I hate making copies!!
November 7, 2005 10:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I discuss with my boss aspects of my job I dislike, but am stuck with?

I landed a great job right out of school, which involves both substantive and administrative work. The administrative work is about 15% of my job description, I'd say. The job is by design only going to last nine more months, and there's no possibility of altering my job responsibilities.

The problem is, I can't stand admin work! I hate details, and I hate people asking me to make photocopies. And as a result, I'm not good at it, and my boss is starting to notice. My performance in the substantive areas has been fine, but the problem is that letting something slip through the cracks in administrative work has more repercussions than say, having one bad day on your research project. So, how do I talk to my boss about this without seeming like I'm making excuses, but being honest about the reasons for my shortcomings? I am of course making efforts to improve my admin performance and will tell him all about that.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total)
You're anonymous, so no chance of getting more info from you....So here goes....

Photocopying does suck. It just does. But, if you really learn the ins and outs of the machine, it can be your friend. You can thus photocopy faster. And, when you're at the copier, maybe you can automate things and spend time doing something you like, such as reading for your research project. It may help to put things into folders, so that you're organized when you head to the photocopier.

You say you don't like details, but I suspect that (like me) you just don't like administrative details, such as filing, making appointments, booking hotels, stuffing envelopes, etc. You probably hate this stuff enough that you put little effort into it or save it till the last minute. And this is the problem. You've got to make sure you find time every day to do this work. Make a To Do list. Set 15% of your time aside for these projects. Do it when you first arrive at the office and right after lunch. Then you can spend the rest of your time on stuff you do like doing, without having a little voice in your head saying, "Anonymous! You still have to photopcopy Harry's report! Duplex! Collate! Staple!"

That being said, I've noticed that, in my experience, this admin conundrum most often shows up in jobs staffed by women. THe administrative tasks assigned to female workers (in my experience) are tasks that are not assigned to men in similar roles. It is entirely possible that this is simply because many of these roles seem to be in a female ghetto and not because there is any sexism going on. If this is happening to you AND you were not informed of these details when you signed on, you might be able to negotiate a little or ask whether you could occasionally bring in a temp, so that you can focus on the areas where you best add value. Don't complain that you've got this work, no matter whether you are male or female. It won't help in this situation.

BUT, if you did sign on for these tasks, tread carefully. You don't want to get fired from your first job. Most entry-level jobs in your area are probably similar. If you can push through the next 9 months, you may rarely need to do this sort of stuff again.

I'm not an admin details person either. THe solution is to bust your butt so you can get promoted away from these sorts of things. THen you can focus on details you like. Details are only details when you don't like them.
posted by acoutu at 11:31 PM on November 7, 2005

If you talk to your boss at all about your issues, take the positive approach. Explain how much you enjoy the substantive parts of your job and are keen to take on more responsibility. You may then be in a position to bargain about distribution of admin work.

But I wouldn't get your hopes up. By your own admission, administrative work is part of the job description and there's no way to alter your responsibilities. And it's only 15% of your work. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you're probably going to have to do things you don't enjoy in every job you have so you might as well get used to the feeling!
posted by londonmark at 1:13 AM on November 8, 2005

The problem is, I can't stand admin work! I hate details, and I hate people asking me to make photocopies. And as a result, I'm not good at it,

Mark Twain said, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." If it's part of your job, you do it.

The key question here is, if you don't do it, who will? Is there someone else whose job it is to do photocopies and other admin work? If yes, are you the only one (other than that admin assistant) who is being asked to make copies? If yes again, then you have a basis for a discussion.

If no, then you are asking that an exception be made for you that isn't being made for others. Your other skill would have to be extremely valuable for you to request to be treated like a prima donna. If it is, good for you, but be aware of the resentment you will create among your co-workers as they trudge off the the copy machine.
posted by mono blanco at 1:32 AM on November 8, 2005

I agree with londonmark. Every job has aspects that you won't want to do. You must and will get used to that. Don't try to negotiate yourself out of your admin responsibility.

But do take heart as well - everyone makes mistakes. And everyone will, most likely, have had experience of hating admin stuff too. As you settle in there, you'll find it easier to know who you can have a friendly bitch with. It lets off steam, and can make all the difference.

Also, I've found that when hating admin tasks, it's so much better to think of them in terms of time and not task. If you know that it's only going to take you, say, 20 minutes to do something, think "If I start this now and do it well, in 20 minutes it will be gone!". Just a thought.
posted by paperpete at 1:41 AM on November 8, 2005

It's a small portion of your job, one that's got a limited timeframe. You won't have to photocopy forever.

Really, if this is in your job description, you're stuck with it. It sounds like you're the bottom guy on the food chain, allowed to work with the big guys as long as you do the menial tasks that they hate as much as you do. If so, that's just tough. Saying "substantiative" as opposed to "administrative" gives the impression that you don't look very highly upon admin work. Still, as you recognize, things go to hell much faster without admin work being done. It's important, and you're the one appointed to do it.

Any boss who hears you say "I'm not doing good at this because I don't like it" is not likely to be very sympathetic. You're lucky enough to enjoy the largest part of your job, so bite your tongue and enjoy the better parts.

Not to personally insult you, anonymous asker, but this isn't an uncommon issue with first jobs. We get out in the real world and find that there's things we have to do that we just really, really hate. They're also things we have to do. Keep trying to get better at the admin work. If you're honestly trying, your boss will see that even if you mess up. That's all you need to show, actions speak far louder than words.

Try not to let it get to you. Work your skills and experience, and you won't need to do this later on. If you truly hate admin work so passionately later on, just make certain it's not involved in your job description whatsoever.
posted by Saydur at 2:15 AM on November 8, 2005

Agree, in general, with the others. I would say, though, that you should not talk to your boss about this at all. In my opinion that would be a big mistake - especially for a job with a short timeframe. Improve your performance. Become the best copy machine guy on the planet and get a great referral from these people so you can move on to bigger and better things. Complaining (or even discussing) is going to sabotage your future. Your boss is busy -- all you want him/her to hear about you is, "Man, that guy is really on top of things!"
posted by crapples at 5:24 AM on November 8, 2005

You're right out of school, you've landed a job that is mostly rewarding but as low person on the totem pole you have some duties that blow.

Sorry, I have to concur with others: you need to just suck it up or change jobs and clearly changing jobs would be a bad move.

Give up on talking to your boss about it. Focus on finding ways to make the shitty stuff less shitty. The best way to get away from those gruntwork tasks that you hate is to rise to a level where someone else has to do them and the way you do that is by putting in your time and excelling.
posted by phearlez at 6:23 AM on November 8, 2005

I've never heard of someone who likes making copies. It's repetitive and boring and unchallenging. But it needs to get done. If you were to stop doing it, who do you propose would start doing this part of your job description? I think it's just one of those things that needs to be tolerated, and done as quickly and efficiently as possible. It will make a great impression if you do all parts of your job well - even the parts that everyone hates. If you consistently suck at certain parts of your job, the impression you leave is that you consistently suck at your job. You don't want that!

Two thoughts that might help lighten your mood about it a little:
1) It's only a small part of your job. Some jobs have you doing that kind of crap 40 hours a week.
2) At least you're photocopying instead of being made to type the damn thing multiple times.
3) By working hard to do a stellar job of all the respopnsibilties given to you, it makes people want to give you more responsibilites.
posted by raedyn at 6:51 AM on November 8, 2005

You're stuck with the admin work as long as it's part of your current job description, but if you're interested in staying with the company after your nine months are up it seems worth it to talk to your boss now.

At my current job, I was hired in July 2004 and given a mix of job responsibilities, some which I absolutely loved and some which drove me batty.

My strategy:
1 -- Come up with a specific plan for dealing with the hated tasks, so they always get done but are contained to a limited part of every day.
2 -- Tell my boss about the plan so he knows: I am working to improve in the area where I've been struggling, but I still hate this area.
3 -- Every few months, remind my boss that I'd love to swap out the hated tasks for other job responsibilities more in line with my interests. Be upbeat about it, though. Don't whine.

It worked really well. When two people left for other jobs this summer, I was able to go into my boss' office and say, "Can we assign hated tasks to one of the new hires? I'd be glad to take on some of Departing Person's responsibilities in place of those tasks."

Because I'd been communicating with my boss for a year, he knew what my strengths, weaknesses and interests were, and was open to making the swap.

I already loved my job before, but I'm 10,000 times happier now. Just don't expect change to come quickly, and don't expect change during your first nine months. I'd only lobby for change if I wanted to work with the company after that first job ends.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:07 AM on November 8, 2005

This is a common issue with even NON first time jobs. As a consultant at "big firm", I had a fabulous secretary who handled many things. But I would still occasionally do my own photocopying (small jobs) and such because, hey, if you treat your admin well (i.e., not like an underling) and don't act as if you are "above" admin-type work, they will often go to the ends of the earth for you (as mine did).

When I scored a new job with a small boutique firm and was making a ridiculously large amount of money, we had no admins. We did EVERYTHING ourselves...copying, filing, typing, faxing, putting binders together, all of it. Cost effective for the firm? I didn't think so...not at the $50 an hour that it cost them for me to do it. But that was what their deal was. If you whined, you got slapped down hard and were seen as a prima donna.

If you don't think that the admin work is important, try getting out a huge client project overnight without admin support. That sucks mightily.
posted by jeanmari at 7:55 AM on November 8, 2005


Stupid as it sounds, engaging yourself completely in what seems like a mindless task tends to make it finish faster, seem more enjoyable, and have better results. Organize yourself, learn the ins and outs of the machine, and make yourself a copying MASTER.

Also, that sort of attitude will get you away from the copier faster than slacking over it: "Why are we wasting this guy on copying when he could be doing things that require this level of attention?"
posted by mendel at 9:25 AM on November 8, 2005

My advice is similar to mendel's. Make it a contest with yourself to be the best damned admin evar! I would discuss the situation with your boss (especially since he's noticed a problem). Tell him you're aware that you've messed up but that you're working on it and that you're looking forward to moving up in the company.
posted by deborah at 10:13 AM on November 8, 2005

Be careful about becoming super admin. It's a good basic philosophy to try and do everything to the best of your ability but it can also backfire. If you are really good at some task it has the tendency to bring you more of that task especially if it is an unpopular one. Do at least be competent. (Call me a cynic but there is some truth in "No good deed goes unpunished".)

I've been working for the same company for almost 27 years in a wide range of capacities. There have always been some things about my job that I haven't been enamored with. That's why they have to pay me to show up.
posted by Carbolic at 10:43 AM on November 8, 2005

I like making copies. -_-
posted by shepd at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2005

When I posted that assertion, I was prepared for someone to be the exception that proves the rule. =)
posted by raedyn at 11:21 AM on November 8, 2005

I like making copies. -_-

glad i'm not the only one! i get some kind of weird zen satisfaction out of stuffing envelopes or making photocopies or collating pages... :)

anonymous, perhaps you could try to get some sort of weird zen satisfaction out of the administrative tasks?
posted by clarahamster at 4:50 PM on November 8, 2005

Remember, some day when you move up the ladder someone else is going to be the new guy/gal and you are going to be asking them to make copies. If they do a crappy job what are you going to think about them? That is how your coworkers will think about you if you slack off. Just do the work (and that's why it is called work), and years from now when you are handing down all of your admin work to the newbie, remember how you hated it and keep that in mind.
posted by markblasco at 5:20 PM on November 8, 2005

When I posted that assertion, I was prepared for someone to be the exception that proves the rule. =)

I started to say something about liking (some) mindless activity but deleted it on preview. The brain travels to marvelous places whilst stuffing envelopes. Heh.

posted by deborah at 11:43 PM on November 8, 2005

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