• “One of my managers writes so small that I have great difficulty reading his handwriting. Even after telling him how this impacts my accuracy and timeliness, he hasn’t changed in six years.”
• “My boss doesn’t remember what work he assigned to whom, so quite often he will have two of us working on the same thing.”
• “My manager and I agreed upon a deadline for a report I was creating. When I submitted the report on the date of the deadline, he commented on my lateness.”
• “When we recently had a flood in the office, my manager made us work through it.”
• “My manager likes to invent his own words. Even if I question them, he’ll still use them.”
If any of the above comments sounds familiar, you might be an administrative professional. These responses, given anonymously to OfficeTeam, a staffing service for administrative professionals, are only a taste of the demands that workers in the administrative field put up with.
What do administrative professionals do?
Trying to describe what administrative professionals do is like trying to explain what parents do. They take care of, well, everything. Moms and dads make sure their children are fed, clothed, rested, driven to soccer games, and ultimately have a good day. Administrative professionals ensure bosses make their meetings, phone calls are directed to the right people, messages are returned, guests are taken care of, travel is booked, and anything else that arises is taken care of. Basically, like parents, they have to work miracles on a daily basis.
This is why the last full week in April is Administrative Professionals Week, and this year Administrative Professionals Day is celebrated on Wednesday, April 27. As the International Association of Administrative Professionals explains, the holiday began in 1952 under the moniker “National Secretaries Week,” but evolved to include all of the administrative professionals who keep the workplace functioning.
According to the IAAP’s definition, administrative professionals are “individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office-related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession.”
This workforce of secretaries, administrative assistants, coordinators and more add up to more than 4.3 million workers in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That equals a lot of headaches for them so that someone else’s day goes smoother.
In their own words
For a change, we decided to let administrative professionals do the talking and give us a glimpse into their busy schedules. Some of their stories are funny, some are outrageous, and others are just weird. Here are some notable experiences of administrative professionals:
“When I was an administrative assistant I had one boss who would call me up at 10 am high as a kite and mumble orders to me. I’d finally just tell him I couldn’t understand a word he was saying and hang up. It happened on a regular basis too. Also, he’d call up paranoid that his traders [at the investment banking firm] were plotting against him and he’d ask me to spy. I would always say no.” — Alison Kero
“I was [an] admin at a boutique real estate company, but about half my job was acting as personal assistant to the firm’s wealthy elderly principal. I recall one time when he was on vacation in Europe, and I received a call just as I walked in to the office in the morning. Apparently he had somehow messed up his hotel reservations and needed me to fix them. He had somehow booked himself into the wrong hotel in the wrong town on the wrong side of Germany for the next stage of his trip, and he didn’t know what to do. Oh, and did I mention that I speak no German?
A fair amount of Googling later I discovered that he had booked himself into the wrong hotel because it had a similar name to the one he was really looking for, and hadn’t noticed things like it being in the wrong town and such. I found an English-language travel review online that gave the contact info for the correct hotel. I then called his current hotel back and found someone who spoke German, and then conferenced them in while I called the correct hotel. I don’t want to think about the phone charges, but we got him sorted out in less than an hour. Because of course, I’m an admin and I can do anything.” – Wendy Zdrodowski, studio manager for Tree Studios
“I will never forget the day 18 years ago when, as a temporary administrative assistant staffing the front desk at my temporary agency, I received a call for the president of the company. Of course this was a great opportunity to showcase my abilities and get a great next assignment, right? The president was unavailable so I attempted to take a message. I was told the call was from the President of the Hair Club for Men.
I really thought it was a joke — perhaps a friend of the president attempting to get past the gate keeper. Remember this was before the cell phone era when his closest friends would have a direct line right to him wherever he was. So I asked the caller whether he was just the president, or a client as well (joking about the Hair Club for Men commercials). He presumed I was talking about our president and he confided in me that he was a client.
I was able to maintain my composure only long enough to get a number where the call could be returned and then erupted into a fit of giggles that stayed with me not only for the remainder of my day at work but also for the many years since that I’ve worked around people and telephones. Lesson learned? Don’t ask any more questions than you have to when on the telephone.” – Shannan Hearne
“I owned a concierge service in New York City for six years. I had a client scream at me for lighting a candle wrong. That wasn’t the most ridiculous part of that day.” — Kero
“I was temping on the switchboard of a small law firm for an afternoon while they had their firm’s holiday party in-house. I was to tell all callers that the party they were trying to reach was ‘in a meeting’ and offer [to send them to] voicemail or take a message. About mid-afternoon, the sounds of drunken attorneys attempting to sing Christmas carols were clearly audible and callers were getting a bit suspicious. I had to go in to their party and say, ‘Look, I will gladly tell callers anything you want me to tell them, but you’re going to have to work with me a little, because they aren’t buying it.’ They got a lot quieter in short order, and I actually got several repeat calls for work there and eventually a job offer. I didn’t take it.” — Zdrodowski
As you can see, administrative professionals have their share of challenges – some good, some bad, some strange. But they always make it work, which is why not just anyone has the skills to do the job or the desire to make it a full-time career. For those administrative professionals who make our lives easier, we send our thanks and we encourage you to let us know your most noteworthy stories.