Secretaries tackle more in today’s downsized, high-tech world

See if you can guess which job might include the following functions:

§      Project management

§      Integrated computer software applications

§      Organization and scheduling

§      Internet and intranet communications and research

§      Document preparation, storage and retrieval

§      Customer service and public relations

Did you guess the job of a secretary? The profession has evolved so much in recent years that the name has been expanded to include administrative assistants and administrative professionals, among others. Professional Secretaries Week, April 18-24, is a good time to take a look at how things are changing. National Secretaries week started in 1952 and then most secretaries did traditional tasks such as type, file and take dictation. The computer, as well as other workplace changes, have dramatically altered administrative tasks and who does them.

According to a 1997 International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) study, one-third of IAAP members supervise others; 45 percent train others, especially on computer skills; and 78 percent recommend or make purchasing decisions for the office.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that nearly 3 million secretaries were employed in the United States in 1996, making this one of the largest occupational segments. The future looks bright for this group, with jobs plentiful, salaries on the rise and status increasing, as responsibilities and accountability grow.

Besides the computer, I suspect that one of the biggest reasons secretaries have been given more responsibilities is the downsizing that has affected many companies. When companies flattened out, the tasks didn’t go away. Managers and employees who were left had to pick up the slack and the secretary was perfectly positioned to step up and take on more.

Another reason for the changing role is the growth of small businesses. Since most small businesses use computers and a variety of other office machines, the administrative assistant plays a key role as the technical expert who purchases office equipment, operates it and trains others to stay high tech. For example, I see companies who rely on their administrative staff to do everything from putting together computer presentations to creating spreadsheets to track data.

The transition to the new role can pose a dilemma about celebrating Secretaries Day. Some managers wonder if a gift is appropriate. For example, in one case I’m familiar with, the Vice President decided to give each woman in the office staff a bouquet of flowers. It sounds well intentioned enough, yet it caused a stir because the flowers were only given to the women, and some men also held jobs of the same classification. In another case, some of the office staff had grown beyond the traditional role and had taken on more responsibilities, so they had mixed feelings about being labeled "secretaries".

Here are some guidelines that may help. I suggest that you discuss with your administrative professionals how they would like to observe Professional Secretaries Week. The IAAP suggests some of the following ideas:

§      Provide registration for a seminar on the latest technology, supervisory skills, project management, interpersonal communications, or other related areas.

§      Purchase a subscription to a business, computer-related or professional magazine.

§      Pay for membership in an organization such as IAAP or other appropriate networking and educational association.

§      Purchase new computer software or hardware, or ergonomically correct furniture and accessories, to make the assistant’s job more productive and satisfying.

§      For gift ideas, consider business cards, a desktop nameplate, a gift certificate for business items or apparel, desktop reference books, or a monetary bonus for exemplary performance.

Whatever you do, be sure to let your administrative staff know how much you appreciate them and how much you value their contribution. It’s interesting to note that according to recent surveys conducted with IAAP members, the recognition most preferred by administrative professionals themselves is a simple "thank you" (of course, taking them out to lunch to say it isn’t a bad idea!).

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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