It’s 8 pm, and you’re sitting on the couch after a long day at work; the phone rings, and it’s your executive calling, who happens to be traveling. You answer the phone knowing there will be a request for you to take care of … long after the day of work is over.
He is in his hotel room, and the restaurant in the hotel is closed as they don’t have adequate staffing. He asks, ever so nicely, if you could arrange for Uber Eats to deliver him some food for dinner. He doesn’t know who to call, he knows you know how to take care of it, and you, naturally, know who to call even in this city that isn’t the one you live in.
You jump online and order the meal to be delivered to his hotel room. Minutes after it arrives, you get a text saying, “Thank You,” and you reply, “My pleasure.”
I know you didn’t mind doing it. It took you only 20 minutes, and you know that he appreciated it. But have you crossed the line from being nice to doing too much?
Customer service tells us we need to go the extra mile. We know that when someone asks, we typically agree, tell them it is our pleasure, and deliver whatever needs to be delivered. We often don’t mind, don’t feel that we are being taken advantage of, and consider it part of the great job we do daily.
However, let’s be honest; at some point, we aren’t being nice. We are letting people take advantage of us, even if we don’t mind. Because we never say anything about the request being outside the scope of the job, the hours, or what is reasonable, the other person never realizes they are asking too much, expecting too much, or taking advantage of us. We often brush it off with “no problem” or “my pleasure.”
Is this one of those situations? Is this something you should have said no to?
Do you have a job where the expectation was set when you were hired that you would be available for personal duties at hours outside regular work times?
If that was clearly spelled out when you were hired, this is part of your job description. For many, this is the difference between an Executive Assistant and a Personal Assistant. Some argue that the word “Personal” requires you to take care of the “person” and do personal things.
If your job detailed that you would be asked to do personal items outside of work hours (compensated or not), this does qualify as your job.
However, most corporate jobs don’t spell that out quite that way. That doesn’t mean these requests don’t happen or that you should or shouldn’t fulfill the request.
Look at your past behavior. In the past, have you been the type of person to do what is asked, with no discussion (just great attitude)?
If that is the case, how you handle this situation is different than if you have never fulfilled those requests in the past.
If you have never delivered on this type of request for your Executive in the past, you could, in fact, say on the phone, “I don’t believe that is within the scope of my job to do for you.” Stop talking at that point. There will be a long and very uncomfortable silence on the phone. However, your Executive is likely to either agree with you and apologise, or you will discuss the mismatch in your expectations.
Make no mistake, that approach is awkward. And not likely the approach I would take (but that’s just me).
If that seems too rude for you, or if you have fulfilled these requests before, your response to the request will need to be reactive.
It will require an uncomfortable conversation after the fact.
Now that you’ve read this article, you are aware that fulfilling those requests isn’t necessarily in your best interest.
Here is what you do.
- Order the food. If you have the appropriate relationship, you can joke that this is way over the line or the last time you’ll do this for him. Only you know if your relationship would allow this passive-aggressive teasing. However, that isn’t the end of it. You need to follow it up with a conversation.
- When your executive returns to the office, arrange a time to chat. Don’t let this fester until the next trip; clear it up quickly.
Bring up the topic and then stop talking.
“Tuesday night, I ordered your food to be delivered, and although I didn’t say it at the time, I felt that request was not part of my job description, and it felt wrong to me.”
You have to bring up what the issue is, and the issue is that you felt uncomfortable or misused, or whatever you felt.
They will respond in one of two ways. The first way is they will agree with you, laugh it off, and promise it will never happen again. Let’s hope for that response.
The second response will be they don’t agree with you and will respond along the lines of, “Really? I’m surprised you feel that way. You take care of me all the time, and ordering me dinner isn’t an unreasonable request.”
This is obviously the much more uncomfortable approach. What is required here is a discussion on expectations. If you are expected to fulfill these types of requests from time to time, and if it is outside normal working hours, how is that compensated (or adjusted)? You may want to confirm what other types of personal requests are reasonable to expect and where the boundary is between your job as an administrative professional and a personal assistant.
Obviously, it is a much deeper conversation you would need to be prepared for.
Whatever way you choose to handle it is fine. What I want you to think about, instead of what you would do (task-based activities), is why we do them when they are not part of our role.
Are we teaching people that we are at their every beck and call? Is there no boundary between what is expected and what is too far over the line?
We teach other people how to treat us by how we treat ourselves.
If you are totally fine with doing all things requested, then ignore this article. If, however, there is a tiny part of you that raises your eyebrows at such requests, then it is time to identify when you are allowing others to ask that of you.