Should interns be required to fetch coffee?

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Sep 14, 2009 in Internships |

I just read, “The new Gen Y employee refused to get coffee!

It makes me wonder what Gen Y public relations interns think about this. Feel free to comment anonymously if you’d like, but I’m really curious. Do you think it is OK? Or, is it unfair?

I have mixed feelings about it. As an intern, I expect to get less-than-glorious work on occassion. I don’t show up at an internship expecting to be counseling clients and pitching to CNN. Have I been asked to get coffee (or something similar)? Certainly.

But, in both cases the person asking me was nice and respectful about it. They didn’t act like it was my responsibility because I was the intern. In one case, it was lunch needed for a client meeting. In another case, it was for the students helping out with an outdoor commercial on a very chilly day. I didn’t mind at all.

But, I’m not sure how I would feel about being asked to fetch coffee daily because I was the intern. I don’t even drink coffee, so I don’t understand why people will wait in long lines to buy an overpriced coffee from Starbucks (just my opinion on Starbucks).

For me, it would depend on the internship experience. If I am learning a lot and growing my skills, I don’t think I would mind. If you are busy working most of the day, it’s kind of nice to step out of the office for a few.

But, if I were only given assignments such as fetching coffee, sorting mail and making copies, I might be disappointed in the internship experience.

What do you think as a Gen Y intern/employee? Or, what do you think as someone who manages Gen Y interns/employees?

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Sep 14, 2009 at 10:15 am

If the task is something my supervisor (or the person asking) would normally do if I weren’t there then yes, it is okay. I’ve interned at small non-profits where I know that the jobs I’m doing might not be the most glorious tasks (such as making copies) but the days I’m not in the office my boss would be making those copies instead.

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Rachel Esterline
Sep 14, 2009 at 10:34 am

I completely agree. The quote explains it all!

Sep 14, 2009 at 10:52 am

Maybe I’m weird because at every job I’ve worked, I *enjoyed* going on the coffee run? It got me out of the office and I knew my own order would be right, at least. 😀

That intern, in my opinion, has a lot to learn about people skills. It’s good to be the person getting the coffee–after all, who doesn’t like a co-worker bearing caffeine?? LOL

Whatever the task, I think it’s all in the way it’s asked, and also has a lot to do with what other qualities and learning opportunities the internship provides.

Karen Russell
Sep 14, 2009 at 11:39 am

I don’t really see this as a Gen Y issue. If the internship is for college credit, the intern should not be asked to make copies, run errands, work at reception, etc. on a regular basis (the examples you provided are reasonable, I think). If a student’s end-of-internship report includes those kinds of activities as daily responsibilities, at the University of Georgia we do not let future students intern at that organization for credit. Yes, those tasks need to be done, and yes, everyone can contribute occasionally, but we make sure employers know that it’s their responsibility to provide a learning experience, not just to take advantage of free labor.

Sep 14, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I was really lucky at my internship and was never ASKED to make the coffee, even though I did do it a few times. Although, even if I WAS asked to do it on a regular basis I wouldn’t mind as long as I was given the chance to do more challenging, important tasks as well.

If I was only ever asked to get coffee and make copies I might be a little peeved, but I’d probably still never talk back to my boss about it. I would just start looking for an internship at another company, I think.

I’ve been lucky that I was treated like a full member of the team and given meaningful, interesting tasks right from the get-go at my internship that is now my part-time job!

Rachel Esterline
Sep 14, 2009 at 9:18 pm

@Dawn – Thanks for the comment. I agree with you. It gives you an opportunity to get to know the staff (and their coffee tastes)

@Karen – I find that really interesting (and good) that you don’t allow students to return to internships that have those sorts of activities as a requirement. But you hit the nail on the head – interns can do those things, true, but you shouldn’t take advantage of free labor.

@Amber – That’s great. I would feel the same way. If you aren’t happy at your internship, you can always find another rather than burn that bridge with your boss.

Stephanie Dockery
Sep 14, 2009 at 10:00 pm

In all of my internship experiences I have never been asked to make or fetch coffee. At one internship we were not allowed to make the coffee. I would not mind going on a coffee run if asked, but I would be very disappointed if I was hired under the impression I would be doing pr-related work and ended up spending my entire days making copies, filing and fetching coffee. I think it is wrong for an organization to give a false job description. Also, just because I am an “intern” does not mean I am beneath anyone else in the company. I should be treated with as much respect as anyone else who went through the application and hiring process. My cube is the same size as yours, I park in the same parking lot as you and we share the same cafeteria-why should my status as “intern” mean I am not as good as the next employee? Great blog post!

Sep 14, 2009 at 10:02 pm

The offices where I have worked have all had coffee makers in them. People got their own coffee.

I can’t believe anyone is still expecting an intern to get coffee. If it’s a high-level executive, like a director, VP, or higher, AND said executive is in a meeting, then I think it’s OK for someone to bring a pot of coffee to the meeting.

Dawn makes a good point. If the office is small enough to not have a coffee maker, then it’s reasonable for the intern to do the job of driving, ordering, and transporting expensive brown-ified water. Don’t EVER pay for it, though.

Other than that, they should go get their own damn coffee.

Sep 14, 2009 at 10:25 pm

I think it’s ok to ask the intern to get coffee, if and only if the superior generally gets the coffee but is currently bogged down with pressing matters. During my undergraduate internship I was never asked to get coffee, although I would have if asked. I’m not against getting coffee for superiors because I don’t want to work my way up the chain or put in my time, I’m against it as a “daily task” because it offers no learning experience, and that is what an internship is all about.

Love what @karen said, and glad to hear that these kinds of tasks aren’t accepted for internship credit; it does the employer little good and does the intern no good at all.

Rachel Esterline
Sep 15, 2009 at 7:40 am

@Stephanie – You make a great point. “Why should my status as “intern” mean I am not as good as the next employee?” – Luckily, I think most places treat interns fairly but I have heard of many nightmares too! I’m glad you commented.

@Todd – That has been my experience as well. We have coffee makers in the office, so people just walk by and pour it themselves. Thanks for commenting!

@Kristina – I really like the point that you make…that it is OK if it is something your superior would do, but can’t. I think that’s a really important point. Thanks for the comment!

Sep 15, 2009 at 9:43 am

When you start at our office – whether as an intern or an employee – you are asked to do the “meaningless chores” that make the office function on a daily basis, including copying and fetching lunch or coffee. We make it clear from the start, as you are training, you’ll be asked to do many things and the key to being successful here is great work no matter what the task, good attention to details, as well as keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities. We know in the first few days if someone is going to cut it on the team by the way they complete these tasks. And we quickly move anyone who shows team spirit and great work ethic to higher level tasks. We pride ourselves in teaching our interns well. And what business isn’t about great customer service – whether internal or external?

Rachel Esterline
Sep 15, 2009 at 10:58 am

@Jennifer – I think that is an interesting way to go…start them out at easier tasks to see their work ethic, attention to detail, etc. I think that is totally fine (from my Gen Y perspective), as long as those tasks aren’t the focus of the training. If there is an opportunity to move up, I’d be all about it. Thanks for the comment!

Grace Boyle
Sep 16, 2009 at 10:02 am

I’m not so sure about “required” but I think as an intern, it’s important to understand where you stand on the totem pole. It doesn’t mean you should be demeaned (if a boss does that to you, I don’t think that’s fair, polite or proper management) but my motto as an intern was “never say no to anything.” It’s funny, because I’m very upfront and am NOT a pushover. Nonetheless, in my five internships I completed in college with that energy and zest, I actually didn’t do any regular coffee runs but I did my fair share of work that I wasn’t too excited about.

Sometimes the audacity of our generation surprises me. But then I remember that I AM Gen Y and that I never settle. Nonetheless, if a boss asks you to grab coffee for you and your team I would oblige. If they asked me every single day and ALSO had mundane tasks that didn’t help me learn, I would still grab the coffee but ask to negotiate and talk about what I can continue to contribute to the company. Seems like a balance, right?

Lauren Fernandez
Sep 21, 2009 at 2:02 pm

There is a difference between picking up lunch for a meeting, and fetching coffee. When I was an AAE I would set up the conference rooms for meetings. I was never asked to fetch coffee – it’s a power play when they ask you to bring it for them. The difference is – one is for the client, the other is for someone who is working at the same company. Make sense?

I was once asked to take my boss’ kids to the dentist when I was an intern. I politely refused. That is not in my job description and did not benefit the agency in any way.



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