In your job, do you need to provide administrative support to your boss and your team? If you do, you are likely working in the capacity of a secretary or administrative professional.
Here is a fictional account of a workday of an administrative professional, Kathy.
Kathy works in the Sales Department. It is 8.20am, and Kathy arrives at the office. As usual, she goes to the office pantry to make herself a cup of coffee. Two colleagues, Sue and Lay Yin from R&D, are at the coffee machine, so Kathy joins them for a friendly chat.
It turns out that Sue and Lay Yin are talking about how a male colleague in the Finance Department is frequently seen leaving the office with a married female colleague. They are speculating on the nature of their relationship. Kathy gleefully joins in and voices her own speculations. They have a laugh and return to their own desks.
Kathy’s boss comes in at 9am, and asks her to send an email to Mr Henry Tan, a new client, to inform him about a meeting that has been confirmed. Kathy writes this quick email and sends it out:
Hi Mr Tan,
The meeting with our Mrktg Dept has been confirmed on 25 Feb at 2.30pm. Venue details to follow.
Have a fantastic day ahead!
Just before lunch, Kathy’s boss calls her into his office to discuss the training plans for the department. Her boss wants all the 12 staff members in Sales Department to go through a customer service training programme.
He wants Kathy to think about whether it is better to send the 12 persons to external training programmes, or to have a training provider run an in-company training programme for them. Kathy is to propose the better option for further discussion in their departmental meeting later in the week.
After her lunch break, Kathy does some quick checks and comes up with this information:
– Cost per person for a 2-day customer service programme with ABC Training Pte Ltd – $700
– Cost per person for a 1-day customer service programme with Excellence Pte Ltd – $450
– Cost of running a 2-day in-company customer service training workshop (max 15 participants) – $8000 (about $660 per person)
Kathy does a comparison and feels that running the programme in-company is the most cost-effective, so she decides to propose that to her boss in their departmental meeting two days later. It’s an easy decision to make.
At 3.20pm, Kathy walks into the photocopier room and sees John at the machine. It is too late to beat a retreat, as John has already seen her. With his usual flamboyance, he says, “Hi there, sweetheart. What a sexy pair of shoes!”
Kathy doesn’t like it, but she gives John a tight smile, pretends to sort some papers, and leaves the photocopier room in a bit of a huff. If only she had the courage to tell John to stop being so annoying!
At 5.25pm, Kathy is getting ready to leave the office. Her boss has already left for the day.
Ms Shelly Teo, the Finance Manager, comes up to her desk and asks her for some sales figures from two years ago. Shelly says it is very urgent, and Kathy reluctantly (and unhappily) agrees to stay late to retrieve the data for Shelly. She works till 6.45pm.
If you were Kathy, what would you have done differently in the various situations? See if your observations match ours.
Some things that Kathy could have done differently:
(1) Refrain from participating in office gossip.
Kathy should not have joined Sue and Lay Yin in their gossip about two colleagues going out, even if she had opinions about this. Gossip, especially when it involves speculations about personal conduct, can be hurtful. Gossip also undermines trust in an organisation.
(2) Use the correct style and formality level in business email.
Kathy’s email to the new client, Mr Henry Tan, is too informal and does not show enough respect and decorum. As an administrative professional, Kathy must understand the style requirements of different types of business messages.
(3) Use a logical decision making process.
Kathy did well to do some research and gather price information from two training providers, but she should have used a logical decision making process.
Cost-savings may not be the only objective her boss is trying to achieve. Other critical factors like quality of training and instructor, the location of the training, etc., may also need to be considered. Kathy should also be able to show her boss that she has analysed the various risks involved.
(4) Know what acceptable workplace behaviour is and speak up for herself.
Kathy obviously disliked John calling her sweetheart and commenting on her shoes, but she couldn’t find the courage to tell John that. She should know how to handle these situations where she feels harassed and stressed.
If she allows this to continue, John may get the wrong message that it is acceptable, or worse, that Kathy actually enjoys the flirting.
(5) Be more assertive.
When the Finance Manager approached Kathy at 5.25pm for help, it was up to Kathy to decide if she wanted to help. Kathy was not willing to do it, but she was not assertive enough to turn down the request. This resulted in her working late and becoming resentful.
This may be a fictional account, but the individual encounters are happening daily to secretaries and administrative professionals in many workplaces.
As a secretary or administrative professional, you are expected to streamline office procedures, strengthen working relationships and support the boss and other colleagues. And you must maintain the right attitude and poise while facing these challenges.
To go on loving your job and keep away negative stress, know the common expectations and qualities of a high-performance administrative professional, and acquire the relevant skills to become competent and confident.