Happy Administrative Professionals Day to All the Skilled Assistants Who Keep Offices Running Smoothly!

by Susan Kemph, Senior Administrative Assistant, skemph@stcharlesil.gov

Today, many of us will celebrate Administrative Professionals Day. This recognition day was launched in 1952 by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Charles W. Sawyer, but its origins go back to World War II when there was a shortage of skilled administrative professionals in the U.S. due to Depression-era birth-rate decline and booming post-war business.

We don’t have that problem today, though, as the Great Recession hit the administrative field especially hard. A November 2009 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics identified administrative and support services as one of the three industry sectors that accounted for nearly two-thirds of total job losses. The number of administrative assistants shrank by 1.9 million between 2007 and 2012, according to an HIS Global Insight analysis of BLS occupational data. That’s more than jobs lost in construction and production during the same five years.

Many attribute this reduction to technology. Word processing software has made it easier than ever for professionals to prepare letters, memos, and other communications themselves. And who needs an administrative assistant to file when everyone is going paperless?

But administrative assistants are much more than just typists and filers.  In fact, a May 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Case for Executive Assistants” argues that skilled assistants can save executives significant time, keep projects on track, enable remote decision making, filter distractions, and allow managers to focus on functions such as setting the organization’s agenda.  In their analysis, administrative assistants make economic sense.

The secretaries of the Mad Men 1950s and ‘60s era are a far cry from what today’s administrative assistants do. We now prep meeting materials, optimize travel schedules, triage emails and draft responses, manage information flow, plan and organize events, and constantly adapt to new technology. We are the folks who take the mundane tasks off the shoulders of supervisors so they can focus their time and attention on the things they were hired to do. We are the gatekeepers, the workhorses, the persuaders, the menders, the folks who spread joy, the shoulders to cry on, the comforters, the eyes/ears of our office, the troubleshooters, the translators, the help desk attendants, diplomats, databases, psychologists, ambassadors, and the ones who quell rumors and calm upset visitors. We have our fingers on the pulse of the organization. We are the face of our organization. We set the tone, set the stage, and often set the table. We keep the official records, stock the supplies, plan and organize, pay the bills, and keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes. We are intelligent, capable leaders in our organization, and we do it all with a smile and with little to no public recognition — because we like to see others shine. We are hero makers, and we love what we do.

Today, I tip my hat to all of the capable, intelligent, hard-working professional administrative assistants who have chosen this profession to make a difference in their office, their organization, and their community. We notice and appreciate all you bring to what many consider their calling.