Admin. Professionals’ Day: Moving Beyond Cards and Flowers

Admin Professionals Day Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat are your thoughts on Administrative Professionals’ Week, and Administrative Professionals’ Day, which was celebrated yesterday?  I find myself in the ambivalent camp on such celebrations, which run April 20 – 26 this year.

On the one hand, we have people who genuinely want to express appreciation for the skills and dedication assistants bring to the role. On the other, some colleagues genuinely resent a sense of manipulation by companies that gain financially from this annual time of recognition. I recall one VP who was vocal in his resentment. He was consistently appreciative of, and good to, his staff. He felt no need of a special nudge to convey the respect he had for the admin. professional with whom he worked.

We have greeting cards that run the gamut from simply sincere to sincerely snarky. Some cards depict rational, professional looking individuals, while others present cartoonish caricatures of crazed or overwhelmed women surrounded by heaps of paper. Few cards feature representations of men in the role, but you can find cards providing unwitting (and likely unknowing) contemporary visual variations of the Indian goddess Kali.

Here are just a few of the greeting card companies’ takes on our roles and mindsets.

  • “She was comforted by the knowledge that they were helpless without her”
  • The-only-one-around-here-who-knows-what-the-*’s-going-on-Day!” In these first two, we’re running with the artificial theme that we work with a bunch of  incompetents, and the implication that we are less than professional and need such stroking.
  • “Admins. are part super, part crazy, 100% the glue of the office” Flattering, yes?
  • “You’re the glue that keeps this place together”  This bit about glue is another recurring theme. Is it only me, or does it conjure up for anyone else the image of a poor, worn out nag taken out of harness and hauled off to the glue factory?
  • “Happy Administrative Professionals Day, now get me a * cup of coffee” No comment.
  • “Give your secretary a hug!” I suspect that this one was crafted without any input from HR professionals.
  • Behind every successful team there is an efficient Administrative Professional …”  Hmm. Behind the team? Not part of the team? Really?
  • “Can’t imagine how messy things would become without your support – thank you for each small supportive thing you do” Seriously?
  • “The candy bowl on your desk is the only reason I come to work”  Right; now we’re getting to the crux of an admin. professional’s role!

… and so it goes, with recognition that the general sense is one of fun or goodwill.  While generally not humourless, and with realisation that I’m sounding like a curmudgeonly Canadian cousin of Andy Rooney here, I invite you to pause and imagine extending variations of the above messages to your boss or to another professional with whom you interact.

The celebrations this week stem from the 1952 establishment (by what was then known as the National Secretaries Association) of National Secretaries Week, undertaken in part to attract people to such careers.

 It seems that some approaches to this week’s celebrations represent a hangover, however well intended, from the 1950s

Yellow Spring Bouquet 2 Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhile I truly appreciated the gestures extended to me yesterday, I believe that the tone of some of the mass messaging detracts from a sense of professionalism, and can be almost parochial in nature.

Take a minute (after you read this!) for an internet search on national days marking careers in accounting, health care and so on. You will typically find a focus on professional development, not imagery or advertising for chocolates, cards and flowers – however appealing they may be.  It could be worse, though. While we need not pity dentists or lawyers, expand your internet search and you’ll find that one site related to National Dentists’ Day begins with the phrase, “A dentist is not one of the most popular persons around.”  Broaden the search further to try to find a national day for lawyers, and what you’ll find is Be Kind to Lawyers Day.

Good intentions may be better served by commitments to accuracy of position descriptions, which have direct bearing on compensation

A Focus on Advocacy and Professional Development

Despite the best of intentions in celebrating this career, might all be better served by a shift from the very well intended but sometimes patronising greeting card mentality to one that reflects the efforts by many among us who are actively seeking to elevate the profile of our work?

The National Secretaries Association has evolved into the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), an international body with which many readers will be familiar. The IAAP advocates recognition of this week through provision of opportunities for professional development.

My peers are benefitting this year from the work of driven South African counterparts such as Anel Martin, Susan Engelbrecht, Charlotte Massey-Hicks, Audeta Skosana and more. With dedication and focus, these peers have invested generous doses of time, talent and thought in launching the International Year of the Secretary and Administrative Assistant 2014 (IYOTSA 2014).

The IYOTSA team is actively forging local and international networks advocating for change and professional recognition for all assistants, and they are joined and supported by a number of the heavy hitters amongst the bloggers, advocates and trainers who focus on this career: from the US we have Joan Burge/Office Dynamics International and Julie Perrine/All Things Admin. In the UK, we have Lucy Brazier/Executive Secretary Magazine and Brazier’s roster of contributing writers.

I find that the great majority of my readers, and many peers with whom I connect at international conferences, make conscious choices to bypass social media as they distinguish personal lives from their highly visible roles in the office. Many maintain personal networks the old fashioned way, in person, as a group of us did yesterday; watch for more soon on that great event. A number among us rely on email, contained listservs and secure websites to network and gain career insights. You may be among those who choose to dip into bloggers’ and trainers’ thoughts by means of email subscriptions or bookmarks/favourites rather than Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

With these differing approaches to connecting and development, my eyes are on the horizon. Our South African counterparts have initiated meaningful, international collaboration amongst peers and training providers in the past few months. What happens to these newly forged connections as we approach 2015, and are we content to stick with flowers and greeting cards, or do we increasingly direct focus to advocacy and professional development?

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