Birthday lunch helps show secretary she's appreciated

Dear Joan:
My husband and I read a recent article of yours, in the Jacksonville Times Union, stressing the importance of praising employees. We seek your comments regarding a situation he has created in his office.

He does praise the people who work for him. However, there is one thing he has done for the past two years that I do not find acceptable. He takes his secretary out to eat at lunchtime on her birthday. He includes the other office person on this trip. His immediate staff includes himself, a secretary, and a computer technician. The remaining employees are 50 to 60 men who work in a male dominated field.

His position is that this secretary is a member of his team; this is one way that he can make her feel special; and that he isn't doing anything wrong. I recognize that I am the jealous wife but in addition I do not think it is a good "business" practice. He does not do the same for all employees.

Do you have any advice or comments regarding boss / secretary "do's and don'ts"? Could you offer some alternative suggestions for making her feel "a part of the team"? I would appreciate your response.

It is common practice to take your secretary out for lunch on his or her birthday. Not only is it appropriate, it is usually very appreciated by the secretary.

Since there is only one other staff person who works closely with him, it would be a nice gesture if he took that person out to lunch on his or her birthday, too. Since these three people work together every day, it's important to take the time to say thank you. I agree with your husband that a birthday lunch is a harmless way to make someone feel special.

Secretaries are often the unsung heroes of the business. They work behind the scenes to make sure everyone else meets their goals. They are not usually included in incentive compensation programs nor do they play an active role in company decision-making or company meetings. (Although, I believe they should be more involved.) As a result, doing something special for these folks makes good sense.

Another way to make his secretary feel more a part of the team is to invite her to some meetings so that she can become more informed and make a real contribution. I'm not suggesting that she needs to be a part of every meeting or event, but when it makes sense she could be invited. The more she knows about what is happening and why, the more she can contribute as plans are executed. A secretary who is a part of the decision-making process can often anticipate potential snafus no one else would see. In the beginning, her role may be to take minutes of the meeting, but as she learns more, she may become an active participant in some of these events.

However, since the office is so small, it may not be practical to take her away from the phones and other administrative duties. In that case, your husband would be wise to fill her in on the what and why of decisions that will affect the business. The more she's included, the more she'll feel like a member of the team.

Another way for her to be a part of the team is to expand her job. Perhaps she has a desire to take on more responsibilities and to grow. If your husband feels that she is capable, he may wish to delegate more projects and eventually pass on the full authority to go with it. With only three people in the main office, it seems logical that she could expand her role, if it is appropriate.

Jealousy of your husband's secretary may indicate that you are feeling unappreciated yourself.  Perhaps more time spent with your husband doing special things (like a weekend away for the two of you on your birthday) would make you feel less concerned about a once-a-year thank you lunch.

Perhaps it will be easier to deal with if you realize that there is nothing personal about this's not a's a thank you for all of her effort that goes into helping your husband's business succeed.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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