Giving administrative assistants their due

On the Job


April 18, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun Columnist

Smart business people know you don't mess with the administrative assistant.

Because if you do, you won't get far with getting your telephone call returned, let alone reaching the manager or executive.

Besides their gatekeeping role, administrative professionals provide the backbone of many organizations.

"The profession has evolved much for the better," says Rick Stroud, communications manager at the International Association of Administrative Professionals, a trade group in Kansas City, Mo. "The public perception of the role has lagged behind."

The jobs have evolved from the stereotypical secretary whose tasks mostly included taking phone calls and notes, to a professional whose responsibilities include purchasing office equipment and supplies, creating presentations and maintaining computer files, databases and directories.

Of 150 senior executives in a recent survey, 85 percent said their administrative assistants were important to their success. (The survey, conducted by OfficeTeam, has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.)

The work of administrative professionals has been celebrated since 1952. It began as National Secretaries Week and in 2000 became Administrative Professionals Week - this year, it will be celebrated next week - to cover expanding responsibilities and broader job titles, according to the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

Cynthia Hackshaw, president of the association's greater Baltimore chapter, says she hopes to change public perception of her profession.

Hackshaw, who works for a local insurance company and has been in some sort of administrative post for 28 years, described her job as being the right-hand person to the executive.

"It's not just getting the coffee and setting up the conference room," Hackshaw says. "It really has changed."

Susan Mongan, an administrative secretary at Bechtel Corp.'s Frederick office, has been in the profession for the past 22 years.

Among her duties, Mongan deals with customers from around the world and coordinates meetings in various time zones. She also makes sure her manager is on top of his schedule. Over the years, technology has broadened her responsibilities because of the accessibility of her boss and others via cell phones, Blackberries and laptop computers, Mongan says.

"I like being a behind-the-scenes person," says Mongan, who is the president of the association's Delaware-Maryland-District of Columbia division, which oversees 875 members in 19 chapters. "I want to make my manager look good, and I enjoy being part of that team."

Workplace tidbit: A lot of things can distract us at work; we all know that. So, it's not surprising to hear that weather can affect worker productivity.

In a recent survey of 6,169 workers, 10 percent said they tend to be less productive in gloomy weather. (The survey was conducted by, partly owned by Tribune Co., the parent of The Sun, and has a margin of error of 1 percentage point.)

Workers mentioned rain as the weather condition that most negatively affects their mood and productivity. It was followed by cold, hot, dark and snow.

In contrast, 4 percent said they feel more productive on gloomy days.

And 15 percent of workers said they are more productive during sunny or warm weather, while 4 percent said they are less so on sunny days.

Sixty-seven percent reported no impact on productivity.

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