update: my coworker asks me to google things for her and treats me like her assistant

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker asked her to google things and generally treated her like her assistant? Here’s the update.

I found your advice and comment section very helpful! Sorry I didn’t interact more with the comments – it happened to be published during a very busy week so I went back and read everything a little bit later, and it felt a little too late to interact much, but I truly appreciate all the feedback. I found the comment section especially helpful, pointing out that, as much as I thought even gentle pushback was standing up for myself (where my predecessor didn’t even do that from what I’ve learned) that I, too, was a bit of a doormat in this situation.

The long and short of the update is Jane is no longer reaching out to me directly, but I learned a lot about how the overall company culture doesn’t really discourage this behavior. One part of the problem (that I didn’t include in the original email, but I think would have been helpful context) is that maybe 15-20% of the time that Jane emailed me it was questions directly related to my role, but she seemed to think that because I could help with things in my purview, I could also be the dumping ground for anything and everything.

I did at least mostly take your advice. I was a little bit lucky in that I had a week of PTO scheduled a few weeks after I read your advice. It ended up being a really good excuse to email Jane and say (more or less what you suggested) something along the lines of “I’ll be out next week, so if you have [questions related to my department] email X, Y, or Z. If you have anything not related to that, our department doesn’t handle that so contact your PA or another department.” I was a little worried she might think it was only for the time I was away and would go back to emailing me admin stuff after I came back, but I figured it at least introduced the idea and I could continue to reinforce it after the holiday.

As it turned out, while I was away, Jane started emailing “Alex,” who was listed on my out of office exactly the same stuff as I was getting – both questions related to our job and admin work. Alex has more or less my same role, but has been with the company a little longer. She seemed to really like Alex, because when I came back, she shifted to emailing me 50% and Alex 50%. I did the things that were part of my job, and did not do the things that weren’t (basically saying “this is more a question for your PA or some other department, please email them instead.”) For a while that worked and she reached out to a more appropriate person. BUT, what ended up changing over the next few weeks is that instead of a 50/50 split between me and Alex, she started ONLY emailing Alex.

Alex (who was close friends with my predecessor, the one who allowed this behavior to start) just went along with it and, to this day, is still Jane’s go to person for things that are her job and things that are not. I don’t know Alex *that* well (I started during Covid and have never actually met any of these people in person) but I did mention to her that I was pushing back and there might be helpful for more consistent messaging if she did too. However, she sort of shrugged and just said she didn’t mind doing it. My boss had a similar reaction, basically, “yeah, it would be ideal if that stuff didn’t land in our department at all, but if Alex really doesn’t mind I can’t force her not to.” So I sort of just let it go and relished in not getting daily emails from Jane anymore, even though the larger problem isn’t really solved.

That said, as for the larger problem, in the time since I initially wrote the letter, I’ve noticed some troubling culture in the company where this type of thing is somewhat common. There is a clear division between the “attorneys” or “scientists” and “other,” and some of the “attorneys/scientists” can’t be bothered to learn that within “other,” there are different roles with different responsibilities. Sometimes it comes in the form of them having an IT (or marketing or finance or research or mailroom, etc.) question and emailing “all of the above” or sometimes it’s more like Jane, where they find one group or one person who they think will answer everything. Some of this is because there *are* grey areas that could potentially land in more than one department (my understanding is there have been historic attempts to better define those, but people don’t really stick to them) but the more important reason is just because all of these departments have kind of let this blurring of lines go on for years. This better explains why my boss was reluctant to intervene, and why it was going on in the first place. I think, going back to way before I started, there was sort of a culture of “never say no,” that people like Alex who have been here are comfortable with, but it isn’t really me and probably means I’ll be moving on sooner rather than later.

{ 81 comments… read them below }

  1. TimeTravlR*

    Alex can and should be encouraged by her boss to push back! We have an assistant that “doesn’t mind” helping out but I (not her boss) constantly discourage it, telling her they need to figure it out or go to the right person. But, like OP, they don’t bother me anymore so at least there’s that.

  2. Clefairy*

    Man, I’m glad you got her to stop emailing her, but I’m honestly super annoyed with Alex, your boss, the lawyer/scientist- your whole company really. The lack of respect on one and, and the lack of ANY sort of backbone on the other, is such a maddening combination!

    1. Anonym*

      It’s such a weird waste of people’s skill and time – they were hired for something specific, and having someone who should be dedicated to marketing/IT/finance do the work that the PA was hired to do is a misuse of company resources.

      Good luck finding a great role where the division of labor makes sense and healthy pushback is respected, OP!

  3. Pikachu*

    ” if Alex really doesn’t mind I can’t force her not to.”

    That is literally exactly what a boss does when other people are wasting their employees’ time!!! Baffled

    1. EPLawyer*

      Yeah. Oh Alex didn’t get her ACTUAL work done because she was too busy googling stuff for Jane.

      A boss is supposed to make sure people are not taking on too much.

      The whole place is bonkers. Not GET OUT NOW type bonkers, but bonkers enough that it might not be a bad idea to start a soft job search and then ramp it up when the time comes that you feel like you did all you could there.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        I guess because Alex is fine with doing this work, the boss doesn’t feel like she’s taking on too much. Still not great, but it’s harder to argue with.

      2. Googling Things Letter Writer*

        Thank you! Yes, I’ve been sort of casually looking with the intent to ramp it up if I get too aggravated in the New Year. So far, I’ve had one phone interview, but I thought that role also wasn’t a perfect fit. I’ve never had a non-urgent job search like this where I feel able to fully evaluate the opportunity and be picky, and it’s such a luxury. Like many other commenters alluded to, this job isn’t perfect but it’s way better than it *could* be, which makes for an interesting silver lining that I can really take my time to make sure the next position is the right one.

    2. Observer*

      That is literally exactly what a boss does when other people are wasting their employees’ time!!! Baffled

      Exactly. SOO strange!

    3. Ama*

      Yeah as a boss who manages a team that often gets overly pushy requests from coworkers (we are responsible for maintaining contact info for several hundred people that is accessible to the entire staff, but we still get coworkers who treat us like we’re their living rolodexes), one of the first things I tell new employees is that if a coworker asks them for certain (very simple, easy to look up in our systems) info, all they have to do is remind them where to find the info, and if anyone gets pushy with them, I am happy to tell them to knock it off.

    4. Olivia Mansfield*

      Man, I’m glad my boss isn’t like that! He has a pretty good bead on what we should and should not reasonably do for people, and if he sees anyone starting to push the line more than just a little bit, he puts a stop to it himself.

      1. Google Things Letter Writer*

        I am OP and unfortunately not! I may have a new show to add to my list now, though :)

  4. Wisteria*

    I think, going back to way before I started, there was sort of a culture of “never say no,” that people like Alex who have been here are comfortable with, but it isn’t really me and probably means I’ll be moving on sooner rather than later.

    This is such a great example of the difference between “toxic” and “poor fit.” LW is clearly not a toxic individual. They do have their boundaries in a place that is not a good fit for this company. In a culture of “never say no” where lines between roles are blurred, a person who draws lines and says “no” will develop a reputation of being difficult.

    The company is not toxic, either. There is nothing abusive about having blurred roles. People who enjoy taking on different tasks and who feel hemmed in by strictly defined job duties will thrive at this company. And that’s ok! People get to enjoy that!

    LW does not enjoy that, however, and the realization that this is a bad culture fit is a positive outcome. I hope you are able to find a company that is a better fit for you where you can thrive the way you want to thrive.

    1. The Smiling Pug*

      Wonderfully put! Jane’s behavior and the company, although annoying, I wouldn’t really consider toxic. And I’m proud of the LW for realizing that ultimately, this company’s culture doesn’t fit.

    2. Anonym*

      I agree that the company isn’t toxic, but it’s not neutral or good either. There’s a lack of respect from SMEs toward functional staff, a misuse of people’s talent (that the company is paying for) and a resistance to pushback that isn’t conducive to optimal performance. All of those things are culture problems that are almost certainly causing drag on the bottom line, between inefficiency and talent attrition (they are going to lose OP because of it, for one).

      1. Anonym*

        To clarify, calling it “poor fit” implies that there’s nothing wrong on either party’s end, and of course, often that’s true! But in this case it isn’t, because these are clear deficits on the company’s end – the kind many companies work hard to eliminate because they’re real problems that affect performance – and I think that puts it into a third category beyond toxic and a no-fault mismatch.

      2. Jaybee*

        Sorry, are you saying that a company that isn’t min/maxing its efficiency is inherently ‘bad’? That a company that is turning a profit but not as much profit as they could have is ‘bad’? Profits and efficiency are, to you, a question of moral goodness…?

        1. Pikachu*

          I didn’t see any moral judgments in Anonym’s comment. It doesn’t make a company immoral or unethical, but it does set employees up for certain disadvantages if/when they decide to go elsewhere.

          For example, they may struggle to compete with other job candidates with a commensurate level of experience if they aren’t actually doing the job it says they do on paper. If two candidates have 3 years of teapot painting experience, but it becomes apparent in an interview that one candidate has only ever spent 60% of that time actually painting and the other 40% doing totally unrelated tasks (and not like taking painting classes or learning new techniques, but more like buying packing peanuts and printing address labels), who is going to get hired?

          It’s not the candidate’s fault necessarily, but poor work environments don’t have to be toxic and companies don’t have to be immoral/unethical to have a negative impact on someone’s career.

        2. Observer*

          The problem is not that they are not wringing every last penny out of people. The problem is that they are disrespecting people. And it’s wasteful because it reduces output with no benefit, on a good day. On a bad day it also has negative effects.

          To take an analogy: Making a meal where everyone gets plenty of food is not wasteful even though it’s more expensive than a meal where everyone gets JUST enough. Making a meal where you know that there is going to be a significant amount of food left over that’s going to the garbage? That’s wasteful.

        3. Anonym*

          Nope, no moral judgement at all! I’m trying to articulate from a pragmatic standpoint that the practices described stand in the way of the org achieving its goals. They’re a problem, and not part of normal cultural variance across well run organizations. Bigger picture, there are possibilities in addition to toxic and neutral/just a mismatch, and I think this org falls somewhere in between those two. (Was hoping to sort of “yes and” Wisteria’s excellent comment but my powers of articulation are not at their best today!)

          More specifically, I think the ways in which they’re not good for employees like OP are made clear by the letter, but those same attributes are likely to be problematic for the organization itself as well. In a for profit company there’s certainly a focus on dollars, but even in a not for profit institution I think there’s a desire for things to run efficiently and effectively so resources aren’t wasted, and to retain good employees, at least in theory. All of that adds up to the organization doing what it exists to do as well as possible. This org isn’t meeting that bar based on the description, and I think OP has standing to say “this isn’t good enough” instead of just “they’re great, just not my style.”

          1. peachy*

            Very much agree with your comments.

            I think another issue with environments like this is that they can lead to a lot of performance management issues and equitable pay issues. How do you accurately evaluate performance when roles are so ill-defined and there’s a lack of clear goals or performance objectives? How do you ensure that raises and promotions are being awarded on merit instead of likability (because the culture rewards those who are agreeable to taking on whatever is asked of them and tends to see people who try to set boundaries as “not a team player”)? How do you ensure that you’re creating accurate job descriptions that pay an appropriate market rate if you don’t know what works needs to be done because everyone does everything? How does one advance in an org where goals/roles are so ill-defined?

            I’ve worked in an org like this, and after decades of this, it really became a huge issue. You had some people with director-level titles/salaries doing the work of entry-level employees and people with entry-level titles/salaries doing fairly specialized, high-level work. It created a lot of tensions/resentment amongst employees (and this divide of course also happened to fall along race and gender lines, too, unsurprisingly).

            It just seems like a very antiquated, 1970s way of running an organization. There’s the people who do the real work (the lawyers/scientists from the LW’s example), and everyone else. Advancement opportunities only exist for the “real work,” because how can you figure out advancement opportunities for work that’s not understood, respected, or valued?

            1. AcademiaNut*

              There are also a couple of problems with the way idiosyncratic approaches like the one described here cause problems, even when they’re not completely dysfunctional.

              Often the company is not self-aware. They couldn’t sit down and describe what their culture/values/operating style is, and have never actually made a decision that this is how things operate. That leads to confusion – no-one is ever directly told what is appropriate and expected, and what should be pushed back on. It also leads to problems in evaluation, when the real criteria are secret, and something like fact that likeability and spending significant time on things not in your job description for random coworkers is as important as productivity in your main job description is never explicitly set out.

              This leads to a related problem, when potential employees aren’t told what the culture is like, go in expecting something more standard, and don’t find out until after they’ve started, with a much higher cost of turning it down if it isn’t their thing. Most places like this don’t tell interviewees that the teapot painting job is 60% teapot painting, and 40% random duties in support of coworkers, plus social activities. Or that the management style is to let people do what they want, and hope it works out. Or that they never actually fire poor performers or total jerks, just work around them. And so on.

            2. PayMeMyWorth*

              This is exactly it. Until recently, I worked in a specialized manufacturing company. I did data analysis that was key to being able to get our products out the door. I was part of the manufacturing department. Unfortunately, higher level management had no understanding of what I did. In most ways, only engineers were valued in this company. Sure, we’d have nothing to build if engineers didn’t design it the first place, but all of the designs in the world mean nothing if the product isn’t built and if there is no data laying out how everything in the product conforms to the design. There was no path for promotion for me at this company and I received the same recognition at the times I worked my ass off to improve processes on top of my regular duties as I did at the times I did enough to keep product shipping on time and not much else. I also frequently got asked to do admin tasks by engineers who were a lot closer to entry level than I was and was expected to do them because the engineers were always going to be considered more important.

        4. Mimi*

          I would call the weird elitism of some of the SMEs in refusing to figure out who should handle their admin requests — and being resistant to redirection — bad. I’m not saying that specialists need to remember the details of everyone else’s role, but working somewhere that my coworkers couldn’t remember that expense reports go to finance and IT tickets go to helpdesk would really make me feel like there was a serious lack of respect for me and for the work I did.

      3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        I have a hunch that there is no bottom line here, because I suspect this is in academics. That there are (supposedly) superior beings who don’t have a clue about what other staff are supposed to do sounds like older professors. If this is the case, there is no profit involved, and therefore less of a metric for evaluating the workplace. In addition, lines of authority in academic departments can be fluid and/or confusing.

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          Oh, this definitely happens in the private sector as well.

          I am in IT operations. I call it the “Find a grownup” syndrome – we are usually the easiest to contact and they don’t lose face with coworkers/boss. And there is usually a computer soooomewhere involved … *sigh*

          (We didn’t have PAs at that company though. This is definitely a big ol’ waste of money and effort.)

      4. Boof*

        What are SMEs?
        It’s really hard to say as an outsider and with just the one perspective, but it can be pretty hard to keep in your head all the time who to go to for what when you have a lot of other duties on top of that. I can see a lawyer vastly preferring one go to person over trying to keep a list and remember who and when. Obviously there are a lot of ways to solve this, like having an admin who is the go to and whose job it is to know who to go to with various tasks, but I wouldn’t call it inherently disrespectful when you’re juggling so many things to fail at juggling a few more. Certainly the system could use some work to avoid the mismatch though.

    3. Critical Roll*

      I don’t really agree that the company is fine as is. Flexibility in the form of cross training and the ability to add or subtract tasks *as assigned* are good things. Individual contributors who HAVE PAs, that the company is PAYING to do admin stuff, aggressively wasting the time of staff with totally different areas of responsibility is NOT okay. How many hours are they paying marketing-expert money for their marketing whiz to do incredibly basic admin tasks?

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I cannot agree for two reasons:

      1) I checked the original letter that had a few examples of Jane’s requests, and they are not even really work-related? (“Rename my PDF”, “Save my password so you can give it to me in case I forget it”?) No way can I even imagine myself being so hemmed in by strictly defined job duties that I would enjoy being a coworker’s mother/butler/personal assistant when I was not hired to be one (and she already has an actual dedicated PA, too.)

      2) The busywork appears to be flowing downwards only (at least based on this company’s idea of up and down). Jane does not send her requests to other “attorneys/scientists”, she will only send them to someone in “IT” (the roles being stand-ins for whatever the actual ones are) because in Jane’s head, an IT person’s time is not as important as one of an attorney/scientist.

      It is indeed a bad culture fit, I am just struggling with finding a word to describe this culture. Almost something out of Dickens.

    5. Observer*

      This is such a great example of the difference between “toxic” and “poor fit.”

      I have to disagree. This is not a toxic company – YET. But this is a company with a significant degree of dysfunction with a high possibility of veering into toxicity.

      Why do I say this? Because you have items that show up all the time in dysfunctional companies:

      1. A manager who won’t manage
      2. A manager who won’t even try to have their employee’s back
      3. A culture with sharp division between the “core” product related staff and everyone else. And where it is OK to be disrespectful of time, role and expertise of people in the “everyone else” category.

      1. Nom*

        In addition to what you said – it’s wasting SMEs time. Yes, support staff (finance, marketing, even PMs) are SMEs in their area. A culture that tells someone with marketable skills that their time isn’t valuable is a toxic one already, IMO.

  5. TiredEmployee*

    This reminds me of when I joined my current company, which has a similar “people who do the function” vs “people who support the function” split. My grandboss made a point of preemptively sitting me down and spelling out that just because I was on the “support” side of the organisation did not make my role any less important, and that while I was expected to be helpful, that “help” includes signposting people to the right person to ask, not just doing things myself.

    Of course thanks to years of vague job descriptions and responsibility-creep I’ve ended up with a bit of a “ask TiredEmployee, she’ll know the answer” problem, but I suspect it would have been much worse without the warning and my constant forwarding emails with “[Person whose job it is] handles that – [Person whose job it is] can you help?”

    1. Pikachu*

      For anyone dealing with this, I have a suggestion.

      There is an AMAZING tool out there called Loom. It allows you to make little screen recording videos. Every time someone asks me how to do something on the computer, I make them a little video. They can see exactly where to click and I can talk them through the steps. They can come back and watch it as many times as they want, and I only ever have to answer the question one time. It has been an absolute lifesaver.

      1. AnonPi*

        ooh I’ll have to check this out, as someone who is asked how to do things often repeatedly (from the same people, urgh)

      2. Rosie*

        Steps Recorder is a great tool too! Any PC should already have it and it details every click you make as you do a task with screenshots and you can add in comments

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        If your work suite includes Snagit, you can do it there too. I’ve started doing it when I have to submit an IT ticket so they can see exactly the issue and frequently get “that video was really helpful”…love keeping my IT folks happy!

        1. Pikachu*

          Oh yes! This is the other amazing benefit. It’s nearly impossible to fix problems you can’t replicate. Helps differentiate between an actual problem with the tech or whatever and simple human error.

  6. Overeducated*

    I wonder, a little, if this culture may have also developed from a lack of clarity in who to ask? My organization has trouble filling vacancies quickly, so that means support role responsibilities are always bouncing around to different people when someone leaves and it’s very, very far from transparent. For example, literally every single time I have an HR question, I have to run around asking different managers who the current contact is because there’s no directory and I get a “this person no longer works here” bounceback for everyone I email. I regularly asked the wrong person for help with our travel policies and software before the pandemic because the admin department head changed who was responsible multiple times. This means that often, eventually, I’m going to be bugging someone in a different role to either help me directly or help me find the right contact. Something like a regularly updated contact list on an internal site could be really useful to point people in the right direction.

    1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      But Jane *has* a PA. It’s the PA’s job to figure this stuff out. Is Jane so over the top busy (or probably more likely over the top self-absorbed) that she uses 100% of her PA’s time and still has all these leftover tasks for LW (or now Alex)? Is the PA just really useless?

      All the things you listed above are things that an executive or senior staffer should be handing off to their PA, as is nearly everything LW has been asked to do. Well, honestly some of the stuff LW has been asked to do doesn’t even fall into “stuff to ask your PA to do”, it’s more like “part of your job, you do it”, but it certainly closer to the PA’s job than to some random staffer in another department.

    2. Imaginary Friend*

      Another solution is to have function-related email addresses, so that you don’t have to know WHO does the thing, just what the email address for that thing is. Outlook makes it quite easy for people to have access to group/function email addresses (in addition to their personal ones), and to respond from your own email or the group/function one. It adds one bit of work to setting someone up in a new job, but you get such a time savings in return.

  7. 2 Cents*

    OP, I was the eager one to help at my last agency, even though I filled a technical role. I turned into everyone’s “just ask 2 Cents!” and it burned me out. When it became too much, no one listened. Instead, I left (not just because of this, but it didn’t help), and they hired 3 people to fill what I’d been doing. Don’t be me. Move on and have your worth valued.

  8. Apt Nickname*

    I had a coworker who ‘didn’t mind helping out’ to the point where people would just come get him to work on projects they wanted him to do. He got overwhelmed trying to do all the new things he was being asked to do and, you know, his actual work. The solution was having anyone who wanted his help on a project go through his boss, who protected him from tasks where people just didn’t want to do their own work but still let him do things where his strengths were genuinely needed.

  9. Jennifer Strange*

    So when I joined at my current employer there was an ingrained habit of routinely doing things outside of the scope of the job because the person “didn’t mind doing it.” One of my co-workers (who was a great person, but one of the worst offenders of this) left a few months ago…and now all of the people he used to do these things for are suddenly turning to the rest of my team with the assumption that since he’s gone we’re just going to be the ones to start doing these things. But unlike him, we do mind doing it (because it’s literally not our job). Thankfully, my supervisor agrees with me that the thing to do is wean these folks off of this expectation rather than continue to encourage it, but it’s still left us with a mess to clean up. All that to say, “I don’t mind doing it” sounds like a small thing, but it leads to unrealistic expectations from everyone and will cause issues once that person leaves.

  10. lunchtime caller*

    The weird part of this all to me is that Jane does in fact have a dedicated assistant?? I’ve been in support roles where you were supposed to help with whatever needed done, but generally the PA is the first port of call for all that and then they go asking the right person if needed. So odd!

    1. Law librarian*

      IME, in this sort of place it’s because the PA is a member of their team who they can see is busy supporting their team and they want to lessen their load a bit….or they’re a bit scared of the PA who is excellent at pushing back, and who they need on side, so they try to find an outlet elsewhere. In the law firms I used to work in the team PAs held a large amount of power because they were the linchpins of the whole operation.

      1. London Lass*

        It could also be that she doesn’t trust her PA to do things promptly/well, and finds it easier to email someone else who is more responsive even though it’s not their job.
        One of the partners at a firm I used to work at had a pretty low opinion of her PA’s competance, but limited options to change the allocation because of the way roles were managed in the department. However in her case, she did things herself rather than delegating them ourside the PA pool.

    2. dresscode*

      Yeah, my current role is as a PA and I’d find it really weird if my boss was asking other people how to turn something into a PDF or whatever. That is definitely part of my job.

  11. JSPA*

    I know what it’s like to be brought in as a scientist or other individual contributor, and encouraged to treat all of the rest of the organization as something of a black box of mystery (while being slammed with 10 or 14 hour days of your own work, because research never sleeps, so neither do you).

    The result is that when you find someone truly competent anywhere, there’s a huge temptation to route every question through them. Especially when they respond in 30 minutes, and the official team takes three days to handle whatever-it-is (and that’s after an hour of determining which team is the right team).

    Those sorts of company culture and structure problems can’t realistically be fixed by pushing back against any individual Jane.

    Or, well, it could be a Jane thing. But while Jane could just be lazy and mentally lazy as all get-out, that’s not something I’ve found to be terribly common in scientists / science-adjacent attorneys. So I’m still thinking that the problem is more likely to be either global or Jane-adjacent, than being Jane.

      1. JSPA*

        That would be where I’d suspect a black hole of incompetence. Combined with competence at some subset of essential skills, or extreme likability, or general unwillingness / inability to fire, or inability to manage, or inadequate pay for a competent PA.

  12. Law librarian*

    Oooft, this hit home – so many law firms are like this and divided into ‘lawyer’ and ‘non-lawyer’, with a general attitude that the people without law degrees are worth much less despite being skilled in their various areas and essential to the functioning of the company and the lawyers.

    Forever grateful I’ve spent the majority of my career at a place where I was encouraged to pushback ridiculous requests and I knew my management chain would back me up when I did so. OP, these places exist – I hope you find one soon!

  13. zuzu*

    Oy, the “never say no” culture!

    I’m in a running argument with my (soon to be former) academic library director about this one. I am very strongly of the opinion that we, the librarians and library staff, can and SHOULD say no to requests from the faculty that are out of our scope of practice, because there is usually someone else those requests can and should be directed to. Usually admin staff.

    My director, OTOH, feels that we can Never! Say! No! to faculty requests, even when those requests are CLEARLY admin tasks, the admins complain frequently that they don’t have enough work to do (maybe because the library director has trained the faculty to bypass them and dump their work on the librarians), or there is a lot of turnover in the admin staff (low pay) and as a result, the new people feel they don’t have the training to do the task.

    I might mention that I, as a librarian, am considered faculty at my institution — a lower class of faculty without tenure or even a contract, but still faculty. Fauxculty, if you will.

    In less than a month, I begin a new job at a new institution where I will be considered professional staff, so there won’t be that charade. And my new director supports boundaries!

  14. anonymous73*

    Jane sucks.
    Your manager sucks (stop making excuses for them, they should have your back on something like this).
    Your company sucks for allowing this to continue.

    I know jobs don’t grow on trees, but I would start looking. Companies that allow their core group of employees to treat the others like peasants are companies that engage in other unfair and toxic behavior.

  15. mlem*

    Kudos to the LW for working out the company culture and were it does — and more importantly, doesn’t — fit their work style! Well done.

  16. NotEnoughFlair*

    I worked as an administrative assistant for 20 years, and hated my job so much that I blogged on the side and learned how to build WordPress sites in the process. I ended up being hired to a position where I could use my web development skills and get paid way more than I did as an admin. Unfortunately, that also means that I have 20 years worth of advanced admin skills in my tool chest – think Excel database management, advanced Word formatting, organization skills, etc. Through the years, people have discovered that I have this “particular set of skills “, as Liam Neeson would say, and tend to come to me when their admin doesn’t know how to do something or the (very overworked) IT person doesn’t have time to do something. And now I have a new boss who sees how much the CEO likes the results from the admin duties he’s requested of me – think certificates and other printables – and has now decided that I am to be the point person for all printing jobs in his department. Me, the web developer. It’s hard to explain to management that even though I am capable of doing something, even if I can do something really well, doesn’t mean that this is the best use of (limited) company resources. When I am designing simple flyers in Word or Canva, something most people in the building can do, I’m not coding on websites, something only I can do and something I get paid way more than an admin to do.

    1. Lurker*

      That’s why I never let on that I know how to do certain things…because if they know you can do it, and/or you do it once, you become the default person to ask. This is especially true if you are a woman.

      I am currently dealing with an office culture where everyone does things that are clearly not part of their role. it’s partially due to being understaffed and I think partially because it’s a nonprofit so there is that mentality of we’re all in it together. I tried to explain it to the person who reports to me that of course we’re on the same team, but the team works best if everyone does what they were hired to do — like in baseball, you wouldn’t ask the right fielder to play shortstop. I find it very frustrating and that it leads to a lot of confusion.

      1. NotEnoughFlair*

        Oh, trust me, I hide a ton of what I can do. Truth be told, it’s because of my pride that I let myself impress the CEO with my graphic design skills. And I too work for a nonprofit and often fall into the “for the cause” mentality that goads me into doing just a little bit more even if it isn’t technically my job, because usually it’s not technically anyone’s job. We’re all overworked and understaffed and “wear many hats”.

    2. Critical Roll*

      Are these people responsive to cost/benefit information? As in, “you are paying web developer money to complete admin tasks”? As in, “invest in training your admin staff so you can respect the time/cost of your web developer?” As in, “impactful deliverables are being delayed so you can have pretty, meaningless internal documents?” Just ugh.

    3. CatMintCat*

      When I moved from office work to teaching, after twenty years as a legal secretary in the “Big City” (I live now in a very rural area), I learnt very quickly to keep those admin skills to myself. I am known as “the fastest typer person in the school”, but the rest of the admin and organisational skills are kept very quiet.

  17. HotSauce*

    This place would be absolutely maddening to work for. It’s incredibly weird that your manager is just fine with his employees doing work that takes away from their actual jobs. If people on my team were spending extended time working on things I wasn’t paying them for I wouldn’t be too happy.

    1. NotEnoughFlair*

      In my last yearly review, I got slammed for taking too long to complete the projects I was assigned and expected to complete. The reason for this was because I kept having things added to my plate that I could not refuse. In other words, I’m expected to do both my job and all the other things that would be someone else’s job if we were staffed correctly.

  18. Former HR Staffer*

    we had an 80s something PhD (who loved to me tion it every chance she got), who used to try to pawn off admin tasks on others, feigning not knowing how to do something, such as scanning (her job was to create training).

    she always plucked me to “show her how,” under the guise of teaching her, but she never took notes or paid attention, so clearly it was a ruse to just get me to do it for her bc she couldn’t be bothered.

    i created a step-by-step poster on how to scan documents (only 6 steps), complete with screenshots, and posted it behind the printer/scanner.

    next time she came to me, i said oh there’s step-by-step instructions right there… you can do it virginia, you have a PhD. should be easy peasy for you to follow. she scrunched up her nose at me and huffed off… to get someone else to “show” her how again.

  19. Elizabeth West*

    This chaps my britches. Once you start doing this kind of stuff for people, it becomes insidious, and making it stop becomes onerous. At OldExjob, people used to do this to me (to be fair, I was the admin), but they kept piling on until I started making them go through my boss for approval to assign me other duties. In some cases, she asked me to help them, and in others, she told them to pound sand because she already had X amount of stuff for me to do.

    Any boss who shrugs at this is not a good boss. A manager’s job is to support their employees in doing their best work. THEIR work, not the PA’s work.

    1. Sammy Keyes*

      Completely agree with all this. The best bosses I’ve ever had, as an admin/receptionist, were AMAZING gatekeepers for my work. If any of the professionals wanted me to help them with something, I was instructed to have them go through my boss first. Then my boss would talk to me and we’d decide together if this is something I would have the bandwidth to take on, with the freedom to say no!

  20. wine dude*

    Look for a website called “Let Me Google That For You”, there seem to be a few of those now. Type in your search term and click on “Get Link”. Send that link to your requestor. When they click on it it will carefully type out the search term in the box and perform the search.

  21. Zaeobi*

    This just makes me wonder what the PA has been getting up to all this time – have they just been getting marketing or other non-admin related requests in the meanwhile?

    Riddle of the day: When it a job title not a job title? When it is a catch-all misnomer.

  22. Batgirl*

    I hold my hands up that this could totally be fan fiction on my part, but OP doesn’t mention if the people mistaken for admin staff are all women: the predecessor, the OP and Alex. I was actually kinda pleased to see the name Alex, initially assuming it was a guy and thinking “Oh at least it’s *only* Profession/Other title snobbery” (which is quite bad enough), but then Alex was referred to as “her”. I mention it only because “woman who works in office” is so commonly read as “admin” when someone neither knows or cares about your job title, and it might be a productive thing to highlight to HR. Sadly, I think they won’t care as much if it’s only job title snobbery where there’s a history of foregrounding Specific Professional Title, even though that’s its own special type of being a jerk.

    1. Googling Things Letter Writer*

      OP here-everyone in this specific story except for my boss is a woman, but one of my work buddies (who is a guy, in a different “other” department than me) has said he gets similar types of requests. That said, even though it is a bit more than simply “woman in office = admin,” that aspect of it is certainly there, especially given the prevalence of women in these “other” roles, where the attorneys/scientists are split a lot more evenly.

      1. Batgirl*

        Ah, I see you already ran it through the sexism scanner! How annoying when you know it’s a factor but it’s not clear cut.

  23. The Other Dawn*

    I’m glad OP doesn’t have to deal with it anymore, but I’d never survive in a place like that at this stage in my career. For many years I was the go-to person who apparently had “Google” stamped on my forehead, but I realized eventually that I was just enabling people to be lazy, or hide the fact they didn’t really know what they’re doing, and was creating more stress for myself.

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