Gen-Y Coffee Runs: Work-in Maid or Work-in Graduate?

Image via WeHeartIt.com, originally by Christopher Gilbert

Sometimes I read things that really make me question the working world; especially, as someone entering it. These stories are scary and feel like they are out of a bad version of the Devil Wears Prada.

Yesterday, I read something on Australia’s Smart Company by Aunty B, a business wiz woman who takes questions from disgruntled, confused and often clueless people about the corporate agenda.

But yesterday’s question, not only surprised me, but I’ll admit I was quite disgusted by it as well:-

Dear Aunty B,

I am so angry. I just asked our young new staff member very nicely to do the coffee run. Yesterday morning he did it, reluctantly. But this morning he flatly refused, saying he had not done five years study at university and given up two weeks of work to come and be an intern, only to walk across the road and get coffees.

I then sent the big boss to talk to him and he still refused to get the coffee. It was explained to him on the interview phone call that he would do the coffee run every morning and he agreed.
But now he says he thought that was just a joke.

Fortunately, someone else got the coffee so we are not all suffering from caffeine withdrawals as well.

Is this a Gen Y thing? Or is he a one off? Can I expect more Gen Ys to refuse to get coffee?

TL

Perth

I’ll tell you this: I wasn’t disgusted by errand of getting coffee, but rather by the mentality of helplessness, obvious disdain and discrimination shown by “TL” for Gen-Y.

I immediately had to channel Shonda Rhimes (and Grey’s premieres this week y’all *yay!*) for a moment of pure:-

Seriously? Seriously. Seriously!


Is there some reason this “TL” is choosing to single out and generalize all of Gen-Y? And furthermore, was this really and truly a part of the Gen-Y’s job interview?

Maybe I just see too many things through rose-coloured glasses…

I think if I was going on a work experience excursion for two-weeks and someone told me I’d be getting coffee, I’d think it was a joke too. Not because I’m being sassy or trying to be extra smart, but because, I would imagine that I would gain real-world experience and learn something from a work experience program. Especially, if I felt that I was qualified after gaining a university degree or two. I wouldn’t be under the impression that a college graduate enrolled in a work experience program was there to “get the coffee.”

Are you Miranda or Nuclear? I don’t think so…

It is basic human nature and an imprint left upon us by society: work hard, do well and thou shall get ahead…or something like it at least.

And it’s not just Gen-Y. But that’s the thing, whether Gen-Y, Gen-X, Boomer, Silent or naught, anyone, does it matter?

Did this unnamed company hire a work-in maid, or university graduate to train and help build up their company? Are they trying to do a service to the future of their business community or are they participating and mulling over a disservice to their lusting caffeine yearnings?

Fire the intern and get a new one? Or fire the mentality?

I know there is a lot of talk about the intern slave trade and it’s not uncommon – but I often read things like this and wonder why we can’t all just get along?

Why is there is need to demean people, order instead of nurture and bits of “Im’ma let you finish” ogling our specs?

You know, like Gracie Lou Freebush says, in Miss Congeniality

…I really do want world peace.

–

Sasha Muradali runs the ‘Little Pink Book’ . She holds a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Florida (’07) and an M.A. in International Administration from the University of Miami(’08). She loves Twitter and all things social media, so you should find her @SashaHalima.

Copyright © 2009 SashaH. Muradali. All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. Mike Schaffer says:

    It's VERY dangerous to stereotype “groups,” be it ethnic, religious or generation. Very, very dangerous.

    My basic response is: Get your own damn coffee!

    However, if there was a client coming in and someone had to get the refreshments and you're the lowest person on the ladder, you should happily get in your car to help out.

    Making an impression in a professional setting means doing some pretty un-fun tasks.

    But to have entry level folks and interns do all the dirty work is a bad attitude. For senior level folks to jump in and help out makes a huge impression on the entire organization.

    When you work for a company at any level, expect to do some of the grunt/dirty work.

    Perfect example: Over the summer, there was an issue with trash collection at a soccer tournament we ran. Long story short, there was trash all over the 20-acre lot, it was in the mid-90s and I was dressed for a meeting downtown. I happened to be the closest to the site, so I spent my day alone, in dress clothes, picking up trash so we wouldn't get fined for it. I was a Senior Account Executive at the time, and while I hated that day, it goes to show that EVERYONE should pitch in.

    And if you keep pushing dirty work, busy work, meaningless work onto interns and new hires, OF COURSE they won't be happy about it!

  2. As I commented on Lauren's blog, it comes down to what you want to get out of an internship. I completely support this intern and commend him for standing his ground.

    You know I hate resumes, and think they're completely irrelevant. So the excuse of just doing an internship to add it to your resume doesn't fly with me. If that's why you're doing it, then go across the street, and open up an account at the coffee shop because you're going to spend a lot of time there.

    For those young pros and students who are doing an internship for the right reasons: real experience, responsibility and to build your career…you should be offended if your regular duties consist of getting the coffee. What's next? Shine your bosses shoes and bring his kids to school? That is bs.

    @DavidSpinks

  3. Great post, and I totally agree with you! I was lucky enough to find two great internships that gave me REAL experience and allowed me to grow in the field. However, I know a lot of people who got stuck with the “well I guess this will look good on my resume” internship.

    I'm currently looking for my own intern as we speak, so I'm really looking forward to mentoring him or her and actually giving them valuable experience! Plus, I can make/get my own coffee…I think it's old school thinking to assume your intern should do that.

  4. I agree with you, I think there is this vicious cycle out there that interns are slaves and one has to “pay their dues.” I think you need to learn, and to learn, you have to start from the bottom up.

    But an internship/work-experience program is just that: it's about experience; learning and growing.

  5. That's the thing — I think resume builders are great…if they are actually good for you. And by that I mean, so it's an awesome company, but did you learn anything?

    I think it's often a catch-22. I mean I was fortunate enough, that when I was a PR Associate in a work-experience program with TIME Magazine, a) I wasn't the coffee runner and b) I learned … a lot.

    But not everyone is TIME Magazine. I've had other internships that well…they were the polar opposite.

    I think it's a backwards way of thinking and I think that we should engage our interns, rather than alienating them. It's a vicious cycle that should stop.

  6. I think so too, I really liked what you said on Twitter about your job, “We have 8 interns, and taking ALL for coffee is pricey :) enjoying lunch w/ them sets us as equals for 30 mins”

    That's the way to be, that's the way to think, IMO. I think there is a difference between the courtesy and co-worker appreciation of getting someone their coffee and then just ordering them too.

    In the case of the original post, I think it's degrading. And also, Jeremy Meyers pointed out something too, “its not about getting coffee, its about the manner in which it's asked. nobody likes to be treated like errandboy.”

    That's so important. It's about how you ask, not what you ask. And also, it's purpose has a lot to do with things too.

    I think some grunt work is expected, but all the time? No. That's disrespectful to a seemingly qualified person. They got the job for a reason, don't disqualify that based on a need for coffee.

    Excellent point about the trash Mike! And thanks for commenting :)

  7. heatherwhaling says:

    I'm going to offer a slightly different take on this: I think asking someone to get coffee has less to do with age and more to do with the asker's disregard for other people's time. When a boss asks the intern to get coffee, he (or she) is really saying, “My time is more important than yours. I can't be bothered to drive through Starbucks, even though I probably passed 3 or 4 on my way to the office.” Don't get me wrong. I do believe that everyone needs to pay their dues. And sometimes the grunt work just falls to the lowest person on the totem poll. It's not discrimination — it just is what it is. That said, if someone takes that approach with the intern, I'd be willing to bet that that character flaw — thinking their time is so much more valuable than someone else's time — seeps out in other situations. For example, except in extenuating circumstances, when someone is late for a meeting, they're telling the other meeting participants that their time is less important. Same idea when someone talks on their phone instead of focusing on the conversation at hand. These situations happen all the time — to 25 year olds as well as 55 year olds.

    The point being: Don't get caught up in a “Why is everyone picking on Gen Y?” mentality. That will only reinforce the Gen Y stereotypes. Instead, realize how this makes you feel and make sure you're on time for meetings, giving people you're undivided attention, making your own coffee runs and not putting yourself ahead of others.

    Sorry for the long-winded answer. Great post, Sasha!

    Heather (@prtini)

  8. Sasha,

    I saw that original post yesterday and couldn't believe how demeaning some people are towards Gen Y. Why are we suddenly the red-headed step children of the working world? Our “entitled” stereotype has gotten out of hand, and it's to the point that if we don't oblige to being the errand-runner, we're snots.

    As someone who has been an intern twice before, I've never been treated this way – thankfully. Internships are opportunities (and often unpaid) for students and recent graduates to gain valuable hands-on experience. To require the intern to get coffee on a daily basis is taking advantage. (Asking them to do it as a favor once in awhile is completely different.)

    In my hunt for my first internship, I actually came across a company that seemed to expect their interns to be the office slave. They sent me a list of responsibilities, mentioning that I may or may not get to be involved with those tasks (the actual learning tasks), and then added I'd be responsible for office duties, like making coffee and taking out the trash. Really?

    Maybe companies should be more clear about what they're looking for. There's a huge difference between an intern who's there to learn – and likely take on some mundane tasks such as formatting documents, which can actually be valuable to know how to do – and an office/personal assistant who is PAID to get your coffee. There are laws about what an intern is allowed to do, and I think a lot of companies who take advantage of their interns like this are probably in violation.

  9. Hi Heather,

    I think that's an excellent point that you raised about the value of time. ALso, I think that's an interesting idea about Gen-Y b/c it does reinforce the stereotype, doesn't it?

    It's an interesting topic to be honest, the grunt work and the lowest people on the food chain.

    Respecting someone's time is so subjective to any situation, but importantly, I think that the original post begs the various questions surrounding generational gaps.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that generalizations are the problem.

    Thanks for your input Heather, and hopefully, I don't have the “everyone is picking on Gen-Y” mentality, b/c I definitely don't think that! :)

    Sasha

  10. Sasha,

    Everyone and everything on this planet is stereotyped and unfortunately these stereotypes exist for a reason. If you haven't read it yet, David Spinks wrote a good post about stereotypes (here's the link: http://davidspinks.com/2009/09/17/stereotype-baby/).

    While I fully disagree with having interns do coffee-runs every day as part of the “job description,” the writer did not talk about the tone the intern used when addressing his concerns about the position's responsibilities. I am playing Devil's advocate here, but there is the possibility that the intern was completely rude and did not speak to his superiors in a respectful manner that one should use when addressing grievances. It all goes back to that post you wrote about, “It's not what you say, but how you say it.” I do not know if this is the case, but we all do not know the complete story behind the situation.

    I have worked as an intern a few times in the past and have done occassional coffee runs (other employees did them too). It was done as an, “Okay, it's your turn this time” kind of thing. There are always the mundane , grueling tasks, but a lot of the time those tasks NEED to be done, because if they aren't, then a project could miss a deadline or be presented to a client as incomplete.

    I guess the point to my ramblings is that interns and their superiors need to be aware of the responsibilities that an internship position entails. While an educational experience should always be at the forefront, grunt work is inevitable and must be done. Also, pay attention to the office environment and notice the difference between necessary responsibilities/tasks and a flat out abuse of power. If you find yourself questioning your role around the office, speak up, but do so in a manner that is respectful to the company, your superiors and the position you hold.

    This kind of topic always produces some productive conversations…great post!

    Rich (@rpulvino)

  11. I think Mike is on the money with his assessment. I'm starting to look at possible internships for Summer 2010 and accept that I will be responsible to get the coffee… sometimes. However, if it becomes my chore to get the coffee, I'll respectfully decline (hell, I don't even drink coffee).

    As I am looking at different places I think I would enjoy interning and compiling a list, I am looking at things like company culture. If the vibe I get from their website, blog, people on Twitter, etc. is that I will be the office assistant, they probably won't make my list. When I start getting interviews (hopefully getting interviews- don't want to count the eggs before they hatch), one of the questions I will have for the interviewer is what responsibilities a typical day will consist of for me. In my opinion, if this isn't laid out for the potential intern during the interview, it should be one of the questions they have for the interviewer. Never make a commitment without knowing what you're committing to (save for some things, like random weekend road trips).

    There have been a lot of discussions of this nature recently- the Gen-Y coffee scandal, the PRSA post, and others. The problem , in my opinion, is the lack of people willing to take responsibility. These places are blaming the Gen-Yers for the attitude and the stubbornness, while many Gen-Yers are yelling BS at these places because they didn't understand their responsibilities. There aren't many people in these situations out there going, “Yo, my bad.”

    Gen-Y: Take responsibility. Research companies thoroughly, further than just their website, before you even contact them. If you think that you aren't going to mesh with their company and the culture there, don't waste your or their time. Make sure you have questions for them when you go for interviews. Good questions, too. These shouldn't be questions like, “So, what awards have you won?” Could that have been found online? Probably. And will you even remember the answer by the time you start? Probably not. Only YOU can know if YOU are clear on what your employer's expectations for you are. If you aren't clear on this, ASK THEM.

    Employers: Be honest with potential interns. If I am told that I'm not going to be the office chore-boy, and I accept the position, I am not expecting to be the office chore-boy. If that's what I become, you will have an intern on your hand who, respectively, disagrees and will quit if the responsibilities don't change. And then you're out a chore-boy and an intern. Not to mention all the Twittering, blogging, and, rarely, some face-to-face conversation in which I'll talking about my experience.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, here's the summary: both parties need to take responsibility. End of story.

    - Colby

  12. Hi Abby,

    I know of someone who was in a position similar to what you describe in your last paragraph, but sadly they found out about it AFTER the fact. Nothing so crazy as the trash — but coffee runs, yes; the only person answering the phone, yes; ordering from Office Depot; yes. The sad thing is about this situation that this person was in, was that they were supposed hired as an Assistant Account Executive at a top PR firm no less. Talk about blurry lines.

    I think you are absolutely right — there is a difference between an office manager, someone who is hired and PAID to do these things, and an intern — who is there to be taught, learn and gain experience. Too often these lines are shaded all sorts of gray (as we see above.)

    And it's very sad.

    But I like Mike's way of thinking — engage, talk too, interact.

    I think that in the case above, maybe both parties are at fault — but it's the trickle effect; it started at the top first.

    Thanks for your comment! :)
    Sasha

  13. Hi Rich,

    lol, I don't mind you writing as the Devil's advocate a little. I think it encourages discussion from both sides.

    On that note — I think a) everyone has to do the grunt work at some point. Mike pointed that out with his comment above. However, how it is handled and the expectations as such, well that is another story.

    Abbey said it the best above, there is a difference between the person paid to do those things and the intern who is in the office to learn.

    b) Stereotypes. Yes, I think they exist for a reason as well (as you'll see in Thursday's {Confessions of a PRetty Social Girl}) — but they aren't always right. And the problem with stereotypes is that they are a generalization. That's the problem with the original post — the employer obviously has a large amount of contempt for 20-somethings. And that attitude, with lack of understanding, empathy and obvious disdain is the attitude that is leading to horrible situations in the work place.

    But you're right, this is the type of topic that can go on and on. And this specific issue, there are so many different angles. What was said, what wasn't said…etc., Though, safely, judging by what we know, I'm more inclined to take the 20-something's side as opposed to the employer because of the employer's tone and, ironically, “sense of entitlement.”

    The question is, is that entitlement merited or not?

    Great response Rich, and thank you for taking the time to comment :)

  14. Hello Colby,

    No worries about long responses, if you have something to say, I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to use the comments on the Pink Book to say them :)

    I think you bring up a few good points. First of all, about your internship in 2010. I think there is a distinctive difference between a common courtesy and getting the coffee once-in-awhile. And I think that “paying your dues” is more than just a crappy job and taking out the trash. Part of an internship is supposed to be the ability to learn, grow and hell, gain some experience. As Abby pointed out above, that's not always the case with some companies. These companies in question, simply don't understand the difference between an office manager — someone PAID and hired to take out the trash and order supplies from office depot, and an intern — someone there to gain experience and learn.

    I agree, I think those “What does a typical day look like for me” questions are very important. And likewise, potential interns, should ask those questions and really get a feel for the company culture and what's they are expecting. I don't want to sound pessimistic here, but if a potential employer can't answer that question for you, be smart and move on. You'll thank yourself for that in the long-run.

    I think you completely hit the nail on the head with this:-

    “The problem , in my opinion, is the lack of people willing to take responsibility. These places are blaming the Gen-Yers for the attitude and the stubbornness, while many Gen-Yers are yelling BS at these places because they didn't understand their responsibilities.”

    You got it. :)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate your insight and the thought you put into the topic!

    Best wishes,
    Sasha

  15. I consider myself part of Gen Y and dislike being stereotyped but I think I may understand why the executive attributes the problem to our generation. How many interns in the generation before him would have REFUSED to perform a job duty unless it was degrading or illegal? Personally, I would not have refused (which disproves the stereotype) but I think it may be fair to say that many Millennials would. (I don't have any statistics to support my theory.)

    My point is, I think it's fair to assume that Gen Y has greater expectations of their internship experience than previous generations and furthermore, they often don't have a problem telling an employer exactly what they will and will not do. You can view this as a positive or negative change, but I think it illustrates a major difference between my generation and the generations of my parents and grandparents.

    Finally, although I agree that an internship experience should provide more valuable training than getting coffee, it's unprofessional to refuse a job duty. If the intern felt he was not getting the experience he signed on for, he should have met with his supervisor (after performing the task) and discussed whether the internship would be a good fit for his professional goals.

  16. I think Mike is on the money with his assessment. I'm starting to look at possible internships for Summer 2010 and accept that I will be responsible to get the coffee… sometimes. However, if it becomes my chore to get the coffee, I'll respectfully decline (hell, I don't even drink coffee).

    As I am looking at different places I think I would enjoy interning and compiling a list, I am looking at things like company culture. If the vibe I get from their website, blog, people on Twitter, etc. is that I will be the office assistant, they probably won't make my list. When I start getting interviews (hopefully getting interviews- don't want to count the eggs before they hatch), one of the questions I will have for the interviewer is what responsibilities a typical day will consist of for me. In my opinion, if this isn't laid out for the potential intern during the interview, it should be one of the questions they have for the interviewer. Never make a commitment without knowing what you're committing to (save for some things, like random weekend road trips).

    There have been a lot of discussions of this nature recently- the Gen-Y coffee scandal, the PRSA post, and others. The problem , in my opinion, is the lack of people willing to take responsibility. These places are blaming the Gen-Yers for the attitude and the stubbornness, while many Gen-Yers are yelling BS at these places because they didn't understand their responsibilities. There aren't many people in these situations out there going, “Yo, my bad.”

    Gen-Y: Take responsibility. Research companies thoroughly, further than just their website, before you even contact them. If you think that you aren't going to mesh with their company and the culture there, don't waste your or their time. Make sure you have questions for them when you go for interviews. Good questions, too. These shouldn't be questions like, “So, what awards have you won?” Could that have been found online? Probably. And will you even remember the answer by the time you start? Probably not. Only YOU can know if YOU are clear on what your employer's expectations for you are. If you aren't clear on this, ASK THEM.

    Employers: Be honest with potential interns. If I am told that I'm not going to be the office chore-boy, and I accept the position, I am not expecting to be the office chore-boy. If that's what I become, you will have an intern on your hand who, respectively, disagrees and will quit if the responsibilities don't change. And then you're out a chore-boy and an intern. Not to mention all the Twittering, blogging, and, rarely, some face-to-face conversation in which I'll talking about my experience.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, here's the summary: both parties need to take responsibility. End of story.

    - Colby

  17. Hi Abby,

    I know of someone who was in a position similar to what you describe in your last paragraph, but sadly they found out about it AFTER the fact. Nothing so crazy as the trash — but coffee runs, yes; the only person answering the phone, yes; ordering from Office Depot; yes. The sad thing is about this situation that this person was in, was that they were supposed hired as an Assistant Account Executive at a top PR firm no less. Talk about blurry lines.

    I think you are absolutely right — there is a difference between an office manager, someone who is hired and PAID to do these things, and an intern — who is there to be taught, learn and gain experience. Too often these lines are shaded all sorts of gray (as we see above.)

    And it's very sad.

    But I like Mike's way of thinking — engage, talk too, interact.

    I think that in the case above, maybe both parties are at fault — but it's the trickle effect; it started at the top first.

    Thanks for your comment! :)
    Sasha

  18. Hi Rich,

    lol, I don't mind you writing as the Devil's advocate a little. I think it encourages discussion from both sides.

    On that note — I think a) everyone has to do the grunt work at some point. Mike pointed that out with his comment above. However, how it is handled and the expectations as such, well that is another story.

    Abbey said it the best above, there is a difference between the person paid to do those things and the intern who is in the office to learn.

    b) Stereotypes. Yes, I think they exist for a reason as well (as you'll see in Thursday's {Confessions of a PRetty Social Girl}) — but they aren't always right. And the problem with stereotypes is that they are a generalization. That's the problem with the original post — the employer obviously has a large amount of contempt for 20-somethings. And that attitude, with lack of understanding, empathy and obvious disdain is the attitude that is leading to horrible situations in the work place.

    But you're right, this is the type of topic that can go on and on. And this specific issue, there are so many different angles. What was said, what wasn't said…etc., Though, safely, judging by what we know, I'm more inclined to take the 20-something's side as opposed to the employer because of the employer's tone and, ironically, “sense of entitlement.”

    The question is, is that entitlement merited or not?

    Great response Rich, and thank you for taking the time to comment :)

  19. Hello Colby,

    No worries about long responses, if you have something to say, I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to use the comments on the Pink Book to say them :)

    I think you bring up a few good points. First of all, about your internship in 2010. I think there is a distinctive difference between a common courtesy and getting the coffee once-in-awhile. And I think that “paying your dues” is more than just a crappy job and taking out the trash. Part of an internship is supposed to be the ability to learn, grow and hell, gain some experience. As Abby pointed out above, that's not always the case with some companies. These companies in question, simply don't understand the difference between an office manager — someone PAID and hired to take out the trash and order supplies from office depot, and an intern — someone there to gain experience and learn.

    I agree, I think those “What does a typical day look like for me” questions are very important. And likewise, potential interns, should ask those questions and really get a feel for the company culture and what's they are expecting. I don't want to sound pessimistic here, but if a potential employer can't answer that question for you, be smart and move on. You'll thank yourself for that in the long-run.

    I think you completely hit the nail on the head with this:-

    “The problem , in my opinion, is the lack of people willing to take responsibility. These places are blaming the Gen-Yers for the attitude and the stubbornness, while many Gen-Yers are yelling BS at these places because they didn't understand their responsibilities.”

    You got it. :)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate your insight and the thought you put into the topic!

    Best wishes,
    Sasha

  20. I consider myself part of Gen Y and dislike being stereotyped but I think I may understand why the executive attributes the problem to our generation. How many interns in the generation before him would have REFUSED to perform a job duty unless it was degrading or illegal? Personally, I would not have refused (which disproves the stereotype) but I think it may be fair to say that many Millennials would. (I don't have any statistics to support my theory.)

    My point is, I think it's fair to assume that Gen Y has greater expectations of their internship experience than previous generations and furthermore, they often don't have a problem telling an employer exactly what they will and will not do. You can view this as a positive or negative change, but I think it illustrates a major difference between my generation and the generations of my parents and grandparents.

    Finally, although I agree that an internship experience should provide more valuable training than getting coffee, it's unprofessional to refuse a job duty. If the intern felt he was not getting the experience he signed on for, he should have met with his supervisor (after performing the task) and discussed whether the internship would be a good fit for his professional goals.

  21. Sasha,

    Everyone and everything on this planet is stereotyped and unfortunately these stereotypes exist for a reason. If you haven't read it yet, David Spinks wrote a good post about stereotypes (here's the link: http://davidspinks.com/2009/09…/).

    While I fully disagree with having interns do coffee-runs every day as part of the “job description,” the writer did not talk about the tone the intern used when addressing his concerns about the position's responsibilities. I am playing Devil's advocate here, but there is the possibility that the intern was completely rude and did not speak to his superiors in a respectful manner that one should use when addressing grievances. It all goes back to that post you wrote about, “It's not what you say, but how you say it.” I do not know if this is the case, but we all do not know the complete story behind the situation.

    I have worked as an intern a few times in the past and have done occassional coffee runs (other employees did them too). It was done as an, “Okay, it's your turn this time” kind of thing. There are always the mundane , grueling tasks, but a lot of the time those tasks NEED to be done, because if they aren't, then a project could miss a deadline or be presented to a client as incomplete.

    I guess the point to my ramblings is that interns and their superiors need to be aware of the responsibilities that an internship position entails. While an educational experience should always be at the forefront, grunt work is inevitable and must be done. Also, pay attention to the office environment and notice the difference between necessary responsibilities/tasks and a flat out abuse of power. If you find yourself questioning your role around the office, speak up, but do so in a manner that is respectful to the company, your superiors and the position you hold.

    This kind of topic always produces some productive conversations…great post!

    Rich (@rpulvino)

  22. I think Mike is on the money with his assessment. I'm starting to look at possible internships for Summer 2010 and accept that I will be responsible to get the coffee… sometimes. However, if it becomes my chore to get the coffee, I'll respectfully decline (hell, I don't even drink coffee).

    As I am looking at different places I think I would enjoy interning and compiling a list, I am looking at things like company culture. If the vibe I get from their website, blog, people on Twitter, etc. is that I will be the office assistant, they probably won't make my list. When I start getting interviews (hopefully getting interviews- don't want to count the eggs before they hatch), one of the questions I will have for the interviewer is what responsibilities a typical day will consist of for me. In my opinion, if this isn't laid out for the potential intern during the interview, it should be one of the questions they have for the interviewer. Never make a commitment without knowing what you're committing to (save for some things, like random weekend road trips).

    There have been a lot of discussions of this nature recently- the Gen-Y coffee scandal, the PRSA post, and others. The problem , in my opinion, is the lack of people willing to take responsibility. These places are blaming the Gen-Yers for the attitude and the stubbornness, while many Gen-Yers are yelling BS at these places because they didn't understand their responsibilities. There aren't many people in these situations out there going, “Yo, my bad.”

    Gen-Y: Take responsibility. Research companies thoroughly, further than just their website, before you even contact them. If you think that you aren't going to mesh with their company and the culture there, don't waste your or their time. Make sure you have questions for them when you go for interviews. Good questions, too. These shouldn't be questions like, “So, what awards have you won?” Could that have been found online? Probably. And will you even remember the answer by the time you start? Probably not. Only YOU can know if YOU are clear on what your employer's expectations for you are. If you aren't clear on this, ASK THEM.

    Employers: Be honest with potential interns. If I am told that I'm not going to be the office chore-boy, and I accept the position, I am not expecting to be the office chore-boy. If that's what I become, you will have an intern on your hand who, respectively, disagrees and will quit if the responsibilities don't change. And then you're out a chore-boy and an intern. Not to mention all the Twittering, blogging, and, rarely, some face-to-face conversation in which I'll talking about my experience.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, here's the summary: both parties need to take responsibility. End of story.

    - Colby

  23. Hi Abby,

    I know of someone who was in a position similar to what you describe in your last paragraph, but sadly they found out about it AFTER the fact. Nothing so crazy as the trash — but coffee runs, yes; the only person answering the phone, yes; ordering from Office Depot; yes. The sad thing is about this situation that this person was in, was that they were supposed hired as an Assistant Account Executive at a top PR firm no less. Talk about blurry lines.

    I think you are absolutely right — there is a difference between an office manager, someone who is hired and PAID to do these things, and an intern — who is there to be taught, learn and gain experience. Too often these lines are shaded all sorts of gray (as we see above.)

    And it's very sad.

    But I like Mike's way of thinking — engage, talk too, interact.

    I think that in the case above, maybe both parties are at fault — but it's the trickle effect; it started at the top first.

    Thanks for your comment! :)

    Sasha

  24. Hi Rich,

    lol, I don't mind you writing as the Devil's advocate a little. I think it encourages discussion from both sides.

    On that note — I think a) everyone has to do the grunt work at some point. Mike pointed that out with his comment above. However, how it is handled and the expectations as such, well that is another story.

    Abbey said it the best above, there is a difference between the person paid to do those things and the intern who is in the office to learn.

    b) Stereotypes. Yes, I think they exist for a reason as well (as you'll see in Thursday's {Confessions of a PRetty Social Girl}) — but they aren't always right. And the problem with stereotypes is that they are a generalization. That's the problem with the original post — the employer obviously has a large amount of contempt for 20-somethings. And that attitude, with lack of understanding, empathy and obvious disdain is the attitude that is leading to horrible situations in the work place.

    But you're right, this is the type of topic that can go on and on. And this specific issue, there are so many different angles. What was said, what wasn't said…etc., Though, safely, judging by what we know, I'm more inclined to take the 20-something's side as opposed to the employer because of the employer's tone and, ironically, “sense of entitlement.”

    The question is, is that entitlement merited or not?

    Great response Rich, and thank you for taking the time to comment :)

  25. Hello Colby,

    No worries about long responses, if you have something to say, I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to use the comments on the Pink Book to say them :)

    I think you bring up a few good points. First of all, about your internship in 2010. I think there is a distinctive difference between a common courtesy and getting the coffee once-in-awhile. And I think that “paying your dues” is more than just a crappy job and taking out the trash. Part of an internship is supposed to be the ability to learn, grow and hell, gain some experience. As Abby pointed out above, that's not always the case with some companies. These companies in question, simply don't understand the difference between an office manager — someone PAID and hired to take out the trash and order supplies from office depot, and an intern — someone there to gain experience and learn.

    I agree, I think those “What does a typical day look like for me” questions are very important. And likewise, potential interns, should ask those questions and really get a feel for the company culture and what's they are expecting. I don't want to sound pessimistic here, but if a potential employer can't answer that question for you, be smart and move on. You'll thank yourself for that in the long-run.

    I think you completely hit the nail on the head with this:-

    “The problem , in my opinion, is the lack of people willing to take responsibility. These places are blaming the Gen-Yers for the attitude and the stubbornness, while many Gen-Yers are yelling BS at these places because they didn't understand their responsibilities.”

    You got it. :)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate your insight and the thought you put into the topic!

    Best wishes,

    Sasha

  26. I consider myself part of Gen Y and dislike being stereotyped but I think I may understand why the executive attributes the problem to our generation. How many interns in the generation before him would have REFUSED to perform a job duty unless it was degrading or illegal? Personally, I would not have refused (which disproves the stereotype) but I think it may be fair to say that many Millennials would. (I don't have any statistics to support my theory.)

    My point is, I think it's fair to assume that Gen Y has greater expectations of their internship experience than previous generations and furthermore, they often don't have a problem telling an employer exactly what they will and will not do. You can view this as a positive or negative change, but I think it illustrates a major difference between my generation and the generations of my parents and grandparents.

    Finally, although I agree that an internship experience should provide more valuable training than getting coffee, it's unprofessional to refuse a job duty. If the intern felt he was not getting the experience he signed on for, he should have met with his supervisor (after performing the task) and discussed whether the internship would be a good fit for his professional goals.

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