How Do I Say No to Admin That Isn’t My Job?

Photo-Illustration: The Cut. Source: Getty Images

Yes sir,

How do I refuse to perform duties outside of my immediate roles and responsibilities without being seen as a subordinate or not a team player?

I work in a field where it’s pretty standard to take on some administrative work in addition to our core responsibilities. However, in my experience, these duties seem to be disproportionately distributed among women. I’m pursuing my career path for eight years, with an upper-middle-level management position, with an advanced degree in engineering. I started a new role last year, which is a significant step up in terms of both seniority and salary. I feel like I’ve finally accomplished something. Then, a few months after I started, our division administrator unexpectedly resigned. My manager (female) proceeded to divide her responsibilities between me and other managers in my hierarchy. As a novice and a people pleaser, of course I step up to the plate and smile doing extra work. This went on for a few months until we were finally able to find a replacement. Looking back, I realize that I was given the tasks that required the most time and effort. And of course now that I’m an expert in those tasks, whenever our admin is out – you guessed it – I have to fill her in.

After looking back at my previous work experiences, I realized that this was a pattern for me. I was so good at these routine tasks that I became the key person for the admin job. In my previous roles, I didn’t feel like I could say anything because I wasn’t senior enough, but now, I don’t know how to put my foot down and say “respect, no”. I’m about to start looking for a new position and I want to make sure I don’t fall into the same situation and that I’ve set the right tone for the whole experience. At the end of the day, I was hired because of my technical and professional background… not a glorified administrative assistant. How do I respectfully decline admin support requests when they come from my superiors (as opposed to my colleagues)? One work around that I have found so far is to delegate work to someone more junior under the guise of professional development. I still have to get involved and invest my time, but at least I’m not stuck with most of the work. However, in the most recent work, this was not an option.

I’m not afraid to do my fair share, but I also want to focus my time and energy on my actual work. I know that this problem will continue to arise as long as I am in this industry.

This is such a thing for many women, still.

Most of it is sexist – women are still the default choice for taking notes at meetings, ordering lunches, organizing group events and, yes, providing insurance for admin staff. It is very common for people to turn to women when those jobs need to be done, whatever their actual job is, and even when there are men taking on similar or similar roles. on one’s own.

However, some of it comes from women stepping up when we shouldn’t – because we’re dedicated, because we’ve been socialized to be useful, and because it’s awkward to said, “No, I won’t To do it.” (Just to be clear, this isn’t the case for every woman; a lot of those given this type of work don’t volunteer for it.)

And as you’ve pointed out, once you start doing it, it can be hard to stop because you’ve become the one with a good track record of doing it and the one with all the background information from last time and whom everyone is now used to turning to.

That means it’s a good time to address this issue now that you’re changing jobs. If you’re careful not to fall into the same pattern at your new job, it will get easier over time. stay get out of it, because you won’t have to bear the burden of having been an administrator before.

How do you do that? First of all, never volunteer for those administrative duties. Don’t volunteer to take notes, don’t volunteer to go out for coffee for a meeting, don’t volunteer to give money to administrators when they’re out. Even if you don’t mind doing some of those things, and even if the need feels urgent, don’t volunteer for them. If the need is urgent, someone else can take the place. And remember that while it’s easy to feel that volunteering for support missions will show you’re cooperative and a team player (or not volunteering for them will make you look less committed), if If you look around, you’ll see that a lot of highly rated people never do those jobs.

If someone tries to assign them to you, in many cases you can push back. If it comes from a peer or other person who has no authority over you, respond by stating higher priorities – “I’m due this weekend” or “I’ve got my full X right now” – and please redirect them to someone who might make more sense with the context (“I’ve got the full X, but you can see if Joe is free”). If the request is coming from your manager, that’s more complicated and you’ll need to assess how much room there is for a response… but it’s usually better to say to your boss, “I’m blown away. enter X right now, so unless you object, I’ll see if Joe can do this” or “I’m bogged down with X right now and it’s going to be hard to match that. Alright, I just need to keep focusing X? “

And if you start to see a growing pattern where work is distributed in an unfair way, especially along gender lines, name what you’re seeing and ask to change it. For example: “I noticed that tasks like XYZ is disproportionately falling for the women on our team. Can we change that? “

I would like to confirm that you have noted that some Everyone in your field expects administrative workload, so it may not be as simple as saying no every time. But what you maybe What you do is carefully align the admin workload you accept to match the amount you see your male colleagues taking on and make sure you don’t have to do more. Also, as often as possible, choose the tasks that are most likely to advance your career; Covering your phone probably won’t do the trick, for example, but playing a supportive role for your boss at a board meeting can benefit you even more.

Find more career advice from Alison Green on her website, Ask a Manager. Have a question for her? Send email to Her advice column appears here every Tuesday. How Do I Say No to Admin That Isn’t My Job?

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