I’m afraid I’m going to get fired — and I’ve had this same bad feedback before

A reader writes:

I’m an office manager and I have a problem that’s hard to define: I was told by both my current boss (I’ve been in this job for about two months) and a previous boss that I don’t “think one step ahead” and don’t look at possible solutions before asking questions. I had a conversation with my boss yesterday, when she pointed out some gaffes:

• When I was booking a hotel room for one of my coworkers, I asked her for the hotel rewards number, and she mentioned that another coworker, who was traveling with her, might have one. Only then did it occur to me that I could have looked it up on a spreadsheet that I have with everyone’s travel info.

• A locksmith came in to meet with the CEO, and he wasn’t even sure himself what the problem was that he needed to fix. I should have been more proactive and later inquired what he was there for and whether the problem was solved.

• When I was ordering envelopes from the printer and wasn’t sure how many to order, I should have asked him about the last order that was made before going to my boss and asking her.

• When the COO told me we were out of regular coffee K-cups, I started a whole conversation about how I drink tea and don’t like K-cups (though I did end up ordering it later). I should have just said “okay” and ordered the coffee.

These are the kinds of mistakes that my previous boss was constantly on my case about (though she did in such a way that made me feel like an idiot by raising her voice and being condescending). Thankfully, she’s not in my life anymore, but whenever she would point out a mistake and I would tell her it wouldn’t happen again, she would say, “Next time a different situation will come up and you’ll make another blunder.” Which did end up happening.

My background, if it helps: I started out as a clerk typist at a nonprofit organization, where I worked for a year before becoming an administrative assistant (different program within the same organization). I did okay with that job, but my boss (the critical one) was always on my case for not taking enough initiative. About a year after I started, there was an opening for the office manager position, and she said I wasn’t ready enough for that level of responsibility. I didn’t get the job then, but when it opened up a year later, I got it. She said I was more ready then, but she still couldn’t get me to perform to the standard that she wanted. Since then, I’ve changed jobs twice, both as office manager. I have a total of almost three years of office management experience. I’ve had my new boss for two months, and I’m hearing the same kind of feedback I got previously.

These mistakes aren’t because I’m lazy or I don’t care. I do my job to the best of my ability, but I just don’t have that knack of anticipating other people’s needs. I don’t know if I’m stupid or self-absorbed, or whatever.

I’m nervous because I’m in my probationary period and I’m afraid I’m going to get fired because of this flaw. Can I somehow train myself to think ahead and anticipate people’s needs? I feel like this is some sort of personality trait that’s not going to change.

I doubt that you are stupid or self-absorbed. It’s possible, though, that you’re not in the right job for you.

Administrative assistant and office manger jobs do (usually) require anticipating other people’s needs so that you can smooth their path before they need you to ask, and figuring things out on your own as much as possible rather than going to them for help, because the point of those roles is often to make people’s work lives easier and take things off their plates rather than putting them back on. Some people are great at that, and some people aren’t.

You can work at getting better at that, but to some extent it tends to be an inherent talent that’s tough to teach. There are things you can do to try to build that skill — for example, you can be vigilant about asking yourself, “If I had to solve this myself, where would I look for the information?” and you can create checklists that run through steps like “check travel spreadsheet”or “check last printer order” so you don’t have to keep every step in your head. And that can help! It’s possible that doing lots of that could make a significant difference.

But there’s also no shame in deciding that the very specific type of orientation that support roles require just isn’t your super power. All of us have things we’re not good at, and jobs we wouldn’t be well-suited for as a result. The trick is just to make sure you don’t end up in those jobs.

In fairness, it also sounds like your previous boss was a bad manager. If she was convinced you weren’t good at the job, she should have dealt with that head-on (by talking to you about it and probably transitioning you out of the role), not by raising her voice or telling you that you were doomed to keep making mistakes. If she really believed you were doomed to keep making mistakes, then the responsibility for that shifted over to her, for not doing anything about it.

It sounds like you had an office manager job in between that one and your current one. How did that one go? If you generally got good feedback and your boss was happy with your work, I’d look at what was different about that one versus the other two. It could be that it was a more relaxed environment, a less exacting manager, a less demanding workload, or who knows what. If you look at it and realize that you did well with a demanding workload there, figure out what’s different now — sometimes jobs/companies/managers are just bad fits, and it’ll help if you can pinpoint what has worked for you and what hasn’t. But if you look at it realize “hmmm, I didn’t get great feedback there” or “yeah, my manager there was notorious for never talking to anyone about problems,” then it might be that this work is just not your area of strength. And that’s okay if so!

If that’s the case, you’re far better off figuring that out and figuring out what you are good at, so that you can arrange your career in ways that fit you.

{ 506 comments… read them below }

  1. AndersonDarling*

    The OP may be stuck in an anxiety loop. It sounds like she needs to give herself the time to think things through before acting, but if you are anxious then there is a tendency to act quickly so it looks like you are on top of things. Acting before thinking causes more errors, which causes more anxiety, which causes more errors…

    1. GrumbleBunny*

      Absolutely. Especially if their first boss in this type of role was constantly telling them “You won’t make this mistake again, but you’ll be sure to muck other things up in the future.” This kind of criticism can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy and the more anxious you become about not making mistakes, the more likely you are to be preoccupied and self-conscious and accidentally make gaffes.

      1. Lizzy May*

        This. And it’s not just self-fulfilling; by keeping the critique so broad there’s almost a 0% chance it won’t come true. “One unspecified day, you’ll make some other unspecified mistake a work” is just a fact for pretty much everyone. We’re human and while it’s on us to avoid mistakes and errors, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a worker never makes any sort of mistake, big or small ever for the rest of their life. She was setting you up, OP. It was incredibly unfair and the pressure it created probably made your job harder.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Especially admin roles. I sometimes had to remind myself that if I was doing 200 discrete tasks over the course of a week, and I messed up 3 of them, that was still a pretty good track record. Jobs that have fewer large tasks have a different emotional weight on mistakes for me, since the mistake is usually part of a larger thing that still went okay and not a 100% screw up of an entire (small) task.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Exactly. Most folks blunder left and right their first 6 months.

              I will say that very quickly my brain went ‘she’s too reactive’. And I guess I mean that instead of building systems for herself, because there’s no way one can memorize everything, especially in the first couple of years, she’s constantly putting out fires.

              I think it might help the OP to track her time. What exactly is she doing, what is she getting interupted with, how she reacted to the interuption, and what would have been a better way to approach the task. That way she can find her patterns, and build her own personal SOP manual for the job. But the first two months? Shoot, I likely wouldn’t have remembered that I have a spreadsheet of travel related info either, unless I was using it at least weekly. *shrug*

          1. Nephron*

            And with admin jobs it is likely that the 197 things that went well flew under the radar while the 3 mistakes are noticed.

            If this is anxiety running through the things that have gone well or that you are succeeding at might help. Remind yourself what you have not messed up.

            1. Jadelyn*

              This. Most admin roles, done well, are fairly invisible. You don’t notice when there’s always paper available for the printer – only when you run out.

              1. Hey Anonny Nonny*

                Yep. No one notices when catered lunch arrives, on time, and is laid out and ready to go for everyone when they step into the conference room.

                Lunch is late or someone doesn’t tell you it needs ordering (for a meeting you’re not aware of)? Oh yes, the gnashing of teeth commences…

            2. The New Spider Boss*

              Good lord, you hit the nail on the head. It’s only the dishes you couldn’t keep spinning and crash that make a sound.

          2. Esther (OP)*

            That’s how it was with that boss! Every time I thought too hard about getting some task right, I would inevitably screw up. It’s like when you trip because you concentrate intensely on walking. lol

            And yes, a lot of my mistakes did stem from rushing to do something right away and screwing up without thinking it through.

            1. Batgirl*

              Esther I think this is absolutely the likeliest explanation. People make mistakes when they are panicking and your ex boss made panicking into a habit for you.
              Is it possible that even without a panic response that you’re not a good fit for the role? Sure. But I’d be comfortable placing money on it being the only issue, and that no others emerge when you solve it.
              If you are in panic mode you’re going to struggle to accept any criticism you need to improve dispassionately.
              Just remind yourself that you can (and have!) act on anything flagged and that the feedback is a favour to help you improve.

            2. GooseTracks*

              OP, can you force yourself to take 2 minutes to think through a task before doing it?

              I also have a tendency to jump on stuff and miss obvious things, which is a problem in my job. I’m trying to train myself to pause and think deliberately about the best way to go about a task, the information I need and where to find it, other stakeholders who need to be consulted, etc.

              It’s better to take a few minutes longer and do it right the first time, than to rush and make a mistake or even just annoy your boss/coworkers.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          Yeah. This is, like, an inherently self-fulfilling neg: you want to do better and prove them wrong, but (as you pointed out) sooner or later *something* will happen. And no matter how long it’s been, for them it’s evidence that you suck and you’ll never be able to change.

          (I’ve never experienced this with a boss, only with toxic teachers when I was younger, but I believe the principle remains the same?)

    2. Batgirl*

      Yeah I think it’s interesting she compares the performance of a brand new job with teething problems to the unsuccessful role, not the (presumably more successful) ones. Using such harsh language about herself too! It may be nothing; one great way to get better is to have a boss who points out issues early. Nothing mentioned is really egregious and OP has clearly absorbed the tips to streamline things.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I’m reading it as this is her third OM job, since she said she’d changed jobs twice since then. First — boss who kept saying how much she sucked. Role change #1: new job we don’t know much about except she was there maybe a year. Role change #2: New job where she’s getting bad feedback, nicely.

        Nothing is egregious, but I think it depends on how much it adds up. If I have someone who has information readily available about processes or something, yet she’s asking me 3-4 times a day on what or how to do something, that’s a major issue. If it’s once every couple of weeks, it’s not a big deal at all.

    3. Auburn*

      That was my thought exactly. I’ve managed several people in similar situations and the piece of advice I end up giving most often is to slow down and plan befor acting. I think we tend to underestimate the effect bad managers who yell (also other authority figures like parents and teachers) have on the people they report to as well. It takes a long time to undo that immediate adrenaline response that comes from anticipating a negative reaction to your actions. Once you get stuck in that place you end up reacting and attempting not to get yelled at rather than really defining the problem that needs to be solved.

      Some of this could just be not having the instinct for the job. But it could also be a lack of confidence that you can solve problems on your own. To solve problems independently you need to have a growth mindset and believe that you will get better at problem-solving the more you take it on. There are definitely resources out there to help you build independent problem-solving skills. Good luck OP!

      1. Esther (OP)*

        I totally get it about the adrenaline response. After I quit that critical boss, I would panic whenever I made a stupid mistake, half expecting my boss to yell at me. Then she would calmly say, “For the future, please don’t interrupt people when they’re in a conversation with someone” or something like that, and I’d be like, “Phew, what a relief!” I even had dreams about her too, but that’s a whole other discussion.

    4. Ali A*

      This is absolutely a flaw of mine I’ve worked hard to conquer over the years in an OM/HR role. But I agree that “thinking one step ahead” is a crucial part of these types of roles.

      I’m not saying get your PMP certification (I did not) but where I’ve found success is really starting to think like a Project Manager. What are all possible solutions? What could go wrong with this scenario and how to avoid? Mostly it’s telling myself to SLOW DOWN and think “ideal outcome” and work my way from there.

        1. Esther (OP)*

          That’s funny, I actually work for a risk management company! What do you mean, they trumpet about it?

    5. Still Here*

      She sounds like a thoughtful and genuine person. Who is not in the right job for her. She would be a great asset in a role she was suited for. And nothing you listed OP was very extreme.

    6. Cathie Fonz*

      Maybe I am missing something, but this all seems like pretty small beer.
      Chatting about K-Cups and asking for someone’s loyalty-reward number are not “blunders” in any way — there should be ZERO expectation that someone will always be “on top” of such minor stuff.
      In fact, one could criticize the co-worker for not giving the manager her loyalty number when she asked for the travel booking to be made — its the co-worker’s job to keep track of this stuff, not the office manager’s!
      I don’t understand the so-called mistake with the locksmith at all – it sounds like someone else made the mistake of not telling OP that a locksmith was needed. And even asking about an envelope order strikes me as a pretty small thing.
      The OP needs to just shrug off this kind of minor stuff, not internalize it as some kind of huge ERROR.
      In most workplaces, people basically take you at your own valuation. If you come across as relaxed and confident and self-assured, and if you can treat minor glitches as basically unimportant or par for the course, then everyone assumes that you are OK and you know what you are doing. If you come across as wringing your hands and nervous and tentative and uncertain about stuff, then people don’t trust you and will start nitpicking your work because they don’t feel confident that you are basically doing what needs to be done.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s normal to expect an office manager will ensure the office doesn’t run out of things like K cups. And it’s also normal for them to be the one who tracks loyalty numbers, particularly if a spreadsheet already exists for that purpose.

        We don’t do the OP any favors by telling her this stuff doesn’t matter, when for her job it does.

        1. Ra94*

          Alison, I think some of the ambiguity is coming from the way OP phrased the incidents. The K-Cup one reads like she’s chiding herself for starting a tangential, friendly conversation, and not for forgetting/refusing to order the K-Cups. It would feel different if she’d said she got side-tracked and forgot all about the order until later, for example.

          1. LV*

            The COO might have interpreted the K-cup conversation as the OP brushing off the request to order more K-cups because she herself is a tea drinker and doesn’t use them. That’s how I initially read it. I can see how the COO would be annoyed at the perceived flippancy and think, “I don’t care about the office manager’s drink preferences, I just want some dang K-cups!”

            1. Esther (OP)*

              You got it right. When my boss pointed it out to me later on, I felt so stupid for rambling about being a tea drinker, when I should have just ordered the damn cups.

        2. Fortitude Jones*

          Exactly. If OP’s boss is bringing this stuff up to her, she’s not doing it for her health – it’s clearly an issue in this particular role in this particular office.

        3. Imaginary Number*

          I think all of these look like really petty complaints from the point-of-view of a non office-manager/admin assistant type job. It’s why those jobs, especially at a higher level, really do take a certain skillset even though someone might be like “well anyone could order envelopes and coffee and book flights.”

          1. emmelemm*

            Ah yes, the “anyone could order envelopes and coffee and book flights.”

            Maybe anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it well.

            1. The New Spider Boss*

              I struggle with this thought every day, that anyone could do my job, they just don’t want to. And that’s probably true of cleaning gunk out of the sink, but really, the other stuff I do takes being On Top Of It to a degree I surprise myself in being able to fulfill. So I need to not be down on myself about my place in the office!

        4. Cathie Fonz*

          Oops, I WAS missing something — I thought it was just the OP who was concerned about these things, I must have missed the sentence where she said it was her own boss who flagged these as performance problems.

      2. TL -*

        It’s the OP’s job to be on top of such ‘minor’ stuff, though, and it’s reasonable to expect they will do so with a low (but non-zero) mistake rate.

        Also, I have been in a department with an amazing admin, one with a really great admin and a really terrible admin, and one with a so-so admin. None of them were super self-critical, all of them treated mistakes as things that happened, but it was nonetheless really obvious which ones were competent and which ones were not.

        A big part of that was the two excellent ones made sure that all the ‘little’ things in the department were taken care of with little to no effort from anybody else. Those little things quickly eat up a lot of time if someone isn’t on top of them, so having someone who took care of them proactively made a huge difference to how the entire department ran.

        Rule of thumb: the less I notice *how* the department runs, the better the admin is*. The more I notice, (because I really only notice when I have to take care of things myself), the worse the admin is.

        *and the more I need to actually remind myself to be appreciative of what they do and occasionally say, “Thank you; everything goes so much more smoothly whenever you’re involved.”

        1. Washi*

          Right! Admins are in charge of hundreds of little things. So when a boss points out examples of things not getting handled, it’s going to be a bunch of little stuff that seems kind of dumb to pick apart, except that getting the little things right IS the job. And also, the OP says she’s gotten this type of feedback at all of her OM jobs, which to me is another sign that there really is a problem.

          I think in addition to organization, there’s a lot of emotional intelligence that goes into this type of admin work to be able to fall into step with the rhythms of the office. You don’t want your admin to be someone people avoid because they always seem one step behind and not picking up on the point of whatever conversation you’re having.

        2. Nessun*

          I’ve always believed that myself too – most people only realize the admin are there when the wheels come off the bus. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Thanks for recognizing the inherent issue in recognition of admin when that’s the case.

      3. boo bot*

        I wonder if a big part of the issue here is the ghost of the previous boss: it’s incredibly undermining to be told both, “You need to take more initiative and not ask questions,” and “You’re terrible at your job and doomed to failure.” You can’t really respond to both of those statements at once, and so I can see why, in that situation, I’d go with asking questions (therefore contributing to the feeling that I’m terrible at my job and doomed to failure.)

        If I can’t trust my own judgment, then of course I wouldn’t want to go ahead and re-order whatever we ordered last time, or book a ticket without double-checking whose card it should be on. If I’m doomed to fail, I should probably try not to take everyone else down with me, right?

        All that really isn’t a comment on whether or not the OP could be good at this job if she got rid of the old boss’ voice in her head, but it’s probably worth trying to get rid of that voice for the sake of her own mental health.

      4. RUKiddingMe*

        If I understand the OP’s letter correctly, those are things her manager specifically counseled her about. Ergo I think “shrugging” them off would actually be deleterious to OP.

      5. Tinuviel*

        I disagree, these mistakes show a pattern of a lack of conscientiousness, aka as Alison said thinking about others’ needs and being proactive about problem solving.

        K-cups: COO said they’re out, meaning “refill it” not “how do you feel about this, do you like coffee?” And responding the way OP did comes across as “well I’m not bothered we’re out” not “right away, ma’am”.

        Loyalty rewards number: OP doesn’t remember what information she already has, and doesn’t think to look in her own inbox before asking other people to think/work for her. This slowly wears on people and damages relationships.

        Locksmith: They’re meeting with the CEO but actually office maintenance is her job. She is responsible for making sure the locksmith comes and does what they need to. And by not asking a simple question (why are you here), the CEO looks bad for not knowing about their own meeting, plus security concerns about just letting anyone in at their word.

        It can be overlooked if it’s not OP’s job and she is otherwise stellar at being a code monkey or widget tuner, but if her job is supportive in nature, she is actually not succeeding at her job. And she and her boss are right to be concerned.

  2. PJs of Steven Tyler*

    Just want to start by agreeing with Alison that you’re not stupid! I’m so sorry your old boss was nasty about this issue.

    I have a direct report that I worry about because he doesn’t seem able to anticipate the next logical step, especially when he is very busy with lots of tasks at once. One thing that may help, in addition to Alison’s suggestion about thinking about how you’d solve if you were on your own, is to keep a checklist or step-by-step instructions about possible other resources to use: in the printer example, you’d ask the printer, but you could also check the previous invoices if available.

    I would definitely say there’s no shame in not being great at this one thing; I happened to fall into Operations work because organization comes easily to me, and the best direct reports I’ve had in my department are able to think two or three steps ahead and choose a path based on its eventual outcome. You may be better suited to an environment where each step is already mapped out and you don’t have to metaphorically “see where the path leads”.

    Hope this helps and very much appreciate your letter – it’s always a good sign when people are looking to improve and get away from previous issues! But again, please don’t take your former employer’s unkind words to heart.

    1. JJ*

      Checklist definitely sprung to mind for me as well, also recurring calendar events to remind you of things! So say, every Tuesday at 11am you take a pass through the kitchen and printer area and see what supplies need reordering, every day at 11:30 you get the lunch orders, whatever. And every time something new comes up that you needed to be reminded of, add it to the list/calendar.

      Also, talk to your boss about the plan you’re putting in place to address her concerns, she may be able to offer some tips or add things to the list for you now so they don’t come up later. It sounds like you are anxious about not knowing what might come up, so a “I want to just double check I am keeping tabs on everything you’ll need from me on a regular basis, does this list (which you created beforehand as thoroughly as you can) look complete, or are there some other items you’ll need that I’m missing?” conversation may be in order. Make sure you’re taking that initiative to create a plan and just asking her to sign off on it, not asking her to do that work for you.

      Good luck! Don’t let bad old managers get in your head (I know it’s tough not to). You got this.

      1. Bigglesworth*

        100% agree with the recurring calendar idea. I’m in an admin-like role in my current position and calendar notifications are a lifesaver. Even though I’m a good admin, there’s so much going on that things slip through the cracks if I don’t have it on my calendar. It also helps me push back on stuff if I’m getting overloaded, because j can show my boss my calendar and ask him what I need to drop to do the new task because otherwise I forget everything that i need to do that day.

      2. TootsNYC*

        another tactic that might help build organizational skills is to sit down well before you do a thing, and write down what you might need to know. And where info might be. Who might possibly be connected to the situation. And possible problems. (If you have to, make a chart)

        You need to call the electrician? Before you call, write in a notebook: Electrician, flickering light in CEO’s office, Pete in Facilities x3333, we tried changing the bulb, a mess in the CEO’s office.

        Writing it down might help you play “let’s pretend,” which is a great way to think through possible outcomes.

        1. Cascadia*

          I used to work at the front desk of a dorm in college. We had about 15 people on staff, and we kept a notebook at the front where you would write down any applicable note/item that could come up on someone else’s shift. It was our job to read the notebook at the beginning of every shift and then mark things as completed when they were handled. It was super helpful for these exact sort of situations! “Ah yes, I see that maintenance was called to fix the 3rd washing machine on the right in the laundry room.” I would highly recommend coming up with some sort of system like this.

          1. TardyTardis*

            We had a similar notebook at the campaign office I worked at last year–we noted things like which radio stations played what kind of music, if we needed more packets put together, if That Really Annoying Person came by again, *exactly* how to get to the bathroom without bugging the people in the Thai restaurant next door, if we needed more buttons made up, that kind of thing.

        2. Bunny*

          And update it!

          My boss asked me to start documenting my job functions because there was nothing in place when my predecessor left and it caused a lot of problems because I have an extremely specialized and detail oriented job.

          What I found is looking at how I did things in black and white on paper made me re-examine my process a lot and ended up streamlining it.

          1. Esther (OP)*

            We actually do have a document, which the previous Office Manager put together and I update whenever anything changes. It’s a helpful tool, but of course it’s not 100% comprehensive, and most of the things I struggle with are not on there.

            1. Silence Will Fall*

              Don’t just update it when existing information changes, add new things as they come up. Make it a document that works for you!

      3. PJs of Steven Tyler*

        Yep – looping the boss back in on your proactiveness is great because they then see what you are doing, not what you aren’t doing (not doing your own research/thinking/planning if you’re asking me next steps often)!

      4. Gene Parmesan*

        I love this advice. I should do a version of it myself. My job is not oriented towards operations/planning/management, but there are some aspects where I could really see it being helpful.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Seconding this, and add that flowcharts also work well if you have to make decisions. “Does this involve the Jones account? Better make sure Sarah is included on all the emails.”

    3. JSPA*

      Another good trick, if you’ve had a coworker who was excellent: ask yourself, “what would Francis do?” each time. Sometimes it’s easier to picture the really competent person doing the right thing than to picture yourself doing it (especially if you’re caught in a self – doubt loop).

  3. Amber Rose*

    “When the COO told me we were out of regular coffee K-cups, I started a whole conversation about how I drink tea and don’t like K-cups (though I did end up ordering it later). I should have just said “okay” and ordered the coffee.”

    While the other examples I can kind of see as “mistakes” this one I think is worth looking at. Partly because I don’t feel like it’s a mistake to start conversations with people about things as long as they aren’t visibly hurried/annoyed at you for talking because they’re busy. But also because… why so aggressive? Why start a conversation by criticizing what other people like because you don’t like it?

    1. blink14*

      Yea I found the K-cup example odd as well. That’s a scenario where you don’t express your opinion, you say “not a problem, I’ll make sure I order some right away”. Also an indication that if this is something you are responsible for ordering, either they were used up more quickly than normal, or you need to be more on top of ordering supplies before they run out. That can be a huge detriment if you aren’t keeping the office stocked with regular supplies.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That to me sounds like nervousness. It sounded like OP was replying to her former boss by explaining herself when all that was needed was an “okay”.
        Here in situations like this it’s helpful to opt for less words until you figure out that you actually need more words. The first time I worked for a larger company, I was nervous about so much going on with so many people. So I used this rule of thumb regarding less words. I cannot tell you how many times it saved me.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah, that jumped out at me too. The other things strike me as acting before taking a few minutes to think through next steps, but that anecdote somewhat reframed things for me, but I’m not sure I know what it suggests. If nothing else, OP, it’s kind of a weird impulse you had there, to litigate the need for K-cups based on your own preferences, rather than contextualizing that request as direction to go place the order.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I can see how OP came to do that if she was coming from a place of feeling like she was being blamed for the K-cups being out of stock. Like, “Oh, I don’t drink coffee, I only drink tea, so I had no idea it was out.” That kind of thing. It sounds like OP’s former manager was hypercritical about everything she did, so now she views everything as a criticism when the COO probably didn’t even intend it that way – he probably was just saying, “Hey, we’re out of the K-cups, take care of it, please.”

          1. Shannon*

            My mother was hypercritical and it took me ages not to learn to take everything as a personal attack. Alison’s advice to think of yourself as a contractor hired to fix a problem that you have no emotional investment in helped a lot for me.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        To litigate rather than contextualize.

        Reading this letter I was struck by a memory of teaching first graders to read, and that understanding fiction and nonfiction passages could be completely uncorrelated. Like LW isn’t adding the “Mrs Fox said that because she was secretly thinking this” that contextualizes a seemingly bland/rude/other statement.

        OP, it seems like you might be okay on straight processes, but when you realize you have missing information you don’t think about the larger background that might contain the answer. And when you are reminded of something you leap into the conversational tangent without pausing to consider whether it’s relevant in this context. (And in a culinary framework, I don’t touch K-cup tea. But I could order a box of them if I needed to.)

      3. BethDH*

        To me it indicated that the issue is less one of not thinking ahead and more (or at least also) having difficulty assessing other people’s workplace needs. OP didn’t think to get the coffee because they drink tea — that’s minor. But that seems to expose a pattern where OP has trouble picturing the systems around the rest of the work in the office — including the times other issues might have come up before — almost more a failure of imagination than anything else.
        I’m not quite sure how OP can deal with that. Maybe by some “character” mental role play? “If I were an accountant with these projects on my plate, what would I need?” That feels a little silly so I hope someone else has better ideas.

      4. Scarlet2*

        Agreed. The rest sounds like trying to act too fast without thinking things through (which is probably an after-effect of the stress/anxiety induced by the former horrible manager), but this one sounds a bit odd to me.

    3. GrumbleBunny*

      I don’t necessarily see where the OP was aggressive there. Certainly it’s possible that they were like “Ugh, coffee, so gross, I only like tea.”
      But it’s also possible that the conversation looked more like “Oh, I’m sorry for letting the regular ones run out! I didn’t realize the ‘regular’ and the ‘donut shoppe’ K-cups weren’t the same thing. I actually don’t drink coffee at all, I’ve never liked it so I stick to tea and I don’t know much about coffee” “oh god why am I rambling the COO doesn’t care what I like to drink I should have just said I’d order more coffee.”

      1. Atlantian*

        But it actually could be a relevant anecdote, at least in terms of framing why a person who has been on the job less than 2 months may not realize that the K-Cups were running low. “Hey, have you ordered K-Cups, I noticed they were running out.” “Oh, no, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that was something the company provided. I never use them, I’m a tea drinker, so it hadn’t crossed my mind to check. I’ll make sure I’m keeping tabs on the inventory going forward.” Or something like that. Which, IMO, is a totally normal conversation for a new OM to have with their boss or grand boss, or dotted line boss, or whoever in the office, especially if they weren’t promoted from within. And it could have easily devolved into a short conversation about drink preference.

        OP, this is also the kind of thing you could be keeping notes on if remembering them does not come naturally to you. Like “-COO is all business. Do not start side conversations, keep it short and to the point.” “-CEO likes to talk about their kids. Hannah does swimming and Jake runs track.” And so on. Keep it in a personal tab on your OneNote or in your Bullet Journal or notebook and review it from time to time. It will help, I promise!

        1. Not Me*

          I agree with this, it’s how I read it in the OP too. I think it’s also a good example of LW maybe not being right for an OM role, as Alison mentioned. An OM should know which office products they are responsible for restocking, that would be something I’d expect them to ask (if their manager doesn’t bring it up first) during on-boarding. “We haven’t talked about supplies orders, where would I find vendor and last order information?”

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            enh, even if this context guess is correct, I don’t think it’s much of a data point for the OP to say they’re not right for an OM role. I see it more along the lines of Atlantian’s take.

            OP, try not to overthink individual mistakes too much… focus on how to avoid them in future.

            1. Not Me*

              That would make a lot more sense though if the manager wasn’t bringing it up with all the other issues. This wasn’t a situation where only this one thing was mentioned as an issue. It’s important for the LW’s success in the role (or in finding a new role) to recognize why she’s doing/not doing the things she’s doing/not doing and how to correct them. Which is why she wrote in to Alison I think, and why Alison mentioned this might not be the best role for her.

        2. New Normal*

          I agree – it sounds like the k-cup thing could have been more about office culture than anything else. I’m currently in a small southern city and a digression into drink preferences sounds like a normal day around here in most offices and not doing so would be seen as being cold and unapproachable. But I’ve also worked where anything more than a “yes sir/ma’am” would have been presumptuous. And then there’s the cultures within cultures…

        1. Gora*

          Yeah. This may be entirely off base, but perhaps the OP was seen as a time waster and scattered by their boss? I’ve known employees who have these kinds of personalities – everything has to be a conversation or a problem-solving discussion. This can get frustrating when a manager just wants to hear “Ok got it.”

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            OMG, yes! I have worked with these people, and I currently work with one in particular, and it is incredibly annoying to listen to two hour conversations about something you really only needed a “I’m on it” for.

          2. Washi*

            Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Especially if the CEO is known to be a no-nonsense type, and OP was expected to pick up on that.

          3. RUKiddingMeItsNotLettingMePost...Again*

            Exactly. I don’t want to brainstorm/discuss this. I need lemurs by 8PM…just find me lemurs.

            1. Marmaduke*

              Oh, I can find lemurs! You see, I’ve interacted extensively with lemurs ever since I first encountered one in the zoo near my childhood home where I lived with my three brothers and two parents and four cockatoos…

        2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          And that could be the crux of the issue. Many Office Managers are focused…primarily on the “little” items on which no one else has the time or desire to focus. That is why the best Administrative Assistants do so well–they are focused and anticipate needs that their supervisors don’t realize they have until there’s a problem. That is NOT an easy skill to develop, so OP, don’t beat yourself up if that is not your strength.

      2. Sneezer*

        But that doesn’t matter. She’s the office manager. It’s her job to be proactive and keep tabs on office supplies whether she uses them or not, including K-cups.

      3. TL -*

        But if your job is to manage office supplies, that’s an inappropriate response – because your job is to track and order supplies, so it doesn’t matter if you drink them or not.

        I’ve given that response of “I don’t use them, sorry,” to actually mean, “It’s not my job to track and order X,” (in a position where it really wasn’t my job or tangentially related to my job or anything I was getting paid for, sorry we ran out of notebooks but just because I sit in the room and am female doesn’t mean it’s my job to stock them.) and I think the CEO was not off-base reading it that way, even if the OP didn’t mean it that way.

        1. Clever Name*

          Exactly. This exact same situation (but with loose coffee instead of k-cups) happened in my office. We had no coffee for a few days because the person responsible for ordering didn’t think to look in our kitchen to see that our supply was running low. Not a big deal, but, well, it’s their job. OP, how do you normally keep track of consumable household items that need frequent restocking (stuff like toilet paper, milk, shampoo, whatever)? I mean, I assume you don’t run out of toilet paper and have to dash to the store right away to replace it, right? Maybe you don’t think of the system you use to keep track of that stuff at home as a system, but it absolutely is, and you can translate it to work.

          1. Esther (OP)*

            That’s actually something my mom suggested as well: to take the mentality that I would use in my house and apply it to the office. And to answer your question: no, I don’t run out of toilet paper. lol I just keep an eye out for necessities and notice when they’re running low. That’s something I started to do in the office, regardless of whether I use the items.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I didn’t see that as OP criticizing the person. I read it more as a defense of why they didn’t notice the K-Cups were running low. It sounds like OP’s developed some pretty strong anxiety about this job, and being told that kitchen supplies were running low and thinking “I should have noticed that without someone having to tell me” can pull up some of that anxiety and make OP feel like they need to defend themself about why they didn’t notice.

      1. Esther (OP)*

        I do have anxiety about the job, but in this case, that’s not what it was. It was more of a brain fart, or something I read about called “code switching.” That’s when you make a social gaffe because you’re not in the right head space. For example, you have your professional personality, which you present at work, and your more relaxed one that you have around friends and family. Sometimes you don’t switch in time from one to the other, which is why you may slip up and tell a dirty joke at work or something. The sidetracking to myself being a tea drinker is more something I would say to my mom or my husband, but I slipped up and didn’t code switch in time. All clear?

        1. K8Sk8*

          OP I’ve been in the admin game for years at different capacities and in varying companies (pharma, non profit, engines, hospitality). I could write an entire game plan of suggestions here because, like you, I tended to assume that folks were as interested in me as I was in them, and I think in a different pattern. While everyone else says that the asparagus is green, I’m busy comparing the shades and the percentages of yellow to blue that make up that green. By the time I come up for air, everyone else has left the table.

          So here are a few suggestions to get you started that best work for me. Hopefully they’ll help you out too.

          1. Assuming you have regular check ins with your boss, however infrequent. Next time you meet with (her?) I’d say something like – “I appreciate your coaching and I recognize that I’ve made some blunders.” (Don’t say this unless you can be sincere.) Next, “I’ve set some milestones for myself in this position and, because I’m new I’d appreciate your buy in on a timeline that meets your expectations.” (using SMART goals – look it up) This serves two purposes, you’re displaying your commitment to grow in a very measurable way (side note – this should be super rewarding to you, too) and you’re also getting g a very clear vision on the boss’s expectations of you. My first admin in pharma told me in my second month that she didn’t really expect me to fully understand the expectations of that job until the end of the first year. That was generous but any reasonable supervisor will already have established when they want to stop hand holding. Put this all in writing after you meet and email a copy to the boss.

          2. I’m not a tasks driven person but I thrive in an environment that offers routine. Which is contradictory. Any who. I had to find the right technology and stick with it so my boss could see my accomplishments, I could provide myself reminders and so that I could shortcut all the things I was forgetting! At the time, that tool was OneNote. Now it’s Planner. Both Microsoft programs that offer checklists that can tie back to Outlook so that you can hold yourself accountable. Create a daily and monthly checklist. You’ll feel a lot of satisfaction in that. When something like the door fix comes up – make a note and tag it, using words that make sense to you. Then you can search and it will pop up. Don’t delete it, keep it there for reference (bc if it breaks again they’re going to come back to you). List your boss’s little favorites (COO likes coffee, no small talk), keep shortcuts to files, important phone numbers, etc etc. Office Lens is another great tool for receipts, etc. Check it out it’s free! And if you don’t always carry a pc find a notebook and start writing one action itsm/task/note to self on one line and then cross them out when they’re complete. It’s helpful to date the top of the pages too.

          DON’T spend too much time on this. Learn it for yourself on your own time, unless your boss approves it.

          3. And this one is really important for those of us who came from a hostile working environment like your last experience. Assume positive intent. Most employers want you to succeed because you’re absorbing a portion of their work however small. And when you can sense frustration in your boss learn to say, and apply, things like, “Thank you for pointing this out – I am working on reading nonverbal signals (or my EQ) better so that I can better sense when my business partners (people you support) are in a hurry. I will remember this in the future.” You’re acknowledging that you’ve recognized your mistake and your commitment to remember the advice. Then, do what you’ve promised.

          Good luck!

          1. K8Sk8*

            Dang. Typos. I also meant to mention that you might benefit from doing a DISC profile on your own time. This can identify areas where you’re most and least comfortable. Might also help you decide whether you want keep slogging through this particular profession. Here’s a free version that works for me…


            (remove if not allowed, of course)

    5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I read it as the COO made the statement without appending an explicit “can you please order more” to the end, and the OP completely missed that it was a request for action rather than a general comment. That would fall into line with the general trend the OP and Alison both identified where they are failing to pick up on things in general.

      But that said, yeah, that’s probably the most glaring example of OP seeming to be generally not well cut out for this work.

    6. Esther (OP)*

      I didn’t mean to be aggressive or to criticize anyone. I was just talking about how maybe we could order a regular coffee pot and I can brew coffee every morning instead of people using K-cups. I tend to be very much in my head a lot of the time and not realize how something comes off until later. When my supervisor told me about this, it took me a minute to remember the exchange, that’s how little I thought of it at the time.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Part of that is likely that that’s not a conversation to take up the CEO’s time with. You could propose that to your boss, but the CEO just wants to get her coffee and get back to work.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah – the COO is not going to be terribly concerned with, or interested in, whether the admin thinks a coffee pot is better. It’s just too granular.

          And a lack of understanding, whether through intuition or observation, who needs to be bugged with what when, seems to be the heart of the issue.

          1. Fortitude Jones*


            And yeah, OP – even if it wasn’t the COO, you still shouldn’t have launched into a spiel about how a coffee pot would be better, especially as a new hire. The office has a Keurig, they presumably like it, so just order the cups.

            1. annony*

              Especially if you don’t drink coffee. I would not be at all confident that a non-coffee drinker could make coffee better than (or comparable to) the Keurig.

            2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I want to push back on this a bit.

              She’s been there for 2 months, so she’s not brand new at least. It’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do is to suggest changes but it’s all about delivery, as mentioned below.

              A lot of times things are done that way because they’re just…done that way? Nobody likes it or hates it really, it’s just a thing.

              So it’s fine to say “I was thinking about the K-Cups and wondering if you’d be interested in changing the system?” Then if they say “It’s fine the way it is”, you nod and deal with it.

              As an Office Manager, you’re often tasked with this kind of stuff, it’s within her scope to give suggestions of changes but yeah, delivery, delivery, delivery!

              1. Snark*

                The thing is, though, “I was thinking about the K-Cups and wondering if you’d be interested in changing the system” is a different conversation than “We’re out of K-cups,” both in content and in approach and timing.

                1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  I’m in agreement with the timing here and the approach is all wrong.

                  However the comment in question says “The office has a Keurig, they presumably like it, so just order the cups.”, which isn’t necessarily the case. It’s going hard on the “don’t make suggestions at all, just do it!” instead of the “make suggestions at a later time or in a different way.”

                2. Blushingflower*

                  Yeah, if I were going to suggest replacing the coffee machine (as a non-coffee drinker) it would be after I’d just ordered more, or when we were well-stocked on K-cups.
                  “Hey, I just ordered a refill of K-cups, that should last us for the next [time period], but I wanted to see how folks might feel about replacing the K-cup machine with a more traditional coffee pot, which would be cheaper and have less of an environmental impact.” But I would not do it when we were running low on coffee (unless I thought I could get the decision made and the replacement ordered before the magic bean potion ran out).

              2. Half-Caf Latte*

                But the OP’s already said she’s not great at anticipating needs.

                The current coffee set up (assuming there are Kcups stocked) allows me to get a cup and go on my way in about a minute.

                Switching to a pot means SOMEONE (read: OP) needs to anticipate coffee needs, and check on it actively through the day. I’ve never worked anywhere where one pot was enough for the whole day.

                That’s way more anticipatory work and way more inconvenience for the coffee drinkers, so I wonder why the OP thought that suggesting a task for herself that added more of the stuff she’s struggling with was wise.

                1. Triumphant Fox*

                  Plus, people love the flavors and tea drinkers can have their chai if they want. As someone who also only drinks tea, I do like that I could get a guest a cup of coffee with a Keurig instead of figuring out coffee brewing (I have literally never done this in a pot – only in a French press) for guests when the admin forgets or I’m the first one in in the morning. People are particular about coffee (as they should be – I bring my own tea) and I do not want to be responsible (nor should the OP be responsible) for navigating the preferences between what roasts or the strength of brewing, etc.

                2. K8Sk8*

                  I agree! If it were a sustainability or plastics reduction suggestion it might have been better (but not ideally) placed. Generally as support staff you’re meant to keep your head down unless you work on a very progressive or inclusive team.

                  Also, if you find yourself stating “it would be easier if… Consider whether that statement ends mentally in…” for me.” Because your job is to make others jobs faster, simpler, better. That is the true role of support staff. Example: ” We should use a real coffee pot because it’s simpler than k-cups and I’ll brew it myself!” This is a fine idea until you’re out sick or on vacation. And what happens when the coffee runs out, will you be buying out of pocket or will you have to order more. And, if you have to order more… How is it simpler or easier. Add to this, that brewing coffee distracts from your actual productive work and instead of spending 5m ordering you’ve spent 30m maintaining a coffee pot. At $12/hr you’ve now wasted a pretax $6 of company time. Now multiply by a year’s worth of half hours and you’ve wasted a little less than $800. The cost savings of the coffee maker, a year’s worth of filters and coffee vs using k-cups had better outweigh the $800 loss of company payroll for this suggestion.” These are the things that go through your COO’s mind when you’re making a formal proposal, not just a water tower topic in the social hub. Does this sound simpler now? Or would you rather just buy the k-cups?

                  If you are adding steps for your business partners even if they’re only perceived additional steps, you are not succeeding and your core job duties. So each time you make a suggestion, be sure to ask yourself first Is this easier for me or does this new process make life easier for the business partner? If your answer is me then you’re likely on the wrong track.

                  I don’t mean to deter you from. streamlining processes b/c that could be a part of your job. But I’d get everything else down before you start that if I were you.

              3. Fortitude Jones*

                I’m not saying she should never suggest changes ever. And yes, two months on a job is still very new to be making suggestions unless you were hired into a role with the specific purpose of being a change agent. As someone who also doesn’t drink coffee, she’s probably not paying attention to how often people are using the Keurig, the ease of use of the thing, etc. Everyone knows what a coffee pot is – presumably, if the office wanted one, they would have one. Who knows – maybe the office doesn’t have one because they previously had one that was taken away because no one ever cleaned it (this was the case at one of my old employers).

                But I also agree with Blushingflower that if OP was going to make the suggestion, it should have been made after the K-cups were ordered. The COO was bringing this to the OP’s attention as a problem to fix, and she missed that signal. I’d be wary of having someone who doesn’t get these nuances make broader suggestions for change so soon in their tenure since it’s possible she won’t get the workplace specific rationale behind it.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            yes, this – ‘who needs to be bugged with what, when’.

            This isn’t an anticipate needs issue, which is *super* hard to learn. This is using other people’s time when what they want is for you to run with it on your own. Some of that will come with familiarity, but the tips / tools here will help you get there faster.

            Lists, tickler files, calendar reminders, personal notes.

          3. RUKiddingMe*


            If I were the COO I’d be thinking that “I don’t really care about anyone’s position on K-cups or your preference for tea. Just order them and quit talking at me.”

            1. K8Sk8*

              Hah! My first thought too. It took a really blunt but very well intentioned business partner to help me learn that. Hated working for her but damn, did I learn a whole lot!

      2. Snark*

        And I say this as gently as I can, but if you’re in your head that much, this role may be a poor fit, as Alison said.

        1. kittymommy*

          This. unfortunately, office manager/admin assistants are not the type of jobs that fit this thought process/mindset. If it is possible for the OP to change this I would think a lot of these issues might be corrected, unfortunately it can be very difficult to do so. Good luck to the OP.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*


          Admins/office managers seldom have the luxury of time to overthink or second guess. At least in a busy office.

        3. Heidi*

          I agree. Our office manager/admin assistant spends most of her time thinking about what other people are going to need. She has a good understanding of how receptive other people in the office are going to be to changes in procedure also, and that is what makes her so good.

          1. Atlantian*

            But, Rome was not built in a day and neither are good Admins. Using the K-Cups as an example, it’s entirely possible that the previous OM’s last order was meant to last 6 months. It’s entirely possible that a task like this might not have even come up until after Christmas. As the other members of any particular office, slack needs to be cut for, IMO, at least a year. On the flip side, OP, this is the kind of criticism and feedback you should be expecting for at least the first year on as a new Admin, and need to be prepared to act on so that you only get each piece of feedback, reminder, etc., exactly once. Often, Admins make the office run so smoothly that no one even thinks to tell you that it’s your job to keep the K-Cups supplied until they are on the verge of running out and someone thinks of it because it has become top of mind.

            And many, many, tasks in Admin land are scheduled on a not-very-frequent basis (at least, where I work) and my manager would have no idea that they needed to tell my replacement, during orientation in August, that next June they would need to complete X task; chances are it would fall through the cracks until it becomes mission critical. Until you get a chance to do and schedule those monthly, quarterly, bi-yearly, yearly, etc. tasks for yourself, everyone needs to operate from a place of understanding that the New Admin isn’t going to have all the institutional knowledge that previous Admin who was there since the 90s had.

            1. Office Managers R Us*

              K-Cups do not fall into the realm of things in your last paragraph. Coffee is basic office manager stuff- go through the office, see what you’re low on, order more kinda stuff. It’s been 2 months, OP should be on top of very basic needs like coffee.

              (Note: I am an office manager myself, so what follows below isn’t critical of what I consider to be an important, but severely undervalued, job.)

              Frankly, OP sounds like a lot of office managers who really shouldn’t be office managers. People don’t respect admin work, so they see data entry clerk, receptionist, secretary and office manager as all the same low level thing and anyone who can do one would be equally good at all the rest. What makes you good at data entry isn’t going to make you good at being an office manager. Plenty of people are good at both, but they aren’t the same skill set. It sounds like OP has the skills to be good at data entry, but not the forward looking, dealing with people tasks of a good office manager.

              1. Is it Friday yet?*

                FWIW coming from someone who is NOT an Office Manager, I appreciate your role so much! I went from working in an office with an Office Manager for 3 years to working without one for 6 years, and now I’m in a new role where I work with one again. I forgot how much I missed your role!! Our Office Manager just makes everything easier.

                1. Office Managers R Us*

                  The curse of the Admin is that if we’re doing our jobs correctly, you don’t even notice it, which can make it a bit difficult when asking for a raise.

                  I appreciate that you see what we do, unfortunately, many people don’t. So they see admin work as a sort of catch-all for unaccomplished people. Which means they don’t really consider what qualities a good receptionist needs, or a good data entry clerk needs. I’d be a terrible data entry clerk. That requires enormous attention to detail while simultaneously being able to repeat the same task without losing your place and getting blind to it. I just don’t have the temperament for it.

                  If people in general valued admins more, you wouldn’t see these kinds of poor fits our OP is experiencing. I don’t think OP is stupid or not trying hard enough, I think she is fundamentally not fit for that particular job. I know there are other jobs she would excel at, just not this one. I also know that many admins fall into this trap and end up feeling stupid and like failures and they don’t deserve that.

              2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                Ain’t it ever the truth (speaking generally, not as a comment on OP’s post). As an office manager, I saw my job as mainly anticipating what the office itself needed and delegated my reports accordingly. Office staff isn’t just a bunch of invisible elves though they’re often treated that way. Other people need to hold up their end! And two months is time to start getting the hang of things (and order supplies is pretty basic), but not necessarily to learn the full rhythm and culture of a new job.

            2. LQ*

              I get this. But here’s the thing. This company hired someone they thought would be an experienced office manager. If they wanted to build a good admin they wouldn’t have hired someone with experience. That they hired someone who had done the job multiple times suggests to me they expected OP to hit the ground running. Not that they needed to help with the basics. And yeah, I do think that stuff like this is the basics.

              Not very frequent tasks absolutely might not come up for months or even years. That’s ok, but a great office manager should be spying those coming whenever possible and jumping ahead on them. The institutional knowledge stuff I get. But checking to make sure that folks travel numbers were used and that there were kcups aren’t institutional.

              That doesn’t mean that OP is bad or could never become a really great office manager. But I do think it will take a lot of work to get from here to there. That absolutely does mean not just taking a piece of feedback and not doing that thing again. But taking that feedback and looking around and going. Ok I’m responsible for Kcups. What other items am I responsible for stocking, I need to make a list, and a frequency to check everything. Because I need to not be called out next time for not stocking the tea, or creamer. It’s not about keeping kcups supplied, it’s about keeping supplies supplied. And you have to be able to abstract from “Shit I missed the kcups” to “Shit what are all the other things I’m missing and how do I proactively identify them”.

              That’s really hard. That’s why jobs like this are often really hard even when people don’t realize it. It’s ok to get that this job isn’t for you because you’re in your head. And that’s likely to be better than fighting to keep doing something you’ll hate and never get great at.

              1. Office Managers R Us*

                This is exactly the issue.

                When we hire admins where I work, we know we’ll have to train them in lots of tasks they are unlikely to have done anywhere else because the work we do is very specialized. But, they do need to come to us already knowing how to use Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc. I can, and expect to, teach someone to use EDGAR, but if they don’t know generally how word processing works, I do not have the time to explain the base concepts. I expect that not every candidate will have used the SEC’s website, but I shouldn’t have to explain how websites in general work. If I hire an admin with 3 years of experience on their resume as an admin, I expect them to know how word processing and websites work.

                This is a similar situation. If I were training my eventual replacement, I wouldn’t expect to have to tell them to keep on top of ordering supplies, especially coffee. Travel numbers are the same thing, if you’ve any experience in arranging travel for someone else, you know this is a thing, you should anticipate it.

                1. Hamburke*

                  I don’t know, I’ve worked plenty of places where coffee wasn’t provided. If she’s on top of regular office supplies but some peripheral items aren’t on her radar yet (kitchen supplies, cleaning supplies, Susan’s gel pen refills), NBD to let her know that the company orders these. If the previous office manager was any good, she’d have a supply-vendor list. I created one when I worked as a receptionist along with an inventory sheet after the first time we ran out of paper (ordering office supplies wasn’t really my job duty, it was the office managers job – not the only yellow-orange flag at this job!)

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Also agreed. It doesn’t mean OP can’t be successful in their role, but it’s going to take more work than it would for someone who has some of the innate talents or thinking processes that make for an excellent admin, EA, or office manager. So ultimately OP has to decide if they want to work very hard at a position in which they may still struggle, or whether it may make sense to choose a position where OP’s natural tendencies are considered strengths that improve performance.

        5. Tequila Mockingbird*

          Echoing this, as well as what others have said above me.

          In your letter you say “I do my job to the best of my ability, but I just don’t have that knack of anticipating other people’s needs”… but this is exactly what being an office manager requires. Figuring out the processes for ordering supplies, anticipating when to order things, knowing how and where to look up information, taking simple direction from your superiors, etc etc… that’s pretty much the basic skill set for an office manager. You’ve been doing this for a long time and keep running into the same skill set limitations.

      3. Serin*

        > I tend to be very much in my head a lot of the time and not realize how something comes off until later.

        I married someone like this! And he’s excellent at many things (he’s been very successful as a journalist and as a pastor), but he would be completely miserable in an office manager job.

        (I, on the other hand, am a terrific office manager, but I’m weak on math, and it makes me anxious. So what does my current job primarily consist of? You guessed it, dammit.)

        A lot of community college job centers offer services to people who live in the community even if they’re not students. You might want to check into taking some work aptitude and preference tests and getting some guidance about what kind of work would use your strengths rather than leaning so heavily on your weaknesses.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        From somebody else who is in her head a lot of the time: Practice not being in your head so much. I don’t want to say that this is the same thing as being self-centered because I think it can be a behavioral habit more than it’s necessarily a personality trait, but it is something you can, if not completely change, push back. This is another trait that is a job skill as much as it is “you”.

        You sound really anxious in general and that is going to make you want to retreat into your head even more, but doing so won’t help you functionally and won’t make you more confident in your job.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I literally used to go to the mall and just walk around briefly watching other people and speculating about what they might be thinking about, just to practice not focusing on what was going on in my own head. Not staring at them or anything, of course, but watching them shop or do whatever for a minute or so.

          1. Former Help Desk Peon*

            My mother does this, she calls it “let’s make up a story” lol. Growing up, I kinda thought everyone did. But I can see how it can be a useful way to learn to get into other people’s heads.

            For us, it taught empathy because when you see a guy being grumpy, you start jumping too “he’s been working all day and his feet hurt but he’s here because he forgot to buy dog food and he loves his little dog, so he’s also probably buying that bow tie for it when our backs are turned”

      5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s completely acceptable to offer to change things! But it has to be timed of course and more to the point.

        The problem is the rambling aspect and the trailing off about tea.

        If you had said “Hey what do you think about getting rid of the single use coffee and getting a coffee pot? I don’t mind making pots of coffee during the day!” that’s bang on, spot on.

        I don’t know if the COO was the right person or not, in my case, the CEO is the person who signs off on changes like that. But that’s because I’d have to buy a coffee pot and that’s an expense and he signs off on expenses [no CFO in our structure].

        I have changed a million things in offices over the years, change is good. You’re on the right track there but it’s all about the delivery =)

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, I think when it comes to that kind of change, you need to consider:
          – what is the impact? (If you make the coffee, how will you make sure there is always some brewed? How will you accommodate people who want different types of coffee? Who will do it when you’re not there? How much coffee will you throw out at the end of the day?)
          – what is the cost? (What kind of coffee pot(s) will you need? How much will they cost to buy? How much is coffee? How much time will you spend making coffee?)
          – who will it affect? (Will employee satisfaction go up, or do they like the current model?)
          – who needs to approve it?

          If you don’t know the answers to those 4 questions, you will look unprepared if you make the suggestion.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Exactly, you have to have the backup ready.

            As someone who is also an accountant, my suggestions always come with a “this is the price tag” penciled out costing evaluation.

            In reality, you wouldn’t pitch out the single-use machine though and people can bring their own cups to use in it if they don’t like the house-coffee.

          2. SomebodyElse*

            This is a good point… and I wouldn’t limit it to just suggestions. I think a modified version of this list could be applied to almost all of the examples in the original letter.

          3. CMart*

            This is all great advice, and I think another example to the OP about how “thinking ahead” is crucial for everything.

            It’s a skill, for sure. And I do think it’s one that can be learned. So even with something like “well what about a coffee pot then?” you need to take a few extra steps before the thought leaves your brain and comes out your mouth. Because well, what about a pot, then? Who would provide the pot/coffee? Would you make it? When? Would people be happy with a single type of coffee? Have you noticed what the people in the office are drinking? (as a tea drinker who did not notice the KCups had run low, I think that answer is “no”)

      6. Amber Rose*

        Ah, there we go. This is what was bugging me. Your original post you said something about being self absorbed, and while that’s not quite it, you are more self centered. And I don’t mean that in a critical or insulting way, but more that you are very inwardly focused on yourself and what you think is best, rather than trying to consider what other people would rather have happen, which is what this job is.

        OP, this job is not suited to your strengths. It may be possible, through hard work, to overcome this, but there’s a chance your boss is not going to want to wait for that to happen. Moreover, it’s unlikely you will ever be happy or excel as strongly as you would if you took a role more suited to you.

        Most importantly, do not beat yourself up about this. Life is a learning process.

      7. SomebodyElse*

        May not be relevant advice, but even with the dislike of K cups, I’m not sure the best course of action is to go back to brewing pots of coffee… that way lies madness. Seriously, search out the coffee wars posts here. What Kcups lack in environmental concerns they do contribute in spades to world peace.

        /apologizes for a potential derail

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          So true. Everyone hates the person in the office who takes the last bit of coffee and then walks off without brewing a new batch. And don’t get me started on the people who combine all the carafe contents together not realizing that one is regular and the other is decaf.

          Man, I’m glad I no longer work in an office and I can enjoy my Keurig from home, lol.

        2. Sabina*

          I use a Keurig machine at home but use little metal reusable pod filter thingies…no guilt! Not sure how this would work in an office, but the admin. would still have to make sure there were the appropriate types and quantities of coffee to fill the little suckers (and probably have to teach people how to use them….ayeeeeee, there’s always a catch!)

        3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I used to live in a major city that’s on the coffee standard. Thank goo’ness every coffee place you could imagine was within walking distance, because the folks in our office wanted THEIR coffee THEIR way. Everybody came in in the morning with a cup from a different place. I did my own pour-overs with one of those cones that sit on top of the cup. So we almost never made coffee for the staff.

      8. Missy*

        I am a former admin assistant who also tends to be in my head and not necessarily picking up on the immediate going on around me. But the trade off is that I am very good at abstract problem solving. It’s a bit of absent minded professor syndrome. Can’t wear matching socks but can understand very complex issues.

        I ended up leaving administrative work and became an attorney. But I also know that type of career shift is not possible for everyone, so I have a ton of sympathy for you. If you have a local community college they often are good resources for career counseling and job building skills. In the meantime, the way I found to best succeed in the position that was not a natural fit for me was to not be myself. I pretended I was playing the part of someone with my job. I also stopped asking questions or saying what I was thinking immediately, instead writing it down and coming back to it in a few minutes to see if it was still relevant or if looking again made a solution apparent.

      9. Allypopx*

        I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but that’s classic ADHD, and I get hints of that from some of the other things you’ve described as well. If you’ve never been evaluated it could be worth looking into.

      10. Not So NewReader*

        I had a similar type of problem, there were times what I said did not match the conversation. Or the listener could not find the tie in. As you said, I was too much inside my own head. You can watch facial expressions for clues that you are off track. But I think it’s better to just make it a habit of asking yourself, “Am I answering this person’s question directly?”
        The part where you say, “that is how little I thought of it” nails down what the problem is. You appear to not be thinking about how much time/energy you are putting into extraneous stuff. Think about what you are saying all day long. Try not to engage in tangent stuff that is not useful. People really notice when others are talking and not even thinking about the exchange if a person seems routinely disconnected like this.

        1. Esther (OP)*

          If I think about what I’m saying all day long, then I’m bound to say something wrong and will be afraid to even open my mouth.

    7. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Honestly, I don’t think it was defensive. I think it was conversational. I also think it was indicative of OP’s poor suitability for this job.
      She was given a statement, “We are low on K Cups,” which the person in her position would hear as, “we need more K Cups,” therefore I will order more.
      She instead deduced the purpose of this statement was not a request but rather small talk, to which she replied in kind. I think if OP liked coffee, she would have named her favorite flavor. Less disagreeable, but still missing the point.
      OP, I write this as someone who absolutely sucked in support staff positions. I have a BA, an MS and now lead teams. You’ll find your place in the work world!

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I looked at it as she was just having chit chat and didn’t pick up on the cues that the other person didn’t want to make conversation, or didn’t have time for it.

        1. biobotb*

          I don’t think it was so much that the other person didn’t have time for chitchat as that the other person had alerted her to the fact that something that it is her job to order is out–and it didn’t occur to her to order it.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Okay, but the OP is not totally new to this kind of work, even though s/he is new to this job: As a general thing, one should assume that the COO doesn’t want to chit-chat about K-cups with an administrative assistant. The executive director where I am is very approachable but if she started doing this to me I would immediately assume that we were out or that she wanted a different kind or some other logistical thing, and, even though this is not one of my duties, my first thought would be that I should ask what kind she wanted and go check on our supply. Commenting that we’re almost out of K-cups is a pretty obvious request that more need to be ordered; it’s not a vague cue.

          1. Jennifer*

            “As a general thing, one should assume that the COO doesn’t want to chit-chat about K-cups with an administrative assistant.” That’s a little harsh. What is this Downton Abbey? :)

            I’m not saying that her instincts were correct. I just don’t think anyone is above making a minute of small talk with someone, regardless of their role. There’s just a time and place for it to occur. She said below that this was the only time she’s made this particular mistake, so I’d cut her a little slack and dismiss as a one-time brain fart.

        3. Oh So Anon*

          It’s not that the other person didn’t want to make conversation, it’s that what they said wasn’t a bid for chit-chat, nor did it need to be. On the OP’s part, this seems like a combination of not-good timing and not picking up on situational cues

      2. RC Rascal*

        This. I am wondering how OP keeps getting hired into Office Manager roles when she has poor skills at anticipating the needs of others, and is limited at problem solving. I’m thinking she must have a pleasant personality and present well, which are also traits of successful administrative types. I manage sales people, and I can see them having the K Cup conversation, because they are conversationalists who are good at building relationships and rapport. Following explicit directions around details? Not their strengths. If it helps, I temped in admin support roles during college and was really terrible at it.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          In my experience knowing several people like this, this is something that seems to happen a fair bit to folks who have college degrees that aren’t in a technical subject and think that they only thing they are qualified to do is an administrative support job. (Of course this is really problematic thinking on a lot of levels, but there’s job-seekers out there who think this way.) Because they’re not really well-suited for these jobs, they get hired at increasingly worse places that don’t provide much training, mentoring, or support.

          1. Gora*

            I was the opposite! I never considered office admin until my current position, but it turns out that it’s a great fit. Go figure…

            1. Oh So Anon*

              Yeah…I didn’t want to call that out specifically but all the examples I can think of are women. The idea that women are naturally good at emotional/domestic labour is one of those things that catches the women who aren’t in a trap, because they end up held to an expectation that they’ll have trouble meeting.

              I’m one of those women without a (truly) technical degree but I never really did admin work outside of work-study jobs during university or entry-level jobs that really only had a bit of an admin component because they were at smaller companies. This is something I always feel a bit weird about because I’ve had a different career path from a lot of the women I know who got a similar undergrad degree. The only real difference between me and them is that I straight up didn’t apply for admin jobs out of school because I didn’t see myself as having the right kinds of tendencies to be good at those jobs. Survivor’s guilt?

              1. RC Rascal*

                Props, Anon. I am a truly terrible typist (think more errors per minute than words per minute), and that kept me out of most of the traditional first jobs for female liberal arts grads. It made it hard to get started professionally. But, I could talk to people, and work with people, and liked to take stuff apart and see how it worked. Now I work with engineered product. Not a lot of women do what I do.

        2. 1234*

          Your comment about sales people helped me so much.

          For example, Jane always needs to get the Llama Grooming Schedule from Sales Guy Fergus, since he is the one who sold clients on Llama Grooming Services. She needs the schedule to make sure there is a Llama Groomer available at the specific dates/times/locations. Fergus says “I have the llama grooming schedule for November! I will send it shortly.” and Jane has to follow up multiple times to get the schedule from Fergus. Sometimes the schedule is incorrect – wrong time/location/location doesn’t even have llamas etc. But I’m sure Fergus is great at relationship building!

          1. RC Rascal*

            I manage a flock of Ferguses. They don’t do details unless there is a commission riding on it.

            1. 1234*

              About that…we’ve had clients tell us/Jane “I set up the Llama Grooming to take place at 4PM on Friday. I told Fergus this. Why are you here at 5PM on Saturday?” Client is irritated, which may result in less sales for Fergus but he still doesn’t get the details right…

        3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          Some people, including some hiring managers, think anyone can do office work. They don’t know what it entails. And the applicant pool may have been slim. Years ago during a recession someone I knew told me their department posted an admin job and got 150 applications, including from dog walkers and makeup artists who’d never worked in an office in their lives but figures they could do it because, oh, they had Word on their home computer, or gee, how hard is it to answer a phone?

      3. Esther (OP)*

        I actually understood that it was a request for more K-cups. I started that conversation without thinking, which was stupid of me and I didn’t realize it until later. Which come on, don’t other people ever make mistakes like that?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          People definitely do! It becomes an issue if it’s part of a larger pattern. It’s possible this was a one-off and your manager shouldn’t have used it as an example. But it’s also possible she raised it because it’s illustrative of a larger pattern that she’s concerned about.

          In this case, it might be that you needed to explicitly tell the CEO, right off the bat, that you’d order more. If you didn’t say that, she might have been left thinking you didn’t pick up on the request (especially if there had been other instances, or other miscommunications, like that).

        2. DCompliance*

          Sure. We all make stupid mistakes. We all have off days. The trick is learning from it. This was pointed out to you as an overall trend.

          1. Esther (OP)*

            To my recollection, this is the only time something like this has happened. Generally, when people ask me to do something, I shut up and do it.

            1. DCompliance*

              I am not saying their are multiple times where you had a conversation that you should not have started. From the other examples you gave, the overall trend I am referring to is, not picking up on when a person may feel their time is being wasted. In all the examples given, there is an element of not being resourceful prior to asking. I get that this conversation doesn’t exactly fit that mold. There were no other resources for you to check, but I think it ties in with the overall theme.

            2. RUKiddingMeItsNotLettingMePost...Again*

              But the trend is asking about the rewards number, not knowing about the locksmith, asking about envelope orders, a side convo with the COO.

              All are things that are taking others’ time that you are expected to do independently in order to save them time.

              TheK-cups are only one thing that happened.

        3. Marissa*

          I really appreciate you coming and commenting Esther, and I think this comment may be getting at the crux of your issue. I have a very stream of consciousness employee, by which I mean she asks me a question when she thinks of it, every time. So, for example when printing handouts she’ll pop into my office or email me separately for each of these questions: font, font size, at least 6-7 printed drafts for me to look at, misspellings she didn’t review first, colors, where to put the logo, etc. etc. etc.

          I’ve been working with her to get her to take a breath, think, and review everything before she brings it to me, because it eats significantly into my time and concentration when she asks multiple minute questions or goes on mental tangents once she’s in my office. If you can work on asking yourself before you ask someone else, that may be helpful.

          But, primarily, no, you’re not stupid, and this is not something unique to you. I consider the kind of thinking you need to do as a discipline. Something that takes intention on a daily basis for a while before it becomes ingrained into your work habits.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have a family member with a running stream of consciousness that Must Be Heard By All. Some day someone is going to jam a sock in that person’s mouth.
            I don’t think OP does this, at least not to this extreme.
            I do agree that work-mode is a learned thing for many people. (Evidence: Alison’s on-going blog here.)

            Honestly, OP, I think one thing that can help you is to ease up on yourself. None of these “crimes” are that big a deal. Take them one by one and allow them to teach you overall lessons that you can use on other things.

        4. Amber Rose*

          Everyone has moments where their brain blanks out for a second. The problem isn’t that you started a conversation though, it’s that if you have recommendations for change they need to be made at the appropriate time to the appropriate person with all the additional information, otherwise you’re just wasting someone’s time.

          And it sounds like time management is what your boss is concerned about. Not just your time, but your use of other people’s time. The office manager is meant to lubricate the workplace engine so everything flows smoothly, which doesn’t happen if you interrupt people with questions rather than looking for them yourself, or fail to notice operational need.

          And again, it sounds like this just isn’t your strength. Lord knows it isn’t mine either! And that doesn’t make you or I stupid, and it doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up. But I would look for work that isn’t this. It’s not worth the stress and unhappiness.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Perfect comment, especially the part about time management (her own and others). If your boss brought this conversation up and used the K-cup thing as an example, I imagine it was because the COO told her about it (unless your manager was nearby when this happened and overheard it) – this tends to freak managers out.

            For example, any time our company president would say something about people on my team being absent to my former grandboss, grandboss would then feel compelled to say something to us about it because he didn’t want the president focusing on such things and he thought it made us all look bad or unmotivated or whatever. In your situation, you misread the COO’s comment as an opportunity to have a deeper conversation about office coffee norms, COO was not here for it at that particular moment, and compounded with all of the other issues your manager is having with your work, she used it as an example of her concerns about your work style.

            Basically, I don’t think you did something terribly out of order with the COO, but it makes sense to flag it for you as something you need to be careful of – making sure you’re reading the room correctly and not wasting C-level’s time with things they don’t have the time to think about.

        5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          Put that in your plus column.
          When a higher level person addresses you specifically, you don’t panic. You carry on a conversation. Still probably in the wrong job, but there are people who go total deer in the headlights. So along with being far from stupid, you have are comfortable speaking to people.
          I think now is the time to honestly self assess. So fairly, support staff may not be your thing, but you do have abilities and knowledge. Make a list. and good luck!

        6. RUKiddingMeItsNotLettingMePost...Again*

          It’s also possible, and you should know this better than any of us of course, that the COO isn’t someone who wants side conversations about X. She just wants you to say “I’m right on top of that Rose” and move on.

    8. Sarah N.*

      This one also stuck out to me. Mostly it made me think the real issue here is not individual mistakes, but rather that your manager is feeling like you constantly have to be “managed” and can’t be trusted to simply do what needs to get done in a way that doesn’t impact others’ time and energy. I do think an office manager job in particular is one where it’s important to have someone in that role who generally just makes life easy for the rest of the office, and it sounds like the OP doesn’t really do that. Not to say that skills can’t be developed, but I wonder if that’s a mindset that would be helpful to turning things around — not so much focusing on “don’t make mistakes!” but on “how do I make everyone else’s day go more smoothly?”

      1. Aspie*

        I don’t want this to sound offensive. I’m on the autism spectrum disorder and I’ve had many social gaffes like this when it comes to the K-cup thing. There’s a hidden meaning in the statements that are sometimes said that I wasn’t picking up. Obviously no bad intent meant, but I did need vocational rehabilitation, therapy, and other tools to use to help. Also some alignment around my work and exploring some different fields helped.

        I am not going to make any diagnoses or assumptions other than that I think that words on a screen, told secondhand, don’t convey the tone. I feel some negative perceptions on this and it’s possible that the K-cup/coffee vs tea discussion was conversational and light in tone and not being dictatorial or opinionated.

        I say this as someone who has pissed off or annoyed many people in an office setting when I had absolutely no intent in doing so and no idea I was causing it. Lack of ability to decipher social cues. It’s a thing, y’all.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Lack of ability to decipher social cues. It’s a thing, y’all.

          Yup, one of my coworkers is like this. She’s very nice and good at what she does, but she absolutely puts her foot in her mouth more often than not and really has trouble reading a room (especially when C-level people are in it – yikes!).

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            I worked in an environment where there was a LOT of social policing. Ex: You passed me in the hallway on your way to the restroom and said Hello, but you didn’t have welcoming body language and you didn’t stop to ask me about my day when I was obviously in the middle of a conversation with someone else so I think you are hostile and unfriendly and not a culture fit.

            It is very easy to start making social gaffes, when you are so busy worrying that you’re making a social gaffe and not realizing it that you are actively trying to cover all of the bases to avoid making a social gaffe.

            1. Gora*

              So true! I fell down the anxiety rabbit hole in one toxic workplace and I was literally afraid to open my mouth in case I made a blunder. So glad I worked that stuff through and am in a better place now.

        2. biobotb*

          I guess I’m confused as to how the K-cup statement would have a hidden meaning, though. If it’s someone’s job to order something, and someone else tells them that thing is out, is the fact that they should then think to do their job function and order it truly a hidden meaning?

          1. Yorick*

            It should maybe be obvious, but it’s still way more hidden than saying “please order more K cups.”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That goes exactly to the point the manager was making, though. In a support role, you need to hear things like that and realize there’s an action you should take. Similarly, if you overhear two coworkers talking to each other and mentioning the K cups are out, you should take action there too, even though you weren’t part of the conversation. It’s inherent to the role.

              1. Aspie*

                Yep. That’s exactly the point. If you can’t read social cues, like me, then unless someone were to explicitly say “we are out of K-cups, can you please order more?” I would interpret it as someone making a statement as if it leads to a conversation.

                When I read the precuts statements about how a boss has had concerns about not being able to anticipate needs and the feeling of anxiety of the OP, I think there could be a lot of value in seeking career guidance and even discussing the feedback with their health care practitioner. I felt completely crazy until I had an adult diagnosis of Asperger’s.

                I still work in a white collar field, in an office environment, I have tools that help me adapt a lot better than I used to, but I also recognize that being in very front-facing social roles is not the best place for me due to the inevitable gaffes. I’m so much happier and feel a lot more secure and I think I’ve grown a lot more from it.

                It may be something the OP considers.

                1. Close Bracket*

                  Yep, fellow spectrumer here. Sometimes I pick up on subtext and sometimes I don’t, and sorry folks who think everything is a behavior, this one is definitely personality. Like you, Aspie, I avoid certain situations bc I know I will perform poorly in them.

                  Lots of people have spectrum traits without being on the spectrum. I wouldn’t recommend that someone get evaluated just based on this one interaction, which OP says was a one off. I would note, though, that if one has spectrum traits, then the type of interventions that are helpful to spectrum people might be helpful to you.

              2. Dust Bunny*

                I’m also on the spectrum and I would not classify this as a cue to be read. In the context of the OP’s job it’s a slightly oblique but generally clear request. This is the kind of thing that administrative assistants do, and comments that “we’re low on X” or “do we have Y brand of C?” shouldn’t need further prompting for an AA to act on them, whether it’s ordering more, finding out if we use Y brand, whatever. And then you start a list of how each request is supposed to be handled so you don’t have to keep asking.

                1. Aspie*

                  I can agree with that. I’d like to think that someone’s ability to suss out the cues inherent to their job would be influenced by the quality of their previous managers who helped them grow in the role and learn how to attend to the needful things and anticipate. Also how to keep lists and be able to document learnings so they can consult that going forward. I think the common theme in the comments though is that someone in this role should already have those skills inherently, in spades, and be self-sufficient. Someone on the spectrum could really struggle as they may not be fast out of the gate and make gaffes. Based on the OP’s worries about being fired, and this being a cycle perhaps, that some career guidance would be really beneficial.

                2. Close Bracket*

                  All aspies are different! I’m glad you are able to hear the unspoken parts of people’s statements. It’s very, very common for people on the spectrum to be very literal and to understand only what is said, not what is implied. People who strongly exhibit that trait will not be able to understand indirect communication (many allistic people also have trouble with indirect communication, btw, this is not confined to spectrumers). For example, it took me years to learn that “I want you to think about X” meant “I want you to do X.” Hearing “we are out of K cups” and interpreting that as a piece of information rather than a request for action is very much an autistic trait and people who exhibit this trait (which, remember, is found in the allistic population as well) *will* need further prompting for at least as long as it takes to learn that certain phrases mean more than just the literal sense of the words.

            2. hbc*

              It’s not hidden, but it does require extra work. The thing is, if I say, “We’re out of regular K-cups,” I need someone to fix this situation. I do not want to have to say “Order regular K-cups”, because maybe they’re on order somewhere, or maybe they’re being stored somewhere else, or maybe the caffeinated and uncaffeinated labels are too similar now and there needs to be a label on the bins identifying the high octane stuff.

              If you (general you, not necessarily you or the OP) need to be told exactly what to do, I think the “Manager” portion of Office Manager is too far out of reach.

          2. Kelly L.*

            If it was the first time, she might not have known the K-cups were her job. This can vary by workplace! Where I work, everybody has to bring their own (it’s a public university), and we have sort of a K-cup kitty that we can donate to or take from, but nobody orders them “for the office.”

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Even at that, she could have asked somebody how it was handled. The COO probably doesn’t know how it’s done, either, and just asked a subordinate to do something about it.

              1. Office Managers R Us*

                At my office, I am the only one who does ordering. The other admins have no authority to order supplies at all. However, if one of the partners says, “We’re out of [thing]” in the presence of any of the admins, they know to immediately tell me. They know not to tell a partner “Oh, well, that’s OMRU’s job, not mine!” The partners don’t care how ordering works or who does it or doesn’t do it, they just want [thing]. The purpose of admins is to make other people’s work as frictionless as possible and that means not troubling other people with the intricacies of an admin’s job.

          3. Arts Akimbo*

            I’m on the spectrum myself (complete with added bonus ADHD!) and when I was in my early twenties, if someone had said “We’re out of K-cups” to me, I would have said, “huh, no K-cups, fancy that,” and blissfully gone about my day.

            Now, if someone had said, “Please order more regular K-cups,” I’d have been all over that task in a hot second. I was incredibly efficient– when I knew what I was supposed to be doing!

            My MIL has ADHD without being autistic, and she would have a different outcome with this question. “We’re out of K-cups” would totally register with her as “need to order K-cups,” but she would *not verbally acknowledge* this, because the conversational impulse of “Oh, I like tea! Do you really prefer K-cups over brewed coffee? What’s your favorite flavor? Have you ever seen Supertramp in concert? There’s a cup of coffee on the cover of one of their albums, or maybe it was orange juice, does anybody have a copy of Breakfast in America?” would have overrun the simple acknowledgement and come tumbling out of her mouth, leaving the poor COO not knowing whether she would ever see another K-cup ever again. (I utterly love and adore my MIL, but I had to learn to translate her communication style!)

            If either of these communication styles looks familiar, OP, you might want to get screened. Learning about these communication tendencies which for some of us are hardwired into our neurobiology can really help us learn about strategies to overcome them, and also learn about professional roles where we thrive best. This is not to say you can’t be a good Office Manager, but you might need to import some special organizational strategies and do some heavy learning about communication styles in order to excel. Hey, it’s good life skills no matter what! :)

            Best wishes to you for however you move forward, OP! :)

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Ugh, misthread– my comment was for Esther (OP) in addition to being general commiseration with my fellow ASD/ADHD peeps!

        3. AJK*

          I have ADHD and a lot of autism spectrum traits overlap, like the lack of ability to decipher social cues. This letter is triggering my work PTSD from my last job, because I was given similar feedback and I did everything in my power to correct it. I have never worked harder at any job than I did at that one, but the anxiety loop combined with everything else just broke me. I was having chest pains and crying every day before I was fired. It was an awful experience and I still go over it in my head constantly because, like I said, I did everything I possibly could and *still* got fired, and a lot of the feedback I got was “too chatty,” “you explain yourself too much,” “you make too many mistakes,” etc.
          Since I’ve succeeded reasonably well at this job for the four years I’ve been here, which is in the same field but with a different set of responsibilities, I probably should be over that five month stint at last job. I’m not. I ended up in counseling afterwards and was diagnosed with two different anxiety disorders on top of my ADHD, including social anxiety, and the entire experience makes me think I’ll never be able to leave the job I have now because I fit in here, and I clearly don’t “fit in” at so many places.
          And this is not real helpful to LW, is it? I wish I had a better answer. I do agree re: vocational therapy, etc., but YES, the lack of ability to decipher social cues is a THING and people’s reactions can be brutal.

          1. Aspie*

            Totally agree. I think the biggest part is that many can’t realize that adults, with college degrees even, can live much of their lives undiagnosed and make it through life missing out on many social conventions. Then it comes to a head when they’re out of the constructs of education (secondary or university) and are in the workplace and realize they have fundamental gaps. They take it for granted that an adult will get therapy and suddenly have “A-HA!” moments to things they’ve been struggling with since they were 6. And yes, that most definitely plays out in an inability to read people’s needs or understand social cues in conversation. This OP may not be on the spectrum, but the scenarios described ring true for me too. I’ve been there and I was totally confused.

          2. Lobsterman*

            If you found this job that suits you, you can defnintely find another when and if the time comes.

            Good on you for looking after your mental health after a difficult time.

          3. BethDH*

            I appreciate you posting this. I obviously can’t speak to whether the OP will find it helpful, but I think it always helps to recognize the emotional piece (and how long it can affect further work).

    9. CM*

      I also don’t think it’s a mistake to start a conversation, and I’m kind of confused that that one’s on the list.

      1. annony*

        If the COO asks you to get K cups, it is generally a bad time to go off on how you don’t like k cups and only drink tea. The COO generally will not want to justify their desire for K cups.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m fascinated about this line of thinking.

          It depends on the structure because if it’s small enough that the COO is telling an Office Manager to order KCups, then it’s probably pretty small. But I’m used to saying some really random things to Presidents/Owners/CEOs. I just ran down my CEO the other day to squeal “These stamps I bought, they’re holograms! Check these out.” so…yeah. Know your audience, not all execs are cut from rigid cloth.

          1. annony*

            I didn’t mean that suggesting change is bad. But address the urgent need first (order k cups) and propose a change after thinking it though and having details like how much money it would save and what the initial cost would be.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Cool, cool! We’re on the same page. I totally agree with you there.

              It’s all about the “Yes, that will be done!” and then you can put in a suggestion to change it.

              I’m just constantly trying to shatter the falsehoods of “them vs us” when it comes to the C-Suites, they really are just regular people with a ton more responsibility.

              1. Jennifer*

                If it’s the kind of company where an admin can bump into an executive in the kitchen, I’m guessing it’s fairly small. I’m on an entirely different floor so it would be highly unlikely – unless I’m sneaking up there to get the good snacks :)

              2. Sneezer*

                What a lack of respect for someone who has ton more responsibility, a ton more pressure and has worked their way up to the c-suite. It is “them vs us” whether you like it or not. As it should be.

                1. Esther (OP)*

                  You’re not being fair to me. Sure, I slipped up and made a mistake, but no need to shame me for being disrespectful.

        2. Dana B.S.*

          I actually find it more unbelievable (or possibly a symptom of a larger issue for OP) that the COO wouldn’t believe that K cups would be ordered as a result of this statement. The conversation that ensued is secondary and not OP’s reaction to not knowing what to do with this information. Now, it might mean that COO doesn’t believe that OP can hold 2 semi-related, but different thoughts in her head at the same time. Hopefully that is not true or the COO was just not in the mood for a secondary conversation that day.

      2. Sarah N.*

        In reading this again, I think the mistake is that the OP didn’t figure out that K-cups were low and order them independently — she had to be told by the COO (typically a really important person who shouldn’t be spending time monitoring the coffee supply) instead of the supplies simply be replenished as needed without anyone needing to ask. Then launching into what could sound like an excuse compounded the problem — instead of saying “Oh, sorry, I missed that in our last order but will be sure to add it to my regular order” or whatever, the OP made the excuse that they don’t drink coffee. But as office manager, your own personal use of office supplies does not matter — if your boss likes green pens and you hate green pens, you still have to order green pens for your boss and monitor the supply cabinet so you know if they are getting low.

        1. biobotb*

          I think it’s the fact that she didn’t keep an eye on them independently, plus the fact that when the COO alerted her to the fact that office supplies (the K-cups) were out, it *still* didn’t occur to her to order them.

          1. Esther (OP)*

            That’s actually another thing that my boss has asked me to work on: checking supplies on a regular basis and ordering whatever runs low. We have a sheet on the fridge, where people write down whatever is running low and then I’m supposed to order it, and I’ve been relying on that sheet. Since then, however, I’ve ordered K-cups, mixed nuts, Diet Coke, seltzer, and other stuff I don’t use (without waiting for it to be written down), but that we generally keep in stock.

            1. Samwise*

              You might get ahead on office supplies by first seeing what has been ordered in the past, how much, how often — there must be a record of that somewhere. See if you can find it on your own and if you can’t, ask your immediate boss OR someone else in the office who seems savvy about these things. Go through it so you know what to check on. Second, go around to everybody and see if there are particular supplies they usually need/want — you can frame this as, you are newish and want to be sure you know what’s needed, and as being pro-active; check this list against the record you have about orders, see if you have the budget to order things that aren’t on it. Do you have discretion over the budget? How much? In what areas?

              You can do something similar with other aspects of the job. In fact, step one might be to make a list of all the responsibilities and tasks that you *know* you are supposed to do, and then also the responsibilities and tasks that you think you *might* be responsible for. For the things you *know* are your bailiwick, set up timelines and checklists. For the things you are not sure of: group them into logical clumps and/or list them in order of importance. Get it organized. Meet with your boss to go over the two lists — list #1, pretty quickly, since these are known; list #2, ask boss to help determine which ones are your responsibility, then tell your boss you’re going to get those in order/organized.

              Office manager jobs are *hard* — you have to be on top of all sorts of details, everybody wants you to do their stuff NOW, you have to think ahead about what everybody will want/need or might want/need. The more you can set up timelines, repeatable processes, checklists, reminders and the like, the more smoothly it will go for you.

              1. valentine*

                You might get ahead on office supplies by first seeing what has been ordered in the past, how much, how often
                For K-cups, I always ordered one box more than would probably be opened the current month, and we never ran out. I didn’t count workdays in the month or note anyone’s schedule. If Ronan was the only person who drank the red ones and was into box two of three and had never opened box three before a delivery, I would get them another three. If they were into box three, I ordered four and updated my list so four was their standard order.

                I thought OP/Esther was just making conversation and the manager was basically saying Tiger Mike wants to save his throat, but you definitely don’t want anyone thinking you said, “I don’t care because I drink tea,” especially if you never run out of tea.

                You need your own data so mistakes are yours, not, say, the printer’s, who gave you the amount from an ancient order or a different company’s altogether, and questioning the locksmith is partially a security measure. (I read it as the locksmith wasn’t sure why they were there, but the complaint only makes sense if that refers to the CEO.)

            2. SomebodyElse*

              That’s good, and I think can be used as a good example of what your boss has been saying about ‘thinking ahead’. You know what what your primary, secondary, and even tertiary duties are. So within those duties you need to come up with a system for accomplishing them. Using your limited examples, we can come up with a few strategies.

              “When I was ordering envelopes from the printer and wasn’t sure how many to order, I should have asked him about the last order that was made before going to my boss and asking her.”

              I’m assuming you have records of your frequently purchased/ordered items. Instead of being told something is low, go through those records and get a list of those things, add price and usual qty ordered. Now you have the basis to plan ahead and the information on what is usual. As a manager I’d be fine with the occasional question like “We normally order 500 envelopes a quarter I was just about to order some and wanted to ask if there was anything unusual coming up that we might need more”

              Once you’ve compiled your list you can set your reminders, add additional data to spot trends, or note when something comes up. For example, if you had looked back at only the last envelope order, it may have been for 1000, so you would want to check a couple in case that was an out of the ordinary order and you typically only order 500.

              This was a long way of saying… your example on ordering snacks and coffee is a great example of you looking ahead and not taking things at face value. Now the question is how do you apply that same thought to the rest of the things you do.

            3. Ellen N.*

              Relying on others to alert you when supplies are running low is not a good system. It is the office manager’s job to track supplies. If others are tasked with it, they often won’t do a good job (I can’t even get my husband to tell me when we’re running low on household supplies.), and they will believe that they are doing your job.

              In any office where I’ve worked the office manager has a checklist of necessary supplies. He/she checks periodically (usually daily) and orders whatever is needed.

              Have you considered auto-ship to help with keeping supplies in stock?

            4. Jaydee*

              So, that sounds like a fairly easy fix! If your job involves restocking supplies, you need a system for knowing what supplies to order and when to order them so you don’t run out.

              First, walk through the office and make a list of EVERY supply you can find that might get used up.

              Categorize your list by locations. So, you might have a “Copier Room” category with things like copier paper, toner, staples, pens, pencils, binder clips, paper clips, folders, hanging folders, etc. You might have a “Break Room” or “Kitchenette” category with K-cups, tea bags, cookies, nuts, mints, Diet Coke, seltzer, coffee creamer, napkins, paper towels, dish soap, paper plates, plastic silverware, and styrofoam cups, etc. A “Cleaning Supplies” category might have toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, air fresheners, trash bags, etc.

              Then, block off time on your calendar once a week (at first…you’ll hopefully need to do at least some of this less often eventually). During that time, walk through the office with a copy of your list and check each supply. If any of them look low, mark them on the list and order more.

              At some point someone will come to you with a supply you didn’t know existed. Order it and add it to the list.

              After a few months of doing this, you’ll get an idea of the rate at which each type of supplies gets depleted and how often you have to order them. Some things you might be able to order in bulk 2-4 times a year. Other things you might have to order more frequently, or it might be harder to set a schedule because their use isn’t as consistent.

            5. InternWrangler*

              It sounds to me like you are trying to not make the same mistake twice. You should commend yourself for that. Some people don’t even try to change. As a supervisor, that would be important to me.
              Your next step is trying not to make new mistakes. That does take a learning curve. You shared some good examples of how you could do that in more situations. I do think that if you slow down and give yourself permission, you will create more space for that.
              I hope you will pay attention to what you are doing well, not just your areas of growth.

            6. Ophelia*

              FWIW, OP, it also sounds from some of your comments that you were initially told, “OK this is how X works here,” but the answer is more a subtle “we have a system for X, here’s what you’ll need to do to keep things working, because not everyone will always use the X system,” and that you’re seeing these things as you get familiar with the role. I think in addition to some of the good advice about general checklists and such, it might be worth taking a step back now that you’ve been there a few months to reevaluate how things REALLY work, and update how you address your job tasks accordingly.

            7. RUKiddingMeItsNotLettingMePost...Again*

              As you should. Your personal use/non use of X, Y, Z is irrelevant.

              I’m not trying to be harsh…I can come off that way I know, so seriously I’m only trying to offer perspective.

              Your job (well part of it) is to keep track of/order/replenish consumables. Your boss expects this. Everyone expects this.

              When someone say “we’re running low/out of/need XYZ” you need to interpret that, every single time as a request for action. Period. No excuses, no discussion.

              Statements like those mean “order/replenish/replace item.” No grey area.

              One of the very important parts of your job is to keep things in stock. K-cuos, bagels, pens…all of it. No one should actually need to mention it, much less someone in the C suite.

            8. Hedgehug*

              From experience, that “system” does not work. At all. Not even a little. It’s also not their jobs to track supplies, so they’re not going to do it. Rip that sheet off the fridge immediately. These sheets are meant as a courtesy to help the person doing inventory, but everyone forgets, and then what happens? The supplies don’t get ordered and because that was the “system”, you allow yourself to blame them for you not ordering supplies, which is actually your job, not theirs, but they didn’t write on the sheet and tell you, etc etc etc. And this isn’t hypothetical. This was the attempted “system” as my previous job and it was chaos, and I ripped our paper off the wall and just walked around to everyone asking what they wanted.
              You said you don’t want to leave this job and hone your skills. Good!
              I’m serious. Rip that sheet off the fridge tomorrow. When people ask, say with confidence and authority, “This system was not working.” Physically go do inventory yourself, and ask people directly if there is anything you missed. This should/will reflect well on you and give you the proactive vibe your manager is asking for.

              1. Tinuviel*

                Agreed. This is pawning OP’s job onto everyone else. If other people have to write down when something runs out, you’re already lost.

              2. Esther (OP)*

                The sheet was there since before I started, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable just doing away with it. My boss explained to me earlier that it can be used as a supplement (if someone happens to notice we’re running low on Post Its, for example), but not to rely solely on the sheet.

                1. Allonge*

                  I was going to say that at best it is a supplement. Indeed you should have your own system. And a reliable way for people to indicate what they need. Is the fridgw list the best way to do that? I am not sure. It is not named, so you cannot know who asked for what and let them know it arrived. It does not let you ask follow up questions or explain why something cannot be ordered. It has the secret elves do this feeling to it, cutting you off some recognition. All that may be ok or not.

                2. Allonge*

                  Re-reading what I wrote it sounds quite agressive, I am sorry, I did not mean that. In my colleagues and reports who have responsibilities similar to yours, this is the kind of thinking I appreciate. Look at the system, make it work, add your own improvements. If this is something your boss needs to explain to you, maybe this work is not for you. That is tough, but you can be so much happier when you find the one that does!

      3. DCompliance*

        It ties in with wasting a person’s time. It sounds like the overall these with the complaints against the OP is the writer I wasting people’s time rather then pulling from other resources. Was there another resource the OP should have pulled from during K-cup conversation? No, but it sounds like there is just an overall lack of patience with the OP at this point.

    10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, this one is more of a “read the room” kind of error. The first response is “I’ll order them!” and then you can start a conversation about tea, especially if you’re then asking if you can order some tea for the office as well. Which is where I thought that was going.

      It’s awkward but not aggressive unless there’s a tone involved of “Ef coffee, tea or gtfo!”

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, aggressive was probably not the right word, but I couldn’t think of a better one at the moment.

        With OP’s reply though I think my instinct was right. They framed it as “I should never start a conversation just do as I’m told” when the actual problem was “I should bring up suggestions at an appropriate time with the appropriate person.”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I often choose the “stronger than necessary” words, so I totally get the word mixup game! I over dramatize in real life with my words because it’s part of my humor, it’s one of those things I’ve had to really look hard at with myself while communicating within forums like this =)

      2. Ama*

        Yes, this is similar to something I needed to deal with with my direct report this week. She made what would normally be a really minor error, but when our CEO asked her about it, she explained what happened in a way that made it sound like there was nothing she could have done to prevent it and that it very well might happen again — no apologies, no “I’ll make sure to fix that going forward,” nothing.

        This exchange happened over email, and it got forwarded to me, because the CEO was alarmed that my report didn’t seem to realize it was even a problem she needed to fix. After addressing it with her, it seems like it was mostly just a poorly worded email and she does understand she needs to keep an eye out for that type of mistake, but I understand why our CEO felt I needed to at least look into it.

    11. TootsNYC*

      This made me wonder if our OP just simply chatters a little more than is helpful.
      Add to it that she gives two examples of a time when she asked someone for information that she later realized she could have gotten herself without bothering them.

      I find that I often get up and go ask, “who’s in charge of this? I have to give them info,” when I could not interrupt everyone and instead look at the project chart, which has the name. Or the history of the file, to see who worked on it.

      It’s because I want the human connection. But it’s disruptive to others, and it makes me look a little out of touch, or like I haven’t remembered something.

      I think I also do it because I start the task immediately, and get out of my chair, and only halfway to the other department do I realize I need to know which of them to talk with. I’m moving too quickly.

      And so I’ve gotten better and sitting back down in my chair to look for the info I was just about to ask for.

      And maybe giving yourself time to review the task you’re about to do would be helpful.

      But some of these are just so much work to put in place that it might be a happier life to find something that works WITH your tendencies.

      1. ellex42*

        As someone who has coworkers constantly leaning across the aisle or over the cubicle wall to ask “who do I talk to about this” and “what do I do about that”, when they have encountered the situation multiple times previously, or if they looked at their instructions or the file notes they would find the answer, or (especially now when we are going through a massive reorganization) I have no more freakin’ idea of the answer than they do, because I’m not management (I’ve just been here a little bit longer than my coworkers), and actually, our direct management doesn’t know anything either…

        Thank you. Thank you so much for making the effort to sit back down and try to find the answer you need rather than interrupting someone else’s work.

      2. MM*

        This dovetails with something I was thinking. When I’ve had administrative type roles that are somewhat similar to managing an office–lots of details to manage, anticipating needs, thinking in terms of timelines and likely outcomes, problem-solving for everyone else–part of why I’ve succeeded at them is because I generally don’t want to talk to people about work unless I have to. (I’m not antisocial, and in fact my people skills have also been important in those jobs, but to some degree I view relationship-building and job-doing as two separate domains.) So I will always try to find a way to solve a problem or get an answer that doesn’t require me to send an email/make a call/go find somebody. It’s just my preference. Ever since I was a teenager, whenever I have a problem–I lost my keys, say–my deepest desire is to solve it without bothering anyone else or even, preferably, letting them know the problem existed in the first place. It’s just how I am.

        Not only does this cut down on the number of questions I need to ask and so forth, it also means that when I do bring something to a boss or colleague, I am very informed about what I’m asking, and I can honestly say yes when asked “Did you try X?” Which means it’s a very legitimate thing to raise as worthy of someone else’s attention, and they’re much less likely to feel taxed by it.

        OP, if you’re more like Toots and you find that your first instinct is a social one rather than a self-contained one, there are two ways to look at that. (I recognize this is the opposite of the “in your own head” idea that others have been developing; I guess it depends a little what one means by the phrase.) The first is that it could be a sign, like Alison is saying, that this line of work maybe isn’t best suited to you. The other is that this is something to work with: if you can try to train yourself by making it almost a game, to see how far you can get with every task before you have to talk to someone, you might see some results. But I worry that that could become really psychologically taxing and add to the shame/anxiety spiral you seem to be dealing with, so I’m hesitant to really suggest it.

      3. Willis*

        I thought this too! I worked with an admin who was really wonderful at getting all the details right for a specific task when you gave her something with a lot of details. But for a generic task without details (ex: order envelopes) it kind of became an opportunity to chat via questions (how many? security lined? ones you lick or pre-glued?). Sometimes it was stuff she could’ve figured out, sometimes it was stuff that flat out didn’t matter. I really agree with Alison that the OP needs to think about how she would solve some of these things if there were no one to ask, and then only ask if she’s really stumped. It also sounds like maybe the need to reframe the job from doing certain specific tasks when people ask to taking more ownership in keeping things running smoothly (i.e., ordering supplies when it’s low before someone has to ask or it runs out, proactively figuring out what service people are there for vs just sending them in to the CEO, etc) None of the mistakes in the letter are huge, or stupid, but if they’re examples of how the OP usually works, I could see how her boss would want to see her working more independently and taking more ownership of tasks.

    12. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I read this completely differently. The COO complaining about an employee making conversation is what seems aggressive to me, not the OP. I have worked at tiny companies and very large companies. At any of them, the C suite was willing to engage in more conversation than just barking orders out and getting an affirmative response that the order was received in response. An idea about doing something differently, while it might not be their realm, still would have been heard and responded with who to bring it to if they also think it is a good idea.

      The COO complaining to the OP’s manager that she made conversation and shared an idea about coffee making comes off as really awful, to me. It makes me think less of the COO, honestly.

      1. Esther (OP)*

        I didn’t think there was anything wrong with what the COO did. Like others said, the issue isn’t with me starting a conversation, but with me appearing to be dismissive of what he asked. I can see how what I did came across as rude.

    13. Emily S.*

      Amber Rose makes a good point here.

      (Speaking as someone who’s worked as an admin. assistant for over 8 years):


      Often, the best way to respond to the type of request you got — to order more k-cups — is to ensure you understand it, and then do it. Just say “Ok,” and do it.

      A good response from you might have been:
      – “Ok, how many should I order?” (if you’re unclear on that), or
      – “Can I confirm with me the right way to do that?” (If that’s unclear). Etc.

      If the request or assignment you get is totally clear, and you understand it, then say:
      – “Ok, will do” or
      – “Got it,” or
      – “Sure, will do.”
      Then, either do that task immediately, or write it on your to-do list (or calendar) for that day.
      – These types of responses will clearly tell the other person that you understand, and that you’ll take the action requested.

      As an aside, here are some tools/tips that help me in this type of role:

      -Having a positive attitude is very important. This means showing up to work well-rested, being truly ready to handle whatever the day throws at you, and being confident in yourself. I can do this. You can do this. But it’s a way of life — being positive and believing that you can do this.
      (From your letter, you seemed to be lacking in self-esteem and self-confidence. If you can develop that, that will help you massively in life in general. I know this is getting into some psychological stuff.)

      -Making lists of things I need to get done, and checking items off. I use a pad of lined writing paper with pencil. Remember to prioritize, then (if it helps) number each item. If you’re unclear on what’s most important, ask your manager.

      -Whenever I’m uncertain of the details of an assignment/task, even after careful consideration and reviewing my notes (which I use a lot), I always ask the appropriate person for clarification. Use detailed language.

      -Calendar management (whether in Outlook or whatever program) is very important in this type of role. Blocking time for each task helps me — I’m particularly talking about blocking out periods of time to work on projects. (I’m not sure if you have this type of work in your role?)

      Anyway, I know this is too long, but I really hope that you can succeed this whatever role is best for you!

      Best wishes and good luck in your career.


      1. Esther (OP)*

        Thanks, Emily. I do use to-do lists (love the flags in Outlook!) as well as calendar reminders whenever I need them. You’re right about the confidence/self-esteem bit. I’ve never been big on that, and my old boss didn’t really help with all the yelling and shaming she did. I’ve also made it a point to consider possible options before asking my boss about something. I’m great with tasks that have a clear step-by-step process, like getting expense reports in every month, it’s the gray areas that confuse me.

  4. Mike C.*

    It’s only been two months. As long as you’re learning from your mistakes, you’re going to start learning how to better anticipate what folks need or at least run out of the majority of things to make mistakes on.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, at two months, OP, you are still learning the ropes. If it was your first time ordering envelopes or booking plane tickets, it’s only natural that you didn’t know where to find the information you were looking for and had to ask others. It’s only after you’ve done these tasks a couple of times that you should be able to do them on your own, and if you can’t by then, then, yeah, you might be in the wrong job.

      Your previous boss was an a**hole, though. “Next time a different situation will come up and you’ll make another blunder” is a HORRID thing to say to an employee or any human being at all. Try to ignore her voice that’s undoubtedly still in your head and maybe eventually it’ll go away entirely, as you learn the skills you need at your current new job. Good luck!

      1. valentine*

        If it was your first time ordering envelopes or booking plane tickets, it’s only natural that you didn’t know where to find the information you were looking for and had to ask others.
        For office supplies, they could have long ago made a list and calendar. They’ve already run out of the most important item. This is the kind of thing that should be part of their foundation. They don’t get a clean slate with each new OM job.

    2. Kiki*

      I agree. I also think that while there very well could be a skillset mismatch, it’s also very early in the game. I would take this criticism as constructive– take more initiative to solve things yourself, think twice before asking questions, put a bit more effort standardizing execution of expected duties. Maybe schedule periodic check-ins with your boss for questions instead of peppering them throughout the day.
      Sometimes, businesses don’t realize how good their last admin was until they’re trying to train the new one. Because a lot of the work is “invisible” and a lot of know-how and background info is picked up on the job, people tend not to notice how much experienced admins know. So then people wonder, “why isn’t NewAdmin as good as OldAdmin?” when the answer is “OldAdmin was there for a year before they were actually good.”

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      I think I somewhat disagree. If this was OP’s first time as an office manager, I’d be more lenient, but it’s not. Ordering supplies is usually similar between offices, in terms of how you might possibly figure out how much to order (the same order as last time). It sounds like OP needs to a) slow down b) get on top of anxiety and c) start considering asking someone as the *last resort,* not the first step.

  5. Jellyfish*

    I sympathize OP, and I think Alison gave kind and honest advice. I also did admin work for several years, and I was never going to be great there. The people who are great at those jobs make them look easy, but like anything, not everyone has the aptitude / interest / skill set / whatever that would make administrative jobs a solid match for them.

    What else are you good at, and/or what you like to be good at? It can be hard making the leap to something else entirely, but you might be much happier and more confident in a job that better suits your interests and aptitudes.

    If you do like this type of work and hope to get better at it, would physical reminders be helpful? Maybe a post-it note or some object that you privately use to indicate “stop and think about possible solutions before raising a question.”
    Best of luck, however things play out!

    1. Pommette!*

      Yes. Admin work strange career track. A lot of early career and entry-level office jobs are administrative. It’s how many people get their start in the working world. Luckily, lots of people can be good at entry-level admin work, or at some kind of entry-level admin work.

      Once you’re there, though, moving forward is complicated. In some organizations, there are opportunities to move from entry-level admin into other (technical, project management, etc.) roles that suit your background and skills. In other cases, though, the only – or at least the most obvious – advancement opportunities are in higher-level admin work – work that requires specialized skills and aptitudes, and which isn’t suited for everyone. And you won’t necessarily know that the role isn’t for you until you’re there, and struggling. And even then, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a matter of adjustment or if there’s a fundamental mismatch between your talents and your job.

      It’s also a line of work where you may not have access to any formal training or to a community of peers from whose experience you can learn. That can make it harder for the people who could learn to be awesome admins to do so.

    2. Kiwiii*

      Yes this! I always figured I’d be okay at admin work or could at least do it until I had enough proximity to drop a half rung sideways and do something more project based, but at about 4 months into my first office admin job it became so so obvious that I couldn’t stay there the year or three I’d initially planned bc I was Awful at the kind of awareness one needs to anticipate monthly orders of things and wasn’t given enough structure or trust to repeat tasks regularly enough for me to grasp them.

  6. PJs of Steven Tyler*

    Ooh, also hard agree with AndersonDarling – I often tell my direct report that he should take ample time to organize tasks and that we’d rather have something done accurately than done quickly. I’d rather my direct report take 20 minutes to research a question than asking me since I’m trying to do so many other tangentially-related things and it makes me feel like I’m being used as a resource instead of him trying to work the problem out on his own. If he asks me every time he has a random question and it takes him two minutes to craft an e-mail, me two minutes to read it, and me two minutes to respond, we’ve spent six minutes collectively on a task that he could have resolved through research in five minutes. Doesn’t sound like much but it makes me feel like I may as well do it myself instead.

    Again, hoping this doesn’t come across as mean or angry – just that our brains all filter things differently and what comes easily to me may not come easily to my direct report.

    1. Filosofickle*

      If I could teach anything at work, it’s being able to think through requests and ask better questions.

      If you’re given a task and you don’t know what to do, take an inventory of what you do know and do a little research. Maybe you’ll find the answer! (Like the envelope example.) It also gives you a better position to to ask for more info. “You asked for A. I looked at similar things B and C, and learned D. But I still don’t understand this part, E. Can you help me fill in this blank?” I’ve been coaching a young colleague on this and it’s really helped her get from just feeling stuck when she didn’t understand a request to being more proactive and informed. This skill can be learned, at least to an extent.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I’m so glad to hear this is a learnable skill. I am working on getting a direct report to do some proactive research in identifying solutions to problems. Her current practice is to shrug and say, “Oh well, I don’t know what’s going on” and come to a screeching halt.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Deliberately line up her resources. When I started my job my boss brought in a mentor (briefly), gave me guidebooks, lists of phone numbers and other relevant materials. She did not know the answers for many of my questions but she knew which of my resources to use. So she would direct me to the correct resource for the type of question at the moment.

          Some would call it making them work for the answer. I call it “teaching to problem solve”. I did this when I trained. I did not want to walk away and have wheels falling off. It takes longer to teach how to solve a problem, but with good employees once they get into the swing of it they can turn into awesome employees.

          “Oh well, I don’t know what is going on” can be met with, “Okay so then if you don’t know what is going on then you have to break the problem down into steps and use your resources to figure it out. In this case here you would use resource A for reference on X. Let’s look at A right now.” In other words you are going to make her walk though how she would figure this out on her own.

          If you have reached a breaking point, you can tell her that she can stop using that expression, she does not know what is going on and instead use specific questions to help herself work through the problem.
          I have gone as far as saying, “This is what the job is, figuring out stuff like this.” OR, “It’s a job requirement to sort through stuff like this. This will occur often so it’s good to know how to handle it.”

          So I taught the job through learning to problem solve. What I found is that lazy/poor quality/poorly suited workers complained about this method. People who were going to become strong employees would get happy, “oh good you are going to show me something!!” The one caution I have is do not assume someone has a bad work ethic. They may be burned out or momentarily distrustful. Until you build a working relationship with someone, you just don’t know. So this can take time- 6 months or longer.

          Personally, I would probably tell her to stop leaning on that expression so much and develop specific questions instead. If need be, I would remind her that every time she says that she is saying she can’t do the job.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            Thanks for the response!

            Personally, I would probably tell her to stop leaning on that expression so much and develop specific questions instead.

            Yes, this is about where we are. And so far it’s basically working.

            People who were going to become strong employees would get happy, “oh good you are going to show me something!!”

            Early indications are that this is the reaction I am getting.

    2. Liz*

      I wish my boss understood your last sentence! I can be, in some ways, very much like the OP. I’ve tried to work on it, and have succeeded for the most part. In that I take more time to think things through before asking, or doing. Instead of just jumping in and asking something that i really should know or could have figured out on my own.

      What’s funny is this is really only at work; outside of work, I’m generally pretty good at looking at teh whole picture and figuring out solutions to pretty much anything.

      And my boss and I think differently, and approach things differently. Which to me if ok, as long as the job gets done. He on the other hand, doesn’t always “get” that i may look at something in a completely different way than he does, even though the end result is the same!

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes! It’s really difficult to have a boss that doesn’t just want you to get the job done, but to get it done the EXACT way they would have done it. They think you made a “mistake” by not looking at the situation the way they do.

    3. ellex42*

      I don’t recall if it was here or somewhere else that I read someone say “I am not your personal database.”

      That resonated SO HARD with me.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That resonates with me, too. I’ve always thought of it as storing information in other people’s heads instead of in their own head. Well, you have to be a little more senior in the hierarchy to expect to store information in other people’s heads; if you’re the admin, other people are storing information in your head.

  7. Zip Silver*

    Don’t worry too much about this, a lot of the issues you’re bringing are really just ‘getting used to the flow’ of your new 2 month old job. New to booking travel and forgetting that they have spreadsheet? NBD, you’ll remember next time. Not knowing how many envelopes to order? You’ll get a feel for how much you go through pretty quick and know how much to order.

    The K-cup thing is a little offputting (oh I don’t drink coffee haha), but it’s a minor thing overall. Just make sure to add it to your larger inventory list.

    You’ll be golden after another month or two.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is meant as encouragement OP, I found that a good number of my jobs started like this. These are not horrible things. They are not saying you misplaced $60K. Or you gave someone bad instructions and a building burned down. They are not saying “we don’t like you”.

      One gem I held on to when I started working, “if they take the time to explain it to me, then there is hope”. When they don’t want a person they just show them the door and don’t waste time explaining things. There can be problems when we don’t understand the instructions. “Stay at your station but wander around the building, too.” Can you demo that for me, please? How do I stay at my station AND wander around the building at the same time?

  8. Jules the 3rd*

    It is *totally normal* for people to take a few months to figure out how new offices work, and I don’t think this is a ‘need to anticipate requirements’ issue, it’s a ‘need to use existing tools before asking people’ issue. What will help you in this case is (pretty much what Alison suggests) always asking yourself, ‘What could I use to figure this out myself?’

    Make sure you ask yourself that first, and try to think of three different options before you ask a person. (ie, travel spreadsheet; prior bookings; maybe an account with that hotel?). Write up a list of the resources you know you have (travel spreadsheet, email history, order histories in x and y systems, etc). Any time you have a question, pull out that list and see if anything on it might have the answer to your question. Eventually, you’ll internalize that list, but for now, make it a habit to both pull it out, and to keep it updated as you find new data sources.

    This will take a little longer, but it will spend your time, not your boss’s, and that’s worth it.

    1. Snark*

      Yes. I think OP’s initial reaction to “please do thing” is erring towards “I need someone to tell me how to do thing so I don’t screw it up” rather than “what do I know already that will help me do thing.”

      It’s a tall order, but I think OP needs to work on systemizing her approach to requests so that she can come to trust her ability to figure out how to do stuff, rather than getting flustered and feeling the need for guidance.

      1. Ethyl*

        “I think OP’s initial reaction to “please do thing” is erring towards “I need someone to tell me how to do thing so I don’t screw it up” rather than “what do I know already that will help me do thing.””

        And I think a lot of this is on the hypercritical previous boss. I know that happened to me when I was being micromanaged (and bullied by a sexist jerk at the same time, it was neat, they were the same guy), and it basically destroyed my ability to do independent work for a little while after. Luckily I had a great boss a little while after that who was understanding and helped me transition back towards being more independent. Toxic work situations really do mess you up!

        1. Washi*

          Ahh, this illuminates a dynamic I’ve had with coworkers. I’ve worked with a few people where if they just tried something on their own, there was a 99% chance it would be fine and a 1% chance something minor would get screwed up, they would always ask someone, because they could not get the 1% minor mistake out of their mind. And I could never get through to them that I would rather deal with these minor issues 1% of the time than answer questions they could figure out for themselves 99% of the time.

        2. AnotherKate*

          I think this is really key–one thing about being afraid to fail (because you were told how you just kept failing in the past!) is that you don’t have the confidence to try a few things on your own. It feels “safer” to just ask someone how to do it right.

          However, as OP is so wisely discovering, it actually ISN’T safer; in this case her instinct to ask someone is actually sabotaging her. It’s hard to access that confidence the first time, but I really do find “fake it till you make it” helps with this kind of thing. Ask yourself, “how would I figure this out on my own?”, yes. But then once you’ve done so, you’ll either A. have the solution, which will build your confidence, or B., if that didn’t work, you can at least tell the person you eventually go to for help what all you’ve tried. I think you’ll find the response you get to that request for help is a lot warmer than it would be if you’d gone straight to them. This in turn will bolster your confidence even more for the next time you have to figure something out.

          As a manager, I LOVE hearing “I tried X, Y, and Z things but I’m still stuck, can you help?” not only because it means they are trying their best to figure it out on their own, but also because it gives me insight into how they problem solve, and whether they’re aware of the resources they have at their disposal. My least favorite questions are “do we do X thing?” There’s documentation that has your answer; the fact that you’re asking me means you never looked. Now, a new person may not have realized the documentation existed, so I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. But if they ask me again when I know they SHOULD know where to look? That will really bug me.

        3. Esther (OP)*

          Yeah, my previous boss was always saying how it was thanks to her that I became an Office Manager. *eyeroll* Apparently, she’s Pygmalion and I’m just a puppet. I can only imagine how she would have destroyed me for that K-cup blunder. She once yelled at me for starting a conversation with the Senior Director about possible career paths because I “went over her head” and I need to bring questions like that to my direct supervisor.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      This kind of problem solving is a skill, and it’s one that you can develop and improve, but you have to get into a mindset of ‘doing the looking myself’ instead of ‘asking where to find stuff.’ I tell my kid this is the ‘geek’ mindset (his school is big on ‘growth’ mindset vs ‘fixed’), though it’s really just an extension of ‘growth’.

      It can be surprisingly hard to develop tho – I did tech support for a few years, and was very much the ‘person to ask’, because if I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head, I knew where to find it. However, ‘knowing how to look for answers’ is a tremendously valuable skill in today’s world, almost more than knowing the answers off the top of your head.

      1. Clisby*

        Not only is it a valuable skill in itself, it can gain you tremendous goodwill on the job if co-workers learn that you don’t ask them for help/information unless you’ve already done your best to find out on your own. When I was a computer programmer, I got good responses when I could say, “I tried A, and this was the (clearly wrong) result; then I tried B, and that didn’t work either, and then I tried C, and it made the program crash. Any ideas on other things I could try?” These people I was asking would not have responded nearly as well to “I’m having trouble with this program – what do you think the problem is?”

        1. Ashley*

          This is true for me. I am much more helpful if I know you tried a few things. Since this is causing some anxiety you could try running through a few scenarios with yourself or a friend to start planning in your mind what options you have of things to try first. For example, you can’t connect to the internet suddenly, what all do you try before calling your internet provider?

      2. Washi*

        Plus in my experience, if I had to look up the answer myself:
        1. I retain the information better
        2. I probably read through some currently irrelevant stuff that may be useful later
        3. I have a better sense of where things are stored/how the systems work

        I’ve learned soooo much, particularly about tech stuff, by just taking a few extra minutes to find the answer myself instead of asking someone else. It’s made me much more efficient and I think in the end I have saved myself time!

    3. Samwise*

      And making a list like this is so so so so helpful to your colleagues who need to pick up a task when you are out of the office. Or when you are training a new person or an assistant.

    4. Inopportune Moose*

      If the OP is looking for a rule of thumb, I think what you’re suggesting would be a great one: try (about) 3 ways of looking for it yourself first, before emailing for help. I’ve found that always puts the person I’m asking in a better mood, and could help manage & improve the relationship with OP’s boss. Even when I go for IT support, I get much better reactions to “I tried turning it off and on again, and I’m still getting the blue screen of death” vs. “IDK it’s broken,” and I think in the same way that 3-try problem solving will help show the OP’s boss that she’s trying to act on their feedback.

  9. Akcipitrokulo*

    Oh, that sounds like a really rough situation for you!

    A couple of things occur – one is that it might be your old boss’s approach was very counter-productive – giving people a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and taking away their confidence is almost guaranteed to result in the problems you had.

    I also think that it is something of which you can learn the basics. A generic checklist might help? So if any situation comes up, you can run through the questions (not all of which will be applicable, but go through them even if to dismess). It might be something like this:

    – Is there anywhere I can think of to get this information?
    – Can I google it? (Seriously.)
    – What do I think (person) is going to want to do/needs this information or task for?
    – is there any way I can make the next stage easier for them?
    – Why is this occuring (eg locksmith arrives)?
    – what can I do to make sure it resolves as quickly and correctly as possible?
    – If I were the person who had asked this, what would I want an office manager to do?

    and at the end of each task, do a quick “is there anything else I can do with this?” and then close it off if there isn’t.

    Also it may help to make a cheat sheet with the more common issues – and you’ve been there 2 months! You are not meant to know everything – it’s OK!

    For your review, you can tell your manager that you’ve realised you may need to be more pro-active, and you’ve (pro-actively!) taken these steps to help.

    I think that while it comes more easily to some people, and you may well be happier elsewhere, you can definitely learn – talent really isn’t that great. Trying and learning is better!

    1. theAutomator*

      I totally agree that old boss was out of line with the bad, confidence-killing feedback. I also agree about making cheat sheets and checklists – I would go a step further, and make part of your work making cheat sheets for yourself.

      For example, when you found out the K-cups needed to be ordered, a “one step ahead” thing to do would be checking the kitchen for any other consumables that needed to be ordered. Paper towels, soap for the soap dispenser, etc. A “two steps ahead” thing would be to make a checklist of kitchen consumables and setting up a calendar reminder to check the kitchen at the beginning of every week (or month, or whatever, depending on your office).

      Likewise, after figuring out travel arrangements, write or update a checklist with steps like “Find out if traveller has any rewards points” so that next time, you can remember. If there’s a spreadsheet with this info, a “one step ahead” thing to do would be to include a link to the spreadsheet in your checklist. A “two steps ahead” thing would be recording what hotels or airlines you used, so that you can use the same ones the next time someone travels to the same place.

      I do this all the time, and really, I don’t use the checklists much. But creating them forces me to think about my decision making, and seeing “Ask so-and-so about such-and-such” on a list shows me where I have holes in my knowledge.

    2. LKW*

      Agree with this. As a former office manager myself, this can be very challenging if your predecessor left no rules or roles & responsibilities behind.

      My assumption is your primary responsibilities include:
      – Ensure that people have the supplies & equipment to do their jobs and if not, resolve the issue (like calling in the copy machine guy).
      – Keep the admin staff busy and on top of their administrative duties
      – Play gate keeper for executive staff (unless there is an exec assistant supporting them).

      So – what do people need? What are the supplies and what’s the budget? How much can you save if you order in bulk and when is bulk just too much (e.g. if you save $100 on buying 1o0 boxes of copier paper but you have to use an office to store it because you don’t have the floor space – that might not be the right decision). Make yourself a checklist. Talk to procurement about a process for any special requests like a new desk set or fancy pens. Who should approve and under what circumstances should it be escalated to your boss? Make friends with them because they can help you push back when the office wants fancy things and you can only afford basic.

      As for playing gate keeper – you want to minimize unnecessary distractions or interruptions. When it comes to running an office, maintenance, logistics, attendance, assume that executives have no idea. They don’t need to know because someone else takes care of it.

      It’s hard 2 months in, to feel like you are running the place, but that’s your job -running the place. You’ll get there.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Figuring out what people need: Where ever possible walk through their situation as best you can. If you are setting up a meeting, go right to the meeting place to look at it. In doing things like this you shift to being that super-thorough person.

    3. Filosofickle*

      Re: Google it
      People need to be taught better research skills in school! I had a colleague come to me, saying she was assigned a task to create a certain kind of marketing plan, and had no idea how. She asked if I had any resources. I told her I did not know how to do it either, and I would start by googling it. She got frustrated quickly, because what she had was too general of a search term. So I suggested some additional search terms to narrow down the results to a more relevant and manageable set. It frustrates me that more people don’t have this skill. I realize I have a kind of special brain in this way (planning, lateral thinking, researching), but why isn’t this taught?!

      1. anonarama*

        It is taught in library/media center classes. This is what you lose when school libraries get shut down.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Definitely, the world needs more libraries & library resources.

          I got lucky in HS with a college-prep English class on research techniques. We spent the year learning to research and write position / research papers. By far one of the most useful classes I ever took.

        2. Fortitude Jones*

          It’s also taught in a lot of liberal arts majors and in j-school (journalism for those not hip to the lingo). I think some people just…don’t. It’s not that they never learned how to do it, they just want an answer RIGHT NOW. Laziness and impatience are a deadly (and highly annoying) combination.

  10. Not A Manager*

    You might not need to fix ALL of these “issues” completely in order to satisfy your manager. It sounds like there’s sort of a basket right now called “isn’t making my life easier” that these other complaints fall into. So if you can remove one or two items from the basket, it might feel less heavy to her even if a few things remain.

    For me, “not bothering people with unnecessary questions” would be the easiest to solve. Pretend that you tried to reach the person but they were unavailable. Without asking a different person, how would you get the info? Is it on a spreadsheet, a previous invoice, google-able, etc. If you do need to ask a different person, try to find the person lowest in the hierarchy that would be able to provide it. Maybe you don’t need to ask your boss about how many envelopes to order. Maybe there’s another support person who can tell you.

    I also think “excessive chattiness” would also be solvable. It might be harder if your office is super informal and chatty, but in general, you might try an office persona that is slightly closer to Alexa than to yourself. Not to mean dehumanized, but just that the personal assistant bots are there to carry out their tasks and be vaguely pleasant. I personally don’t think it’s very offensive to chat with someone about tea vs. coffee K cups, and probably the COO doesn’t either, but their time is valuable and they need to know that they can ask you to do something without having to “invest” a lot of extra time chatting.

    The hardest thing for me would be “anticipating needs.” You can try, but if you’re not really that kind of person that can be tricky and I always worry about guessing wrong and messing things up. If it were me, I would *maybe* try asking a bit more frequently in the moment if there’s an action item or something that you can follow up on, but that’s tricky because you’re trying NOT to ask your boss unnecessary questions. That’s why I’d only do it in the moment when Boss is already interacting with you.

    But maybe if you can clear up some of the other stuff, then your boss might not mind as much if sometimes you’re not as pro-active as she’d like.

    1. Colette*

      IMO, most of these situations boil down to the OP not taking ownership of the issue – i.e. not feeling like it is her problem to solve. Specifically, she seems to be depending on a lot of people for answers instead of trying to find them herself (or to be finding them by asking someone else). Sometimes that’s the right approach, but it might help if she gives herself a timeframe to search for the answer herself before asking (10 minutes, for example).

      And in the k-cup example, it doesn’t matter whether the OP uses them if she assumes that it is her problem to solve – which would help with the chattiness.

      1. mf*

        YES, this: “most of these situations boil down to the OP not taking ownership of the issue – i.e. not feeling like it is her problem to solve. Specifically, she seems to be depending on a lot of people for answers instead of trying to find them herself (or to be finding them by asking someone else).”

        I was a bit like the OP until I got an admin job assisting 4 executives who were all so busy, they were unavailable virtually 90% of the time. So I just had to figure out a lot of things myself. And if I could figure something out, I was ask someone who was a peer or who was lower on the totem pole. I would only bring my questions/issues to the executives themselves as a last resort.

      2. Sadie*

        This. And frankly, many of her responses on this thread are in a similar vein-a reason why it wasn’t really her fault, and then the answer changes as the criticism changes. If I were her manager and this was the response to feedback about performance I’d be pretty irritated.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        That feeling of not my problem to solve comes up frequently at new jobs. This can happen because the job was not explained fully or correctly. This can happen because people are fobbing their work off onto OP. This can happen because there is no one else to do it, they forgot to mention it or it’s a new thing that just started being a need. Any one of the scenarios can make a new hire say, “not my circus”.
        A new job is a bunch of brain drain. We get mentally tired from all the new inputs around us. In an unguarded moment, the words “not my circus” can fly out of our mouths or at least trip across our minds.

        I do have some rules of thumb:
        If my peers ask me, I help but resolve to decide later if I should actually be doing this thing for them.
        If my immediate boss asks me, then it’s probably my job.
        If my grandboss asks me, then it’s probably my job.
        If someone else’s grandboss asks me, I help at the moment then sometimes ask my own boss later if I should be helping this other grandboss. Same deal with bosses who are not mine.
        Outsiders are many times less of a quandary. They just want to find Bob’s office or the restroom and those little random helps are easy.
        Generally, I plan on being pretty tired when I go home until I sort this stuff further.

    2. juliebulie*

      “Anticipating needs” shouldn’t be too hard as far as keeping track of supplies. Check the supplies (regularly) and order more as needed.

      Other stuff may be more complicated, but even then it’s always helpful to just pause and think, “hey, isn’t there a spreadsheet, maybe I should look at it” before asking other people.

      Basically they want you to be proactive and resourceful so that THEY can ask YOU questions.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have drawn on personal experiences or from imagining myself doing Thing to figure out what is needed.

        It’s not possible to think of everything, OP. What they want is that most of the time you have considered several or more aspects that need to be covered.

        We do go with what we know. A friend awed me the other day. A mutual friend who is elderly was having her rugs shampooed. She was very excited about this. Neither the elderly friend or I had thought about all. those. leaves. outside her door. So my friend just showed up with a leaf blower. “Oh, it’s new. I want to check it out and our elderly friend has many leaves to test it on.” hahah. When I saw all the hoses and such that the rug cleaners dragged in the house I realized my leaf blower friend had anticipated problems because it would be impossible not to track leaves into the house and onto the very carpet they were trying to clean. I never once thought of this. But I won’t miss this point again! lol.

  11. Under_the_gun_all_the_time*

    LW- It is a challenge of the role, thinking ahead as much as possible, but there can be an unrealistic expectations as well. Can you think of examples of where you have thought things through? and the examples given are the exception and not the rule? Perfection is often expected from these type of roles of Office Manager and Assistant, it is not easy.

    1. Esther (OP)*

      Yes, there have definitely been some things I’ve done right. For example, we order gifts for staff every holiday season, and I made sure to look thoroughly in the shared drive for that list before asking my boss where I can access it. Also, the CEO asked me to import the Jewish holidays onto his Outlook calendar, which I’ve never done before, but I figured it out via Outlook Help. So it’s not like I’m not trying.

      1. Esther (OP)*

        And one thing I’m really proud of: I once asked the cleaning lady to vacuum the conference room because I knew there was going to be an important meeting in there the following day. :-) Those of you who are naturally good at this kind of forward thinking, might say, “Big deal”, but for me, it was a milestone.

  12. cmcinnyc*

    As an admin, yes, I spend A LOT of my day anticipating my boss’s/the department’s needs and getting a step ahead of that. One very simple tool that helps a lot is a notebook and a pen. Come in, get your tea, look at the calendar, and think, “What might need doing today?” And make a list. You might do those things, you might not. It might be a day of crazy, running around responding to lots of different demands and sudden changes. But if it’s not, you could do some of the “it would be a good idea to do X” stuff on your list that isn’t urgent. Coffee and tea is a good example. Make it a goal not to run out. You know people are drinking it–how much have you got? How long does it take for an order to get to you? How long did this order last? So… when might this order run out? Put reminders on your calendar for the next year: “check K-cup/tea supply” and “order K-cups/tea.” Voila, no one ever has to ask you to order coffee or tea ever again.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I think a general list of the supplies OP orders on a regular basis could be helpful. I used to be in charge of ordering supplies for my office, and I was pretty terrible at it at first. What helped me was creating a schedule (“I will order supplies the first Thursday of every month”) and making a list of commonly ordered supplies that I would check before I placed each order. So the first Tuesday of the month, two days before I planned to place my order, I’d take my list to the supply cupboard and check how much of each item we still had. That helped make it more likely that I’d realize we were low on copy paper or tape or whatever, so it could get reordered before we ran out completely.

    2. RavenclawShorts*

      +10000 Former admin here! The best way to be a step ahead is to listen. Keep your ears open at all times. If you hear someone mention how they love a certain type of pen, make a note and order that brand for the office. If you know there will be a meeting, make sure you have the conference room clean and organized before you are asked. A lot of admin work is getting to know the way the people you support work. Once you start listening you will be able to predict their needs better. It isn’t for everyone and that is ok.

    3. Pants*

      Admin Solidarity! I’ve found that there’s a giant population of people that think it’s an easy job. I’ve got +/- 20 years admin experience and I still forget things and bungle stuff. We’re human. Being accountable and recovering quickly goes miles and miles.

      That said, organization is a key part of the job. Notes, documents, etc. I have a notebook where I make notes about stuff I may need to reference later. “Jane = Copier Guru.” “Phone number for XYZ is: 555….” Every now and again, I’ll go through and type up what I’ve got in there. I keep a mini-binder full of my handy crap. I have a file-naming system so that the most current documents show at the bottom of the list. (“01.01.19 – Org Chart”) I keep my to-do list in an excel chart so I can track progress and notes–it also taught me a bunch about excel formulas. I never go anywhere without a pen and a notebook. I frequently have a pen or pencil stuck in my hair, just in case. (Yeah, I’m that person.) I colour code things. I have post its at the ready, a full tool kit, snacks, and a drawer dedicated to back stock of general desk supplies should someone need paperclips, staples, yadda yadda. Of course, I’m like this in my regular life as well. I’m the person you want with you at a music festival because I will have anything you may ever possibly need in my bag.

      2 months isn’t enough time to really get the lay of the land in terms of everything in the office, in my opinion. Are there other admins in the office you can turn to for guidance? That is often my first resource if I don’t readily know how to find/do/make/get something. Good admin to admin relationships are invaluable. It may also be handy for you to keep notes for each specific person you work for, so you can get a feeling of what they need from you. Jack likes his meetings in X conference room. Jill only wants to hear about the casualties after the fire, not the cause of it. Juno is quick to jump on any small mistake, proceed with caution. Juno is a dick, by the way. Every office has at least one Juno. Trick with Juno is to hold off on answering until you’re sure you’re correct; use your resources.

      Personal note: “Just an admin” is a phrase that makes my skin crawl. Don’t crap on admins, receptionists, or IT. We make or break you.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Oh and PS to this: I have had managers come to me and complain about a brand-spanking-new admin “why doesn’t she know X? why didn’t she do Y?” as if we are a class of people with mental telepathy who just *know* where stuff is and what needs doing. I remind them that New Person can’t possibly know every detail of how the office and the building and the executives work instantly and they back off and give the person time to learn. For example, we’re in a new building and I need to find out who is the head of lobby security on the 8-4 shift and who takes over at 4. I will bet you very few people who work here have even considered finding that out. And I’ll bet you the few who do are fellow admins. The first one to it will email the rest of us. So tip #2: if there are other admins where you work, get to know them!

        1. Esther (OP)*

          Thanks, but unfortunately, there are no other admins. I did connect with the previous Office Manager, and she’s given me some useful tips. :-)

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      So much this. I have an EA and a PA. They do different things for me.

      I don’t expect anyone to read my mind (though after 10 years, each…) but don’t respond to a request/demand/need with “how do I find that information/where do I get that, etc…”

      If I have to figure it out myself anyway…why am I paying *you?

      *The general “you” of course.

  13. Master Bean Counter*

    Honestly OP, it just sounds like you need to grow a bit professionally. Your first boss was horrible. And that’s a terrible way to start a career. Find a mentor. Some one who will tell you nicely whether what you are doing is off or not.
    Also take a minute before you are going to ask someone about something. Think about what you think would be the best action to take. Is there another place where the information you are looking for can be found before you ask? What did they do last time they ordered envelops? Can you go look at the last order?

  14. SaffyTaffy*

    I swear, I do not understand why, after 2 months, your boss is expecting you to know these things. I think her criticism of you for telling her you drink tea instead of just saying “okay” suggests she just doesn’t like you.
    I’m saying that because I once had a boss who did this. I got flagged for speaking Spanish to a Spanish-only client, for holding a bottle of soap “incorrectly,” for explaining why documents had to be printed a certain way instead of just presenting them, for using the bathroom when there were clients in the building, and for writing dashes instead of slashes when dating documents.
    Where I work now, none of those things matter, and they certainly wouldn’t have merited criticism in the first months of work.
    I think you deserve a better job.

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think it’s that OP’s boss expects her to know everything, but she expects her to know where to find an answer for things rather than asking other people. As an admin or office manager, OP should be the go-to for answering questions, not the one doing the asking.

      1. rayray*

        But she’s also new. She’s trying to learn things, and asking others is a great way to do that. If she sticks around, eventually she will be that person. How could she possibly know everything when she’s so new?

        1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

          This is her 3rd year being an office manager. She should know *how* to find things by now.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But only her second month with *this* company. If her previous company didn’t have the same kind of travel spreadsheet that this company does, it might take a couple of travel planning sessions to fully remember, “oh yeah, there’s a spreadsheet with all that information.”

            1. rayray*

              Exactly! All offices are different. At my new job I was asked to “process” some documents and “process” meant something 101% different here than it did at my last job.

              1. Kelly L.*

                OMG! The first time someone handed me a pile of stuff and said “Process this,” I’m sure my face just said “TILT.” That could mean a million different things!

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Well, IIRC, it ended up taking a fair bit of investigation, because the person who asked me also didn’t know! As far as she knew, she just, idk, threw the stuff into a black hole and it all somehow went where it was supposed to go. So there was a learning process.

                2. rayray*

                  @France, yes and how else is someone to find out other than asking? What is bothering me in these comments is that people think OP should just figure things out, rather than ask. I find it bizarre that people don’t think a new person should not ask questions. It’s this weird thing of “Figure it out! You should know better!” she’s new and should be asking questions.

                3. rayray*

                  Ugh meant to say I find it bizarre that people think a new person shouldn’t be asking questions.

                4. Allonge*

                  @rayray – there are half a dozen ways to figure things out without asking. Google. Observe. Search in records. Look up in manual. Remember the resources you have. Ask an external.
                  I don’t think anyone expects OP not to ask any questions ever. The problem seems to be that they ask even when they had access to the information in other ways, and did not try to get it on their own first.

                  I have a colleague who asks first. If I have a missed call from her, almost without fail she managed to figure out what she wanted from me in the meanwhile, when I return the call, as she was forced to think about it a bit. She is an SME, so this is less of a problem, but still indicates the issue very much exists.

            2. WellRed*

              I think I fall in the middle on this. The new office may have different procedures but the thought processes should be the same.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Yeah, this. I think that when someone isn’t thinking ahead or trying to solve problems by themselves at the level that’s expected, it can be pretty obvious to a manager but hard to pinpoint without the specific examples sounding kind of petty. Each individual example isn’t a big problem, but they add up to a pattern of “this person isn’t picking up on this stuff and being proactive to the degree I’d expect, even at this stage of training”.

                Not sure that’s happening here, given all the baggage from prior jobs, but it could be a reasonable reaction from a manager.

              2. Lana Kane*

                This is where I land too. It’s possible that the feedback at this stage is because the boss feels that the OP’s questions point to a larger issue around not using their resources prior to asking.

            3. The Man, Becky Lynch*


              But all offices have data sheets for different things. All offices have old records to look up how many envelopes they ordered previously.

              You should ask “where do I find the information” and then lock down that information as your go-to. She realized after asking that “duh spreadsheet”, which isn’t ideal to be forgetting about when you’re still training yourself…you should always be one to default to notes either personally taken or passed along.

          2. MsSolo*

            Yes, I think this is being overlooked a little. She’s 2 months into this specific role, but someone hiring her would have assumed that after three years in similar positions she’d have the strategies for handling most of the issues in place already, and only need guiding on the specifics.

        2. Not Me*

          She’s asking questions though about information that’s already been given to her or where she could otherwise find it herself. That’s not “new job” stuff you learn company to company.

        3. hbc*

          But it sounds like for some of these things, she *did* know another place to get the information once she gave herself time to think. If you’ve been given access to a spreadsheet with travel information, that’s the first place you should check for hotel rewards info, and if it’s occurred to her that Person A might have a number, then it’s not a weird quirk of this office that Person B might also have one.

          I’m not trying to give OP a hard time with this. It’s just that checking POs and travel spreadsheets are not unusual expectations for 2 months in, especially for someone with experience. I think OP really needs to slow down and make sure the priority is in saving her boss(es) time, which sometimes means digging for an hour even when they could have had an answer in 30 seconds.

          1. CMart*

            It’s likely not the best way to do this, but I trained myself out of taking the “easy way out” and simply IMing/e-mailing/asking my supervisors something the first time I hit a roadblock by generally assuming they’ll be pissed off if I bother them.

            Does my manager know how many shipping days are in this month? Of course, and she could tell me in half a second. But will she be annoyed at my asking when there is a Ship Days Report available? Maybe, I tell myself that she probably would be. And it’s better to spend 15 minutes digging through files to find that report, and then printing it out for future reference, than to annoy my boss.

            They key was then also learning when to go ahead and ask the “stupid” questions. If it’s been 15 minutes and I still have zero clue where to find that report, I bet she’d rather I ping her with “hey, where can I find the Ship Days Report?” than spend an entire hour trying to find that one tiny piece of information. BUT – the question was “where is the report” not “how many shipping days this month”. It demonstrates that I at least thought about the issue for a second and tried to solve it before coming to her.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Slowing down. Oh isn’t that the truth. I had one job in a new-to-me arena. I used the drive time to and from work to solve or at least find steps for problems I had during the day. It gave me time to think it through and at least decide on several options to try. I did not solve my problems in one day or even one week. It took me months and months of repeatedly using my drive time to think things through.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        But at two months in, you can’t really be that all-knowing office guru yet. Op’s still learning, and there’s no shame in having a few hiccups along the way in your first couple of months. It’s possible that with more time and practice, OP could become that person. Or it’s possible that OP could decide this is not their favorite kind of work and move on to something different. But I don’t feel like two months in is the best time to criticize someone for not knowing or remembering all the things yet.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          This is something I’ve casually noticed as I’ve taken new jobs. A lot of companies hire people who have the experience to hit the ground running without any training…and then expect them to have also come to the job with knowledge of the company’s internal operations, procedures, and preferences without any internal training as well.

          Like someone who’s new should automatically know not to talk to Fergus until he’s had his second cup of coffee, and that no one likes the Pumpkin Spice K-cups so don’t order them, and that you can’t bring in peanut butter sandwiches because Karen’s so allergic it can’t be in the fridge with her lunch, and that all purchases of office supplies have to be made through the requisitions portal and not on company credit cards even though someone handed you a company card and never gave you a login for the requisitions portal.

          1. SaffyTaffy*

            This is such a good point! Employees often don’t realize (how could they?) that processes are company-specific.

          2. Jaydee*

            Right. If we get a new admin who has past work experience as an admin, I expect that they will have certain basic knowledge and troubleshooting skills. I don’t expect that they will have knowledge of things that are specific to our workplace.

            So if I ask them to make 20 copies of a document for me, they might not know what buttons to push on our copier because it’s different from the one they used at their old job. They will need to be told where the paper is if the copier runs out. But I expect they would know to ask some questions about how I want the copies finished (color vs. black and white, single or double-sided, staples or paper clipped, etc.) if I didn’t specify. And I expect that they would have a general idea of methods to obtain those results. Like some copiers will collate and staple for you, others you’ll have to do that by hand. And I expect they would have a general idea of where to find the paper trays to put the new ream of paper in.

          3. I'm sailing on the SS Similar, OP*

            Oh god yes @ the last bit of your last sentence.

            I am coming up on 3 months into a new receptionist role at a construction company. I have worked for a construction company before, but there was no sales department there, so this is an entirely new department for me to learn how to work with, and I deal with 20x the phone calls than at my previous employer. On top of that, the sales dept is incredibly understaffed, so people seem upset ALL THE TIME. It’s not AT me, it’s just something I have to improve on not taking so personally. Also, the program used to track orders and project info is less than a year old to the company, so it’s still very new to everyone.
            Oh, did I mention that the company was undergoing a major renovation when I joined, so for the first two months I wasn’t sitting at my permanent desk, I was no where near the people I would most closely support to ask questions about the work I was doing for them, and the previous receptionist left me completely alone after halfway through the second day. And I sat next to our Senior Division PM and directly across from the General Manager. Mistakes were made. Mistakes were obvious. Mistakes were… painful for me, under these circumstances.

            For an example, the previous receptionist did not leave me with an inventory list. She had been working with someone in our accounts payable dept to provide an inventory list, and AP was under the impression I had been left said list. After a month or so, I manage to coax out of the previous receptionist (who has moved on within the company) that “yes, I wrote down some items on individual post-its, but I threw them all away” (CUE WTF FACE OMG WHY WHAT ARE YOU) -ahem, sorry). So I had to deal with a lot of terseness from the AP person at first, because she was under the impression that my “training” had gone a lot better.
            I have since gone through three different self-created spreadsheets to narrow down our supply orders, and have (at least for now) settled on one that lists by location. As long as the items that are stored there are “full” (Kitchen : drawer with paper towels is full; Bathroom Closet : shelf with toilet paper is full), I can place an order determinant on usage and overflow/archive storage space. I will continue to improve the spreadsheet as I learn more.

            Another example : During the time I joined the company, the service they use to print stamps was changing; essentially OldService was being discontinued, but ParentCompanyofOld/NewService was switching paid OldService accounts to NewService. However, ParentCompany was having a major tech issue making the switch on their part, which caused the service to be unusable (actually, this is still the situation). I had to negotiate a free NewService account that we could actually use, because temporarily discontinuing our current paid account would bump us out of our place in line to get the issue resolved. Success! – right? Well AP (not fully understanding all the back-and-forth that had been necessary to wrangle usable stamp-printing services at all) came back and said “well they should owe us for the inconvenience. Make that happen.”
            My heart dropped out of my butt.
            (inside, I was thinking, if the old receptionist had been more proactive about figuring this out, they wouldn’t owe you at all.. how can you think this is appropriate, to demand a mile after we got the three feet we actually needed?)
            I pushed back lightly, but she was really determined we would have this – but having me do the negotiating, of course. And I did it, by being extremely nice to the sales person I spoke with.

            Added bonus to that whole story, the OldService had features the NewService does not, and there was NO explaining this to AP.
            In fact, I had to listen to several weeks of “well the old receptionist could do it.”
            I still hear this sometimes.

            I’m so sorry for the long post, but I really resonated with this letter. I get that fit is important, and maybe you are not best suited to this type of role, OP. But figuring out how to handle the stress it causes you when you fail/make a mistake/just come up short will be invaluable to other roles/companies, and probably your personal life as well. I doubt that’s the entire issue (it sounds like there is some real wrangling you should do to determine where you’re really falling short, and it sucks you don’t have a boss/leader who can help guide you into performing up to their expectations), but you can’t tackle becoming an efficient working machine all in one go. The reality is, it just takes time, and a positive outlook when you feel up to it, and recognizing what can help you (both practically and emotionally) when you don’t feel up to it. And tools – build lots of tools to keep yourself in check. I saw lots of great recommendations in these comments; sorry, my comment is more to commiserate than anything else.

            Lastly, it is a stressful job, and trying to anticipate newness just confounds that. You can’t just say, “it doesn’t matter,” because everything you do matters to someone (just let them run out of toilet paper. watch the chaos.) and the urgency with which you treat the issue will become a lasting positive impression on the rest of your coworkers.
            Sending us both good vibes and a much needed moment of “it’s okay,” today. It will get better.

          4. 1234*

            I resonate so much with your first paragraph! OldJob hired a New Manager who was given a budget Former Manager with no explanation of categories and only notes that Former Manager who wrote it could understand. She felt that she had to prove that she was “capable” and didn’t want to ask too many questions. I got scolded by her for going to Former Manager and asking what specifically he meant by “XYZ” (I was one of her direct reports and thought it made sense to ask the person who wrote it what they meant?)

    2. rayray*

      I empathize with this so much. Can I just shout from the rooftops that micromanaging people to death isn’t actually effective at all?

      And for St. Peter’s Sake, everyone- when someone is new, it takes time to get to know how the office runs and what to do when the odd things come up. Have some patience, please!

      1. Crayola*

        Knowing how a kitchen runs and what needs to be stocked and how to figure out what needs to be stocked is not an “odd thing” if you’ve been doing this for three years. Sure the specifics of WHAT needs to be ordered are different but not the WHEN. You should know by now about how long it takes to reorder supplies, around what time you need to order them, etc. That’s what her manager means by “thinking ahead”.

        1. Atlantian*

          Even this I feel the need to push back on a little bit. I have worked at places as admin/logistics where the SOP was basically, “don’t order anything until the office has actually run out and someone has complained to you because they need something”, all the way to, “This is the storage closet for toilet paper. If you can ever fit inside of it along with the toilet paper (literally, every cubic inch was to be filled at all times, there were no shelves) you will order more NOW.” It’s all in the way things are budgeted, the amount of storage space available in the office, how many individual line items finance wants to deal with a month, and a million other little things that make even this seemingly most routine of tasks vary so very much from office to office. Admin work is so weird. Just because I have “responsible for purchasing office and kitchen supplies” as a line item on my resume, doesn’t mean I’m not going to need explicit, step by step instructions on how it needs to be done at this office when I take on a new role.

        2. rayray*

          But even with pantry stuff, it still differs from place to place and there’s a learning curve. Maybe a box of granola bars was in there for a long time, and then ran out. New admin doesn’t realize though that company keeps this on hand at all time for the one VP that likes them. Maybe the company used to stock up on one item, but they didn’t really get eaten so you don’t actually need to order them every time you place a grocery order. Maybe come winter, the company stocks up on hot cocoa, but you started in May and haven’t had to order hot cocoa before. Sure, you did a great job at your last company because you knew what everyone liked and what things got eaten and what didn’t. You’re going to need a little bit of time at new job to figure that out.

          As for OP’s convo with the CEO about K-Cups, it is hard to interpret what really happened but I personally interpreted it that she was either making small talk, or just defending why she didn’t get it to the order, something like “oh! I don’t even drink coffee, so it didn’t occur to me to look” But this experience taught her to remember the K-Cups. I personally think those hiccups are the best teaching tools. Nobody died without their K-Cup, but she realized she needed to get them on the order asap.

          1. Allonge*

            Of course there are different ways of doing things – but from an experienced office manager I would expect them to come in with a list of their own questions on this. Am I responsible for coffee? If so, how does that work? Do we have a contract? A favorite place? Any specifics?
            If all that is talked through in the first week or so, there might still be problems later, of course. But they don’t start from the “oh, I am a tea person” level.

    3. littlelizard*

      >for holding a bottle of soap “incorrectly,”

      I’m fascinated. What is the “correct” way to hold a bottle of soap? Why did your boss think it mattered?

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        @littlelizard the write-up said “picked up soap bottle by the pump, risking mess and injury to clients.”

        1. juliebulie*

          They WROTE YOU UP?????
          Great Caesar’s ghost.

          (And you can’t go to the bathroom when clients are visiting? Were the clients told that you’re a robot with no bladder?)

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Now the clients know our office staff are human beings who need to pee sometimes! This will ruin our reputation!

            1. SaffyTaffy*

              I wasn’t going to add details, but since we’re talking about it I will tell you the full truth. I had walking pneumonia, was on 2 inhalers and a separate oral steroid plus other meds, and I was so weak I was wetting my pants every time I coughed. So it’s true I was going to the bathroom more frequently than everyone else. But I was also told that I was indispensable and that everything would fall apart if I took (unpaid) sick time. And, hey, my boyfriend was beating the crap out of me on the regular, so I was making bad decisions all over the place.

              I feel like I could just keep yammering on about the bad things that happened at that job. My first write-up was for cleaning a storage space too thoroughly.

              1. juliebulie*

                I’m so sorry. That sounds horrible.

                But the decision to use the bathroom when you need it is always a good one. Even with clients around.

                1. SaffyTaffy*

                  juliebulie, I admit I might be projecting onto the OP. I just figure people are mostly only incompetent at jobs that aren’t right for them.

              2. Jules the 3rd*

                Glad you are in a better place now. That all sucks balls.

                I kinda sorta see ‘if it’s not screwed down tight picking it up by the pump might spill’ but to even notice that, much less write you up, is someone looking for a weapon to jab you with.

              3. Fortitude Jones*

                My first write-up was for cleaning a storage space too thoroughly.

                That is absolutely ridiculous – I’m glad you don’t work there anymore.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I feel like the only incorrect way to hold a soap bottle is upside down with the lid open so all the soap is pouring out.

      3. Samwise*

        That boss is a Big Endian. Or a Small Endian. But either way, there’s only one way to break an egg and woe unto you if you’re doing it “wrong”.

    4. anon9*

      – She argued about ordering K-Cups when she should have simply ordered K-Cups.
      – She has a spreadsheet with all the travel info and still asked the employee about travel info.
      – A locksmith she wasn’t expecting showed up and LW didn’t think to ask, “What work order are you responding to?”
      – She’s ordering from the printer and goes to her boss for the number when asking for the last order should have been the first thing to try.

      It’s not helpful to mollycoddle LW when she wants to be better. These have nothing to do with being at the company for two months – these should be instinctive for someone with 3 yrs office manager experience. LW’s issue is that before and during these 3 yrs experience, she was with a boss that made her very anxious and doubting. I see a lot of myself in asking people questions I already know the answer to because a thick fog of anxiety has clouded my mind. I think your old job was bananas bonkers (Correct way to hold soap????? Dashes instead of slashes??? Did they not anything else to do than nit-pick these useless things?) but it’s not at all similar to LW’s situation.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah part of it is that OP sounds like she’s still approaching the work the way an intern or entry level person would, but presumably the company thought they were hiring a mid-level office manager with experience, and that’s presumably what they’re paying for. If they wanted someone to do exactly as instructed, they could probably get that cheaper.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Nervousness can feed distrust of one’s self or others around the person. And yes, this could make a person look or sound like an entry level employee.
          Think of it this way, if an employee is told they are always wrong or will always make mistakes, what is the likelihood of that employee trusting their own judgement? Not very high, I would say.

          Of everything you said, OP, the thing that concerns me is that you think they will fire you for these minor errors. You are two months into the job. It’s normal to receive plenty of feedback from everyone. That settles out in a bit. I usually plan for extra rest the first few months of any job because this stuff is tiring and will make me question myself more than perhaps I should. If I am rested I find that I have a more logical take on things more often.

      2. Esther (OP)*

        Gee, thanks a lot for making me feel three inches tall. You’re making it sound like these mistakes are the end of the world. I’m trying my best, and sometimes I slip up, but why do you sound so accusatory?

  15. Jdc*

    I agree that it may just not be the job for you. That’s fine. I was an office manager for a while. My boss could sell ice to an Eskimo and played in the NFL, but couldn’t handle the things I did. I think a lot of people think office manager is just a catch all overseeing admin work but it involves a lot. You are expected to anticipate most anything, always plan ahead, remember every persons preferences….

    Not being great at that doesn’t make you stupid at all! I can’t do percentages to save my life, I don’t care how it’s explained, it does not compute. But I’m good at other things, just like you. You haven’t worked long enough to even know exactly what that is yet most likely because you haven’t been exposed to it yet. That’s what starting off is about. You’ll find the right fit in time.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Yes. OP, it’s not that you’re too stupid or self centered for this kind of work. It’s just that this may not be the best sort of work for the way your brain tends to operate.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I feel this sooo hard. I keep falling into overly detailed jobs (finance adjacent) and that is not at all my strengths or what I enjoy. It’s really hard to reverse course once you have a track record in something. But it can be done.

  16. Sabina*

    Yeah, as someone who was good at being an administrative assistant/office manager, and did those kind of jobs for nearly 30 years, I can say it takes a certain kind of psychology, mindset, whatever you want to call it. My strengths were an almost pathological need to be self-sufficient and resourceful and to always be looking two steps ahead, combined with a fear of ever letting anyone, particularly a boss, down. Probably developed these “skills” being the oldest child in a large family with barely functioning parents. But it was not all about dysfunction, I actually enjoyed most of my jobs and being the person who could juggle all the plates while knowing everyone’s birthday and how to get copy paper delivered within an hour….

    1. Nessun*

      I completely agree. There’s a quote in Gosford Park, where Helen Mirren’s character tells someone that the gift of a good servant is the gift of anticipation – knowing what’s needed before anyone else does, and providing that care before anyone even thinks to ask. I think the same is true of admin. (I absolutely am not calling admin servants – I have been an admin for 17 years and I am a full member of a happy, collaborative team.) The best admin are those who have (or develop) that skill of anticipation; of knowing what’s needed by reading forward a few pages and providing the things that help the office run smoothly. When I can say “it’s already in process” or “here you go, got that already”, I’m showing forethought and lightening everyone’s stress levels. Then I can circle back to my group and have better conversations about higher level stuff, and gain trust for new projects.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        I thought of that exact scene while reading this! “What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? The gift of anticipation. And I’m a good servant. I’m the perfect servant. I know when they’ll be hungry, and the food is ready. I know when they’ll be tired, and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.” Not every job requires this level of anticipation, and it may be that the OP would be happier in a different one.


        It’s very clear throughout the film that Mary, the protagonist, is *not* good at anticipation, but she reveals herself to have exceptional talents in other areas, like information-gathering and discretion. We get the sense by the end of the film that her employer has come to value Mary’s strengths more highly than she’s annoyed by Mary’s weaknesses as a lady’s maid. So, OP, maybe the moral is, find an employer that values your strengths! :)

        1. Nessun*

          I shall be thinking about this when I’m rewatching the film! (As soon as I’m done rewatching Downton.) :)

  17. Guacamole Bob*

    A lot of people think that admin work is easy, but it’s really not – many of the individual tasks are easy, but anticipating needs, problem solving, showing initiative, juggling priorities, and being able to handle the unexpected are all skills that not every has and that some people need to work to develop. They’re especially important in admin roles like office managers that are often catch-alls for all sorts of tasks that don’t fit neatly into other people’s jobs. And not everyone enjoys that kind of work.

    I remember comparing my job to my spouse’s back when I was in an admin role. I had 100 small tasks to do in a day, interrupted by many phone calls, and she spent all day researching and writing a single report. Of course there are sub-tasks and steps in a report like that, but it’s a very different rhythm and focus. The skills involved in the task itself are different, but also the planning, prioritizing, etc. type tasks are really different. My spouse is not someone who easily juggles 47 little tasks. I really didn’t thrive the summer I was doing self-directed research on a single topic for weeks.

    You can certainly find strategies to get better at what your current job requires. But also think about whether there are jobs that might be a better fit for the ways that you work best in the long run. I think this kind of skill match is more important to job satisfaction than most people give it credit for. How many tasks of what size you have, how often you’re expected to switch tasks during the day, how self-directed you need to be, how often you need to interact with other people – these are things that can really impact your day-to-day happiness and your sense of your own competence.

    1. MOAS*

      +1 to your first comment–it’s not. It’s in the lines of, being a teacher or daycare worker, “it’s so easy!” Not that I have personal experience or that I’m bitter about such bad advice…….

  18. XtinaLyn*

    Office manager here!
    OP, Outlook can totally be your friend in this.
    When you’re asked to do something, set a task reminder for the next potential date that you might need to perform the task again. For instance, with the K cups, set yourself a task reminder for every other week, or once a month–whatever the appropriate amount of time should be.
    And creating a checklist is a vital part of picking up all the loose ends of a project.
    Be willing to learn, and try to stay ahead of everyone’s needs (which isn’t easy, I know). You may even want to have a 10-minute conversation with those your report to, and ask them about key ways that you can better support them in their roles. If you know what they’re expecting you to do, and you make a task list and a checklist, that will help you get ahead of the curve. :)
    Good luck!

    1. AnonAndFrustrated*

      Completely agree. How do people stay on top of things to do and future task dates and calendar items *without* using Outlook all day every day? I would be completely lost without it. My task list goes out *two years* because I am always thinking ahead and making sure I put dates and tasks on the list that need to be remembered/done. To be disorganized and always “flailing” is so stressful, I’d think anyone and everyone would want to do anything they could to avoid that mindset…

    2. Phil*

      This no have an abundance of recurring tasks in my Outlook, as well as flagging emails to follow up on. Some of them are even just info emails I re-flag for a couple weeks later to keep it fresh in my mind.

      My boss has even commented (positively) about me doing this which makes me wonder if it isn’t something a lot of people think to do.

    3. Esther (OP)*

      I love Outlook. I always flag e-mails that require any sort of action and I also create flags for both one-time and recurring tasks (e.g. watering plants, submitting certain reports, etc.) So I have no problem staying organized and doing things ahead of time. My problems are anticipating people’s needs and working independently, which I’m conscious of and trying to work on.

  19. Media Monkey*

    OP – are you a “rusher”? you are so keen to prove yourself as efficient and organised and one step ahead that you don’t take a second to stop and think about whether the question on the tip of your tongue is something that you already know or might be able to find out? perhaps when you get a request, try to take a moment to think about the most efficient way to do it. have you done something similar before and how did they want you to handle it?

    make a list and put calendar invites with reminders for regular tasks so that you don’t need to be chased. keep great notes of all of your key duties and responsibilities and refer back to them when you are taking a minute to think.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes re: rusher! I was trying to figure out how to bring that up too. OP, I agree with Media Monkey that you should take a moment before asking someone the question. Remember that unless a task is absolutely urgent, you can sit on it for a little while and maybe even do something else in the meantime and your subconscious might come up with the answer for you – it happens! I learned only in the last couple of years that sitting on a question overnight quite often miraculously answers it for me. Go figure.

      I tend to be more anti-social when it comes to work questions. So I am more likely to try to find the answer myself before asking someone, more likely to email the question, and more likely to absolutely not want to bother someone else. You may be more social than I so maybe your default is to ask someone, but perhaps you can learn to be a little more self-sufficient in finding the information you need.

      Do you have regular meetings with your supervisor? Another thought is that you can save up questions to ask at these regular meetings instead of asking them the minute you have it, which has the added benefit of allowing you to sit on them and maybe answer them yourself before you have to ask someone else.

    2. SansaStark*

      What a great way to phrase this tendency. I am a recovering “rusher” – it’s not that I wanted to put my job on my coworkers, it’s just that I didn’t want to ‘waste’ time figuring something out if someone else already knew the answer. It took awhile but I have mostly trained myself to stop and try a few solutions before asking someone. Questions are received so much better when I’m able to outline what I’ve tried as potential solutions. I thought I wasn’t good at anticipating needs (and truthfully it’s not my strong suit), but slowing waaaaay down when confronted with a problem has helped me come up with solutions that I didn’t think of in the heat of the moment.

      1. Filosofickle*

        This is an interesting way “guess” v “ask” culture plays out. I hate asking for help, so I’ll waste way too much time trying to figure out an answer rather than ask. You were going to others to save time, because what’s the harm in asking? Somewhere in the middle, there is a good balance.

        I’ve worked with a couple of project managers that are rushers. They were so intent on “efficiently” processing emails that they didn’t actually read the whole thing carefully or especially not the whole thread before responding. Drove me crazy.

        1. SansaStark*

          I completely agree that somewhere in the middle of this is probably the best thing. Finding the balance is so tricky sometimes. I also think that the office culture plays into this a lot, too. We have a very open collaborative team so it’s completely expected that you’ll be interrupted a couple times a day for a question. We all know that fixing something that someone did incorrectly is going to take far more time to correct than answering a question or two.

          1. Nessun*

            There’s definitely a sweet spot somewhere in the middle! Finding it can be rough, and takes a lot of experimenting. I’ve spent years figuring out when I can apply knowledge, act, and ask forgiveness if it doesn’t work out – and when I should back off, ask all the questions, and do as I’m told. Learning to walk that line makes us so very valuable in the long run, but it’s a hard road to get there, and you need bosses who will support that learning, not bite your head off.

        2. Sloan Kittering*

          This depends on the role too. If you are a highly paid technical analyst, it may indeed make more sense to ask someone who knows where the Y file is saved or how to fill out the timesheet. You are being paid for your skillset in something else, not to waste time digging around on the shared drive. But if you are an admin/office manager, your role is to take things off the plates of others so even if it takes you longer to figure it out, and ultimately you need to understand the processes thoroughly so it’s good to take the time to really dig around.

  20. Buttons*

    Critical thinking skills can be developed and learned. Knowing that it is something you need to work on is key, most people aren’t aware that this is a skill they are lacking. There are two ways to teach critical thinking. The first is to explicitly teach the skills required for critical thinking. These include analysis, judging thoughts according to established standards, logical reasoning, recognizing similarities and differences, seeking evidence and information, being able to visualize a plan and predict its likely outcome, and evaluating one’s own thought processes. I think for the LW she needs to practice planning and predicting outcomes. I would start by making a list of duties/tasks you are responsible for. And then making a plan, or workflow for each of those.
    Often office managers or admins aren’t giving a detailed list, it is assumed they will know what “managing the office” means! And it means something at all different offices.
    This is something that can be learned, it takes intention and practice.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think OP is worried bc she’s got the sense that some of this stuff falls into the realm of “common sense,” which is implied to be something you don’t have to learn or work at – but that framing is not going to be helpful! You can indeed practice and learn how to think more proactively and critically!

      1. Buttons*

        I agree, and it doesn’t sound like anyone has really helped her to develop those skills. I inherited an employee recently who is lacking in this same area. I am working with her, but she doesn’t understand and isn’t really aware that this is a growth opportunity for her. That is more frustrating that not having this skill! If she had the attitude that critical thinking, big-picture thinking, and anticipating what others will need or want are things she needs, we would be making a lot more progress!

      2. Esther (OP)*

        Yes, it does seem like it’s a “common sense” thing because it’s one of those skills that I fail at abysmally no matter how hard I try. For every time I get something right, I get two other things wrong, and it feels like I’m not making any headway.

  21. rayray*

    It sounds like you’re still new and need a chance to learn things, and I’d say by your experiences, you ARE learning things. It is unreasonable of them to think you should just know everything when you’re brand new. With that hotel booking, I think you did the right thing by asking someone, and then you realized it was in a spreadsheet. Boom! You learned from experience, as you should from any job. I think you need room to make little mistakes or have setbacks so you can learn. You seem proactive in asking others for help. As far as the K-Cup convo, sounds like you were just being conversational.

    I’ve dealt with this at two different jobs, where the people I was working with just couldn’t understand that I needed time to learn. It is unfair for anyone to just expect someone to know every system of the office immediately or what to do when those odd situations come up. You need guidance when doing new things, and you need wiggle room when you don’t know exactly what to do.

    This kind of work is tough. It can feel like you’re just there to pickup after people who act helpless. And sometimes you are doing just that. Hang in there, keep trying your best to learn and to develop the skills necessary for your new job.

  22. cheese please*

    I have no experience with office managing but do create standardized work instructions and agree that it can help! Maybe create a routine where every Monday you check in on supplies (break room, office, printer, etc) and place an order, then create spreadsheet for yourself of what you ordered, the qty and the date. A procedure document can also be so helpful! A lot of times we think a process is so easy we don’t need help by writing it down, but it can help us remember small details AND give us confidence that we are doing things the same (correct) way each time.

    1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

      If you need to order toner, for example, note what kind of toners all the copiers and printers need. Then note the date new toner is installed and set an Outlook calendar reminder to reorder 2-3 months out, depending on the amount of printing they do. Next time someone is out of toner, it will feel good to say, “No problem, we have it in stock.” Same principle for K-Cups, paper, etc.
      Wishing you well.

  23. MsSolo*

    How do you organise your own life? How do you make sure you don’t run out of tea, or have your points cards on hand when booking travel, or check a replacement charger is compatible with your device? Are there strategies you can take that work for you already and adapt them to the office environment?

    Alternatively, do you do these things? Running out of tea at home is pretty low stakes, after all. If you’re someone who responds to problems on the fly, just buys whatever’s on offer, and doesn’t mind not getting the cheapest hotel room, then it might be a sign this role isn’t a good fit for you. And that’s fine – your lifestyle is the result of a different skillset, which is more about flexibility and adaptation than it is about anticipation and problem solving. Look for roles where you can build on that, instead.

  24. High Score!*

    Use checklists. I’m an engineer. Many aspects of my job vary from project to project and I have to anticipate things. For the obvious stuff, I have checklists. At least if I ask someone else for help, it’s never for the obvious stuff. And check lists are confidence boosters. Often after checking everything, I’ll think of something else I can check and also as to the list for next time.

    1. Snark*

      The thing is, there’s not really a checklist for a lot of tasks, or a lot of families of tasks that are somewhat similar but whose resolution is contextual.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I had a job once that involved regular flights. Not weekly, maybe more like monthly? But often enough that I left my packing list in the suitcase and re-used it. When I got back from a trip I crossed off the things I hadn’t needed and added things I wished I’d had. I did that for a couple of trips and found that I got it *down*, and the only changes I needed to make after that were season/weather-related.

  25. drpuma*

    My old boss had a consulting background, and from that he liked to ask “Why?” five times when solving a problem. Making a point to do something like that with yourself *before* you start a task could be helpful for you OP. I’m thinking specifically of the locksmith example. “I’m making an appointment with the locksmith – why?”

    I do wonder if not thinking ahead is consistent in your out-of-work life. Are you the “planner” in your friend group, or are you often delighted by others’ suggestions? When you were in school, how did you do with semester-long projects? Did you need or are you used to having a lot of hand holding? The answers to these or similar questions might help you figure out if the challenges you’ve faced have stemmed from your boss or work environment, or whether you’d be more likely to succeed on a different career path.

    1. Esther (OP)*

      That’s interesting, I had just finished reading a book about four personality types: Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. People who are Blue are analytical and detail-oriented, and there’s actually an example in the book, where a Japanese company would ask “Why?” five times whenever there was a problem. Your boss was probably Blue.

      Outside of work, the stakes are lower, and it really depends on the situation. At home, my husband never knows what food we have in the cupboards (“out of sight, out of mind”, he says), so I’m the one who puts together our shopping lists. When I was in school, I worked pretty independently, and would actually make a week-by-week plan as early as the beginning of November to avoid the end of semester avalanche of work. I despise deadlines (even the word “deadline” sounds ominous), so as long as I’m clear on what needs to be done, I start early because I just can’t imagine coping with that panicky feeling of having too much to do and not enough time. So time management was never an issue for me.

  26. octoberishere*

    Being an AA and Office Manager are hard. It took me many years to master… being one step ahead of the needs of my boss and the department I serve. Even then I still ask silly questions, like where is this (When I have used it before and have access to it). It happens we are only human and often one person supporting and entire company/department. It takes time to grow into the role. So do the absolute best you can, ask your self tons of questions (do I know where this document is before I ask Fergus or Jane). Keep notes, reminders in your calendar, re-do systems (that you can), that fit the needs of your work style. For example I once worked at a company that instead of filing A-Z, filed by category… so electric bill went under U for Utility. I couldn’t function like that so I re-did the filing system so it was A-Z.

  27. Fikly*

    I’m concerned by how quickly you’ve jumped to the thought of, what if I’m just stupid? No one is smart or stupid at everything. There is a lot of danger in calling people both smart or stupid without qualifying with a specific skill/ability.

    You may not have this particular ability, I don’t know! But that’s not any worse than not having the ability to program, except you’re in a job right now where you need this ability. I agree with Alison that this may not be the right career for you, if that’s the case.

    There are also things you can do to help while you try to figure things out. I love the comments above about creating a checklist, even a broad one where step 1 is “Where do I look for this information?” I have always found that it is much more valuable to know how to find information, than knowing the information itself. There’s only so much brain space.

    Also, just wanted to mention that I’m recently back at work following a bad concussion, and I’m struggling with a similar cognitive problem, which had never been an issue in the past. I’m got a lot of safety measures in place, so I don’t cause bad problems, but it’s super frustrating! I know it’s likely my brain will heal, so I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be in a job where you feel like you lack a critical job ability. It’s not your fault! What are your strengths?

    1. Esther (OP)*

      Thanks for the support, Fikly! My strengths are the following:

      1) Organized and detail-oriented
      2) Don’t procrastinate and finish things promptly (usually ahead of due date)
      3) Personable with a sense of humor, and always willing to help coworkers
      4) Reliable- when I’m given an assignment, it always gets done
      5) Good at navigating computer systems, and remember how to do something once I’m taught
      6) Flexible and don’t dispute a task because “it’s not in my job description”

  28. Organized (need-based only)*

    I do think that, at least to a point, this is a skill that can be learned. I had to learn it myself, and it’s the #1 thing I work on with my interns. I came into a role that included a lot of administrative work and my oldest friends seriously asked me if I could be organized enough for the job, because they knew it wasn’t natural to me at all. Knowing that, I made sure to take time to think through EVERYTHING multiple ways at first.

    What I find most helpful is to place yourself in the shoes of everyone else involved. If I were a client or prospective client, and I was coming to the building for a meeting or event, what would my experience be? I’d literally walk the path pretending everything was knew to me, and thought about where I would have questions about what to do, where to go, what to bring, what to do if I didn’t bring something, etc., etc., etc. Then I’d do the same thing for contractors, for coworkers, for outside contacts, for my superiors, and even for myself. The questions I’d ask myself would be things like, What might confuse me? What might I want to know? Is there any background information I would need to understand this? What would this going really smoothly look like? What would make me feel safe and comfortable and confident in the people I’d work with? What am I likely to forget, and what can I do to help myself? (Because you deserve to have things smoothed out for yourself as well.) And then I’d take reasonable steps to do those things. For the locksmith example, if you knew they were coming in, you could ask yourself, what will they need to be able to do their job? What will give them a good experience? Drawing on your own sense of “things should be nice for people” is helpful.

    And you can’t do these things last minute, so you have to plan time to look ahead at your schedule and think, what is coming up? What needs to be prepped in time for that? What could go wrong, and is there something reasonable I can do to prevent that?

    The other part is making lists of what I need to do and keep them on hand. Making a checklist for different events, and editing it for what you missed after if needed, can be a good reference and will help you to start training your brain to think about all the different steps and angles that need to be considered for things to run smoothly. If you’re overwhelmed, rank things on the list by importance and deadline, and work on the most urgent things first, letting the others go for the time being.

    Another thing to look into is the concept of ‘backwards planning,’ where you go start with what you think a successful outcome would look like and think back about all the things that would get you there, and build in time and steps for each part. Give yourself time to review and update strategies as you need. And seek out people who have their skill and ask to see their checklists/calendars/etc. to get insight on how they think these things through.

    It’s true that this is easier for some than others, and that it ultimately might not be right for you. But you’re here now, and this is a skill that comes in handily in all kinds of jobs and life in general. Just like not everyone can be a champion weightlifter but most people can get stronger with exercise, you definitely can build this muscle to make yourself a little bit stronger and to make your life a little bit easier if you get the tools to help you do it.

  29. Just Elle*

    My career progression went:
    -A job I was naturally good at, but hated
    -A job I loved, but just really did not play to my strengths (which ultimately led to not loving the job, because it really isn’t fun to be not-great at a job, its stressful and also holds you back in career advancement)
    -Finally, a job I liked ok AND was naturally good at. This was my happy place.

    I honestly think you’ll be much, much happier in the long run if you can find #3.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      Something I haven’t seen mentioned much is that #2 (or a version of #2 that you don’t even love but just like or tolerate) is a lot more difficult to get really good references from than #1 or #3. If you’re fairly early in your career or you have a long stretch of #2 jobs, the “meh” references from them may eventually catch up to you and make it more difficult for you to get a better job.

  30. Antilles*

    When I was booking a hotel room for one of my coworkers, I asked her for the hotel rewards number, and she mentioned that another coworker, who was traveling with her, might have one. Only then did it occur to me that I could have looked it up on a spreadsheet that I have with everyone’s travel info.
    I don’t understand this one. Was OP asking the employee for her own hotel rewards number? Because that seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask when you’re new at the job – maybe write it down so you don’t need to ask me every single time, but “hey, what’s your rewards number with Marriott so I can add it to your RSVP?” doesn’t seem like a mistake.
    Especially given that the first co-worker apparently doesn’t have a rewards number, so even if you’d checked the spreadsheet first, you would have still ended up having to ask anyways.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The only mistake was not checking the spreadsheet first, that spreadsheet may have said something about “no rewards for Martha”. I know that my spreadsheets with that kind of communal information all have that kind of details included, for the reason of “This way anyone doing this doesn’t have to bother Martha for rewards information that doesn’t exist.”

      But I agree, this one is super minor and I think they’re digging for any time they’ve ever asked a question before checking the documentation first, which we all do and is no big deal in most cases.

    2. banzo_bean*

      I think the employee gave her rewards number to OP and then suggested OP check the spreadsheet to make sure she got the fellow traveler’s rewards number as well.

    3. Colette*

      It’s not a terrible question – but it took the time of at least one person who didn’t need to be involved. So someone lost probably 5 minutes of work for a question they didn’t need to answer. If that happens once, it’s not a big deal. If it’s a pattern – and it seems like it is – then it becomes a bigger problem.

    4. Esther (OP)*

      It’s not that it was so terrible, but the problem is that I had that information and didn’t think to look it up in time.

  31. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I’m a big checklist maker, especially for tasks that come up every 3+ months or so (like the envelope order or k-cup order), because it’s easy to forget when it’s not something you do each day. Plus looking over the checklist is a moment to take a deep breath and feel like I’m calm and in control. Use as many calendar reminders as you can. Setting up the reminders may take a few minutes in the beginning, but then it feels like a big relief to know that you don’t have to remember, the reminder will do that for you.

  32. Project manager*

    I think you might be in the wrong job.

    I use to be an executive assistant – and I felt like I got needless criticized. I was told things like I want a ‘thoughtful’ person. And that I didn’t enjoy serving people ‘not service-oriented’. It was partially the job being a bad fit, and partially that my boss was an ass. I think the feedback in these types of jobs just feel very personal. They are also a weird niche and not many people have it.

    I’m much more successful now. I would really think about what you are good at, and take steps toward it.

    1. FormerExpat*

      +1. Your previous boss was rude, for sure. If I am reading the letter correctly, the new boss gave you some pretty specific feedback. The “gaffes” are indeed things that shouldn’t happen. Anticipating needs is exactly what I would want an office manager doing. It is great advice to think about what you are good at and pursue that. There really is nothing wrong with just not being suited for this type of role.

  33. The One with the Unpopular Opinions*

    I’ve gotten really good at anticipating needs for the people I support. What helped me get good is using checklists that I created myself until I could do everything without thinking about it, checking and using resources like lists, old invoices, old emails, etc. to see how it things were done in the past before I asked people questions), and asking myself “Have I done everything I can to make sure this task is complete. Is there anything I can do to make sure things run smoothly.”

    1. Triumphant Fox*

      One of my jobs had a bit of a revolving door for a variety of reasons and relied really heavily on process to train new hires and keep the ship afloat. Though there were a lot of things wrong there, our incredibly detailed project workflows were a godsend – even if every project was a little different, you at least had a starting point. Eventually you learn the workflows/checklists and are able to do them instinctively, but when you have a million projects at once, having a written list attached to a calendar is essential.

      I also second just stopping and asking yourself questions before going to anyone else. At this point, thoroughness may be more important than speed. Every time you make a mistake, make it a checklist. I have one for some of my projects – words that often get misspelled in our industry, people who sometimes need to review something, things I’ve forgotten before that I want to make sure are always there going forward. From the above examples, your questions may be, “Do I have this information from any past projects? Do we have a database where I could look? What did I do last time this came up? If my boss wasn’t here, how would I finish this? Does CEO/COO/boss/important person have all the information they need for this thing I have scheduled for them?

  34. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You are not stupid. You’re just in the wrong job!

    I say this as someone who falls under the Office Manager umbrella frequently throughout my career. It’s okay that it’s not for you, I’ve seen brilliant people who weren’t cut out for the job. It takes a lot of “human handling” and humans are frigging weird and difficult to wrangle. Some days I’d rather wrangle literal cats because at least cats are cute ;)

    Part of it is that you’ll want to stop getting wrapped up in things like you drink tea. I don’t drink or eat about 85% of what I buy for the office. It doesn’t matter! If someone says “We’re out of granola.” I say “Okay, it’s on the shopping list, thanks for the heads up!” then maybe you can go off on a “You know, I’ve never actually tried that granola, I’m a Cherrio’s kind of person!” But yeah, it’s all about quick communication and knowing where to look first.

    In my life, there hasn’t been anyone to ask questions of, so I had that foot up in the game. So research on the last order is always my go-to option. But you’re new! You’re so new and it’s weird to get chippy at you for little things that I can also say is probably some nervousness on your part that may smooth out with time as well. You’re hurt by a former boss, so perhaps those scars are also holding you back more than the lack of awareness that you’re encountering right now. So don’t give up on yourself. Even if this isn’t where you belong long term to thrive, it’s okay. We all have those jobs that are bad fits and we have to bail out of at some point!

  35. Dee-Nice*

    I think, depending on what kinds of experiences a person has had in school, previous jobs, etc., it can be hard to break out of the habit of going to authority figures for direction/assistance, because we’re trained to do that so frequently. In assistant jobs, you really have to get into the habit of “questioning down,” so to speak, and most times asking anyone BUT your boss for help, and even then only after exhausting any other informational resources. The one exception is if you have a manager who is not your principal; then that person can sometimes be a good resource when you’re really stuck. Alison’s advice to try to imagine how you’d solve things yourself is a good one, because that gets you to anticipating next steps without having to be daunted by the specter of anticipating what someone might want. You’re not trying to read minds (at least not all the time!), you’re trying to pre-plan processes for accomplishing tasks.

  36. Jenny Grace*

    I am a very successful professional (director level CPA), but early in my career I did admin work, and I am a terrible, TERRIBLE, I MEAN DEEPLY TERRIBLE admin.
    So I mean, you can be bad at this and really QUITE good at other things.
    I mean I am comically bad at administrative tasks (I have ADHD so executive function is entirely outside of my wheelhouse, my admin manages me a great deal, and I am quite grateful)

    1. Aurion*

      Seconded. I was a mediocre admin at best, but I’m so much better at my job when I get ownership of my little piece and can call the shots on that piece, rather than anticipating needs without ownership in my admin job.

      OP, it may be that you’re not good at admin work in the end; no shame in that. I think it’s unfortunate that admin work is often the gateway to other types of office work, though I have no good answer to that conundrum either.

    2. MM*

      I just want to push back a little on the idea that ADHD always = bad at admin, which I’ve seen in a bunch of comments. (This isn’t at all to invalidate your experience or call you out specifically, I’d just seen it a bunch of times and developed the desire to say something by the time I got down here.)

      I also have ADHD and have done very well at this sort of job. The reason it works for me is that there’s always something that needs doing and I can jump from task to task pretty quickly, and shift my focus from one thing to the next. People will be coming to me with things I need to react to and problems I need to solve unexpectedly, which relieves monotony. There are also frequently reasons to get up and walk around or change my environment, even if only briefly. Crunch periods when there are a million details I need to track at once trigger my hyperfocus and stimulate me mentally even if what’s going on is inherently not that interesting. That works much better for me than sitting in an office focusing on a project day in and day out. (Ironically, the other field I’m well adapted to is academia, but there are more similarities than you’d think given how chaotic academic life really is–cloistered contemplation it ain’t.)

      Just a different experience with ADHD I wanted to share. These kinds of neurodiversity are going to manifest differently for different people, and I don’t want someone with a diagnosis to think that it automatically means certain fields are off limits. It’s really going to depend on the individual, their particular manifestations of [insert diagnosis here], and the specific characteristics of the work.

  37. Another Office Manager*

    Another Office Manager here! I have also struggled in past roles with unsupportive supervisors and was diagnosed with anxiety.

    Here’s the thing: while, yes, “anticipating needs” is somewhat of an inherent talent, I bet you do it all the time outside of work without realizing it with yourself and people in your life that you know very well. Things like: you know if you take your dad out for dinner for his birthday, he’s going to insist on paying so you ask for the check while he is in the restroom, or you know you overspend at the grocery store if you go when you are hungry so you stop and eat first, you know your aunt is tough to get off the phone, so you let her go to voice mail when she calls and you have a meeting in 5 minutes.

    The only difference is that you know yourself and the people in those scenarios really well, where you are just learning your new job. Give yourself a break for things not being instinctual for you at this early stage. In the meantime, checklists are your best friend!

    One of the biggest professional revelations from my anxiety diagnosis was learning that, in support roles, you are going to screw up sometimes and even when you don’t, someone will have Opinions about everything from where to have the Holiday Party to what kind of pens you should have ordered.

    Before therapy and medication, I would send a department-wide email announcing something, and if someone replied with a suggestion or any type of dissent, I immediately felt like I was being challenged unfairly and felt defensive. Now I have the tools in myself not to take it personally.

  38. Shannon*

    OP, please be kinder to yourself.

    A couple of those “gaffes” are not, in my opinion, gaffes. The CEO could’ve wanted the locksmith there for confidential reasons that she wouldn’t want discussed in the office, for instance. The envelope order from last time could’ve been way short, so maybe asking “Same as last time for the envelopes?” OR even better, “I think I’ll double the order from last time, since we ran out so quickly” may have come across a bit better.

    I’d work on the “asking too many questions” thing. Any manager will appreciate a question like “Hey, do you have your frequent flyer ID information stored anywhere? I checked, and it’s not in the spreadsheet with your other rewards points info.” In other words, exhaust your own resources first (even check through your email history, if you have that ability, to remind yourself if something’s come up before).

    It’s always better to ask as a last resort rather than guess, though, and I’d think any good manager wouldn’t mind the interruption if due diligence has been done.

    Also, your previous boss sounds like a total ass.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Yes the locksmith thing in particular struck me as a damned if you do damned if you don’t sort of situation. In that I’ve been the person to find a hired worker wandering confused through the building and tried to help them.

      There’s a 50-50 chance that I’d get yelled at for directing the person to the correct place, or yelled at for asking the person to wait in the lobby while I called his point person to see where he needed to be.

      1. Shannon*

        Yeah, and any job at which you’re going to get “yelled at” for things like this is probably not going to work long-term for any reasonable person.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The thing with the envelopes is that you find out what you ordered last and when you last ordered them.

      Then you can go back with a solid question of “Should we order 2500 again, those lasted us a year and a half? How many months/years worth of supplies do we want on hand?”

      We’ve always had guidelines for purchasing that say “When ordering we’re shooting for 3-6 months worth of materials.”

  39. anon4this*

    While being proactive is a good thing, especially for an office manager, these interactions sound very benign to me. Having a short conversation with a COO or asking someone how much envelopes were previously ordered isn’t “not proactive”.
    In fact, pooling your resources and asking questions is proactive. If they want you to find another solution, rather than asking direct questions to someone who knows the answer, or respect the office politics of not asking superiors questions or making chitchat (or eye contact if Johnny Depp is around), then so be it. But it’s not a reflection of your self-worth, especially given you’ve been at this job a few months, it sounds more like their culture.

  40. banzo_bean*

    Eh- I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of pushback for saying this, BUT-
    while I do think it is an admin’s job to intuit and think ahead, I feel like often there are unrealistic expectations put upon admin to be mind readers.

    Should I know that the office is low on k-cups and refill them? Sure.

    Should I never have a brain fart and ask someone for information even though it is contained elsewhere in a spreadsheet?

    Cut admin a break- your expectation that they maintain near perfect quality of work is just a scapegoat you use to blame other’s for your own shortcomings.

    End of unpopular opinion.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Everyone should cut everyone else some slack once in awhile. Most offices are forgiving if an admin forgets something along the way but it’s about the pattern. A brain-fart every blue moon, happens.

      The thing is with assistants, they’re always going to be held up to a higher standard. As backup and support, that’s what theyr’e being hired to do.

      It’s like those jobs that require accuracy ratings to be in the high 90’s. It’s unfair to a lot of people but so is constantly having billing errors or claims get delayed because of clerical errors, etc. It’s not for everyone. There’s still a cushion for error! But it is less than others because it’s what the job requires.

      1. banzo_bean*

        I agree with you. It just bums me out because I feel a lot of people look at admins as unskilled labor, and they’re often among the lowest paid staff members in a office. Makes me angry.

        I think in OP’s case it sounds like she generally is still learning the ropes, and at only 2 months in it would be hard to see a lot of these things as a pattern.

        1. Filosofickle*

          They should definitely be paid more! When I was first out of college I worked as an admin, doing long temp stints in a few offices. From what I saw, most treated their administrative staff respectfully as professionals. It was the mid-1990s in Chicago and I was paid $12-14/hour, which pretty good for the time and level. That’s the same as I could earn in my degree field, which eventually I found work in and earned exactly the same.

          That was the 90s. In the midwest. I see some companies trying to offer a similar starting pay NOW, almost 25 years later, in high-rent California. It’s really insulting, like the field has gone backwards in terms of respect.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’ve always been the highest paid in the office as an Office Manager! Anyone who treats you like you’re unskilled labor and pays peanuts doesn’t deserve and will not usually get their deeply desired support.

          I also know EA’s who make a great wage, I did when I was one of those as well. But again, when I say Office Manager, I mean I manage everything that isn’t the shop and even then, I may as well on some days the way they come trotting in here from time to time.

          I think that 2 month is still so green, that’s for sure and it takes at least 6 solid months for me to figure out a decently ran office with actual procedures set up prior to taking on the job.

          1. banzo_bean*

            Oh I’ve always been paid the least, and yes I was an office manager, managing all aspects of the office except the work of the professional staff (accountants). I barely made enough to pay rent in California, and received paltry benefits. I had trouble finding other office management work that paid better.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              You worked for absolute heathens. How awful! I have to wonder if it’s because you were in a “corporate” environment. Working within an accounting or law firm or doctors office sounds like utter torture to me and I can see where they’d really underpay their administrative staff.

              Whereas I tend to take a bit of the uh, grimy jobs within small manufacturing/construction kind of offices. I spent time doing all the office work, all the accounting work and I’ll go wedge myself into weird spots to find serial numbers on equipment and make the parts runs when necessary. So they’re like “Take my money, take all my money.” when it comes to paying me. It helps that they worship the ground you walk on after they’ve struggled to fill the spot before ;)

    2. Colette*

      I don’t think that’s an unpopular opinion at all! People make mistakes, absolutely – but they should be the exception, not the norm. There’s a difference between a highly competent admin who mistypes your name on a plane ticket vs. the admin who never spells your name right when replying to an email where it is spelled correctly. There’s a difference between the office running low on supplies because the admin is out sick vs. the office where everyone hoards pens because you have to grab them the three times a year the supply closet is stocked.

      I don’t know where the OP falls on the spectrum, but since she is being talked to about her work, it sounds like she’s leaning towards too many mistakes.

    3. Jellyfish*

      When I did admin work (and had some shortcomings), my boss also commented on the question-asking thing. They didn’t want mind reading so much as evidence that I’d given the issue some thought on my own.
      When I came to them with a problem, they wanted to know what I’d already tried or where I’d looked for a solution before asking. I think that’s a reasonable request, especially if the OP has already displayed a pattern of asking someone as a first resort.

      That said, I do agree that admins can be held to higher standards of perfection than others in office jobs, often because the job is perceived as being easy.

    4. Pommette!*

      I feel like some people’s expectations of admin workers have been set to unrealistically high levels by past experiences.

      The person who’s been running your office for 20 years was awesome at it because s/he was smart and talented at the work, and because s/he had 20 years to get to know your team and your processes and to learn to anticipate and prepare for your various needs. The person who just joined your team is going to have to learn those things, and even with the same level of skill as her/his predecessor, and even with the prior experience s/he may have, it will tame her/him 20 years to get to the same level of performance.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Yes, how after 2 months is OP expected to not be making mistakes like those listed above? She has been there for 2 months, and is presumably still figuring out office culture, schedules, job responsibilities. I could understand if there was a well defined procedure for these things or even a good manual. Reading this post through I initially wondered if OP was replacing staff who had been there for a long time.

      2. Oh So Anon*

        That’s a pretty fair criticism. That said, as someone who’s worked with entry-level-ish admins before, one of the things you can tell well before they have much organizational knowledge is whether they have some of the aptitudes and tendencies that will make the job easy for them to learn.

        Not knowing where things are or what information you keep on file? That’s fine and to be expected. Issues that involve misreading the room (like the K-Cup incident) or other things that look like they involve overarching issues with sequencing tasks begin to raise questions about their suitability. We’re also looking at how and when they ask questions, in the broader context of how they were trained and if there’s any documentation on processes available.

        1. Pommette!*

          Yes, that seems like an important distinction (and I like your illustration of it). For sure, it’s a hard job, and one that isn’t for everyone; it stands to reason that someone familiar with the role could effectively assess new or potential hires in the way you describe.

          That said, I’ve definitely seen people impute incompetence where lack of familiarity with institutional norms and team members’ idiosyncrasies were the obvious culprit. They tended to be people who didn’t have a good sense of what the admin person’s work actually entailed, or to be aware of work that was done well.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            They tended to be people who didn’t have a good sense of what the admin person’s work actually entailed, or to be aware of work that was done well.

            Or sometimes people who don’t have the emotional intelligence to step back from a situation and their annoyance over how things aren’t getting done the way they would expect them to. That’s challenging, though, if you’re already at BEC mode over someone’s gaffes.

            (Thanks, though; this is crap I have had to think a lot about over the past few years so I’m glad what I’ve come up with resonates for someone else.)

  41. Ophelia*

    Another Office Manager/Admin Assistant chiming in to add to the suggestions: I work as the admin in an events office at a school. So not only is it the regular school stuff, but it’s also the events stuff. What saves my life is my planner and Outlook and ALL. THE. CHECKLISTS. My boss is really great at this. For the first year she would send me the existing checklists for each event or task. We built checklists together. We rebuilt checklists. We made lists of where to find the checklists (just kidding). My desk looks like a tornado blew through it but my computer files are pristine.

    Checklists are so vital that our Budget and Finance office even sends out checklists for common tasks as a cover sheet for the Accounting manual. It’s the detailed how-to book for our system, but it can be overwhelming, so they make a checklist of the most common tasks. Same with our substitute system, and our travel/bus system. Even if it is a task you do a thousand times, having a physical binder next to you with a cheat sheet is so helpful. It will make sure you don’t miss a step. Another helpful trick is the planning sheet that goes with the checklist. You know what information you will need to complete the task, so it all needs to be on the planning sheet (like your rewards number). Because my job is cyclical in nature (academic year after academic year), I keep last year’s binders handy so I know what we did last year. That means I don’t have to ask the printer how many envelopes were ordered last time – I have the record right there. And if I leave this job, the next person to come in will have access to all of it.

    You can do well in your job and train yourself to follow the steps, but it will take effort and time to sit down and stare at a calendar and figure out what is coming up and what will be needed.

  42. Amethystmoon*

    I agree, office support-type work is not for everyone. I once worked with someone for several years who it was very obviously not for. Even though things were clearly documented, he still asked several times a day, even after having been there for over 2 years, basic questions that had already been documented because he asked them previously. For example, he had forgotten why our shared e-mail address was what it was, 2 1/2 years into the job.

    My suggestion to the OP would be to make yourself a Word file that is essentially a cheat sheet about your job. Include the types of questions you normally ask and either the answers to them, or resources you can go to besides your boss. That way, at least the basics will be covered. Also documenting one’s job is good because you never know when you will win the lottery, or get a different job that pays more. Then you can give the documentation to the next new person in the role.

  43. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

    This sounds more like a lack of resourcefulness rather than not being able to think one step ahead. It could definitely be exacerbated by anxiety from the previous boss. I think the way to solve this is really before asking questions, just take a deep breath and ask yourself – is there SOMEWHERE I could find this information without having to ask people? Obviously don’t spin your wheels for hours, but resolve to take a few minutes before asking questions to think about where you could find this information if everyone in your office had been hit by a bus.

  44. Anon person*

    OP, reading the letter, the response, and the comments gave me tremendous anxiety from how much I relate to what you’re describing and how all encompassing it feels. I don’t have useful advice, which is why I struggle professionally (which is why I am here, FWIW), but I do have solidarity.

  45. Lady Blerd*

    Some skills can be learned and maybe you are not ready to be the main office manager, ideally you’d be someone’s assistant and they would teach you the kind of thought process you need to do the job (think Andy in The Devil Wears Prada). It’s possible that you have supervisors who are too demanding but it is also possible that being an office manager is not the right fit for you and that’s ok. Many above suggest checklists and taking notes but that would not be of use to you in the conversation with the COO but hopefully you’ve learned that sometimes higher ups say things and expect you to read between the lines of what they are saying, Give yourself time to learn the specific needs of your job but if you see the same negative feedback over and over again, it may be a sign to move on.

  46. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

    I got this exact same feedback, and worked in very similar jobs, and there’s a slight tweak to the advice Alison and others are giving that really helped me: when you’re about to go to someone for help (ie, for the travel number, or the number of envelopes to order), rather than thinking about where you can get that information yourself, I found it really helpful to instead think: “what will Boss tell me to do next?” or “Where would BOSS get this info?” or “What will Boss ask me if I’ve already tried?”

    Just reflecting on what this person will ask me if I’ve already done has really made the difference for me! Boss will want to determine what I’ve already done to try to solve the problem, so if there are things I can think of that I haven’t tried, I know now to try them, so I don’t embarrass myself by having to say “oh, no, I didn’t try that.”

    I think what makes it more effective is that it’s not just asking yourself a familiar question (which you’ve already failed to answer for yourself). It creates a universal step at the point immediately before answering the question: what will this person ask me to try? It encourages you to try to think like that other person, which gets you in just enough of a different frame of mind to approach the question with new eyes. And it raises the standard for when I finally do send the email asking for help: rather than the standard being “I don’t know the solution to this question” the standard becomes “Have I tried everything I can think of to answer this question?”

  47. Holly Hendricks*

    What caught my attention was going off on tea after being asked to order coffee. It’s very important to close the request loop (Yes, I will order the K-cups) so that the requestor feels like the loop has been closed (in the sense of effectively handed off). While you were discoursing on “tea,” that senior employee was feeling either anxious or judgemental that you weren’t closing their loop. So always close the loop first, writing it down if necessary.

    If you are with friends, you might discuss “coffee vs. tea,” but there’s no way it will help your reputation in the office to do so with the COO. When I see this particular pattern, I often see someone impulsive who picks up and responds to the first aspect or attribute of a situation, missing the big picture. Isn’t that the essence of these criticisms? So, don’t respond to the first thing that comes to mind – breathe, note that “tea” popped up on your screen and let it go, and take in the request and close the loop that was initiated. Active listening is a skill that can be practiced through reading, group work, or with a therapist. If you are listening and hearing fully rather than verbalizing via your impulses, I think it could go a long way to seeming more responsive and taking in more of a situation.

    I like your question and self-awareness. I can see you using the feedback you get to find your way to a job that is a good fit.

  48. CubeFarmer*

    Agree with the “anxiety loop” comments. LW might want to remind themselves that getting in the habit of asking themselves “Wait, where can I look for this information?” before asking someone else could be helpful.

    I will say, thought, we have an office manager that’s, for lack of a better word, dumb. No matter how many times you give her a task to do, she treats it as if it’s the very first time she’s done it. Recurring deadlines and office routines are always a surprise to her. She requires so many reminders about how to do the simplest of tasks, that sometimes it’s easier to just do it myself. I know it’s frustrating, and embarrassing, for her to be continually needing assistance from people who are probably rolling their eyes that she can’t remember (again) how to do really, really basic office tasks. But, at the same time, she’s shown zero self awareness that she needs to improve.

    If it were up to me, she’d be on a PIP with the idea that if things don’t improve markedly and permanently within a six months, she’d be asked to leave.

  49. Dana B.S.*

    I would say that the potential problem is feeling the need to act *right now* on something. Yes, you should work as expediently as possible in all situations. But that doesn’t mean skipping over steps. Most people are willing to be patient if it means things are done right the first time and some won’t even notice that it took an extra 15 minutes or couple of hours extra.
    -The locksmith can stand in the lobby and wait while you figure out why he’s there.
    -Your coworker doesn’t have to be on the phone when you book the hotel room if you need to look things up – just send the confirmation when it’s done.
    -When ordering supplies, you can write out a script before you call (I have literally written out word-for-word what I would need to say when making calls early in my career).

    The thing with the COO is the most concerning. I mentioned up-thread that it might mean that the COO doesn’t really have faith in your ability to deliver on certain requests if you don’t confirm your understanding. So it’s possible that there have been a lot of little things that seem off somewhere (not mentioned to you) that might lead to this impression.

  50. Sleepy*

    I am about to take a role where I will be someone’s supervisor who I think functions pretty similarly to this. This person is super competent and a stellar employee in so many other ways, so I do want to agree with others that I don’t think this trait is correlated with stupidity or incompetence. With this employee, it seems to come down to anxiety and personality. In fact, the smaller the task, the less capable she seems to be of doing it on her own. With a big project, she can plan and execute multiple steps just fine, yet she comes to me asking “How many pizzas should I order for the upcoming event?” or “What’s the capital of Arkansas?” even though the information isn’t hard to think of or look up. She really just seems to have a lot of anxiety and feels better when she can get someone else’s opinion.

    Now, I will say, I do find this trait VERY irritating. This person constantly interrupts me and stops my concentration on tasks that are way more important than how many pizzas to order. Previous Boss was really tolerant of this trait so I’m trying to also be tolerant of it while I transition to being her supervisor, because I don’t think it’s good to go in and start criticizing people right away.

    If you feel you might be experiencing something similar, my advice would be to ask yourself, “Who in this office would it be appropriate for me to bat questions around with?” That person probably isn’t your boss, but if there’s someone like another assistant, or a receptionist, or someone who’s a bit more open to chatting or bouncing ideas around, you could use that person as a resource rather than going directly to your boss.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      Oh God, I’ve worked with people like this. I always start to feel like the Bobs on Office Space. “What is it… that you would say… that you DO here?” I mean, the point of having people in these roles is that I DO NOT HAVE TO stop and think about these kind of issues.

      “So if we release to Sydney and Tokyo first, that gives us 9 hours to migrate before… yes? No, I don’t know off the top of my head whether the DFW or Dallas Love Field airport is closer to the client’s office. Let Me Google That For You.” “Well, we CAN have it ready in six weeks, but that puts the release into the holiday season, which we normally avoid. If we hold it until January… yes? A 12″ pizza feeds 4, I guess, and there are 100 coming, so 25? What TOPPINGS? IDGAF, flip a coin or whatever.”

      I’m sorry, but after a while it starts to feel like, what are you for, if I have to pre-digest tasks this much?

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I think sometimes the people who feel they need to ask about stuff like ‘how many pizzas’ probably were trained that way by a micromanager boss.

      Some offices just have that culture that EVERYTHING no matter how trivial or minute has to be run by the head honcho in a dammed if I ask/dammed if I don’t ask scenario. Typically you’ll realize boss is annoyed if you ask, but it’s better than the hell to pay if you ordered wrong!

  51. AMPG*

    OP, I’ve had an admin assistant who was a little like you. She was smart, dedicated, and pleasant to work with, but her job required a very high level of attention to detail, with potentially serious consequences (things like flights and hotels that are a big problem to get wrong), and she just couldn’t get to the level she needed to be at. She would be about 90% great, but would miss things just often enough (and never the same thing twice) that I found myself having to double-check all her work, which was just too much for me. She ended up in a job where she was doing a lot of client outreach and relationship management, and I gave her a glowing recommendation because those were strengths of hers. I would suggest thinking about what aspects of your current job you excel in, and thinking about other types of jobs that have those skills as central to the position.

  52. I coulda been a lawyer*

    There are some general things an office manager needs to stay ahead of, like office supplies, travel arrangements, hosting a conference, etc but most of it does depend on the industry, company, and culture. Plus Office Manager can entail quite a few disparate duties at some companies. I’d recommend also joining a professional administrator group or subscribing to a similar newsletter to get some guidance and perhaps find a mentor. Many here don’t understand that if you go back to strictly clerical work, you may NEVER get back up again, although that depends somewhat on your age. Good luck OP!

  53. Louise*

    I’m joining in on the chorus of, you’re not stupid, just probably not in the right job.

    I get the sense that situations like this may arise because people assume that being an office manager doesn’t take any real “skill” — that it’s something anyone can do and that if you can’t do it, it must be because you’re dumb (as opposed to just having a different skill set). Being an office manager takes some strong executive functioning, organization, and proactive, solve-it-yourself skills, and it’s totally okay if that’s not where you shine! I do think if we as a culture have office manager and other admin roles more respect, fewer people would find themselves in the OPs shoes.

  54. anon9*

    I was reading your letter and agree with Alison that some lines of work are sometimes not where people naturally shine. I certainly do not shine in roles where I have to anticipate people’s needs and have a shifting expectation bar (some people don’t care if there are no K-Cups, some people will see the lack of K-Cups as a provocation, a third will just be inevitably mad that they don’t have their favorite flavor). However, I am 100% of the mind that anyone can do anything so put it out of your mind that you are somehow not inherently intelligent enough to do this job. I mean, even here, the only egregious thing on your list was the K-cup incident. Unless your point was to advocate also ordering tea for the non-coffee drinkers, it’s very much a “it is your role to handle the order, they are out, just order.” It doesn’t sound like your boss would just be satisfied with their feedback being worked on…your old boss is the specter triggering your anxiety.

    You have everything you need to succeed – for one thing, you recognize instances, albeit in the aftermath, of how you could have been more in-the-moment efficient. Would it help to write down things you do often and have a “plan of action”? It might slow you down a little in the moment but after a while, it will become routine. Let your boss know you are hearing the feedback and working on improving. Identify what you are doing well – office managers often do a lot of work in the background and you don’t realize it until they are on vacation how much they do that people don’t notice. Unfortunately, it’s one of those jobs that people only seem to notice when something goes wrong.

  55. TXAdmin*

    So, I can actually relate to this OP. I am an EA and I’ve lately come under fire by my boss because I routinely rush through things and make little mistakes. Individually they are not issues but they are part of a larger trend of me consistently not providing accurate data- be in inviting all the right people to a meeting, not highlighting all the right columns, etc.
    It’s tough to hear and it’s hard to realign my thought process to really look deeply at the work I’m doing. I’m so used to go go go, do do do. And I’m having to slow down big time to make sure I stop making mistakes.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      One thing that helps is if you double-check your work after the fact. I’m not talking about immediately following the task either.

      So you’re highlighting a report for the boss. Go through and do that. Then put it to the side and do something else. Then go back to the report and see if you missed anything that needed to be highlighted. Sometimes if you give your brain a chance to “reset” and your eyes to “refresh” you’ll catch things.

      This doesn’t work well if you have a boss that throws a report at you, says “Do it and I need it by my 12pm meeting” when it’s 11am and it’s a 30 minute task of course. But if that’s the case, that means your boss sucks and of course you’re going to miss details when you’re living in crunch-time all the time.

  56. Gora*

    My boss considers this a problem-solving skill, and I think she has a great way of training for it which Alison referenced: She always asks “How would you solve this problem if your supervisor was sick or otherwise unavailable?” Also, what tools do you need that would smooth the way the next time this comes up?

    But yeah, a lot of it is also personality based, and striking the right balance with your workplace about how hard you lean on others to get info and problem solve.

    1. Lady Blerd*

      I try to do this more and more for my employees. One example is in when they often hand me some paperwork to sign when I’m not the authority. Now, rather then just say I’m not the one who can sign off on something, I try to get them to think through the process so they figure out whether who has the authority to do so.

  57. A*

    It’s really hard to realize that a job might not be for you. I think it’s because as a society we think that all people should be equally suited for all jobs or be able to be trained for all jobs. I did data entry for a while in college and was dreadful at it. I made mistake after mistake after mistake and my self confidence was destroyed because of it. It makes you think that you might not be good at any job. I’m excellent in my new job though and have been here almost 15 years. The problem solving skills are an issue that you’ll run into in any job though so I think you need to practice that.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      It’s hard to get out of admin/service work, especially if you are terrible at aspects of it. I, for example, cannot deal well with upset people, and I can’t find a job where I am not constantly dealing with upset people because there are no longer just data entry jobs. I was much better at data entry because it wasn’t people management, but data entry only no longer exists for me to get. OP may need to utterly change fields to not be “assisting.”

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Agreed. Well, sort of. Being bad at admin/service jobs often just leads to a vicious cycle of getting increasingly worse jobs of this type that are either less forgiving of a learning curve or, worse, have such poor standards that you end up internalizing bad habits and losing your sense of self-efficacy.

        Then there’s the reality that regardless of changing fields, there are some people who need to develop skills to develop to hold a job anywhere. Someone I know who has really serious rejection sensitivity dysphoria issues (and yes, diagnosed ADHD) – to the point of feeling incredibly intense shame over asking anyone a question at work – is trapped in admin jobs that she’s not good at but marginally keeps. A big part of the reason she isn’t good is her difficulty in accepting feedback and asking for assistance. She thinks that a lot of her problems would be solved by becoming a coder. Retraining in a new field might give her a bump of confidence, and maybe it’s better for how her brain works, but I don’t see how she wouldn’t run into problems unless she addresses some of the underlying issues.

        Your situation sounds kinda toxic and full of bees – why are there so many upset people that you have to deal with? Even with people management, there’s a lot of settings where constantly dealing with upset people isn’t the norm. It doesn’t really sound like you’re bad at your job so much as you might be dealing with something really dysfunctional?

  58. Allypopx*

    My sympathies, OP. It sounds like you’ve sort of ended up in this career path out of momentum – as many of us do! That makes it hard to break out and hard to take the time to figure out what you are actually good at. There are a lot of comments about executive dysfunction disorders upthread (I made an ADHD association before reading the long thread on autism) and if any of that resonates with you – look into it! But you also may just be misaligned for this job and you don’t need to force your brain to work differently to make up for it. I hope you can either find a way to make it work or find something you’re happier doing.

    Also echoing: 2 months is NOT a long time and don’t carry trauma from your old job into this one. You had a bad boss before. Let that toxicity go and start fresh.

  59. Lifeandlimb*

    Hey OP! You remind me of when I started working. I had several admin roles that involved similar responsibilities. It can be quite a thankless job. An office manager does need to take initiative, and in doing so, sometimes risks getting it wrong. That’s ok! Like me, you may not have the natural personality traits for the role (I certainly had my fair share of scoldings in the first few months), but you can probably build them up.

    First, you may want to consider what this job is worth to you. How badly do you want to be a good office manager? Are there other jobs that can provide what you seek? If you think it’s worth it, here are a few things that helped me:

    – AUTOMATE as many things as you can. That is, write down the steps needed to do certain things, so you don’t have to remember everything. Use email templates so you don’t have to type everything out. Set up monthly recurring orders for office supplies. Hopefully that’ll take some of the burden from you.
    – OBSERVE everyone’s working styles and make a mental note of how busy and stressed they seem. Then think, if I were this person, what would I want and not want, to get my job done effectively and on time? This would include a temporary contractor like the locksmith.
    – Write down and GROUP your tasks and ideas each day into 3 categories:
    1. Urgent: do this now!
    2. Rather important: should do sometime today
    3. Not urgent: address at a better time (This can apply to conversations like the K-cup situation with your COO)

    It sounds like you had a hard boss. Don’t take people’s insults too personally, but see your interactions as an opportunity to keep improving. Good luck!

  60. M*

    OP — can you get subscription services for items so they come when you need them? Like with the K Cups. You should never have the COO tell you they need to be filled. Maybe go into the kitchen and office supplies and monitor when they look like they need to be resupplied. When you order them maybe say you need new K Cups every 30 days or so then have them ordered every 30 days and if you need new paper every 90 days then set up a system then to order. This may help make your life more simple. Try and find hacks to help you out. And if it’s easier to put say the travel information in folders or binders instead of online then do that. Good luck!

  61. No name this time around*

    I can so relate to this.

    Like some of the commenters below, I’m on the spectrum, which in my case means that subtexts tend to sail riiiiiight over my head.

    A couple things that have helped me a lot in slowing down and listening and anticipating others’ needs are meditation and improv classes.

    Meditation encourages you to just be in the moment, experiencing sensations and emotions without necessarily labeling them; it’s also a respite from the go-go-go of the workplace. It took me a few tries and a few teachers before I found a good fit, but it was worth the effort. Slowing down and being patient with myself and others makes me a better human, in the workplace and beyond.

    Improv class forces you to pay attention, very close attention, to others. It teaches you to literally read the room, and it really shows you the difference between those who can read the room and those who can’t. (I’m generally awful at reading the room, but now at least I’m self-aware about it and striving to get better.) And it’s fun.

    And yeah, support roles may not be your strong suit. They’re certainly not mine! I’ve only held one such job, and I hated it as much as it hated me. I am good at following directions and carrying out established processes, not . . . well, improvising.

    Good luck to you.

  62. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I’m going to play contrarian here.
    1. Sometimes a person *DOES* think ahead — and gets scolded for not making the same decisions that the manager would have made.
    2. Sometimes a person *IS* organized — but an office is so chaotic that things slip through the cracks.
    When someone gets scolded often enough for things beyond her control, and when she’s scolded often enough for not choosing the same arbitrary path to an end, she starts to expect failure and gets trained to ALWAYS let the boss micromanage.
    I long-ago had a couple of toxic jobs where these things happened to me. Once I was reordering pens and followed instructions SOP to save costs and buy store brand office supplies — but I got scolded because in THAT particular instance, the president wanted a particular brand. They hadn’t told me, but I was the idiot. Once I was urged to complete three tasks on critical deadline — which I did, but in the process I skipped a lunchtime printshop run, and got scolded because that was unacceptable. They hadn’t told me, but I was the idiot.
    So OP — think if you have been set up for failure in the current job by a bad first manager. If any of this rings true, remember to tell your CURRENT manager how your PREVIOUS manager reacted — if you would have been scolded for not checking with her for the envelop order, for example. I had micromanagers — and it took me years to get out of the habit.
    Personally I eased into it by sending FYI emails (aka “CYA”). “I’m reordering business cards with the new logo, and using the same specs as last year’s order. I can change that until tomorrow at x o’clock.” “Marketing wanted me to release the X document today, and I told them I’m not allowed to do that because we’re waiting for agency listings. Right?” Over time I rebuilt confidence to cut back.

    1. linzava*

      Yes to all of this!

      I’ve seen it happen so often, it ruins really good admins before they have a chance to start. This is so on-point, gas-lighting admins is a real thing and what I read in the post was, “You’ve been here 2 months, why can’t you read my mind yet?” The myth that we anticipate “somehow” is very wrong and harmful, we anticipate based on previous behavior and previous tasks. Expecting perfection of a new employee is living in fairly land.

      Not trying to be a jerk here, but we already are underappreciated, underpaid, and underutilized a lot in our careers, don’t put expectations of perfection on someone 3 years in the career and 2 months in the job. OP probably needs practice finding healthy workplaces, because those examples OP listed are ridiculous. If a manager criticized me for them, I’d be job hunting, not changing careers.

  63. WantonSeedStitch*

    Oh man, reading this, I felt so much sympathy. I started out my working life as an administrative assistant, and I was a terrible one. Having a boss who made me feel about three inches tall didn’t do much to help me get any better at it. (Let me tell you, that “you’ll just make a different blunder” comment reeeeeally reminded me of my old boss!) I was coming to the conclusion that I would never be any good at a job in my life. It turned out I was just in the wrong job. I was not cut out to be in an admin or office manager role at all. I ended up temping (yes, mostly as an admin) for a while until I got a job in a place where there were plenty of ways for me to move out of an admin role and into a role that was more suited to my skills. Is it possible you might try to look for a move into an entry-level position in another kind of career path within your organization? Think about what interests you most about the place where you work. Could you potentially get an entry-level position in sales, or human resources, or something else where you can start focusing on a kind of work that’s not just standard office manager stuff? You might find that there’s something else that will really let you shine as an employee, and make you feel really good about yourself! I wish you all the luck in the world, because reading your letter felt like reading a letter from myself fifteen years ago, and you have my sympathy.

  64. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’m not sure that it’s an issue with anticipating other’s needs so much as not trying to resolve something yourself before going to others. And I wonder if having the critical boss has made you doubt yourself to the point that it’s causing you to make more mistakes. But Alison is right – not everyone is suited for every type of job and it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough or not smart enough. I’ve had team members push me to try for leader/manager roles but I know that I have no desire to manage people, nor would I be good at it. So I manage projects instead of people.

  65. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    When I first started in the work world, my mother gave me a piece of advice.

    If you have to go to your boss with a question or issue, have a couple of solutions ready to go. So, to continue to beat a dead horse: ‘Boss, I notice that we are low on K-cups. I’m happy to order them; however, I also did some research on another coffee system/pot/pod/whatever and noticed the different system will be better/cheaper/faster/whatever. What do you think?’ And you do this when boss has a moment, not when they are rushing to a meeting or hurrying to catch a flight. It shows that you’re thinking about this issue beyond just the robotic ‘MUST ORDER K-CUPS.’

    The act of coming up with these solutions makes you stop and thing about the problem a bit and often you will discover that you don’t actually need to talk to the boss at all, but if you do it demonstrates that you’ve at least given some thought to the issue rather than expecting boss to problem solve every part of your job. You’re an office manager – you’re expected to manage the office, including solving problems when they arise. If a problem comes up, and you truly can’t come up with any solutions, and it’s high enough stakes, then you go to your boss.

  66. MrIndy*

    I can’t tell you what to do in your situation, but I can share what works for me. Checklists can be great – but I have found that for myself personally, checklists give me tunnel vision. Checklists inhibit my brain’s natural processing of independent and abstract thought.

    I have conditioned myself to stop each time I feel the need to ask someone else a question, and in that moment ask myself what that person would tell me. I run through the narrative from their point of view . This shift from reactive to proactive based behavior has truly changed my way of thinking. It serves me extremely well as a project and program manager, where coming up with solutions before you share challenges with a wider audience is a much-needed skill.

    I wish you success!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Have you tried using a checklist after the fact?

      I have check lists but I never really use them in terms of “each one needs to be ticked off before moving to the next one.” kind of thing. Which I can see how that’d create the tunnel vision you’re talking about.

      I go through all the steps that are pretty solid in my mind on any given task. Then when I’m doing my “self-check” work, I glance at the check list to make sure it’s got all the bullet points. I use them just as things to check against a finished product, so I’m not sure if that’s the normal way that most people do or if they’re going through it and checking them off as they go, which would trip me the ef up for real.

      1. MrIndy*

        I have tried the ‘after’ checklist, and my personal problem is that I train my brain to expect the checklist. I am just terrible with checklists. Instead, I borrow from Agile methodology, even when not in development. I tell myself a story, and make sure that I can walk through the story and get my expect result. As an example, for the coffee scenario here –

        “As a admin, I want to make sure that I have enough coffee to last a month, so that the entire office may enjoy coffee all month long and not run out.”

        I would run through this and question things like: “What’s the process for making coffee?”, “Are there dependent processes such as a special cleaner for the Keurig?”, “Are supplies needed such as filters?”, “How many people are in the office, and what was the last supply order size?”, “Did the supplies last or did we reorder prematurely?”. When I think of things as a semi-linear flow it works better than any checklist, because it makes me consider things that may evolve or change.

  67. Consultant Catie*

    I think what I have to say might be a little controversial here but – OP, maybe the people you’ve been getting this feedback from expect the office hierarchy to be a bit more stratified than the way you’re operating. To me, it seems like there’s a pattern in your examples – going to your boss for “small stuff,” chatting with the CEO, etc. – that shows you acting like your organization is fairly flat. Which, it may be! But in some organizations, there is a definite, stratified space between people and their bosses.

    Perhaps if you decided to be a bit more formal (I don’t want to say “afraid” of your boss and the CEO, but more respectful of the hierarchical difference?), that would cut out those instincts to chat or to use your manager as a first resort rather than last resort.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      I wouldn’t call that controversial. That might have something to do with how OP is being perceived, especially because the CEO and COO situations didn’t really reflect well on the OP (and by association, her boss).

      It would be helpful for the OP to remember: The further away someone is from your in the office hierarchy, the more likely it is that they’re requesting something of you rather than starting a shooting-the-breeze conversation when they’re talking to you.

      The other component of this, at least in my experience, is that the easier you make people’s lives and the better you make your boss look, the more acceptable it is for you to treat the organization as being flatter. If you’re not coming to your superiors with a lot of stuff you can handle on your own and you’re anticipating/meeting their needs well, there’s a lot more bandwidth for them to have interactions with you that are about building rapport.

  68. Koala dreams*

    Firstly and most importantly, making mistakes is a part of the process of learning. That feeling of dread is supposed to make you remember your tasks better. Sadly, dread and office work is a bad combination, so let the dread go as best as you can and focus on seeing mistakes as a learning experience.

    Oh, the coffee example! It speaks to me. I hate when people say things like that (we’re out of coffee) and really mean: order more coffee, we’re out, and by the way, make sure to order more before they run out next time, I’m too busy to remind you and anyway it’s your job.

    You seem to be steps ahead of me since you managed to infer the subtext and order the coffee after the conversation. Go you!

    For small tasks like ordering coffee and letting trade people in you can use calendar reminders and checklists.
    Every X check (coffee, tea, napkins…) You can see previous orders and find out how often and what brands.
    Ask trade people (name, company name, purpose for visit…) before letting them in.
    After a while you might remember more and more things without relying on your lists.

  69. linzava*

    Hi OP,

    Office Manager with over a decade of experience here. From my perspective, most of the issues you listed sound very much like new job acclimation issues, with the exception of the k-cup thing. Though, with your previous job, I would chalk that one up to feeling like you have to justify everything, you don’t want to continue that habit as an office manager.

    A lot of people assume we anticipate needs, a little secret, those of us who can are crazy organized. I have monthly checklists, weekly checklists, daily checklists, documentation on previous processes, and a “downtime” project list. My “downtime” project list is full of projects that will streamline my own processes and cut work time down, allowing for more “downtime” projects. I also keep a weekly “to do” list on a pad next to me. When something comes in, the due date goes right in and I schedule myself to complete it a week ahead. If you work on your time management and organizational skills, you will be good at this job.

    As far as your fears, I had one job where I was constantly criticized. It really made me wonder if I was as good as I thought, but then I realized, out of all my jobs, only one thought I was bad, and this lady had some serious emotional issues. You have to put people like that out of your mind if you want to stay in this line of work, confidence is a really important part of efficiency because, if you’re always second guessing yourself, you waste time. I’m not saying go full bore ahead and assume your doing something right if you aren’t sure, but anticipating negativity can make things worse.

    With over a decade of experience, I make a lot of mistakes in my first 3 months at any job, it’s a new process and new personalities. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people don’t reserve “new employee patients” to office managers and expect us to be as perfect as their last office manager. I suspect, because the job is basically the glue of the office, they’re especially fearful that they made a hiring mistake. I never sweat this period, most good ones don’t, it’s fun to watch them once things click, they’re so happy once they realize they got a good one. Keep in mind, I’ve had to clean up after bad ones, a bad office manager can do a lot of damage, so I don’t blame new bosses for being fearful.

    If you are or want to be an organizational master, stick with it. Write everything down, even if you don’t use it later, write everything down. Build your lists and check them every morning, routine is your friend. There should be ample time in your schedule to handle little tasks you are given with a short turnaround time. Your goal should be organizational perfection; you will never reach it, and that’s okay, but you will find that your job is easier when you’re 3 steps ahead of everyone else. They think it’s magic, but it’s just a little slight of hand.

  70. Lonely Monster*

    My first boss use to tell people during reviews that everyone has what she would say ” you’ve reached your level of competency.” Meaning that people only advance to the level that they are able to work and be competent.

    I believed her because I was 19 and it was my first job. After 3 years, I learned from watching her that it was her way of preventing good employees from leaving for better jobs, denying promotions, and justifying giving bonuses to her favorites.

    For those three years I was working full-time third shift, which was damaging my health and preventing me from going to school. (I learned that I’m not cut out for 3rd shift).

    Her reason for discouraging me from applying to another job? Her exact words:

    “Because I was the best 3rd shift worker she ever had and she didn’t want to lose me.’

  71. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    Sounds like she’s had terrible managers. Everyone who works for me goes through this to some extent. There’s always a point when they’re not new anymore and they’re still coming to me with things they could find out for themselves. That’s when I start coaching that and it tapers off after that.

  72. AudreyParker*

    I hope this isn’t an inappropriate tangent, but I’d be curious for others’ input: I’m one of those people that fell into admin work because I had a liberal arts degree; currently in job search and feel like the only “non-experienced” level jobs out there are admin positions. Is there actually a straightforward non-admin option for me or the OP (if she realizes this role is just not suited for her) to target that doesn’t require going back to school?

    While I’ve made it through various positions with minimal negative feedback, I’ve found them all incredibly stressful — I think maybe the reason I’ve done ok is because I just consistently expend all of my energy trying to stay on top of things. I would never describe myself as a particularly good admin or office manager, though, if only because my internal experience of it has been so miserable. (Just reading the comments here has stressed me out!) I’ve also never worked anywhere that kind of position would ever lead to anything different, so am wary of considering it a stepping stone.

    1. Skipped A Step*

      I managed to skip the “Admin Work” level of entry-level jobs. I had a few internships and graduated during the recession. FINALLY I was hired as a Coordinator. I’ve also seen people get hired as Assistant/Junior XYZ as their first job out of college. They were not office manager roles.

      It is considered a stepping stone in industries like advertising. I’ve known quite a few people who got promoted after spending about a year as a Receptionist or Admin Asst.

      1. AudreyParker*

        Good to know! I’ve always worked places where you get pigeon-holed, and people are totally confused if you ask after development opportunities. Will have to keep an eye on the advertising co’s — thanks!

    2. Oh So Anon*

      Depending on what you like vs. don’t like about admin work, project management, especially at a larger organization, is a realistic career path for some former admins. You would still need some continuing education (but not full-on “going back to school”) to get your PMP certification eventually, though.

      1. AudreyParker*

        My last position was actually project management oriented, partly because I’d done a bunch of coordinator work previously as well; still wasn’t a great fit, although at least it was more independent. I’m not finding much available in the “junior” or coordinator zone in the current job market, though — it’s all either much higher PMP level or going back down to admin work. Just frustrating to keep having to apply for jobs I know I’m going to struggle with because there’s not really another lower level option, so wasn’t sure if I was missing something!

        1. Oh So Anon*

          I hear you on that one. I’m not a PM myself, but I’ve had entry-level direct reports and grad school interns who had similar problems finding “junior” coordinator work that was actually on a project management track.

          It’s kinda like shooting fish in a barrel because what a specific job is looking for from a coordinator really varies, even within the same industry. In my own org, the project coordinator I work most closely with does a pretty much equal mix of facilitation and research support stuff; someone with a similar title in a similar department is effectively an office manager. Our former colleague who now works at a similar org as a coordinator does 100% project management. All three of the people were former admins who weren’t quite at that PMP expert level yet, and applying for stuff that had titles like coordinator or “project officer”.

          I’ll tell you what I tell other folk: unless it’s at a really hierarchical (and possibly siloed) org, most of these types of jobs are going to have something in the description that doesn’t play to your strengths, but job descriptions aren’t necessarily written to be fully reflective of what a hiring manager needs or is looking for. It’s really annoying and inefficient, but sometimes the only way to get a feel for this stuff is to apply and interview and network with people in your target industries.

          1. AudreyParker*

            Ha, yeah, “project coordinator” is probably the least useful/most ambiguous search term ever! Often it’s actually a more advanced or specialized role, too. I also see it primarily in construction, which is totally not my field. I really saw my previous job as far beyond standard admin work (well, based on my experience of admin work) — I mean, I was managing small projects and small areas of large projects — so I guess it’s a tough pill to swallow that a lot of people read it as basically being an admin and would see it as logical I go back to that. Definitely trying to focus more on the types of orgs at this point.

    3. AccountantWendy*

      After getting both a BA and MA in a fields I ultimately decided I didn’t want to work in and wasn’t qualified for even after all that education, I went back to community college for an Associates in Accounting. 10/10 would do again. Even if you’re not ready to commit to a whole new degree, consider taking a class or two in something that interests you just to get your feet wet. My classes were inexpensive and I was able to pay cash for everything and work full time with school on the side.

      As for non-admin options that don’t require going back to school, sure there are. Lots of service industry work (I did many years working at the front desk of a hotel), data entry work, sales, etc. What you need, though, is a career. Figure out what you want to actually be doing and look for entry level jobs. I agree admin work is usually NOT a stepping stone and shouldn’t be seen as such. However, temp work can be. Temping exposed me to a lot of different jobs and office environments and helped me build a professional network. (But I also lived in a big city where decent-paying temp work was plentiful).

      1. AudreyParker*

        I definitely agree temping might be good for new grads (it was when I first graduated… although that’s how I landed in admin work). Not working out for me now that I have more years of experience under my belt, which is one reason I was trying to just find something specific to target off the bat.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I got into accounting by doing a data entry gig that turned into a AP clerk job right out of high school. I spurred off into office management myself because I like the variety but I could have stayed or could return to strictly accounting related work with my experience now.

      I don’t have a degree at all and used it as a stepping stone despite that.

      It’s about finding the right office for you. If you’re within jobs that want you to be a forever-admin, they’re not the right fit.

  73. AccountantWendy*

    Esther (OP)*, I’m so empathetic to your situation. I was an office manger and I found the work challenging (and not in the fun, interesting way) and was fired. I switched careers to accounting, and it’s made me really happy!

    I would offer you similar advice to Alison’s: figure out if you WANT to be good at this job and continue a career in office management, and if so, take your boss’s feedback to heart and really focus on learning from each situation and growing as much as you can. It sounds like you are receiving direction and improving based on that, and that goes a long way (I think) in showing you to be an engaged employee. Or, if you decide Office Management is ultimately not for you, figure out what you’re good at and see where what jobs align with that. Try to take each day on its own and don’t be discouraged. You are so much more than your job!

  74. AnonAndFrustrated*

    Are you perhaps premenopausal or menopausal? Not asking to be rude, it’s a serious consideration as many, many women find themselves in a brain fog or with serious memory issues during these years & a lot of women don’t even realize it could be the cause. Just putting another consideration out there in case it could be related to that. If it could be, talk to your doctor or a menopause specialist, there are treatments that can help!

    1. Esther (OP)*

      Nope, not premenopausal. I’m only 33. This isn’t really any more brain fog than usual, just my personality and the flaws I’ve always had.

  75. Chronic Overthinker*

    My goodness OP I feel like I am in the same boat! I too had an EXjob as an admin in a fast paced, no-nonsense independent role (though not as an OM) and it did not go well. Any time I asked a question or made a mistake I was ridiculed and/or made an example of rather than quietly or effectively coached. Now I’m in a similar, though much more relaxed position with a similar hands-off management style but still have the lingering feelings of doubt due to EXjob. I’d like to think that EXjob put the anxiety/fear into me and now am afraid to ask questions for fear of being ridiculed/made an example.

    I know how you feel OP. This is either a time to sit down with your immediate manager and have a frank discussion or maybe re-evaluate your skills and abilities and find something more in line with your strengths.

  76. Hedgehug*

    Hi OP!
    I am an office manager with roughly 10 years experience, so I have some perspective in this field.
    First of all, of course you are not stupid, or self-absorbed. Knock that idea off.
    Being an office manager requires you to be a good/excellent multi-tasker and needing little supervision. As Alison said, this is not necessarily something that can be taught, it’s just a talent or trait someone has had probably since childhood.
    That being said, there are some things you can do to improve. I don’t know how many people are there that you interact with, so take this with some discretion.
    1. Regarding trying to be more forward-thinking and proactive, at the start of the day when you come in to the office ask yourself, “How can I make ____’s day easier today?” Fill in the blank with your manager’s name, co-worker/s, everyone you’re responsible for, etc. That question at that start of the day will ideally trigger your memory to do things you might have forgotten to do. Like ordering K-cups. Or envelopes. Or printer paper. Toner. New pens. Post-it notes, paperclips. Whatever it is.
    2. I suspect that since you are an office manager, and people are bothering you about supplies, then part of your responsibility is to frequently take inventory. This means of your own initiative, you need to get up, go to the supply room/closet, the cupboards, the printers, etc. and physically take inventory. You should have a checklist/spreadsheet for this. If you are waiting for people to tell you when something is out, or almost out, then that is not correct. Your office should never run out of something unless the supplier had an issue. That is likely why you were reprimanded about the K-cups. And possibly you were seen as trying to avoid blame by stating you don’t drink coffee.
    From the tone of your letter, you seem like a genuinely kind and friendly person. Unfortunately, you are in a role where people are always wanting/needing things from you, so in my experience, people don’t want to know why something did or did not happen, they just want a “got it! I’m on it!”. This is going to sound derogatory, but the reality is, when you have a role where people want things from you, they tend to look down one you and see you as a waiter/waitress. Fair or not fair, it’s how it is. If I’m at a restaurant and I ordered coffee and my server forgot to bring my coffee and they said, “oh sorry, I personally don’t drink coffee so I forgot about your order”, well, you can see how that would not be received well.
    The good news is, there are things you can do. If you have not done so already, then before the end of today, I implore you to make a physical checklist. By physical I mean not on your computer. An actual printed piece of paper on a clipboard. I’m a tactile person, so this is what works for me. Even my day planner is an actual book that I write appointments in (my office environment allows for this because it’s just me, my boss, and 2 part-timers). Write everything on that checklist with little tick boxes you are supposed to be doing that you have trouble remembering to do. Write down all of the supplies. “Check printer paper supply”. “Check coffee/tea station supplies”. “Check stationary supplies”. etc. Laminate it. Get a dry erase marker. Some of this is trial and error, knowing when to order things before they run out, estimating how many of one thing people go through in a week. Staples has next-day delivery where I am, so they are my go-to when I need something quick. Inventory should be something you do once a week, like on Monday or Friday. AND, I know you are now leary of approaching people given your received negative feedback, but this is the appropriate time to do a quick verbal run of “hey guys I’m doing inventory, is there anything you want on the list before I put in my staples order?” This is not the same thing as asking people how to do something. You might even want to ask if any unusual consumption of supplies is happening that week. You might have a full supply of post-it notes, but opps! Jane down the hall forgot to tell you that at her big giant meeting in two days, she’s going to be using ALL of the post-it notes for a big brain storming activity, leaving you (and everyone else) with zero. In fact, put that on your checklist too. “Any unusual supply consumption coming up next week?” I don’t work on the weekend, so sometimes I forget weekend stuff, and literally wrote on my checklist, “What’s happening this weekend?”
    Lastly, unless you work in a hospital or something, just remember, it’s not life or death. Yes, it’s your job, but I hate that you are down on yourself, thinking you are stupid. No one has ever died because the office ran out of envelopes. Allow yourself the time in your schedule to get these things sorted. I used to HATE doing inventory because people were constantly phoning me, talking to me, emailing me, I felt like I had to be chained to my desk. Then I thought, “Well wait a minute. Inventory is part of my job, so I have to be away from my desk to do that, and I get to decide when that is SO THERE!”
    And if all else-fails and you just can’t seem to get on top of this stuff, then perhaps as Alison suggested, maybe it’s just not the right role for you and the job is not doing you and your skill-set justice. And that’s ok! It does not mean you are dumb or incompetent. It means you learned what your weaknesses are and you are now the rare genius who can actually answer that stupid job interview question, “What are your weaknesses” haha. There’s probably some super crazy smart Noble Prize winning rocket-scientist out there who can’t make boxed mac ‘n cheese to save his soul, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
    And in ironic hilarity, as I am typing this comment, I just got an email from Staples advertising that they have a 10% off sale on K-cups right now, LOL.

    1. Esther (OP)*

      Thanks for the advice and the encouragement. I mentioned above that I’ve been more proactive with checking inventory and ordering supplies, and I noticed that people aren’t using the list on the fridge that much.

      But I don’t think any prospective employer would want to hear “I’m bad at anticipating people’s needs and thinking ahead” as a response to a question about my weaknesses.

  77. Esther (OP)*

    It seems like a lot of people here think I’m a bad Office Manager and that hurts. After getting a Master’s in Public Health (which was a big mistake), I tried so hard to get a job in research…or any job, really. But because of my lack of experience and my discomfort during interviews, I had to struggle for a year and a half. One day, miraculously, I got a simple Clerk Typist job due to one of my mom’s friends, who knew the supervisor. If I were as bad as some of you suggest, I wouldn’t have gotten promoted to Administrative Assistant and then Office Manager. I worked my ass off to get where I am now, and what I’d like to do is hone my skills. Not run away and look for some perfect career because then I’ll be searching forever.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m sorry you’re feeling hurt right now.

      But I do want to gently tell you that sometimes we cap out in in upward trajectory and you may have climbed up the ladder, which is great and your accomplishments are not being diminished, however you may still have reached a peak somewhere along the lines.

      I’ve seen people promoted to manager positions before and have to step out of the roles because it’s not the right fit for their skills. Despite being awesome in their prior roles and earning that try in that spot. I’ve seen people straight up fired as well because their skills were over estimated by themselves and others along the way.

      I say this as someone who also climbed in the ranks over the years in the same fashion, only without any higher education at all in my past. You earned those stripes and are right to be proud but don’t let it blind you in the realities if you aren’t suited for the job at hand.

    2. February Goshawk*

      It doesn’t matter if anyone here thinks you’re a bad office manager.
      It matters if your bosses think you’re a bad office manager. It sounds like they do, and people here have, if nothing else, confirmed that their expectations are not unreasonable.
      I sincerely hope you can take the strategies Alison laid out and make the job work for you, but … maybe you’re not the world’s best office manager, and maybe that’s just not in the cards. If that’s the case, you can accept that you’re a mediocre office manager or figure out if there’s another role that would be more satisfying.

    3. anon9*

      You are absolutely not a bad office manager. You want to improve at your work, which is way more than some people strive for, and acknowledge there are intuitive skills that would make this job easier that aren’t natural to you. That’s also fine; I am not a math person but my job requires a lot of Math Stuff^TM – I just have to be conscious of that and work a little harder to learn. Also being promoted just means you were there, applied and someone said “we need someone who can do it and I think they can do it” – it has little to do with ‘earning’ sometimes. I got a job in a different field with a 3 in it (I.e. Teapot Coordinator 3) just because I thought I was qualified, applied and someone else said “yeah, I agree.” Turns out they were desperate to get someone in the position and took a chance on someone who has 2 yrs experience in coordinating rather than the 5 yrs they wanted; it happened to work out for the best in the end. It doesn’t help to be defensive – the comments I am seeing are not attacking you.

      I think anxiety is the biggest thing people are noticing, stemming from your old boss. It’s not on anyone who is not intimately associated with your work to say you aren’t qualified. However, in your letter, you are telling us this has been a problem in the past and a problem now so it’s not an implausible leap with such limited info to say, “LW should look at other work” because we are being presented with a pattern and no attempts at solution.

    4. Close Bracket*

      Esther, have you heard of growth mindset vs fixed mindset? The fixed mindset says you are either X or not, and you are either good at something or not, and that’s that. The growth mindsent says that you can grow and improve. This applies to everything from skills to intelligence. It turns out in many cases, like intelligence, that whether or not you can grow depends on which mindset you have. There are a lot of fixed mindset readers of AAM. I encourage you to cultivate a growth mindset. If even a spectrum person like myself can learn to read indirect directives and remember to ask people how they are (and wait for an answer) before launching into whatever request I have, then you can certainly learn how to use checklists or other tools to improve on things like ordering supplies proactively.

      The first step in honing your skills might be to address the anxiety spiral left over from your last boss. If you have good benefits, you might consider working with a therapist on this. Skills are much easier to attain if you are not panicked at the thought of messing up.

      Good luck!

    5. Oh So Anon*

      It’s one thing to be in a job or career path that stretches your abilities, but it’s different to be in a situation where you’re working against gravity. You’re likely not a bad office manager, but you may be at a point where being good and consistent at your job requires things that come less naturally to you, and over time that can become exhausting. It may be too early or the wrong office manager role for you to make a decision on that now, but if the friction points stay the same over time for you it’s reasonable to start thinking about a different path.

      This isn’t about looking for a perfect career, it’s about knowing what plays to your strengths and which weaknesses you can more easily mitigate.

    6. Let’s get more data!*

      I think most of the issue, if you think you’re actually a great Office Manager and we’re missing that, is that the only data we have is all of the examples you gave us where things DIDN’T go well – and they all seem like things would normally be a trademark skill of an OM. Are you able to share some of the things you do really well as OM, some of the things you like about the role of Office Manager across companies, and some of the reasons why you think you were promoted?

    7. CarrotStew*

      Veteran teacher here (I also posted the below because I didn’t see that you had commented). Have you ever talked to your doctor about your trouble at work? If not, you might consider meeting with your primary care doctor to describe your concerns and ask for a referral to a specialist who can do an evaluation. For example, a person with concerns about overall organization and problem solving skills might be referred for neuropsychological testing to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are and get recommendations on how to improve. I’m also a big fan of growth mindset!

    8. Researchalator Lady*

      You say that you got “a simple Clerk Typist job” and that if you “were as bad as some of you suggest, I wouldn’t have gotten promoted to Administrative Assistant.” The problem with that is that we’re not talking about how good or bad you were as a Clerk Typist. It sounds like that was a great fit for you and you performed very well. The duties are responsibilities are very different from an OM, however. I

      ‘m also curious in how your difficulty interviewing has held you back from getting a research job, which you speak about as if it is your most preferred choice.

    9. Allonge*

      If I may challenge this a bit: what if you were a mediocre office manager, at best? Is that something you really want to live as all your life? (And this is absolutely a possibility, without it being a jugment on you – there are millions of people who would not be able to do it. Just as we can’t all be great reporters, or teachers, or cleaning staff, or farmers.)

      It’s great that you want to impove, mind you. And you should and you will! But… look, there are thousands of job types. I would be miserable in and terrible at some. I would be just-ok in others. It is a gift every day that I work in one that I am good at.

      Try to give yourself a chance for that gift! I trust you to know that the public health thing was a mistake, but there must have been some aspects of it that you liked. Look at vacancies, please, and try to think of yourself as something other than an office manager. It’s ok not to stick with this carreer path, even if it was the first one in your life! It does not make you a bad person, or irresponsible. And looking for a different job can be easier when you are employed, and not desperate for anything.

      1. Allonge*

        Also… I may be totally off base here, but I would like to ask: do you hear a little mental voice (yours or some relative’s) telling you that since you made a ‘mistake’ on your education, and only got so ‘lucky’ to find this one job at the time, and you were promoted fast, you absolutely _have to_ stick it out now because that is what Real People Do? That you Should Not Give UpTM? That only airheads Chase Dreams, and changing careers would be doing that?

        If that is the case, please know that most of that is not true. It’s ok to have started a type of job and decide you want to do something else. It’s ok to have finished a degree and not to work with it (it would also be ok to want to!). It’s ok to be grateful to your mom’s friend for your first job and still change tracks!

  78. Alice's Tree*

    Dear OP,

    Alison is so frequently right about everything that I’m afraid you may take as gospel her thought that maybe you aren’t cut out for this kind of job without giving yourself a fair shot. Because, frankly, your previous manager clearly did a number on you, and it seems you don’t trust yourself to be competent.

    Look at the feedback your current manager gave you objectively. Were any of those items serious errors that caused lasting problems, or was your boss simply giving you examples of the kind of hints s/he was seeing that indicated a lack of self-reliance? It seems to me the boss was saying “You tend to rely on others by asking questions instead of trusting yourself to solve problems.” If your boss wants you to trust yourself to solve problems, doesn’t that indicate your boss thinks you are capable of solving problems? Doesn’t that indicate a level of trust in you?

    When you lack confidence, turning to someone else for an answer (or over-explaining why you wouldn’t have noticed the coffee) is a defense mechanism. Get that old manager’s voice out of your head and follow Alison’s excellent advise about developing a system where you try to resolve things yourself first. You can do this!

    P.S. For what it’s worth, I’d be upset if one of my new employees just ordered the same thing we ordered last time from the printer. How would they know if I’d placed an extra large or extra small order that time for some reason? Once you’ve been there long enough to know how things run, issues like that won’t occur.

  79. Usedtobeanadmin*

    I have the experience of both working as an office admin and personal assistant and having dealt with office assistants. In college I did both office admin work and worked as a personal assistant. You 100% have to read in the extra steps. Yes, boss just asked for the copies but you noticed the toner was low so you replace it and hey there’s only one replacement cartridge left so you order more.

    I also had an extremely needy admin once and it was a nightmare. She’d come in with a question (that shouldn’t have been directed to me anyway) and just never leave. I was initially nice to her and she just glommed on and wouldn’t let go. I ended up doing most of the stuff she was supposed to do for me myself (as did the other people she was supposed assist) because I gave up after a while and it was faster to do it myself than to try to pull teeth and get her to do it (to be clear, I was not in any way responsible for her training).

  80. Phil*

    I hate office buzzwords, but, are you reactive rather than proactive? In a previous role, “proactive” was something my manager mentioned to me a few times as something to work on. It wasn’t a deal breaker in my role, just more of a “here’s how to be even better.” Having said that, it definitely made me aware of how much a leadership role (next step up, had I stayed in that department) is NOT for me.

    I might not be proactive, but on balance I’m much better at RE-active. When it all hits the fan, I stay calm and can figure out a solution. My current systems support role is great for me because of this.

    I say all this to say, if this sounds like you, maybe seek out some kind of “fixer” role where keeping a cool head in a crisis is a must.

  81. CarrotStew*

    I don’t know if someone already mentioned it, but I’m a teacher and I wonder if OP has an executive functioning or processing issue. You could meet with your primary care doctor to describe your concerns and ask for a referral to a specialist who can do an evaluation. For example, a person with concerns about overall organization and problem solving skills might be referred for neuropsychological testing to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are and get recommendations on how to improve.

    1. PolarBearFlavour*

      That’s a good idea if you have health insurance. If you went to your GP in the UK (free at the point of use and NHS services are under a lot of strain) I imagine the GP would not do anything and have to suppress a smile. Unless you can afford to pay privately to see a clinical psychologist or whoever.

  82. BE*

    I was in a situation like OP.

    Hired to do simple IT/Engineering tasks, quickly got dog piled with extra roles – Facilities, OM, accounting, and on boarding/offboarding. Whenever I pivoted from one task to fix a more urgent issue I’d be berated for ignoring the other roles – no matter what it was. If I was fixing someone’s account login when the TP was out, I’d be blasted for not doing the TP as soon as I heard. If I asked the user who can’t login to spare 5 minutes while I filled the TP, their manager (or directors) would whine about leaving someone unable to work. Even with calendar reminders, checklists and spreadsheets, something was always on the verge of running out or breaking.

    When I point out that I’m new to all the extra expectations, the response was always (literally) “figure it out”. I would pull 60 hours at the office mon-fri, come in on the weekends, and still get yelled at for not answering a phone at 3am.

    It was clear that the high-level execs knew what they wanted but were too self absorbed to sit aside with me for a small session to give constructive guidance. I wasn’t considered management, so my requests to get a second person to help me out never carried any weight and was always poo-pooed as an un-needed expense. I’m just not using my time wisely, apparently. Time I spent researching my roles was time I lost being proactive or responding to an issue.

    It took 3 years to realize just how awful of a fit I was for that role. And even almost 2 years after leaving I still take it as a personal failure that I just didn’t “get it”.

    1. Jan*

      That sounds like an awful situation and it’s good you’re out. I wouldn’t say though that you were a bad fit for the job. The job was a bad fit for you.

  83. Shoes On My Cat*

    OP, I used to work for The Ritz-Carlton. We had a standard slogan for staff called ‘antenna up, radar on!’ Effectively, this meant that we should always be on the lookout for the next step, whether it was a guest or a hotel staffer. Things like a coworker sneezes twice and you check to see if they have a kleenex-& get a package of them if not. Or we had a gentleman come in asking for help taking a tray of soup to his sick wife-it was their anniversary & she felt bad for ‘ruining it’ for him and he felt bad for her! We added tea to the tray and the bath butler went to the room to set up a bath with essential oils for sick days/sinuses. It’s really about using your empathy plus training yourself to look for the Next Step. The more you do it, the better you get, but you have to practice it all the time! Even on your friends! Plus, as Alison said, you want to think about any possible/reasonable ways to resolve a challenge as if your go-to/resource person was on the moon. Exhaust those options then go to her and ask for help! —right now my boss is annoyed with a co-worker as she left a note that the label maker was out of label tape and she didn’t know how to change it. The directions are embossed in the bottom of the machine….Boss likes her and her work, but she has a history of not attempting anything she is unfamiliar with unless fully handheld. That used to be me, too, a couple decades ago. Then I had to learn to be self sufficient and figure it out. (I was literally a hundred miles from co-workers with poor cell reception and driving back for a helper was not practical) So now I will look at a challenge and pick out a small part I can see a solution for, then that leads to a next piece I realize I can fix, until it’s done or until I hit a wall and need my boss. She loves it that I take a stab at things that-this is key- are within or on the edge of my pay grade. It takes practice! Lastly, IMAGINATION! You have to learn to look at what you see now and imagine what you could do to smooth the situation for your boss or the team you support. The more your practice, the easier it gets (yes, I did grow up into the admin a few bosses fought over. Good times!- but I certainly did not start there.) See what happens and if you hate it, well, not a good fit for you, but if it starts getting fun to be one step ahead, there’s your answer! Good luck!!

    1. Just curious*

      Bath butler? That sounds like an interesting job. Is setting up baths a full time job? Or one of many duties?

    2. Viva*

      I like this approach, it can actually be used for everything in life and any job one might have. Would make everyone’s life easier if we all looked out for the next step for each other.

  84. KJ*

    My boss in my first admin role (15 years ago) was a very tough but fair lawyer, and taught me many things, but 3 lessons in particular:
    1. Is it right? As in, don’t bring her work to review unless I’ve checked it enough to make my answer a confident Yes!
    2. Have you thought about the answer? i.e. don’t ask a question unless you’ve at least tried to answer it yourself
    3. What’s next? Lawyers will never want just the one thing, what are they going to ask me to do next? We’ve signed the forms, are they getting sent somewhere? Is that my job? Do we need a copy? We have a meeting booked, will it be a long one? How many people? Will they need catering? Are they there to sign documents? Have they been printed? Etc etc

    Esther, I’m of the opinion that it often does take a natural aptitude to anticipate someone’s needs, but it can also be learned to a certain extent, with lots of practice and good communication. I hope it works out for the best for you.

  85. Sue*

    As someone who temped for a while off and on, hold your questions at least for around lunch & end of the day if possible. Many times, my questions were answered through the day or the answer would come to me in another way before I asked them. Also, I was not “bothering” the supervisor often. This has transferred well to my executive assistant job.

  86. Luna*

    The only one that I can sort of understand as the most ‘negative’ is the one about the coffee cups and tea. It doesn’t matter what you personally drink, if it is part of your job to make sure there are enough of a certain type of cup (or item to make coffee? I’m not sure what K-cups are), then you should order them.
    The others sound like minor mistakes that can be done, since you are still fairly new to the job itself.

  87. PolarBearFlavour*

    Admin / office manager jobs often require you to be psychic. From experience, when you don’t do something or ask first you are not anticipating the needs of those you work for. When you do use initiative and do something you are then told it isn’t right.

    Really can’t win! That’s why I retrained as a teacher.

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