Intern Life

You’re Doing Too Much at Work—and It Shows

Imagine yourself working as an intern at a company that you tried hard to get into. You worked for hours on your résumé. You spent hours in front of the mirror, practicing for your face-to-face interview. You bought a pair of new shoes and business attire to give you that extra mental boost on your first day of work.

A week passes by and you feel more comfortable at performing your job. You are learning new skills and making connections. One day, while you are working on a presentation for the afternoon meeting, your supervisor asks you to work in the front office greeting customers and answering the phone. While you would be happy to do so, you know that you will not be able to complete your presentation on time. You tell your supervisor that you want to concentrate on your presentation. The supervisor says, “Well, figure it out. Working in the front office is part of the deal working here. We all have to pitch in when needed.”

What do you do in this situation?

How would you feel?

Role conflict occurs when incompatible demands are given to an employee and completing both of these demands would be hard to do (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Interns are in a unique situation because, about half of the time, interns are not monetarily compensated. Interns are there primarily for the practice and experience that they gain from their work. Role conflict can impact the type of experience that an intern receives from work and this impact can be magnified when the only compensation that an intern receives is that experience.

The amount of experience that an intern has can also be a factor. Olk and Friedlander (1992), found that role conflict is a challenge for more advanced interns. As interns gain more experience, they may be exposed to role conflict because their skillset increases. In other worlds, more experienced interns can do more things, which increases the chance that their employer may ask them to do things that are incompatible simply because they have the skillset to do them.

Role conflict is a problem. The question is: what can you do about it?

One of the most important things you can do in reducing any role conflict that you may be experiencing is reduce the amount of conflicting demands. One way you can do this at work is to talk to your manager or supervisor and clearly explain how the role conflict is affecting you and the quality of your work. Talk to your manager in a respectful, objective manner and provide clear evidence of how conflicting demands are impacting you and your productivity. You can then work with your manager to create a plan of action to minimize role conflict and maximize productivity. Most supervisors and managers want you to be at your best and most productive. They will welcome any strategies to improve your performance if it is brought up to them in a clear and respectful manner.


Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations 2ed. New York City: John Wiley.

Olk, M., Friedlander, M. (1992). Trainees’ experiences of role conflict and role ambiguity in supervisory relationships. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 39(3), Jul 1992, 389-397.

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Gilbert Franco

Gilbert Franco works and volunteers his time as an independent HR and business consultant. He is a clinical supervisor at the McAlister institute where he supervises master's level interns and trainees. He is also the author of Chronicles of Essencia: My Lost Wing and has completed his dissertation on "Productivity standards, marriage and family therapist job satisfaction and turnover intent." For further questions, email Gilbert at