No, it’s not Administrative Professionals Day (that is on April 27th in 2011). But, the work of an “admin” goes on…and on…and on, every day. I’m not suggesting you run out today and buy flowers, a plant, or take the AA in your office to lunch–although those are good ideas. Instead, I’m suggesting that everyone who works in a workplace with AAs, secretaries, clerks or other administrative functions, should be aware of the quantity of work being done, sensitive to the hassles, frustrations and irritations that are often part of that work, and should take overt action to include administrative specialists as a respected part of the team.
Times have certainly changed since this supposedly genuine advertisement, which appears to be from the early 1960s. (I don’t usually trust these unless I have taken them from the magazine myself, but this one seems to be real. If you have information about it, let me know. I can verify that it reflects some of the thinking of the era.) For many employees (usually females) the general philosophy still continues, along with a much lower salary than for those who rely on them for a wide range of work. Those AAs don’t need patronizing sympathy or to be told they’re Wonder Woman. Nor do they need new titles (Managing Associate of Administrative Technology). What would mean more to them is a salary that reflects the importance of their roles and respectful treatment by coworkers at all levels.
It Works Both Ways
It is also true that there are some administrative assistants who seem to have taken on the authority of their bosses and reflect it poorly. So, if they work for someone who has the organizational clout to give orders, they do as well, only in disruptive or unhelpful ways. Most of us know someone in an AA role who is avoided and tip-toed around even though she’s unpleasant, because she works for someone high up. That’s as wrong as going to the other extreme and should be handled as we would any habitually discourteous behavior. (Just be sure you’re equally quick to halt the behavior of those who are discourteous to the AA.)
Administrative Staff Are Part Of The Team
*Show some sensitivity and empathy about how and when you ask for assistance or assign work. The fact that you’ve procrastinated isn’t a reason for the AA to stay late or miss a break or lunch.
*It’s irritating and offensive to repeatedly toss something on someones desk as you breeze out the door for an early and long lunch time or when you’re going home early but they have to stay to keep the office open. Think about timing and tone of voice as well as your overall demeanor when you require assistance.
*Don’t let anyone be rude to coworkers who don’t have the same organizational standing as they do. Most AAs tend to feel they can’t speak up or push back, no matter how rude someone is to them. Those that do can be labeled as difficult to deal with. (See It Works Both Ways, above.) Don’t just sympathize about it, say something if you have the status to do so or at least encourage the AA to talk to her own manager about it–or talk to him or her yourself.
*Be respectful about what is expected of AAs in your office, especially when other employees could just as well be doing the work. For example, not all administrative staff members want to put up holiday decorations. That’s almost certainly not part of a job description and not the best use of time. In some offices AAs are expected to get all of their work done while still preparing birthday parties, promotion ceremonies and similar functions, without any significant assistance. You be the one who assists or gets others to help you. Better yet, do it all without the AA for a change and let her enjoy the function.
*Avoid the 1960-and-before-approach that the AA’s job is to make the life of others easy, especially about manual labor, domestic type activities or unpleasant chores. For example, a middle-manager purposely took time off while his office was being re-carpeted and repainted and left the AA a long list of instructions for taking everything down and moving it out, then having it all put back exactly right when he returned. Because of the painter’s schedules the AA had to get child care and come in on the weekend to make it perfect before the manager walked in the door on Monday morning. I realize that task could be considered part of her work, but doggone it, that’s just not right!
*When the administrative employee is likely to have insight about various aspect of work, include her or him in your conversations about it. At least ask and listen. Often administrative people have a much bigger picture than others, because they see it from a variety of perspectives.
The bottom line is to think about your administrative team as an integral part of the larger team. Think of individuals as strong contributors in many ways that can benefit effectiveness. Don’t diminish that by reducing their status, even inadvertently and even now and then.