DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for a public university and my boss is the head of the division. When I was hired, my duties included supervising his executive assistant, but she was laid off in 2020. My title is not administration-related.
My problem stems from being assigned tasks that I understand were often asked of administrative assistants in years past, but which should no longer be required of the role in modern times (in my opinion). However, perhaps I am mistaken on where the line is currently drawn between business and personal tasks.
These are things like ordering flowers for a colleague of my boss who has suffered a loss; sending a card or food on his behalf to the family; ordering and picking up food as his contribution to an office potluck; sending a fruit basket to a colleague of his who was ill, etc. I don’t usually know the person he is asking me to buy these items for, and do not know their dietary needs or preferences. And writing a card of sympathy for someone I don’t know feels icky.
Even before his executive assistant was laid off, I was often asked to do these things. I consider the requests to be inappropriate and personal in nature, not business-related. They are things he could ask his spouse for help with, if he really couldn’t do it himself (which he could, he just doesn’t want to). He is paying for these items with his own funds and they are from him directly, not the university or the division.
These duties were not mentioned in the job description for which I was hired and, frankly, feel sexist in nature: He is not asking any of his male employees for help in these areas.
Am I overreacting to being asked to do these things, or do I have a legitimate complaint? Is there anything I can say to politely convey that these requests make me uncomfortable? I am concerned that if I object, I will put myself on my boss’ bad side and could suffer some retaliation. Must I just grin and bear it?
GENTLE READER: Absolutely not. But neither does Miss Manners recommend opening a fight based on gender, as accurate as that assessment may be, when you might make your case by being professional – where he was not – and presenting the facts.
Ask for a meeting and tell him that you are confused by the parameters of your employment: “I seem to be spending a lot of time on tasks that do not pertain to my work. I do not remember that as being listed in its requirements, and I really need to focus on my own university-related work. Perhaps you can ask HR if there is room in the budget to hire you a personal assistant.”
The whiff of an HR threat should be sufficient for your boss to recognize that he does not wish to involve them – and that it would therefore be easier for him to pick up his own dang dry-cleaning.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website www.missmanners.com.