How to Tell Your Boss 'No' When Asked to Run a Personal Errand

If the boss thinks you're there to coordinate with the dog walker, you need to figure out for yourself why you're there.
How to Tell Your Boss 'No' When Asked to Run a Personal Errand
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“That isn’t in my job description” can be job-killing words, especially when you've just started a new position. Experts advise young professionals to work hard to demonstrate that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make their bosses’ lives easier. Unfortunately, some bosses take advantage of eager-to-please employees by assigning them personal errands.

Picking up lunch for a midday meeting or stopping for much-needed office supplies can easily fall under the category of “work-related duties.” But what happens when a boss asks you to pick up dry cleaning or purchase gifts for a spouse? You may feel tempted to explain that isn’t within your job description, while also realizing those words can decrease your chances of a promotion anytime soon from some of the bosses out there these days. Here are a few options for dealing with personal errand requests in the workplace.

Arrange for delivery.

Thanks to technology, you have numerous options at your disposal. Get aquainted with them. Delivery services are now available for almost every major service, from dry cleaning to coffee delivery. If your boss needs car detailing, you can likely find someone who will take care of it on site. Your boss may be required to pay a little extra for this type of service, but you may find your ingenuity is appreciated. If specialized delivery service isn’t available, consider a crowdsource-based tool like TaskRabbit or Handy.

Related: Lessons From The Toughest Bosses That Ever Were

Remind them of your other duties.

Instead of telling your boss you’re too busy, which seems dismissive, specifically mention a task that will suffer if you stop to take care of the personal errand. It helps if the item you’re working on is extremely important and does, indeed, have a sense of urgency behind it. Ask your supervisor if putting your current workload on hold to tackle his or her personal task is acceptable. You may find your boss is just as concerned as you are about the work that needs to be done.

Related: The 6 Most Familiar 'Bad Boss' Types and What to Do About Them

Know when a line is crossed.

For many workers, the occasional request for a personal errand is more nuisance than serious issue. However, other employees find themselves in a predicament, with their bosses making requests that cross the line. In some cases, an employee may simply feel concern about spending hours handling personal business for a manager while being paid by the company. In other cases, the requests may be either illegal or immoral. When those circumstances arise, it’s important to draw that line. If politely expressing concern doesn’t work, it may be time to say “no.” When that fails, consulting HR or an attorney might become necessary.

Related: 4 Ways to Stay Motivated When Your Boss Has Forgotten You Exist

There's a downside to just doing it.

Of course, the easiest course of action is to simply complete the tasks you’re asked to do without complaining. It gives you a chance to get out of the office, after all, and it may even establish you as someone reliable. However, your biggest concern may be that your supervisor doesn’t respect you, thinking of you as more of a personal assistant than a valued contributor to the business’s growth. You may fear your boss will lose respect for you, eliminating the possibility that you might someday be moved into a more executive position. If that’s the case, focus as much time as possible on demonstrating your value in the business-related tasks you’re assigned.

Keep in mind, however, that some positions are more likely to be targeted for this type of request than others. If you were hired to serve as an administrative assistant, what you see as a frivolous errand may be the very thing that allows your boss to focus on the business at hand. This could include closing an important deal or moving the company forward. By being the person who can always reliably handle these tasks, you may be earning more respect than you realize.

If your boss makes a habit out of asking you to run personal errands, your reaction should depend largely on your role within the organization. Consider whether or not the request contributes to the betterment of the business, as well as how much it interferes with the work-related tasks you’re assigned to do each day. You may find that completing personal errands provides a greater boost to your career aspirations than you previously realized.