I am a professional-level employee and have become quite efficient with my work. I'm a problem solver and have become a go-to person in my department.

Three times in the past month I've been asked to simply print out email attachments (not large docs) for my boss while she is out of the office, either after hours or working from home, so they're waiting upon her return. Also, in the last few weeks, while I've had a large project in progress, she volunteered me to do a secretarial-type job for a "higher-up" person in a completely different department. This person has a staff of several people at their disposal and could have enlisted any one of them to help with that job. I balked and explained my confusion about being volunteered for this. And while the item created from the secretarial job will likely be of use for my department, I feel pretty trivialized by being asked to contribute in this way.

We don't have an administrative-type person in our department any more, I'm afraid this type of task will continue to be thrown my way. I've done them without kvetching -- but would like to nip this in the bud before I allow it to grow into something bigger.

Each time it certainly took her more time to send me emails about printing the items than it would have taken to flag the email and print it herself the next time she's in the office. I realize it's not about that.

The boss said this other person simply couldn't get to the task at hand. It was REALLY menial and took me less than 15 minutes. It felt weird to basically be "pimped out" to another deptartment because it's definitely not part of my role. Yes, it "only" took 15 minutes, but it was for a high profile person and I didn't know it would go so quickly when I was told to step in.

How can I effectively, kindly, and appropriately say no to these types of requests without burning bridges?

  • 1
    I have never had to make that request as I tend to view requests like this as "Needs of the Business" additions to my workload. I may not like the new duties. I may not like my Brussels sprouts either but I still eat them. As long as your meeting your deadlines with out working additional time I would not see an issue. May 11, 2015 at 19:19
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    I balked and explained my confusion about being volunteered for this - and while the item created from the secretarial job will likely be of use for my department Well, what reason did your boss give?
    – enderland
    May 11, 2015 at 19:21
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    @WindRaven I think the issue is not so much about being asked to do things you don't want to do, and more about the risk of being pigeon-holed into tasks that completely undervalue your skills.
    – David K
    May 11, 2015 at 19:24
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    "I'm concerned that as I take on more tasks of this type that I am slowly transitioning away from X professional role towards that of an admin assistant. If we have to live without an admin assistant in our department can we make sure that this sort of thing gets spread out evenly?"
    – Myles
    May 11, 2015 at 19:47
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    If my boss were dumb enough to pay me $90/hr to do secretarial work, that's just easy money for me.
    – DLS3141
    Jul 19, 2017 at 17:01

4 Answers 4


Regarding helping the higher up manager

It's possible your boss sent you so you could interact with that person. It's part of your bosses job to "sell" her good employees to other more senior managers. This is a mutually beneficial thing.

This is an easy way for employees to gain visibility from other managers. If you go in your manager's place this can be a wonderful thing for career development (even if you think it's "lame").

Regarding "secretarial" printing work

Bring it up in your 1/1.

Hey boss, somewhat of a random question - is there any reason you've asked me a few times to do what feels more like secretarial tasks such as printing documents?

Don't start a conversation like this in an adversarial manner. Your boss is likely not an idiot and you don't want to start a conversation where you "fix" your bosses behavior without understanding her first. Most people get defensive and this is not what you want. Especially since it's only 3x in a month anyways.

You need to know why you're getting the requests before you can try to avoid them in the future.

It's possible simply by bringing this up you will find out a lot of additional information - perhaps your boss is swamped and has trouble sorting tasks, etc. Once you find this out, you can suggest an alternative plan.

I expect that if you have a conversation like this with a normal manager you will end up avoiding the tasks simply by making her think through what she's doing, just by asking relatively innocent questions.

At the end of the day though, your boss is your boss.


I think there are a lot of answers for this and it really comes down to your team dynamics and your relationship with your boss.

It could easily be that your boss is presenting a power play on you and having you do demeaning tasks to insert their authority on an upcoming star. What can you do here? Well I would use specificity, not complain about it in general.

Boss asks you to print out 20 copies of attachment. Instead of whining to boss about why you shouldn't be printing things out, the next time the boss asks simply email back stating that you are really busy on XYZ and ask if someone else can handle it. This will get the boss in the routine of asking others.

That is a really good option if you get along with your boss. But I actually had this happen when it had been very clear to me that my boss didn't like me. I simply messed up the tasks. She asked me to print stuff or sort stuff... Well some mistakes were made. Since this wasn't part of my objectives nor was I trained on these things my boss had no recourse. This isn't what you should do unless it is a last resort to a terrible boss. It was funny when the HR person asked my boss (I was just in the workforce 2 years at the time) why she was assigning me these things... My boss hated me more but does it matter the level of hate a boss has for you?

In reality probably the highest percentage of reason this is happening to you is that your boss trusts you or severely mistrusts others on your team. You may think doing these things is demeaning but doing them for this boss is probably furthering their trust in you. If you have a really good relationship not doing them may tarnish this. I would keep doing them until you are quite certain that your boss has other motives.

  • Not enough reputation to downvote, so upvoted instead.
    – Atsby
    May 12, 2015 at 3:28
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    @Atsby Because that makes sense...
    – Mar
    May 15, 2015 at 20:10

My advice is to bring it up during your 1:1 and let them know you are focusing on advancing in the workplace and ask if they have any suggestions on how to do this. Making copies isn't in your job description.

If you want exposure it should be in your role, not that of a gopher. Ask yourself it they would do this to another person in the company who has moved up the ranks. If you accept this behavior I don't think it will advance your career. I've seen this in the past and if HR was a supportive department they would step up and help the employee, but this is rarely the case in companies today.

Last thing, if you have a mentoring program in your company sign up for it. If not, seek out someone who you get along with or admire who you can mentor under. This shows everyone, especially upper management if it's a program, that you want to advance. I did this and then got a promotion and doors seem to be opening up for me. That mentor can give you the scoop on the company and certain behaviors that exist and how to maneuver around them or play into them for your benefit.

Good luck and remind yourself each day that you bring value to your job, your significant others and the world. You are your best advocate!

  • You may want to consider breaking this down into paragraphs as it might make it better received by the community.
    – Neo
    Jul 19, 2017 at 14:27

It is possible this is a problem and possible it is not. Virtually all jobs have an "other tasks as assigned' clause in their job description.

If you are the most junior person in the room, then this type of task will naturally go to you. That's part of being junior. If I have to choose between paying someone $100 an hour to do a relatively menial task and someone making $40, it's not a hard choice from a management perspective.

If these tasks tend to get passed out to everyone on the team (or everyone below a certain level), again, no problem just do them cheerfully and make sure that you are not picked more often than others.

If you are a manager, simply delegate the work unless you are specifically told not to (sometimes managers do this type of work when there is something confidential in the wind).

If you the only person on your team ever asked to do these types of things and you coincidentally are the only woman (or in some other group that frequently gets discriminated against), then there is a strong possibly that you have a problem. They actually do not view you in the same way that they view your teammates and it ultimately harms your ability to get promoted or assigned to the more interesting work because people start to view you as less skilled. This is especially true if there are people junior to you who never get asked to do these things. It may even be an unconscious bias. I have worked for plenty of men through the years who thought only women should do such tasks. I didn't put up with it after my first year in the workplace.

This is something you would need to discuss with your boss. The first tactic I would try is to pick a time when you are genuinely busy and ask him if Joe (who happens to be the most junior person on the team) could do it instead. This is a gentle reminder to him that there are other people who could be asked and it is often enough for the person to realize that he is showing a bias.

If that doesn't work, then you talk to you boss one on one and explain that it makes you uncomfortable to be asked to do these things when your male colleagues are not. It gives the impression to the team that your contribution is less critical and that you are less capable. Make sure to make it clear in various meetings with your boss that you want assignments to the more complex, career-enhancing tasks if you are also going to be stuck with these in order to offset that bad impression. He needs to think of you as someone actively pursuing promotion and someone who is not a doormat.

If he continues to assign this stuff only to you after you have discussed why it is a problem, then he has an overt bias and you need to consider moving on to someplace where you will be more appreciated and rewarded. Your work will be viewed as lesser value at reward time and because this is a "meritocracy" (hint, meritocracies never are because it is often the assignments that dictate who gets the rewards and those often suffer from bias) the guys who get the more interesting assignments while you do the clerical work will get the rewards. Each month you let this happen, the less seriously you will be taken and the more likely it will be that you will pay the price in your review and raises and promotion potential. I could probably name a dozen bright talented women I have worked with who fell into this trap (and sometimes it is the woman who has the bias about these tasks and she self-assigns herself into the lessor role especially when it comes to party-planning tasks) and it harmed their careers.

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