on you. You’re not being important – you are an ass…
    I have left one job because one of the directors (female as well!) told me it’s my responsibility to keep the office clean (not even to execute the clean desk policy – she told me it’s my job to clean other people’s mess). On my review, the only issue she had was that the office is not clean enough and I got a massive bonus cut because of that! Only I was qualified data analyst with master’s degree and 2 years experience by then and was hired as a data analyst… I gave my notice a month later and got the usual “but whyyyyy?”.

    1. Jenny Next*

      Holy cow! Did you bother telling them why? (And if so, was there any kind of acknowledgment that data analysts don’t double as custodians?)

      1. Ex Admin*

        Nah, I didn’t bother. This place was toxic and dysfunctional on so many levels it was unreal. Just told them “I got another job offer I cannot refuse, blah, blah, blah”. Wouldn’t do them a favor to tell them what’s wrong with that place (nearly everything was – pay below the market rate, great blaming culture, internal politics, unpaid overtime that was required nearly on a daily basis, some managers impossible to work with), and after 40% of annual bonus cut I was seriously done with them.

  24. Shark Teeth*

    I worked as an office manager at a large university and directors and up tend to treat admin support staff like servants. Making coffee is just a metaphor in this thread. I’ve literally been yelled at because the men’s room toilet was clogged, the caterer got lost, and because I made an appointment for a director with the “wrong” donor (even though it was the exact name and contact info the director gave me). Looking forward to the podcast answer.

  25. Elle Kay*

    I *literally* work in a position that *is NOT* the office secretary but I replaced the woman who was office secretary for 30+ years. That kind of work is just not something that large university/educational institutions want to pay for anymore.
    I DO NOT make coffee. I’ve had people come and ask me about it and I explain that a) it doesn’t get drunk fast enough so making a new pot every morning doesn’t make sense and b) I don’t drink much coffee so I don’t check it and realize that it’s empty. The pot is on the counter, the coffee’s in the fridge and you’re welcome to make a new pot whenever it’s needed :D

    The key is that, either, you remind everyone that that’s Not Your Job everytime they ask OR do a combination of ignore the rudeness (gesturing for a pen? CRYING into the coffee??) & redirecting them to “yes, spare pens are in the supply cupboard” responses; which is my go-to

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