The Rise of the “Catering” Boss

“Kill ’em with kindness.” Or at least that’s how the saying goes. In today’s emotionally charged environment, we’re seeing more of a shift away from the “get it done” attitude toward leaders who constantly worry about offending people. Many times this applies to the relationship between a boss and his subordinates, but mostly it shows itself in a manager’s relationship with those people he has decided it’s most important to please. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, we see all manner of fawning prostration as they try to make people like them.

This would be fine if they only kept these kinds of activities confined to their own area of effort, but too many times they allow this to bleed over into their expectations of their employees. It’s bad enough when your boss goes out of his way to bend over backward for a customer, but when he forces you to do the same it becomes nearly unbearable. The absolute worst of this is when you are asked to do things that aren’t part of your job description in pursuit of these shallow goals.

For example, I currently work as an administration and logistics specialist for a construction company. The purpose of my position is to provide office support for the staff and to track and intake materials as needed. Part of those responsibilities includes certain things that I really hate, like having to run to various stores to pick up things, which for me is a gray area, but it’s close enough that I don’t argue it. I fanatically avoid going to the store in person for my personal needs, only venturing forth when I simply can’t find it online or absolutely need something immediately.

I’ve spent a long time being frustrated by some of the things I end up having to do, but most of them are only just outside what I have agreed to do as part of my position, so it isn’t worth getting angry about. Recently, however, my boss has been asking me to coordinate getting lunches to some of the high level workers out in the field because they don’t have the ability to leave what they’re doing until they get back to their starting point. I don’t mind helping people out during situations like these, but my problem is that it is every single time they go out. This isn’t a situation where they unexpectedly ran over the time they thought and don’t have the ability to get food. My boss is just catering their lunches.

This really just rubs me the wrong way from a principle standpoint alone. Our normal field workers don’t get this special treatment. They’ve been bringing their own lunch to work for years, having the same kinds of restrictions because of the nature of the work the company does. At no point have we gone out of our way to, not only purchase, but deliver food to people in the field. The only reason this is even a thought in anyone’s head is because it makes the boss look good to the customer.

Being already disgusted by the suck up nature of this in the first place, you can imagine how frustrated I am that I have to spend time out of my day forced to not only place and pickup the order, but also to deliver it in person to the people in the field. Nowhere in my job description or resume does do the words “delivery driver” or “caterer” or anything related to food services appear. This is most definitely outside my job description, but like most things I just suck it up and do it because at this point it isn’t worth fighting over. I only have a few months left before my job runs out anyway, and making waves after four years is just pointless.

The purpose of this article isn’t really to complain about my personal situation, though it obviously helps a bit to vent about it. This example is meant to highlight the kind of behavior that has become more prevalent in today’s working force. In the past, you might expect this kind of thing if you had taken a job as a personal assistant, or perhaps as an intern hoping to ingratiate yourself into a large company. It was understood that these kinds of things were part of the job. But when you are in the middle of your career taking a job with an inferred list of job responsibilities, there should be no time when you are asked to do the kinds of personal servitude tasks like I described above.

Even in the Marine Corps, I was never asked to do something that was purely for the convenience of people who outranked me. There was always a unit goal in mind with every order. I’m sure my boss would probably argue that it fosters good will with the customer, so it’s good for the company, but frankly I find that to be a bunch of crap. These are grown men and women who can certainly figure out packing a lunch for the day like everyone else, and the only reason this is a thing is because we want to suck up to a customer. It’s completely disgusting.

Despite the personal rant, there is a message in here somewhere. Perhaps it’s to warn my readers that these kinds of bosses do exist and you should be wary of who you work for. Or maybe I just want to point this kind of behavior out to people who might be bosses in the future so they don’t participate in this kind of debasing activity themselves. However you choose to view this particular article, just try to understand this one point: employees are not your servants. Unless they explicitly agree to a very broad scope of duties, you’re not paying for their time; you’re paying for the skills you called for in your job description. No employee should be asked to do things they didn’t sign up for, especially when the goal is making yourself look good.

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