Run an Intern Program

Is It Okay to Give Interns “Grunt Work” and Other More Menial Tasks?

One of the most detrimental employer errors—and one of the most common intern complaints—is assigning interns primarily mindless and/or tedious tasks.

Many employers, both large and small companies alike, mistakenly assume that the purpose of employing interns is to have a low-cost source of labor to do more menial work: making copies, sending faxes, running errands, filing papers, fetching coffee, answering phones, and even organizing inboxes.

These employers believe that assigning mindless tasks maximizes their investment by helping them accomplish work that no one else wants to do.

But in truth, assigning interns mostly grunt work has a number of negative effects on your organization:

  • It creates disgruntled interns. These interns give negative reports about your program to their peers. Once your internship program gets a reputation for only assigning unwanted work, you can forget about enticing the top student talent.
  • It undermines your ability to effectively assess intern skills. Knowing that an intern can work a fax machine doesn’t tell you much about their collaboration, problem-solving, or strategic-planning skills. Essentially, you’ve traded in the long-term benefit of evaluating the intern for fulltime employment for short-term, superficial gains like organizing the supply closet.
  • It cheats you out of the knowledge and insight the intern has to offer. Interns can be a source of novel solutions and new perspectives. When you assign only mindless work, you’re missing out on a mind that may be full of fresh ideas.

Remember, the primary characteristic of an internship program is a focus on learning. Interns are looking for guidance, to gain skill, and to hone their education with hands-on work that will increase their understanding of the industry and prepare them for the workplace.

So does this mean you can never ask an intern for copies or a cup of coffee? Of course not. As long as the majority of work provides a more meaningful learning experience, assigning duties like phones, faxing, and filing is completely acceptable.

As far as fetching coffee is concerned, maybe once in a blue moon. But draw the line at dry cleaning runs. Interns are there to learn about your business, not replace your personal assistant.