How to Avoid Becoming the Office Catch-All

Michele Warg
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If you are like many administrative professionals, you handle requests from executives and other employees. Over time, you may find that other employees begin to take it for granted that you'll handle any task — and before long, you might find yourself becoming the office catch-call, loaded with all of the tasks that no one else wants to do. With a proactive approach, you can avoid this fate and maintain a more balanced workload.

For administrative professionals, it is crucial to set limits from the beginning. Once you establish a pattern of accepting any job, it can be difficult to retrain other employees to stop sending their busy work your way. Start by defining the scope of your responsibilities; when requests come in that don't fit into that scope, politely decline. If possible, redirect the person to the correct department or employee. Instead of just saying no, you can say, "I don't handle invoices; they should go to Nancy in Accounts." That way, you can train employees to go to the right person instead of dropping work on your desk by default.

Saying no can be difficult, particularly when you're one of the newer administrative professionals in a company. According to U.S. News & World Report, one option is to simply admit that you're overwhelmed. Let other employees know that your time is completely consumed by your other tasks and that you simply can't take on another. Chances are, your coworkers will be sympathetic and find another way to handle their requests.

In some offices, employees treat administrative professionals like a shared personal assistant. If you're in this situation, one of the easiest ways to avoid becoming the office catch-all is to place the highest priority on the work you do for your direct supervisor. When an employee comes to you with a request, you can decline, stating that you are currently busy with a project from the boss. Most employees are unlikely to push an issue that interferes with a supervisor's work.

Keep in mind that it is impractical to say no to every task that comes your way — after a while, you'll be regarded as lazy. If you're like many administrative professionals, you want to advance within the company; saying no too many times can damage your prospects. Take the time to consider each extra request as it comes in. Say yes to the tasks or people that will help advance your career and no to anything extraneous. This type of prioritization can help you stay sane without hurting your reputation in the company.

By learning how to set boundaries and say no, you can avoid the fate of many administrative professionals: becoming the office drudge. As an added benefit, you'll establish yourself as a strong, assertive professional in the process.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at


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