By ELIZABETH GARONE
Q: I'm in a bit of an awkward situation with my boss who is a high-powered attorney and I'm not sure what to do. For the past few weeks, he has been asking me to do things that are in no way part of my job description, like picking up his kids at camp and then babysitting them at the office until the end of the day or fetching his dry cleaning. I'm pretty sure that things will go back to normal once his wife returns (she's out of town), but in the meantime I feel very uncomfortable playing the part of personal assistant when I was hired as a receptionist.?
New York, N.Y.
A: Your boss doesn't quite qualify for a lead role in this summer's Horrible Bosses, but he's clearly taking advantage of you. What's worse: you're letting him.
Always saying yes to his outrageous requests – and they are outrageous, by the way – may be hurting your career prospects.
Christine Riordan, dean of the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business, studied the careers of more than 1,500 people over a 20-year period, and found that employees who are too nice or accommodating can be perceived less favorably by the very people they are trying to impress: their supervisors.
"Being too nice can deter your career progress and muddle your effectiveness as a leader," she says. Her research also showed that employees who are too likeable and too trusting receive lower salaries and fewer promotions. "It's all about balance," she says.That things will "go back to normal," as you put it, once your boss's wife returns, is about as likely as your boss treating you as an equal – not very.
If it's not picking up the kids or his dry cleaning, it will be something else. You've become an "office wife but with none of the benefits of an equal marriage," says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and a positive-psychology expert.
It's time to set some boundaries.
Start by having a candid conversation with your boss. Explain your expectations regarding your role, responsibilities and activities, suggests Ms. Riordan. This will help you pin down what's within the range of normal for your job. "Don't be afraid to ask questions, or for an explanation of your activities," she says.
If you can get a sense of what your boss is thinking, you'll be in a much better position to make an informed decision about your own future.
Most likely, it will come down to three choices. You stand up for yourself and let your boss know what you will and won't do; you decide that you actually like the breaks from answering the phones and you keep doing it; or you find yourself another job.
Whatever you choose, relish the fact that you made up your own mind. Your job is to do your job, not to be a pushover.