Secretaries in the Balance

Dear Readers:

As I conduct business at various public and private sector establishments, the secretary is frequently the first person with whom I communicate with. I have found that a pleasant and welcoming secretary is an excellent introduction to the company and to the person with whom I came to discuss business. Even if I approached the company irritated at something unrelated, I find that a pleasant secretary can completely change my attitude, which can result in a productive meeting with her employer. Good secretaries are therefore important resources for companies.

The question that follows is: if secretaries are so important, why are they generally some of the lowest paid employees? The principal reasons are that they are relatively easy to replace, and they are not viewed as contributing significantly to the company’s profitability. For secretaries to become difficult to replace, they should strive for excellence in their various responsibilities.

As a first step, they could strive for excellence in their grammar, tone, appearance, attitude, efficiency, and dedication. Secretaries must understand that as the initial contact for many potential clients, they can represent the voice, appearance, and attitude of the company. This requires that they maintain a pleasant and welcoming demeanour while at work. Performing this role can become stressful if they do not feel at all pleasant. Secretaries should therefore engage in frequent stress relieving activities, like getting a massage, exercising, and worship.

Secondly, secretaries could increase their value to the company by adding to their existing skills. For example, expanding their knowledge of various computer software programs, and offering to take on additional duties such as: maintaining the company’s web site, assisting with preparation and delivery of power point or other presentations, taking minutes at meetings, and maintaining a pending items report. They can also learn some of the core work of the company, thereby carving for themselves a valuable niche as a research or other assistant to the professional staff who perform such work.

Encouraging secretaries to add to their skills can avoid the discouragement that some secretaries may experience at the realization that they may have limited advancement potential in the company. Secretaries can therefore be provided with tuition benefits, which should encompass educational workshops and seminars, and their salaries should be commensurate with their increasing skills set.

The contribution that secretaries make to a company’s productivity can be difficult to measure, since they generally support rather than perform the core work of the company. However, a good secretary may be an important factor in a client’s decision to patronise, and to continue to patronise a business. People generally anticipate going to a place where they feel welcomed and respected. For many clients, first impressions do count, and many who choose to, or not to patronise a business as a result of their initial interaction with the secretary, may not inform the company. This further complicates the measurement of a secretary’s net worth to a company.

It may be beneficial for certain categories of secretaries, if an organisation like the Barbados Association of Office Professionals commissioned a quantitative study, to determine the secretaries’ contribution to clients’ decisions to patronise various categories of businesses.

Since secretaries who make first contact with potential clients can represent the initial image of the company, it would be in a company’s best interests if their secretaries were able to maintain a welcoming demeanour while at work. Performing this role consistently can be stressful. People generally work at their optimum when they have something to look forward to. Employers can assist their secretaries to work at their optimum in a sustainable manner by providing them with an innovative perk.

One suggested perk is a periodic stress relieving spa treatment that would include a massage. This should classify as a justifiable business expense for secretaries on the ‘front line’, who are expected to maintain themselves, to promote an excellent image of the company for potential clients.

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