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What’s the toughest call you’ve had to make as an admin?

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Question: "Our HR department asked our team to write confidentially about ethical or interpersonal ‘tight spots’ we’ve found ourselves in, and how we reacted to them. It got me wondering about the ways that others have worked through no-win situations—because at work, they seem to happen to everyone all the time! Does anyone have any stories about really difficult decisions they’ve had to make as an admin?” – Rachel, Document Archives Registrar

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

KH February 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I’ve been at my company one year and I’ve been an executive assistant for over 10 years. Currently, I support the CEO/President of our company (800+ employees). Five months ago, our former CEO (my manager) resigned. He and I worked really well together and had a high level of mutual respect an appreciation for each other. In the meantime, I supported the interim CEO (a strong woman), who I also had a great working relationship with. The new CEO just started in January. Almost immediately, signs of arrogance and superiority and very poor communication surfaced in him. After working with him two weeks and having very little time one on one with him, he told me that I’m a poor communicator, have poor attention to detail and don’t know my job well. He said he’s not going to change, so I have to. Some of my strongest skills are communication and organization (which requires attention to detail, of course).

Since then, he’s been on vacation for nearly a month. While he’s been gone, his weekly issues of Sports Illustrated have come into the office, and of course, as we all know, the “swimsuit edition” (or lack of) arrived a couple of weeks ago. The magazine was brought to my attention by two women flipping through it sarcastically saying “well, look at what our new CEO gets at work! Isn’t that lovely.” I’m no prude, but this is completely inappropriate and unprofessional, not to mention, could be considered sexual harassment. I brought it to the attention of HR (women), who merely said “he needs to be talked to,” but I’m sure it’s not a priority.

With my job on the line I feel like I have to just keep my mouth shut. However, it disgusts me to perpetuate this type of behavior.

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Zoya February 12, 2013 at 8:32 am

That chair dilemma is a tough one! Here’s mine–I shared a cubicle once with the most negative person IN THE WORLD. After a year of her complaints and moaning about everything in her life, I went to my boss and asked if I could be moved. My boss asked me if I realized there was no way of her not knowing that it was just to get away from her, and I said let’s do it anyway. The real problem was that getting along with her and keeping mum would have been the best way to get a promotion onto her team, which is where I wanted to be. But I couldn’t take it anymore. I wound up alienating her but I have to say it was worth it to keep from going crazy.

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Katie February 11, 2013 at 11:26 am

Matt, you are awesome! I would love to have more team mates like you!!!

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mla February 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

I think email a supervisor is the best way to cover yourself. I had an issue with our Financial Director who thought it would be acceptable to violate the Summary Plan Description of a benefit and shift some money around to cover a deficit in another area. I sent an email to all involved and also contacted our auditors to get their perspective. I explained that if it was fine with the auditors – I would not have a problem with it. I also stated that I no longer would be the Benefits Administrator – someone else would need to be assigned. It of course worked like a charm. There is too much to lose especially if you are left holding the bag. There are things that you cannot compromise and one of those is your integrity.

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Matt February 11, 2013 at 8:45 am

Once a member of my team made a huge mistake on sending a tax return to a client. He used the wrong address from a dropdown list and realized it after the package went out. It was deadline season and the client HAD to get that package on time. Instead of telling my boss what happened, I tracked the package and actually drove to the house where it was wrongly delivered, picked it up, and sent it overnight with my own money. In that case, I made a decision to keep a mistake quiet so my co-worker get in trouble, and I spared his feelings by never telling him about it either–it was just such an easy mistake to make. It ate up half my Saturday and cost me $25, but there are times when you just don’t want to see someone criticized so you engage in a little white lie.

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Sarah February 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Matt, I can appreciate that you wanted to fix a mistake before it caused major problems. However, I think you should have told your team member privately about the mistake and that you fixed it. He should realize that he needs to be EXTREMELY careful, especially with confidential & time sensitive documents. Also, this is not a “white lie” – it’s correcting a mistake.

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Matt February 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

Sarah–you are probably right, so what I did was go over the training on that particular part of the job the next week just as a “reminder” to be extra careful…. wow, it’s just the worst when you click the wrong box and disaster strikes.

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Tara February 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm

What a tactful way to handle the situation. I try to minimize the impact of rookie mistakes as well. I’ve seen some new people get “branded” early on by errors that are so easy to make… and then they aren’t given the chance to grow or even just chalk it up to a learning experience. It’s nice when you can catch a mistake and fix it without making a federal case of it… but you went above and beyond on that count, without a doubt!

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Jenni February 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

For the chair issue, you could always send out a tactfully worded email to all employees offering the use of the “sturdier” chair (while indicating that only a few are available so you don’t get bombarded). This puts the burden on them of coming to you without you having to single anyone out.

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DB February 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

Thanks Jenni! That’s an excellent idea!

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Marie February 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I was asked to fudge overtime employees worked on a Homeland Security grant. I explained I could not do that and would not. When my boss still ignored my reasons to lie about hours worked and ordered me to do what is clearly illegal, I sent him an email urging him to do the right thing. I explained it was in his best interest and in our employer’s best interest. The email made it clear that if he wanted to fudge numbers that he would have to do it and he would have to sign it because I was washing my hands of the project.

I received an email reply directing me to use actual hour worked. I did and I signed and sent the honest grant packet in for which we received reimbursement.

That is just one predicament I had to deal with.

It is not always easy to confront issues that could cost you your job but you will never have to look over your shoulder and worry who is watching.

I still have my job even though I did not follow his original orders. I did the right thing and have no regrets.

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Elaine February 8, 2013 at 7:55 am

Marie, I applaud you for standing up for the right thing! We’re often more afraid of possibly losing our jobs than refusing to do something either ethically, morally, or legally wrong. It can be a tough call, but you handled it very well, indeed! By explaining your rationale to your boss and encouraging him to be honest, you drew the line in the sand on what is acceptable to you, and you also convinced him that honesty is the way to go.

A good book for every admin to read is Nan DeMar’s “You Want Me To Do What?”. Every example in her book is a true story, and she gives excellent advice on how to handle some of these situations that come up. (I lent this book to a few other admins, and one of them kept it. I decided that was OK, and thought perhaps she had a real need for it.)

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DB February 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I’m working on one right now! Our office chairs have a weight limit of 250 lbs. Lately the employees who surpass this limit have become more vocal about their chairs not supporting them properly, or even worse, breaking. I had bought two big-and-tall chairs for two persons: one person immediately rejected it and another told me a few months later that the chair wasn’t working out for her. Now that more persons are complaining, I have to decide whether to approach everyone who “looks” to be over 250 lbs and ask if they would like a sturdier chair, or just assume they need a sturdier chair and switch out their chairs one day without their permission. Needless to say, I am not looking forward to either option!

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