Dear Businesslady: “That’s Not in My Job Description”

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash.

Dear Businesslady,

I’m an office manager in an office of 30ish idiosyncratic people. I not only deal with the phones, accounting, appointments, travel plans, inter-department communication, and just about everything else people decide they don’t want to do, I also sort the mail. I used to kind of like getting the mail (we have a big office and it gives me an excuse to stretch my legs) but within the past three years I’ve noticed  a sizable increase in online personal purchases and more trips (for me) around the office to distribute deliveries.

I didn’t mind at first (Yay, here’s your bathing suit. Yay, everyone and I mean everyone is buying an Instant Pot! Wow, you REALLY all bought Insta Pots! Wow, a stereo system is… heavy.). But now I’m signing for 5+ packages, 3–5 times a day (UPS, FedEx, Amazon, UPS afternoon, USPS) all for different people. It’s really time consuming. Also, just due to professional development, I have more to do now.

As our society gets more and more dependent on Amazon and online shopping, can we set certain etiquette guidelines for how much people should expect their co-workers to bring them their personal mail that they’re having delivered to work? Do I get tipped at Christmas?


Your Friendly (& Resentful!) Workplace Mailman

Dear Mailman,

That friendly/resentful dichotomy is all too real — not just for this particular obligation that’s fallen into your lap, but for so many things that happen to us in professional life. Once everyone’s come to believe that something falls within your purview, it’s tough to extract yourself from the process (as we’ve discussed before). Your situation is similar to that earlier letter-writer’s — you’re stuck doing work that’s not really part of your job description, without clear means of escape — but there’s a practical dimension here that replaces the emotional complications in the previous column.

Because the thing is… getting packages delivered to your office is a pretty common perk in office-based jobs. It’s not required, and I’m sure there are places where it’s forbidden (both for legitimate logistical reasons and power-trippy draconian ones). But like a coffee maker, access to facial tissue, and free pens, it’s something that most people expect. Even though — unlike those other things — it’s not exactly work-related.

On the flipside, though, there is an argument that it avoids absences due to folks running home to sign for packages. I have been the Distributor of Office Mail, so I am entirely sympathetic to what a pain in the butt it is to take time out of your busy workday to play Santa. However, I also once lived in an apartment building where the package-reception system was “they get dumped in a pile in the fairly unsecured lobby,” and stuff got stolen constantly. So it’s worth noting that not everyone has a building manager or other reliable system for buying stuff online and then having it delivered.

It’s also worth noting that there’s value in not seeming like The Stingiest Company Imaginable. If your employees feel appreciated and supported, they’ll be more likely to stick around long-term, less likely to leave for the first job offer that comes along. The cost of the occasional pilfered pen and other low-key perks are more than worth the goodwill they engender.

With that in mind, the problem isn’t so much people’s mail as the fact that dealing with it takes time out of your day. It’s one of those tasks that seems petty to mention on a granular level, but in the aggregate it’s a meaningful imposition. That’s not an etiquette problem, it’s a workflow problem. It’s a problem for your manager to help you solve. You’re not being silly or entitled by being frustrated by this — as with all significant workplace labor, you deserve to be recognized for your efforts or else relieved of those duties. (The other day I read “Work is the link between the visible and the invisible” from the late sociologist Leigh Star, and that line has stuck with me ever since.)

You ought to bring this up with your boss and propose that you develop a plan for addressing it. But addressing it, of course, is going to be a task of its own. (Extricating yourself from a too-much-work situation always entails even more work, at least at the outset. It’s annoying. Just trust that it will be worth it in the long run, and know that I’m cheering you on all the way.) Before you raise the issue, think about the various possible solutions. I’m feeling brainstormy so I’ll do a few for you:

  • You send out a daily bcc: email to package recipients to say “hey, come get your mail” and everyone’s responsible for picking them up themselves (from your desk, a supply closet, whatever makes sense)
  • Personal deliveries are decreed to be prohibited and everyone gets pissed off but at least you’re free
  • Henceforth people are responsible for knowing they have packages delivered and picking them up from [some predetermined place]; you will not be involved at all
  • You keep things mostly as they are, but you’re your office’s most prolific shoppers are asked to manage their own deliveries from now on (i.e., a softer version of the above)
  • You hire/appoint an intern or someone else with less seniority/workload to deal with packages
  • You get a raise/promotion to reflect all your additional responsibilities, and the fact that you’re getting more done during your workdays

Some of these are stronger ideas than others, obviously, but they’re all options and it’s good to know how you feel about all of them — both so you know how to react if your manager proposes any of them, and so you can figure out which one you actually prefer.

Once you’ve got a best-case-scenario and a loose hierarchy of alternatives in mind, then you find an opportunity to broach the subject. (As with all targeted approach-to-boss conversations, you want to find a calm moment, with nothing unduly urgent going on, so that your priorities don’t seem misplaced. I’m sure you already know this, but I feel compelled to remind people of the basics as part of the magnanimous mailbag wrangling that is this column.)

Hopefully your boss will get it and help you find a fix. Buuut if managers could reliably be expected to respond supportively to their underlings’ valid complaints, no one would need my advice. If you get pushback, keep reiterating the points above: that this is extraneous to your core duties, that it’s good for morale (assuming you’re not advocating the nuclear “no more packages!” option above, which I wouldn’t recommend), but that it takes time — and that, now that you’re responsible for “phones, accounting, appointments, travel plans, inter-department communication, and just about everything else” that keeps business running smoothly, your time is more limited and valuable than ever.

If you’re wondering which option I’m in favor of, by the way, I bet you can already guess: it’s the last one. As far as problems of overwork are concerned, “Find a way to get recognition” is an evergreen solution. And it’s especially appropriate for someone who (like you) has been adding tasks to their portfolio. That’s not really professional development unless it’s helping advance your career, so your frustration with being your office’s de facto Mr. McFeely might present the perfect opportunity to launch a broader reevaluation of your role, title, and compensation.

You might not succeed in overhauling your entire position or launching yourself into a new pay grade. But at the very least you should be able to spend less time managing other people’s floppy plasticized clothing envelopes and giant, unwieldy Amazon boxes containing a single bottle of perfume—and more time doing your actual job.

And look, I would never actually advocate damaging anyone’s personal property. However, if you get truly fed up about this, it might be psychologically therapeutic to at least imagine yourself implementing the Shel Silverstein solution. 

When you’re trying to do too much, it’s inevitable that something’s gonna get dropped.

Courtney C.W. Guerra is an editor and writer who’s been giving advice as Dear Businesslady since 2014. She’s the author of Is This Working?, a “witty and entertaining career guide for anyone who’s interested in professional success—but not at the expense of their personal investments. Keep in touch via Twitter, Facebook, her TinyLetter, or her website.

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