How Do I Decline Doing Back Rubs?


I’ve worked as a personal/executive assistant for years. At each of the five jobs that I held before my current position, the men that I supported would occasionally request back rubs (fully-clothed). I’m not drop dead gorgeous, I don’t wear suggestive clothing and I’ve never been flirtatious with any of my bosses or coworkers. Perhaps, because of this, I always thought of the requests as innocent and I always obliged (while scolding myself if I felt hesitant or uneasy).

Now that I work in a corporate environment, I’ve come to understand that back rubs are inappropriate — in any work setting. Also, I see that it was sexist for my employers to request back rubs from me when, most likely, they wouldn’t ask the same of a male assistant.

I’m very happy in my current position, but in case the issue ever comes up again, what is workplace etiquette when it comes to back rubs? Is there a polite way to decline without jeopardizing one’s job? And, in the case of a personal assistant can back rubs be a job requirement?




Dear Touchy:

You are correct to avoid what may be interpreted as other than professional. Physical contact of that sort is not considered a part of job descriptions that I know of in today’s corporate world, lest it be one who is hired for such. You can simply say, “As an assistant, this is not in my job description and I don’t imagine it is in yours.” Say with a smile, “I’d rather not. Someone might misinterpret that.”

Working together with hands, head and heart does not mean being required to give back rubs. WEGO symbolizes cheering each other on and making decisions that are for the good of your organization.

William Gorden