It’s time to give administrative professionals their own day

Dear Joan:
As an avid reader of your career advice column and a working woman myself, I recently came across a story idea that would fit into your niche and serve as a timely feature to your column.

This year, Professional Secretaries' Week runs from April 22 to April 26. According to the increased volume in floral orders placed with members of the Professional Florists Association of Wisconsin (of which I am a member) human resources managers are using the week-long observance to recognize the efforts of entire office teams, not just secretarial staff. It's important to note that:

·        The "team" approach mentality has fully integrated the workplace with administrative assistants being regarded as key players, not distant support staff; and

·        Recognizing these people for their valuable contributions results in benefits for all involved.

As Professional Secretaries' Week approaches, I think it would be intriguing for you to compare how the evolution of this holiday has paralleled the changing trends in the workplace. Managers realize, for instance, that all employees should be recognized for jobs well done and that such encouragement doesn't need to be restricted to the fourth week of April.

If there was ever any doubt about how much I value my assistant, her week-long vacation proved to me her many virtues. I figured I could handle it myself. After all, I used to do everything when I started my business, I reasoned. Why should it be so tough? By 2:00 in the afternoon on the first day, I knew I was in trouble. As I drove down the highway with the steering wheel between my knees, trying to return 35 phone messages, I knew I was out of control and had to get a grip.

And the computer! She's a whiz with spreadsheets and desktop publishing. I painfully realized how inept my skills are in comparison. She can negotiate with vendors like a bulldog and get fair deals that make both sides smile. And as I listened to all the incoming voice mail messages, I was reminded of how much she helps our clients and works to make them look good.

If you are as lucky as I am to have a skilled professional who is your administrative partner, you know just what I'm talking about. They are becoming the computer pros and communication hubs in many offices. A survey of 1,800 secretarial employment ads by Dartnell Corporation last March found that computer skills and word processing were mentioned at least 61% of the time. The Association for Office Professionals reports that they operate multiple software packages including word processing (95%), spreadsheet (73%), database (46%), graphics (40%), desktop publishing (19%), and accounting (16%).

As downsizing continues, the office professional has stepped up to increased responsibilities. According to a 1995 survey of Office Team, 73% of executives are working with them on a more collaborative basis than five years ago. The survey also found that 47% of managers key their own business correspondence, which leaves their assistant to handle more advanced duties.

Indeed, managers realize that all employees on the team need to be recognized. However, I favor giving administrative professionals their day, in addition to the recognition they may receive as part of the team. Too often they are overlooked as the valuable contributors that they are and it gives us an opportunity to thank them. Here are some tips from the Professional Florists Association for Secretaries' Day:

DON'T overlook Professional Secretaries Day just because you are unsure about it. You can always ask.

DO make recognition personal. Try to have lunch with small groups of support staff throughout the week or give an individualized gift to show your appreciation.

DON'T have one supervisor take the entire staff to lunch at once.

DO ask what secretaries want. Begin planning a few days before and discreetly survey your staff to find out their preferences.

DO take the initiative to buy the gift yourself.

DON'T ask your secretary to order his or her own flowers.

DON'T wait for a special event like Secretaries' Day to thank your staff' for their good work.

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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