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To the essential go the breaks–unfair, or just reality?

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in Your Office Coach

Q: “My manager says everybody is important, but she still treats people differently. For example, she expects me to clean out the department refrigerator and wipe up spills in the coffee area. She also tells me to keep the printer and copier filled with paper.

“I have a very responsible job as an administrative assistant in this medical center. However, my boss clearly feels that the clinical staff’s time is more important than mine. Although she preaches teamwork, she doesn't expect the medical people to replace paper or clean up after themselves.

“Our manager often says 'Remember that if it weren’t for the medical staff, we would not have jobs.' This makes the rest of us feel unimportant. In this day and time, shouldn’t everyone be expected to do these tasks?” Unappreciated

A: There’s no right or wrong answer here, but I’ll gladly give you my personal opinion. Your paper replacement duties seem reasonable to me, because dealing with office equipment is typically part of an assistant’s job. However, being the assistant does not make you the maid.

Refrigerator cleaning ought to be done by the maintenance staff. If that’s not possible, then everyone should take a turn, using a weekly assignment roster. A notice should be posted near the coffee asking people to clean up their own spills.

That said, my opinion does not change the fact that certain people are likely to be exempt from these tasks. Although every employee makes a valuable contribution, some positions will always have more status and therefore more leverage.

In any organization, the greatest status is given to those who are both essential for success and difficult to replace. For example, movie stars are more highly esteemed than camera operators, even though camera operators are very important.

The reality, therefore, is that physicians are not likely to start scrubbing out vegetable bins, and your manager will not be able to make them. But if you present your request in a reasonable manner, perhaps you can convince her to enlist your other colleagues in a cleaning rotation.

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