Assigned To Inspect Super’s Email

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about assigned to filter emails:

I need to ask your thoughts on a situation I have here at work. I try to be a “team player” and accept “other duties as assigned” as just part of any job. However, my supervisor is now asking me to read all of her emails to decide what is important and what can be deleted. This is supposed to be done on a regular basis, not during times of her extended leave or travel. This means that I must leave my desk, sit at hers, punch in her “secret” password, and go through her in-box (which currently contains 1,000+ unopened emails). I will mention that we have a policy in our employee handbook against giving out our password to ANYONE.

I think this request is at best inappropriate, at worst absurd. I feel it is her job to manage her emails, just as it is my job to manage mine. I also know that she will use this to blame me for missing something important that was transmitted via email. She has done this in the past, i.e. “I didn’t get that message. Barb must have deleted it.” I am very uncomfortable with this and have expressed my concern to my boss and her supervisor. I do not, however, want to be accused of insubordination. Your thoughts? Thanks.

Signed, Don’t Like This Assignment

Dear┬áDon’t Like This Assignment:

You do not say what your boss and her supervisor advised once you told them your were uncomfortable about being assigned by your supervisor to review and delete her unimportant e-mail. Is not their advice crucial to whether you are accused with insubordination if you resist or refuse to do so?

Obviously, your supervisor will not be pleased if you refuse, nor would she be happy if you already have spoken with your boss and her supervisor about how this assignment causes you discomfort. How does this chore fit with your job description? How much does it interrupt your major job assignments? How does this e-mail review/delete assignment differ from that of an assistant whose job includes opening her superior’s mail and discarding that which is not important?

Possibly answers to these questions will help you think through your uneasiness about this assignment and how to handle it. It seems to me that your firm statement of discomfort to your supervisor should result in her recalling this assignment. Probably your overall relationship with her will determine how well she responds to your resistance and/or refusal. If he reacts adamantly negative and she might, and you still think this task is unreasonable and interferes with your major job performance, you could “fight” it by again taking it above her head and state that you are doing so.

Your team-relationship with your supervisor appears not to be the best as is seen in the undercurrent evident in her, “I didn’t get that message. Barb must have deleted it.” Could it be that you two need to come to a candid understanding of what each of you expect of one another? In short, of how you want to and don’t want to be supervised? And of how she wants to and doesn’t want to supervise? Teamwork is not a matter of authority or resistance to it. Rather it is negotiable. It appears that you are the one who must initiate such a dos and don’ts conversation. And you have had enough experience working that you should realize that those above need to hear and respect the voices of those to whom they make assignments. Do keep us posted on how you handle this e-mail inspection assignment. I’m sure you won’t allow it to sour an otherwise good place to work. So I sign off with you wondering how to apply my signature advice: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden