Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Secretaries, er, Administrative Professionals Day!

That's what my CBA Diary says, anyway.

Wikipedia says that Administrative Professionals' Day -- f/k/a Secretaries' Day -- has been around since 1952. It was promulgated by the National Secretaries Association smack dab in the middle of the first "National Secretaries Week," which in turn had been proclaimed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Charles Sawyer.

You've always wondered what a Secretary of Commerce does, haven't you?

Anyway, the first Secretaries Day and Week were held in June, but the observance was moved to the last week of April in 1955. The name was changed to "Professional Secretaries Week" in 1981, according to Wikipedia, and then to the current "Administrative Professionals Week" in 2000.

Why is it that job titles evolve to obscure the actual job being done?

From a language standpoint, a CEO is an administrator and a professional -- but CEO's aren't Administrative Professionals.

I'd never heard of Secretaries Day or Week before I began practicing law in 1980. I'm not sure I heard of it during the first few years of my practice either.

Eventually, though, in my office, Secretaries Day became a day on which the partners took the secretaries to lunch. I think I was always allowed to go along.

After all, I was a secretary, too. I could type. When one of the other guys (all the lawyers at that firm were male in those days) needed something done quickly after hours, they'd come to me.

The guys I worked for figured secretaries were fungible units. The managing partners did not prey on their secretaries, but they never placed any particular value on them either. They hired young kids right out of high school for nothing, or as near as possible thereto. If a kid was smart, and many of them were, as soon as she acquired some basic skills, she would seek another position and double her pay. Any time a secretary came to work dressed more nicely than usual, it was obvious she was interviewing. At one point I suggested we open a secretarial school: We could charge kids for the privilege of learning the trade and actually make a profit from what we were already teaching them.

This suggestion was met with scorn.

The end result was that we had a revolving door staff and our secretaries were generally awful. Anyone showing flashes of competence was assigned to work for the managing partners. This was usually when a secretary would start interviewing. Not that the managing partner was particularly difficult to work for -- but it enhanced her status on an interview to be able to truthfully say that she'd been promoted to work for the firm's founding partners. This meant that the younger guys got a continuing succession of the greenest secretaries.

When PCs came along in the mid-80s, I dived into the technology as a way to keep my work moving: I started doing my typing at home. The daisy wheel printers of the day didn't produce output that looked particularly professional, but I didn't have to send out one-page letters with two stamps because of the weight of all that Wite-Out or Liquid Paper.

Eventually, I was able to bypass the secretaries pretty much altogether. The managing partners got mad at me for that, too. I seemed too happy. Misery is meant to be shared, I guess. Anyway, this was around the time that they bought PCs for all the secretaries and, for a couple of years anyway, until the advent of Windows, I became the firm computer guru.

I don't have a secretary now. It's not that I have anything against secretaries. It's just that employees have an annoying habit of wanting to get paid every two weeks whether I have the money to pay them or not.

Thus, I'm still my own best secretary. Which sounds a little like I'm my own best friend. Which sounds like the start of a rude joke I'll thank you to avoid.

I won't be taking myself to lunch today. But I think I'll get over it.


Dave said...

I had a similar evolution, with a difference. Back when I was with a firm, it hired and kept really good secretaries. They were paid very well and almost never left.

When I started my own practice, I had access to secretarial help; but, pretty quickly I realized I didn't need it and didn't want it - the quality I was used to just wasn't there.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

the smartest boss i ever had treated the staff with respect, good pay and benefits too. the staff did not turn over. the shortest time employee was over five years when she died and most of us were much more. then the revolving door began. what they didn't realize was the new people made mistakes that the seasoned employees would never think to do and it was very costly for sure. the respect was gone. when i left there were only two old ones left. so sad. guess what? the company is now almost gone. from over a hundred million a year in sales to nothing. nice...

smiles, bee

Jill said...

Currently I am a secretary, clerk, administrative assistant, whatever-you-call-it. I am finding once you get in this job it's tough to move up and out.