Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Secretary–Administrative Assistant–Administrative Professional–Whatever, Show Appreciation.

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.

Nice idea, but horrible poetry!

March 19th, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 11 comments


  1. Tina –

    Thank you for posting. 🙂 Thought-provoking and positive as always.

    Comment by wily | March 20, 2011

  2. I LOVE YOU!!!! You get it! My boss sometimes asks me to shine his shoes! I get so angry at him for asking me but at the same time I love being needed so I usually fall all over myself doing it. Isn’t that sick????? You’re the greatest though for writing this.

    Comment by Shoeshine Girl | March 20, 2011

  3. Tina says: Thank you Wily and also to Shoeshine Girl. I won’t even comment on the shoe shining, but it could be he thinks you like to get the chance! I’ve sent you an email. Thanks for commenting!

    Comment by TLR | March 20, 2011

  4. Tina, I heard you speak today at the LAWPOA symposium and could hardly wait to see your site. It is just a entertaining as you were. Thank you so much for your inspiring presentations. You made the day as far as I was concerned.

    Comment by ChicaLA | March 23, 2011

  5. I was at the LAWPOA conference today….I was one of the men there. I just wanted to tell you I thought you did a great job. From my viewpoint you could have had the entire day and I would have liked it. You don’t often hear your kind of inspiring rhetoric and the younger officers need more of that. Also, you were very humorous and that was a welcome relief. You did a great job. Thank you for your service to law enforcement.

    Comment by W.R. | March 23, 2011

  6. I heard you speak at LAWPOA symposium and thought you were awesome!! I can see I’ll like your website too. Thank you for some great ideas about influence and using the assessment concepts every day. You were a treat and I hope to see you back again next year or before then.

    Comment by Pookie | March 23, 2011

  7. I’m an administrative assistant and appreciate you for writing this. I don’t mind decorating or fixing parties but I wish I could get some help from the people I work for. Sometimes I feel kind of subservient to them! I work for some great people but they just don’t think about me as anyone with intelligence. I’ve been there longer than they have but they never ask me about anything! So, this is very true and I hope people pay attention to it.

    Comment by N.K. | March 23, 2011

  8. Great job today. Thanks!

    Comment by luvla | March 23, 2011

  9. Hello! I loved your two presentations and got a lot out of them. Could I get copies of the church security articles you mentioned? Thank you for making it free! My church is trying to get a security program going and I think they’ll probably expect me to be able to plan it. I can plan security for other things but don’t know how to do that in a church situation, so your ideas will be a great help.

    I liked the entire symposium and thought every speaker had something good to say but you were my favorite because you were funny but also had concrete examples of how to make a difference. I came away with some ideas I’m going to use at work. Thank you again for the church security information.

    Comment by Fatima | March 23, 2011

  10. I totally agree with everything you wrote, Tina! It is nice to be appreciated and even though I *know* my bosses do appreciate my help, it would be nice for them to actually verbalize it every now and then.

    The anecdote about the assistant who had to oversee her boss’s office being painted reminds me of an incident a few years ago. One of my bosses had a really messy office (out of all the offices there, his was the worst). He bought some new furniture but never got around to switching. So he decides that he wants the new furniture in next week, but oh – he’s going on a trip. So I got to box up his pigsty of an office which took me about 3 days to do, even though it is not that big of an office.

    Luckily, I didn’t have to move the furniture myself (facilities workers got that job). And then when boss came back, he said “oh, you changed my furniture…” Uh, yeah, because you told me to! And it bothered me because he never even acknowledged the fact that I had to box everything up, arrange for the boxes and old furniture to be carted out, and new furniture to be set up (by the way, I had to just “guess” on how the new furniture should be set up because he wouldn’t give me a straight answer when I asked). The furniture didn’t just magically transform!

    The bottom line is that I don’t mind helping my bosses (with maybe the exception of the furniture/cleaning up) because I guess my job is to make their jobs easier. But it does get frustrating at times. I am not the type of person to constantly complain about how much work I have (even though, right now I am doing about 1.75 jobs, thanks to staff shortage). And there’s another admin (albeit higher title) who just had to take on one extra task and she complains how she has to do like 5 jobs! Of course, that admin is the one that gets the massive raise!

    Comment by Cassie | March 24, 2011

  11. Tina says: Thanks to everyone for reading and especially for the comments.

    Cassie, your situation would be especially frustrating because there aren’t many options. You might want to consider forcing a bit of acknowledgement:”I put a lot of time into it so I hope once you get settled in you’ll feel like it works good for you.” “I was surprised at how much there was to do to put this furniture together, but with help from maintenance it got done. Hope it’s working well for you.”

    Those nudges sometimes are needed to jog the courtesies of people who seem to have forgotten them! Thanks again for the comment. T.

    Comment by TLR | March 24, 2011

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