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Overcoming Obstacles: Young Pros and the Coffee Run

September 22, 2009

Hey young pros: There’s a difference between getting coffee and setting up lunch.

Sure, they are both dealing with food. Your supervisor is probably asking you to do this task.  And yes, many interns and entry level pros have probably gotten coffee a time or two. But here’s the difference:  Who is it serving, the client/organization or a co-worker? Yes, your supervisor is your co-worker.

I read this article yesterday (Thanks Rachel for tweeting it) and, well, it just kinda played up on the whole “Gen Y thinks they are better than everyone else” stereotype. An intern refused to go on the daily coffee run for the second day in a row. I was once asked by an intern boss to take her kids to the dentist, and politely refused. That had no benefit to the client, the business or any meetings that were going on. Now, if a client had cracked a tooth at an event, I’d take them to the dentist.

Some think this might be an ethical thing. True or False?

1. If you’re asked to set up lunch for a client meeting and set out coffee, it’s ok.  It’s not ok to ask your employee to go on a coffee run for you everyday.

2. Talk to your supervisor about it. If you don’t think it’s something that is benefitting the business or the client, tell them. Present to them your work duties, and why you think that it doesn’t fit.

3. Be aware of your tone. Accusatory and whiny isn’t going to get you anywhere. Stay calm, cool and collected – and address the situation as a business professional.

What else? How do you address an obstacle with a boss? What can we do to combat stereotypes?


This week’s #u30pro chat will be about overcoming obstacles and the steps you take when challenges arise. Join David Spinks and me on Thursday at 7 pm EST.

56 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2009 7:34 am

    First off, wow! And thank you Lauren and Rachel for bringing this post to light. While I agree with you Lauren about who we serve (client vs co-worker). I do believe there’s also a message about teamwork. Everyone in an organization, from the custodian to the VP has a very important role to play. And, when times are a little crazy, we all pitch in where we can. In my former organization, sometimes that meant I was grabbing the lunch run for our team because I was at a good pause spot. Other times I was performing a few clerical duties because our admin asst was crazy finalizing plans for an event. With that being said, there were also times that my supervisor was the one running out for coffee or calling on her way back from a meeting and offering to pick up lunch for everyone. In a real team environment, we can serve the client better if we’re also serving each other.

    The original post noted that the daily coffee run was mentioned as a part of the job description. If this is really the case, the intern should have sucked it up and done it. He could use the opportunity as a chance to network and learn more about what others are working on. I will say…I’m not sure how I would have been felt asking to do the morning coffee run every day as an intern…but I probably wouldn’t have taken the job either.

    • September 22, 2009 7:50 am

      I agree. If the coffee runs were originally part of the job description, then there is really no excuse for refusing. If the intern thought it wasn’t something he would want to do every day, that was a conversation that should have happened before signing on.

    • September 22, 2009 7:50 am

      Brenda – That’s how it works at our office too. I go out for lunch and offer to get it for the team, or sometimes my boss will go get coffee and bring me one back. I think there is a difference between team pitching in and making the intern do it everyday, like you said.

      Once it becomes everyday, I think that’s an issue.

      Thanks for a great comment!

  2. September 22, 2009 7:48 am

    I’m glad you addressed this. 🙂

    I was asked to go on a coffee run once, and I eagerly accepted because it was for one of the big head honchos. It was still early in my internship, and I was working really late and my boss asked me. It’s not happened since, but I would be willing to go every now and then. I feel as though to some extent we all need to pay our dues. If that means going on a coffee run now and again, I think that’s OK.

    There is a point, however, when asking favors of interns becomes hazing and just plain degrading. A coffee run two days in a row doesn’t really qualify in my book, and I think the intern was a big over-dramatic in this situation. If it was two weeks in a row, yes. If he was asked to wear a dress this time, yes. Maybe it was a really busy week for the boss? Maybe there’s a big report or presentation and they need to focus? Obviously it could have been handled better on both ends, but I just can’t place 100 percent of the blame on the employer.

    We all must start somewhere. That doesn’t mean that interns shouldn’t be respected, but it also doesn’t mean that they should ever think they’re too good to do a task like a coffee run.

    • September 22, 2009 7:52 am

      I think the difference is the amount of time it’s being asked – if it was every once and a while, sure. If it was told to you before you took the job, then sure. But I think a daily thing, without being told before you took the job, is a problem. 2 days in a row isn’t something that should get someone upset, but if it was a week I would probably say something.

      The point of an internship is to educate, engage and learn – on both sides IMO.

      • September 22, 2009 8:05 am

        I definitely agree. Once it starts to detract from the point of the internship it is no longer OK.

  3. September 22, 2009 7:53 am

    I seemed to have missed that article making the twitter rounds so thank you for bringing it to my attention! I’ve been lucky in my internship experiences that I have only had to get coffee a few times. I’ve never minded because its always been for a meeting or special occasion, and my supervisor has always appreciated. I think doing menial tasks is part of being an intern, and as long as its not the main focus and you are getting to do valuable tasks as well, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

    As for combating Gen Y stereotypes, all we can do is show by example and prove that not all Gen Y-ers fit the stereotype. There will always be the few that make us look bad, but that just means that we have to work even harder.

    I’m actually shocked that a supervisor would ask you to take her kids to a dentist appointment though- thats going too far!

    • September 22, 2009 7:55 am

      I think that you made a big difference point – it was for a meeting or a special occasion. It wasn’t for the daily coffee run. What do you think? Is it the same, or can you relate it to if it benefits the client (meetings, etc.) or just a co-worker?

      • September 22, 2009 8:56 am

        I think a daily coffee run is different to a special occasion or meeting. Someone beneath me said it was part of the office culture and the whole office pitched in- that sounds like fun, and I would by no means mind pitching in. If I was told up front that I would have to do a daily coffee run, then I’d weigh my options and see if I really really wanted the internship- if it was working for my dream company, I may make that compromise. However, I would make sure I was participating in other beneficial tasks as well. If I did have a problem with it, I think I would just swallow my pride and deal with it- when I did my first internship at a fashion PR firm, I did some miserable stuff and only learned what NOT to do in PR, but I was desperate for some experience so I put up with it for 6 weeks. Addressing issues like that can be extremely sensitive, especially when you’re an intern and feel like you don’t have a say anyways. I like your idea about talking to your supervisor and listing your work commitments and if they don’t fit, but what if your supervisor is less than responsive?

  4. Laney permalink
    September 22, 2009 7:58 am


    I completely agree with you on this subject. There are appropriate times when you can do the arranging for lunch etc. I don’t think its an entitlement thing at all. It’s more of a “you could be using me in such a better way.” I like to be really open and aware about the stereotypes. I like to be awarded with more challenging, complex tasks and I am not afraid to tell my supervisors that. (In a nice way obviously).

    • September 22, 2009 8:01 am

      I wonder sometimes if interns and fresh in the field pros want to prove themselves – and supervisors play into that mentality. I was so fortunate that after that one weird incident, I had GREAT bosses that truly encouraged me. I learned a lot. I worry that being “too green” blinds you to the fact that you aren’t actually learning. Like I said – lunch meetings are totally fine, as is getting coffee or refilling cups during client meetings. But where’s the line? And how do you address it? I think it’s a huge obstacle.

      That confidence you have will definitely help – I think supervisors appreciate that you can approach them and have a conversation about it.

  5. September 22, 2009 8:02 am

    Lauren, you’re a butt-kicker. I dig that about you. Wish I’d been nearly as smart when I was your age. 🙂

    As someone who’s been around the corporate block a few times, I get more than a little put off when higher-ups ask those they view as “beneath them” to do menial tasks like this. In fact, when I left the last job I had working for anyone other than myself, this was certainly on the list of reasons I flew the coop.

    While entry-level employees have to expect to do their share of grunt work (that’s just a fact of life), they should be treated with the same level of respect as everyone else. There’s no excuse for the boss to expect his employees to gather his dry cleaning or wipe his backside. If he/she wants a personal assistant, then he should hire one. End of story.

    You raise excellent points, as always. 🙂

    • September 22, 2009 8:14 am

      Wow, thanks Melissa! What a compliment. 🙂 And I’m sure you were just as smart, if not more so, at my age.

      I like the point you make about a personal assistant – those are job duties that are explained at the start, and they expect to do those things. I agree about the grunt work – it’s inevitable. You are learning the ropes, and the ins and outs of the business. You can’t expect to never do any of that stuff.

  6. Katie permalink
    September 22, 2009 8:16 am

    At my first internship our office bought us Starbucks every Monday morning and I was told as an intern that part of my job every Monday morning would be to go help bring back the Starbucks for the office, but I didn’t mind because A) I was told off the bat that this was going to be part of the Monday routine B) It was something for the whole office – myself included and C) It was never just on me, I always had someone else come with me anywhere from the other interns to an SVP, so it was more of a team thing.

    I agree that “we all have to pay our dues” and I def. don’t think that when you’re checking off your daily to-do list that “get my boss coffee” should be on there, but like people have already mentioned, sometimes it’s for the good of the group…

    That being said, I think there is a *HUGE* difference between respecting your elders/co-workers and letting yourself get walked all over. You were hired/given the internship because the company saw potential in your work skills, not your ability to speak coffee jargon and balance a tray of soy mocha lattes while walking up 3 flights of stairs in a pencil skirt and heels.

    • September 22, 2009 8:24 am

      Katie – You touched on a really big difference – standing up for yourself, and respecting others. Interns are hired for their work skills, and should be educated, engaged with and ready to enter the workforce.

      To me, interns and entry pros will be in this industry after I am – and why would I want someone who is not prepared shaping the industry?

  7. September 22, 2009 8:27 am

    I work in an IT shop and we do not make coffee runs. Our managers are kinda health freaks or claim to be health freaks. “Too many coffee calories is not good…” they might say. From time to time you’ll find them driving in late because they wanted coffee.

    For our customers? Our customers have to settle for our coffee machine….lol because we are so damn cheap. Being cheap looks good in business, and it gives us a good image because we are a solutions company. 😉 Little do they know about our hidden game room w/ XBox and 42″ HDTV….lol

    I am more concerned about The Doughnut Wars in the office. “Hey I brought them last week it is your turn”…etc… Yuk, I think these Wars are way more irritating then coffee runs. Co-workers actually keep track where you buy your donuts and wont eat them if they are NOT from some Hole in The Wall Doughnut Shop Place. Co-workers expect a wide variety of doughnuts. Boss always expects his Doughnut holes in a bag on his desk when he gets in. I always take a pic of the doughnut holes and finish the e-mail explaining we are eating his doughnut holes while he is standing in line at St-rbucks…lol Some health freaks right?

    Nice article, my advise would be if you can screw up the order and still keep your job then do it or here are some other suggestions:

    1st suggestion is to play coffee stupid, because your a tea person

    2nd suggestion is to play like you were raised like a Mormon.

    3rd suggestion, look at your boss and say, “Sure give me your keys because I’m all out of gas.”

    4th suggestion, buy doughnuts and they won’t ask you to get coffee.

    5th suggestion, never drink expensive coffee and set a healthy example for others to follow. <my fav!

    Good luck!

    @Kelly62u 🙂

    • September 22, 2009 8:34 am

      Kelly – We have a coffee machine too, and when our board members come in, that’s what is served. I think it’s all about the give and take – are you getting anything out of it? What type of environment is it? Who are you helping? Is it common – or are you the only one doing anything?

  8. Carroll Burney permalink
    September 22, 2009 8:31 am

    Great topic, Lauren! I just wanted to throw in my thoughts…. My title is VP of Marketing and Development, but I can tell you that I do a number of things on a daily basis that probably don’t even fall anywhere close to being in my job description. But, working for a small nonprofit, I have to – and I don’t mind at all. Being part of the team is much bigger than having to do something someone feels is beneath him/her. I think it creates a great sense of camaraderie and lets people know that no matter what, you’ve got their backs. I’ve done everything from answering phones to replacing paper towels/toilet paper in the bathroom to getting food for a meeting. In the end, it all comes down to work ethic, and I think if you have a solid work ethic, you’ll do what it takes to get any job done – no matter if it’s in your job description or not!

    • September 22, 2009 8:33 am

      I definitely agree, Caroll – we work in a similar setting, and we have kitchen duty, people trade off on making coffee, etc. I think if I was asked daily, though, to go to Starbucks for my boss once I was at work, that it might be an issue.

      I think the team environment v. feeling ordered around makes a huge difference. You are part of a team, and everyone pitches in.

      Great points – I’m glad you brought them up! 🙂

    • Katie permalink
      September 22, 2009 8:38 am

      I think that’s an interesting point – the idea of “Work Ethic”…I try to work hard every single day I am at work, often staying late or coming in early – doing whatever it takes to get work done for the client, but I’m not sure if the tasks you listed (replacing paper towels, getting coffee…etc.) would be considered part of work ethic or just general helpfulness.

      I would have no problem cleaning up a spill, answering phones, or changing the paper towels just because I like to be helpful, but I think that when it becomes *expected* of you or people *demand it* of you that it becomes a problem (unless, of course, it is actually part of your job description)…

      …does that make sense?

      • September 22, 2009 8:42 am

        It’s really common in non-profits to do that kind of stuff. It’s a large team atmosphere, and we work on one client, in one building. Many don’t have a cleaning service or management team that does all that.

        I think work environment plays a huge role in this issue.

  9. September 22, 2009 8:32 am

    This is a great topic!

    After looking at the comments above, I agree: Grabbing a cup o’ joe for your coworker is not an issue if: A) It’s addressed in your job description or B) It happens on occasion.

    I’ve been an intern for a year now, and I’ve only delivered coffee to my coworkers once. I was making a run to a local bookstore to grab a magazine my organization was mentioned in, so I offered to pick up Starbucks for anyone who was interested. No big deal; I know my coworkers would do the same for me!

    However, I do see how grabbing coffee for coworkers could cause tension if it’s happening on a consistent basis.

    • September 22, 2009 8:38 am


      Thanks for commenting! I think the environment that your co-worker would do the same for you makes all the difference. I think if its consistent behavior to ask the intern to do that for you, then it starts crossing a line. It’s all about balance, respect and how you address the issue.

  10. September 22, 2009 8:41 am

    Great conversation here, Lauren. I don’t have much else to add that everyone here hasn’t written already, but I do agree that interns or entry level employees shouldn’t be getting coffee every day or replacing toilet paper or anything like that.

    I like your distinction, however, between whether the “chore” is serving the client/organization or a co-worker. It’s definitely different – and more understandable – when it’s serving the client/organization, and it’s not something out of The Devil Wears Prada.

    I do also agree with those who have written that we all have to pitch in and help the team out when warranted.

    I think an example of when an employee should perhaps be willing to do something like make/get the coffee every day would be in a situation where he/she is working for a start-up/small biz. I read an interesting article about this yesterday in USA Today. (

    Again, thanks for sparking this conversation!

    • September 22, 2009 8:44 am

      Another good point about small biz – does the environment you work in play a role? Should you evaluate based off who it is benefitting?

      My distinction is something I always evaluated my duties on – because to me, the brand always comes first.

  11. September 22, 2009 8:43 am

    Great post — it really does depend on who is benefiting here. And if a coffee run or some other errand was not part of the original job description, it’s well within the intern/entry level pro’s right to speak up (politely), but it’s important to remember teamwork. I used to go on coffee runs for one of my internships, but other times, the VP went, or the CEO would go. I never minded running out for coffee because I saw my superiors were more than willing to do the same, which I think is an important part of any job.

    • September 22, 2009 8:45 am

      That’s the big distinction – it’s ok to ask someone to do something menial, if you’re willing to do it too. It’s all about give and take when it comes to personal coffee runs.

  12. September 22, 2009 8:46 am

    Personally, I’m not a fan of bosses asking interns or new hires to do errands and tasks like that if they could just as easily do it themselves. If it’s in the job description, that’s fair game, but I still don’t think that’s the best use of an intern.

    With that said, I definitely think the secret here is all in how you respond to the request. If you do think that it is an absurd thing to ask of you and it doesn’t fit in your job description, don’t pitch a fit and tell all of your coworkers how mad you are about it. Why? Because this isn’t going to stop your boss from asking you to do it again since you’re not actually telling them what you feel.

    If you can politely tell them that you don’t feel like that’s part of your job and that you’re not helping the company by doing it, then, in the end, you may come out of the situation with your boss respecting you even more for voicing your opinion in such a professional manner.

    • September 22, 2009 9:02 am

      Jackie – Would you view it differently if it’s a team effort? I once worked at a place where I got coffee just because I was out, and my CEO got it for me the next week.

      If it was only me, I’d have the same feelings you do.

      You hit it on the head with tone, because it definitely makes all of the difference.

      • September 22, 2009 9:30 am

        If it’s a team effort, that changes everything. In that case, asking you to do it comes across as they trust you and want to include you as part of their ‘team.’ If you’re the only one doing it, then it comes across more like nobody else wants to do it so they just passed it down to the lowest person on the totem pole.

  13. September 22, 2009 9:00 am

    I completely agree that it all lies within what everyone is getting out of it.

    For example, if my boss is an a meeting with executive management and says they are running low on fuel and need snacks and drinks, you better bet that I will be bringing them some coffee/cokes/trail mix. If executives of our entire agency are taking the time to help our account, and specifically, my direct clients, I am more than willing to bring them coffee (these guys are awesomely low-maintenance though, and typically are fine with our brew we call “coffee”).

    I also don’t mind grabbing an extra cup if I am on my way to the coffee station. On the other hand, if my boss sent me out to starbucks while she sat at her desk, I would have to ask myself why she didn’t just run by on her way to the office.

    Gotta hand it to my boss–she always suggests we go to starbucks together. Then she offers to buy. I should also point out that things like this make me respect my boss even more and glad that I work for someone who appreciates the work I do. Little things go a long way.

    • September 22, 2009 9:08 am

      Courtney – Great points, and those situations I would be more than happy to get coffee.

      My boss suggests lunch and Starbucks runs too. It’s a true testament to our team work environment and how everyone works together.

  14. September 22, 2009 10:01 am

    First off, how is it that this blog is one of the first I check every day, and it always has 20+ comments before I even get to it. You’ve been on fire lately!

    It’s a tough spot for any intern to be in. It’s easy to say now, that back when I was an intern, I would have stood up for myself as a professional and refused these bs tasks. For a young student looking to just get their foot in the door however, it takes a lot of cojones, if you will.

    What it comes down to is what you want to get out of your internship. If you’re just looking for something to throw in your resume, then go get that coffee. If you’re looking to get a great start in a professional career, and gain some valuable real world experience, then you have to pursue it…and that means not getting the coffee every day.


    • September 22, 2009 10:07 am

      Think it comes down to whether you look at your position as just work, or as your career?

      • September 22, 2009 10:36 am

        I think you made a great point. I work for a university and we have a student worker who is supposed to be doing analytical work for us which goes along with his major. However, he has been assigned grounds work since he started in May (a whole ‘nother story as to why but it basically comes down to lack of prep work by his supervisor). When I asked him why he hasn’t spoken up about not being assigned any of the intended projects he said “it’s just a job and will still look good on my resume.”

        I have never thought about any position I’ve been in, from my first job and internship to my current job, as just a “job.” To me, everything I have done has been part of building my career. It all depends on your goals in life and what you want to get out of every experience.

        • September 22, 2009 11:04 am

          I’ve never looked at it that way either – but many times, friends tell me that I stress too much about something that is “just a job.” It’s never been that way for me, ever.

    • Katie permalink
      September 22, 2009 10:19 am

      Well said, David – “What it comes down to is what you want to get out of your internship. If you’re just looking for something to throw in your resume, then go get that coffee.”

      I think that’s a really valid point.

  15. September 22, 2009 10:26 am

    I have a problem with them including the coffee run in his job description. Unless he is interning as a personal or executive assistant I don’t think it’s appropriate for that to be a task in an internship. Internships are meant to be a learning experience. What does going to get coffee teach you? Everyone has to do “grunt work” in their internships but that shouldn’t go further than menial office tasks that, as Lauren said, benefit the company/client.

    Others have said this but I’ll reiterate it since it is important – it is completely different if it is a shared task – the office gets coffee every day and someone goes to pick it up. Fine…that establishes team work and a sense of community.

    I went through a similar situation when I first started in my current position where I’m not an intern or an entry level employee. At first, I did it because I work for a very small company and since I was new I didn’t have a lot of tasks yet. Then it became far too frequent (3-4 times a day) and I had respectfully put my foot down. It can be hard when you are new or “trying to earn you stripes” but you have to do what is best for you and your career.

    There stereotypes that are perpetrated in the response and following comments are also disturbing. I witness it every day and I’ve decided to go by the old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Every time I have to prove that I’m not a stereotypical Gen Y’er it makes me a stronger person. I’m looking forward to the #u30pro discussion on Thursday.

    Thanks for another great post, Lauren.

    • September 22, 2009 11:04 am

      I think that people will sometimes take advantage of the situation – if you do it once, they will keep doing it at a higher frequency. I think it can be hard to have the courage to say something – I am not a confrontational person and it can be really hard for me to do it at times. However, when it’s affecting my career, I will say something.

  16. September 22, 2009 1:11 pm

    I think everyone has touched on the important aspect: respect.

    However, I hope that us young folks aren’t getting too arrogant when it comes to these tasks. We had a discussion on #u30pro on this, but it seems that a lot of folks are approaching this subject like it’s beneath them. I hope I’m reading too far into these comments, but again, it comes down to respect. Think about the folks that started your company. The countless hours and work, the sweat, the effort that went into forming your organization. Give those folks the same respect you are requesting. I don’t care who you are and what your position in within your organization – everyone needs to pitch in. Again, as long as it’s respectful.

    • September 22, 2009 1:14 pm

      I think it all depends on your work environment and how it’s being presented to you. The thinking “Treat others how you want to be treated” should apply to all, no matter if you’re an intern or not.

      I don’t think getting coffee is beneath anyone, but it depends on context, approach, type of environment and frequency.

    • September 22, 2009 1:51 pm

      Respect is a two-way street and you make a very good point – we need to give the respect that we want to receive. Also, as you said, it is important that everyone pitch in. Each person is an important part of the organization and should be treated as such. I agree with Lauren that I don’t think getting coffee is beneath anyone. Iin my situation it really did come down to the context in which it was asked, how it was approached and how often I had to do it. I was suddenly the only one making coffee and was being interrupted in the middle of things to make coffee. I felt disrespected and that’s where I had to draw the line.

  17. September 22, 2009 1:27 pm

    When you collect a paycheck or get credit for an internship, suck it up and do the best you can.

    Great point about figuring out who the act is serving.

    If someone is stuck on a 3-hr conference call and you are twiddling your thumbs, don’t be offended if they ask you to make a lunch run. However, if someone is just too lazy to go, you should definitely speak up.

    I told a story on Sasha’s blog about how, as a SAE, I spent a day alone in the heat picking up trash…and that I was on my way to a client meeting so I was in dress clothes the entire time.

    In the professional world, everyone will do things they:
    1) Don’t want to do
    2) Think is WAY below them

    People may ask “don’t they have people to handle that?” Just remember that sometimes, you are the “people,” even on the most unpleasant of tasks. It comes with the territory.

    • September 22, 2009 1:29 pm

      I definitely think its ok every once and awhile, or if it benefits the client/org/brand. Guess what? Our CEO helps with kitchen duty on a regular basis. Should she? Heck no. But she does.

      • K.C. Williams permalink
        September 22, 2009 2:40 pm

        Why shouldn’t your CEO have kitchen duty? Does she not use the kitchen?

        If you use the last of the toilet paper, change the roll. If you spill your lunch on the counter, wipe it up. Call others out when they leave their trash on the table in the break room.

        The company I currently work for has a cleaning service come in early in the morning and they’re done by the time we actually open. But they aren’t there to clean our break room or straighten our supplies – they are there to mop, clean toilets, wash the windows, and do the other things that make the business presentable to the customers. Their job has nothing to do with the employees, and it shouldn’t, because cleaning up my mess for me does nothing to better the business (unless you correlate a messy break room with stressed out employees…)

        The coffee thing is all in context. If my boss gave me her credit card to get her coffee, she better be offering to put my coffee on her card too. I would probably welcome the change of scenery, the chance to get out for a few minutes and not have to think about work. Then I’d be energized and ready to jump in with both feet when I got back. Sometimes in an environment that doesn’t schedule “breaks,” a small break can be a good thing.

        Here’s something to think about – when you go with your boss to get coffee together, how often do you let your boss treat? Every time she offers? Every other time? Do you offer to get hers once in a while even though she’s making way more money than you? Do you politely decline her offer because it’s the humble thing to do, then take her up on it when she insists? Or do you always prefer to go Dutch?

        • September 23, 2009 7:52 am

          I’m of the mindset that as CEO, she shouldn’t have to. I think it shows real leadership and teamwork that she does, though. My boss and I usually split the tab, but sometimes she pays. Sometimes I do. It really just depends on the situation.

  18. September 22, 2009 1:31 pm

    There’s a couple of disconnects based around age-based stereotype disconnects. It’s irrelevant whether the intern refused the coffee run because of his age or his place in the company. He refused because he FELT it was beneath him and he stood up for himself. Missing from his company’s reaction is empathy with the position he took in defending himself.

    The follow ups call out ongoing hot buttons of miscommunication, which may prove irrelevant in his thought process or company reaction: Gen Y thinks they are better than everyone else; we all need to pay our dues; could be using me in such a better way. Not to argue the merit of any of these pass, they all create chasms among coworkers. Chasms all of us as communicators need to do a better job addressing.

    Collectively, we need to do a better job seeing one another and tasks assigned through different lenses. Suffice it to say, if you perceive a task beneath you it will be beneath you. And, if you appreciate a tasks value, you might begin to weigh it differently.

    Such conversations are rarely about coffee or dentist runs or copies—all of which can be rationalized away. These conversations should focus on managing differently, adopting different (broader) perspectives and never forgetting what it felt like when something similar was asked of us.

    Chnging perspective by one degree completely shifts the communications and understanding process.

    • September 22, 2009 1:46 pm

      Marian – I really liked your comment. I think sometimes we all need to step back and look at it differently, if just to get another perspective. You’re right – change is needed and shifts communications.

  19. September 22, 2009 1:40 pm

    Hi Lauren, great post.

    I understand why people are reacting so harshly to this, but I think we should look at the context of the situation. If his whole day is filled with menial tasks such as getting coffee, then yes it is very appropriate to speak up. This is not what he signed up for, and the employer is doing him a disservice.

    On the other hand, if he is doing actual work and learning new things all day and the coffee is just a one time thing (once a day even) then I don’t see the problem. At worst, it takes 30 mins. out of his day and he gets a break from the office. You gotta be careful about copping an attitude that certain tasks are “below you.” Easy way to offend someone


    • September 22, 2009 1:42 pm

      I think so much of this depends on the situation, what your daily tasks are, and your work environment. Also, it depends on how you’re approached. If it’s dictated to you in a demeaning manner, you might react badly. I know I would.

  20. Jessica permalink
    September 22, 2009 2:04 pm

    I agree with Lauren that it really depends on the purpose of the task and who is benefitting. (In this case I think the intern was being difficult and possibly insubordinate). It’s OK to scratch someone’s back and show them that you are willing to pitch in wherever needed, but there is also a fine line between being a team player and being the team patsy.

    In my first job after college I was ready and willing to do anything asked. I did the coffee and the lunches with no hesitation, and then the tasks grew larger and less team-oriented: cleaning my boss’s office, personal errands for her, her daughter and her daughter’s drill team. My boss even started lending my “office cleaning” services to members of the team (who were not my supervisors) that were “too busy” to organize or pack/unpack their offices. Not wanting to be insubordinate, I reluctantly complied, but felt I had reached a personal low. As a Gen Y employee, I really do understand that we all have to start at the bottom and get our hands dirty, but at some point it can go too far and discourage a loyal and willing team member.

    There is however a plus side. No matter what your entry-level experience entails – REMEMBER IT – and apply it as you work your way up the corporate ladder. You can teach someone the value of hard work, while also keeping their integrity intact.

    • September 23, 2009 7:54 am

      Hey Jess! I like your point about ‘the fine line between being a team player and the team patsy.” I also think many entry level pros had the same mindset you did going into your first professional job. I know I did – and it got out of hand really quickly. It didn’t go close to the extent yours did. I think getting your hands dirty and becoming a complete servant are two different things. I probably sound entitled saying servant. 🙂

      Thanks for contributing – great thoughts here!

  21. fisherjanet permalink
    September 23, 2009 12:16 pm

    Great points, Lauren! I don’t think it is out of line to ask interns to order lunch or set it up for a client meeting. I’ve done it plenty of times. I’ve also made coffee runs, and I’ve also walked down the street to Stop and Shop to pick up a birthday cake for a boss and then another time to buy stamps. And you know what? Poor me. I had to take a summertime walk to the supermarket and escape the office for a half-hour to pick up a few lattes (the company bought me one, too). It didn’t kill me.

    I think something I never realized as an intern is that it takes time out of a professional’s day to have an intern. I always wondered why I wasn’t getting paid, but I didn’t realize that in order for someone to manage me, that meant that he or she had to step away from writing a press release or steal a few seconds before a conference call to come over and explain a project to me. Obviously, intern projects like media-list building and clipping are extremely helpful to the pros, but it still takes time to manage and double-check an intern’s work.

    It’s great to hear that you stood up for yourself as an intern and didn’t play dentist-taxi. (I know an intern who was once asked to research car insurance rates for her boss…ridiculous.) I would highly encourage interns to *seek out* opportunities to learn and take on extra projects to learn and to ask questions. You are an intern and you are there to learn so make the most of your opportunity. But if your learning takes time away from the busy PR pro who is teaching you, take five minutes to throw some sandwiches on the table for the client meeting. It’s a small favor, and it’s more time in their day to work with the intern.

    Great blog, Lauren! 🙂


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