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August 04, 2011


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I handle the computer systems at a foreign-managed company, and because I have made somewhat successful efforts to learn their language (read/write/speak), I am often asked to help them on their personal PCs and devices (which are localized in that language). I comply (usually), because I feel like it gives me a bit more of an edge in that I may appear to be more useful to them than others in my department (who don't have any foreign language skills) in case they decide to go on a firing spree. After all, it's hard to tell the president "no" when he asks for help with personal equipment... ;)

No I have never been put in this position. I work in a state position however, and we have very strict rules about things like this. I know for a fact that if something like this ever came out, HR would come down hard.

If I were in that position, I would definitely be a whistleblower, and take my chances. No job is good enough to endure shame.

On my first job out of college, one of the Assistant General Managers asked me to keep an eye on his three year old son while he popped into a meeting. Another AGM asked me to try and fix his car in the parking lot, since I knew a bit about cars. I did decline to play the part of "Death" for the first mentioned AGM's 40th birthday party. Wow, none of this was mentioned in the job interview, LOL. I left soon afterward.

My first job out of college I had to cover the phones during lunch time once a week. It was split between different women in the office... none of the men were ever expected to cover the phones. I was only at that job for 1 year though.

When I was really young (21) and working for this medical professional, he told me that one of my duties was to pour his coffee and add cream and saccharin when I saw his car roll into the parking lot. Also he asked me to unwrap a stick of gum, peel an orange and a whole host of tasks that he said, "facilitated his time." The front desk bookkeeper/receptionist and I would take turns watering the garden in the atrium. I didn't mind the care of the garden, but I felt like the peasant girl who is serving the master when doing those menial tasks of which he was quite capable. I always used to think to myself, "should I chew for you too?"

I never had to endure any of that in my career jobs but did in a summer job. I was working as a stock boy for a construction-related business, and my boss asked me to do some work on the cheap because he knew that I had the skills. He'd told me that I needed "help out" a crew on a job, but when I got to the job site I discovered that I was the crew. When I returned to the shop that night I confronted him and asked him to pay me fairly for that job role. I told him that I wouldn't work in that role unless I was paid much more than my stock boy rate. Another time he asked me to make deliveries in a larger truck that I knew I wasn't licensed for, and I declined. He never really liked me much after that. These choices were relatively easy to make because I knew that I'd never have to work there again after the summer. I could see how these situations would be immensely more difficult if you really needed the job to support yourself and your family.

At one of my first jobs (as a secretary), which I worked at while I was still in High School, on the very first day I was asked by the Vice President of the Construction company where I worked to transcribe his dictated long (3 page) letter/statement to his insurance company. The letter was all the details about a car accident he'd been in that morning with his sports car and another driver. Although my job was to transcribe dictation, this was obviously unrelated to company business. Of course I did it anyway. The guy was so impressed with how quickly I typed it up and with my spelling that he raved about how good I was at my job to everyone the rest of the summer. Which netted me exactly nothing--no pay raise, and I didn't even need a rec letter from that job. I went off to college, PhD, career etc. The job was good experience though--mostly because it showed me how badly everyone treats secretaries.

In my career, I've been asked to do someone else's work for them more frequently than I've been asked to do their personal errands.

I've usually done what they've asked, and usually the asker has taken credit themselves for what I did. But almost everyone who has done this has also ended up paying me back in other ways by putting in a positive word for me and recommending me for promotions and etc. I think providing such "help" to your boss is often viewed as a professional courtesy and thereby boosts your professional image, plus it demonstrates to them that you can turn out work beyond your level which makes you more likely to be promoted. Occasionally the asker hasn't given anything back to me after I've helped him out--so I take note of that & if it happens too often then I'm "unfortunately too busy" to do what he asks the next time.

I currently work in a small business run by my father. On the surface, he tries to treat me the same but he probably doesn't realize the amount of times he asks me to take him to the airport, pick him up from the car repair shop, run errands for him.

So definitely not in the same context as the story but it does get a bit awkward around other coworkers.

I spent 32 years working for America's largest Aerospace company and worked my way up from a junior engineer to a senior staff engineer in charge of a large R&D project. In that whole time I was never asked to perform any work that wasn't covered by my job description.

Early in my career I worked for a company of about 200 employees that was started and run by a man that was previously a famous American aviator. One very hot day the A/C in our office quit working so one of us called down to the maintenance department and reported the problem. Guess who showed up with a bag of tools and proceeded to fix the A/C unit - none other than the founder and president of the company - a job that was hardly in his job description.

All the time.

I work in IT. I get frequent requests to do IT things for a supervisor's personal benefit or things that are still tech related, but outside of the scope for the job I was hired to perform.

In return, I've gotten everything from a learning experience (euphemism for no thanks whatsoever); genuine thanks; job reference; expanded networking opportunities; a free vacation; event tickets; bottles of wine and friendship. Most frequently, I've gotten lunch. Which is still pretty good.

I'm self-employed now so I never have to deal with that sort of thing (I do occasionally have to deal with family/friends who think since I work from home I have plenty of time to do stuff for them).

Thinking back to my previous jobs (not very many, I started my business at 25) I never really got those sorts of requests. The closest was working in a pottery studio framing prints of my bosses' work. I was sometimes asked to help with the pottery production or handling customers but at a business with only 5 people working there everyone pitched in. I would have been very upset if I'd been asked to do any personal errands for my bosses.

Asking a company employee to do your own personal errands (pick the kids up, plan their birthday parties, do your dry-cleaning) is unethical and wrong. Not only is it NOT the secretary's job, it's not anyone's job in the company to do it. The boss is using company resources (the secretary) for his own personal gain...highly unethical. You bet I'd be a whistle-blower. I am sure the owner of the company would be very keen to hear that his managers are misappropriating company funds.

The only thing I've ever been asked to do on the job that might waver into the area of 'not my job / personal errands for the boss" was during one of my earliest jobs working in a record company. Every day, the boss would send me down to the cafe on the bottom floor of the building to get him a diet coke and chocolate muffin. I was fine with that, because it was a nice little walk, and a break for me too. I usually picked myself up something as well, and just counted the whole thing as a mandated 15 minute break (I usually did not take another break outside of that one, and my regular lunch). Not a big deal at all.

Love the state worker. You go girl! Let'em know that you turn the widget to the right, and if you want if turned left, well that's someone else's job.

Personal errands are one thing, but top execs at big companies usually do have their secretaries handle them, and it is considered part of the secretary's job.

An business owner does what is needed, period. Old Limey's example is spot on. If you want to be a top exec, IMO, you got to be willing to do the work that needs doing, whether or not it's your "job description".

To save money, our parent company (a bank) in another state has cut down janitorial service to all branch offices to 3 days per week vs. 5 days a week. Because there is a rat problem, the managers of the branch decided that trash needs to be taken out by the employees on the other 2 days per week. We take turns on an informal basis. The women lug the heavy lunchroom trash downstairs while in high heels. The men carry it out to the parking lot dumpster. The women are not tall enough to lift the lid of the dumpster unit.

I'm the boss, a woman, and I would never ask my staff to do personal errands. In fact, if I'm pouring myself a cup of coffee I offer to pour for staff. I would never do personal stuff for my boss either, but I do go beyond my job description. I demonstrate to my subordinates and my boss that I'm a team player which means that you do what it takes to get the job done, without watching the clock. That's the differance between a job and a career.

I worked a construction job from the time I was 16 until around age 22. One weekend day we were short of a particular kind of lumber that we needed, and my boss (the owner, and the only other person working that day because this was kind of a side project) directed me to steal some from another worksite down the street. It was not a difficult decision to turn him down, and we went home early that day. He probably would have stolen it himself except my flat refusal may have had him wondering what I would do about it.

The lumber yard delivered what we needed first thing Monday morning.

This one is easy for me. I do whatever is asked whenever it is asked. having been out of work. I will do what is needed to keep my job. My attitude is I am not too good to clean a toilet now and then.

That being said if I was being treated improperly I would speak my mind. I will NOT be walked over. But I will help the boss do whatever is needed to get the job done. I sit down very clear lines when I start a job of what I expect my work life balance to be. I am more than willing to work a weekend or a night here or there. But I also expect to be compensated for going above and beyond the call of duty. As previous poster mentioned compensation doesn't always mean money.

Luckily I have only been asked to do something improper once(I walked off the job). I have however been asked many times to help with packaging stuff, stuffing envelops photocopying things, etc.... I am a highly paid programmer. But I gladly helped with those items because it was for the good of the company. I would happily do so again.

Thanks all

I've adopted the mentality of a former manager. His philosophy was he was happy to work for our owner at his annual salary, doing whatever his boss (legally) wanted him to do, between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, Mon-Fri.

He was being paid $80k a year as an IT professional, so if the boss wanted him to sweep the warehouse floor, no problem, he'd gladly be a $50 an hour janitor. If his boss needed him to pick up his kids, no problem, he'd gladly be a $50 an hour taxi driver, and then he'd expense his mileage to the HR department at $0.51 per mile.

He figured if he was ever assigned a task that he was NOT willing to do for $50 an hour THEN he would bring it up to the boss. Last I checked, he never found anything he wasn't willing to do at that rate...

I tend to agree with Tim - and I'll take that one step further. I sometimes sit in totally worthless meetings and calm my frustration by reminding myself that I get paid for this.

Also - keep in mind that for high-level execs or company owners, the jobs is not "secretary" or "admin assistant", it is "personal assistant". The company may have no problem at all with the person running personal errands. In fact, it may be part of the job description.

And at small companies, there is often a sense of everyone doing whatever it takes to be successful. The great success of Southwest Airlines was due to a culture in which pilots would help load meals on board to get the plane off on time.

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