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Share best-practices with your administrative peers. Pose a question, offer advice, or just be a fly on the wall.

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Question: I am the executive assistant for the CEO/president of a small (45 employees) company. The boss frequently travels, either on business trips, family trips or hunting trips. While he's gone, he might check his e-mail once a day, but he relies heavily on me to check his e-mail, handle things that I can, return calls, answer questions, etc. Usually, once a day, he’ll call and get any pertinent info from me.

He gets about 30 e-mails a day and one or two calls. About five of his e-mails contain something that needs to be handled; most are simply “junk.”

When he’s around, I have JUST enough to keep me working very slowly. I feel as though I'm not used to my potential; I really prefer to be TOO busy! I have assumed all the responsibilities he will allow, I assist others in the company as much as I do him, and do a lot of research on potential customers, partners, vendors, etc., without being told. I have PLENTY of initiative, I go above and beyond constantly, and I do a lot of things. But when he's gone, I literally could get all my “work” done in one hour a day!

It’s very frustrating, because I don’t feel like I’m worth my paycheck, sometimes. But there’s nothing I can do to remedy it. He has specifically said I’m doing more than he would ever ask and that I’m capably handling SO much and the folks in the office all have their jobs to do and any offers of assistance I give are usually politely declined. I mean seriously: I don’t feel like he needs me to be in the office while he’s gone. We have a telephone system and VPN, and I could literally work from home and be JUST as available.

I don’t really want to push for that, because he really doesn’t like folks to telecommute. He likes them to be in the office, especially me being the “face” of him when he’s not here. Inevitably, things arise that I might need to make a decision on.

I paid for an online continuing-education course from a local college and have been doing my studies at work. Seeing as it’s an administrative course, I don’t feel bad about that. But after that, I'm still left with three to four hours a day with absolutely NOTHING work-oriented to do because I have DONE IT ALL, already!

My long story boils down to this: Should I look for another job that's more fast-paced and I feel like I’m worth my paycheck?

Should I try to talk to him about working part-time while he’s out of town?

Should I feel guilty on a day like today when our gas has been turned off due to a leak the gas company has to locate, I feel sick (several employees have the stomach virus going around), have a headache, have nothing to do, have received ONE single e-mail in two days that I could do anything with, and made a copy of a receipt for one other person? Should I be feeling guilty for checking my e-mail? What am I missing?

I’m so frustrated because I have a VERY strong work ethic and a fast-paced mentality, one can reorganize the files only so many times!

HELP! I don’t want to be watching the clock!  -- Liz

Question: I work at a very large corporation. Our small department is at an off-site location, so as the administrative assistant, I also work at the front reception desk.

We have a somewhat laid-back atmosphere, and I like that. But when I'm on the phone, I can barely hear the caller.

The source of my problem is twofold:

First, it's noisy in the room. Often, many loud conversations are carried out right by my desk. Also, the guys just have loud voices that carry across the room. Some people hold conversations across the room. Very often, impromptu meetings are held with vendors as they come in.

To deal with this, I’ve tried to talk on the phone near the corner wall of my desk. (We have 5-foot-high sheet-rocked walls around our desk areas.) I’ve tried to let my co-workers know when I'm on the phone with a friendly wave to my co-workers or by asking the caller to hold and then asking my co-workers to keep it down. That's been a temporary solution. My supervisor is aware the problem and tries to remember to not hold meetings at my desk.

The second problem is the phone system: Everyone here has a hard time hearing callers. To cope with this, I often have to apologize to callers and ask them to speak up or to repeat what they've said. Because I'm at the front reception desk, I can't go to another location to speak on the phone.

I researched this problem with our telecom department. I've tried using a handset with a volume control, but it doesn't work on my phone, nor does a headset.

For several years, I've talked to my supervisor about getting a better phone system. A new system would actually pay for itself within two years. Our department manager is aware of the problem, yet a new phone system is never put in the budget.

Since I'm not getting any support from my supervisor or my manager, does anyone have any other ideas to survive the room noise and poor telephone system?  -- Anonymous

Question: I’m trying to buy a Microsoft Office 2003 exam-preparation CD bundle with all Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) simulation questions/answers for Microsoft Certification.

I’ve done a little research and found a few companies that advertise themselves to be the best in passing the exams, etc. The ones I found are: Transcender exam practice, Measure Up, Go Certify and Self Test Software, by Kaplan.

Before I invest, I'd like to ask:

1. Has any one of you used any of these products and, if yes, which one would you recommend and why?

2. How much did you pay for the bundle CD for Office 2003? How many CDs did you get in the pack, and where did you buy it from?

3. Does anyone know of any Web sites that discount any of these products?

4. Can anyone recommend where to buy the exam vouchers? Or do any Web sites offer discounted or free vouchers with product purchase?

5. Do any government Web sites in Texas offer any prep materials/resources for this kind of certification?

Thank you in advance for your valued information.  -- L. Smart, Dallas, Texas

Question: I've been an administrative assistant/event planner at a nonprofit for almost three years now. Of the 14 assistant-type people (secretaries, administrative assistants, executive secretaries, executive assistants, etc.), employed here, four are under age 26. The other 10 assistants are in their mid-50s, which is fine by me as long as they're qualified and capable of doing the work.

I'm one of the "young" ones. I've been called a "young girl" by the other ladies, treated like a young girl, and even been looked down upon as if I'm the older ladies' child. That's not a problem for me because I can easily ignore this. I know I'm not a young girl and, apparently, I was the best person for my job, because the senior staff hired me.

The problem begins for me when the older women start having little huddle talks at their desks and it's obvious they're talking about the younger assistants. They also refuse to listen to our (the young girls') ideas or ask us for help when there are things that we can definitely help with.

When we do offer our services (without their invitation) because we have heard them discussing -- rather loudly -- their predicament, they don’t even listen to us and treat us like we know nothing because of our age. It's very discomforting to me to see older women like this who could be setting a great example for administrative professionals our age act like no one matters but them.

All of them have been in their positions three years or less, so it isn't like they're more qualified than any one else on the job. When we have knowledge-share luncheons, they talk about all the difficulty they have with certain parts of their job and disregard our comments and suggestions.

How can one address an issue like this effectively without causing office tension? I would just like to be on an even playing field with all of them so that we can help one another out and all be successful in our positions. I’m sure I’m not the only who has or will encounter something like this but, quite frankly, it’s very immature of people to have attitudes like this.  -- Anonymous

Question: I work in the office management/HR department. My manager recently told me that the VP of sales wants me to be part of the sales department to make outreach calls (while still being part of the OM/HR department). I appreciate that he sees what I am capable of doing and I would normally be excited about the opportunity, but here is the situation:

A couple of months ago, I was asked to join the sales department as a rep for South America and the Caribbean. I decided to take the move into the sales department and was excited about using my Spanish skills and learning the other side of the company. I tried it and I learned a lot, but realized that it wasn’t for me.

During that time, I was supposed to receive a performance review after three months. Instead, I received a write-up (but not really). The write-up stemmed from an incident with a co-worker. I did not take it any further than that incident itself, and it was obvious that the co-worker discussed it with the manager and the manager took her side without even discussing the situation with me.

I was furious, but being the person that I am, I kept my mouth shut and decided that I should go elsewhere.

Am I wrong in thinking that the move from administrative assistant to sales rep should come with an increase? I know for a fact that if someone were to be hired from the outside, he or she would make a lot more than I would and that I would never receive such a jump in my salary because it's an inside move.

Anyway, I was changed from being a rep for South America and the Caribbean to a rep for the East Coast. Even though the manager knew I was not ready for such a fast-paced region, she decided to throw me into the water because she had to take on another role and would not be in the office for support. It did not work out.

During my job search, an opportunity came up to return to my previous position in the OM/HR department, and here I am.

My current manager understands that I am not comfortable with going back to sales and why. There is an obvious lack in management skills and I didn’t receive the raise that I was offered when I took the position, among other issues. The problem is that she said I should be a team player and that, traditionally, when one is asked to help, one shouldn’t say "No."

My current position already requires me to be a team player all the time and go above and beyond my title to complete the jobs of two co-workers who are not efficient workers. I told my manager that I would not take the position without an increase. I'm trying to stand my ground, but it seems like the VP is making this a mandatory change. What do I do now?

Please help!  -- Anonymous

Question: A younger woman (early 20s) is working our switchboard. She has stolen from people before but no one has been able to catch her in the act. (She’s stolen money repeatedly from a co-worker’s purse, and the money was returned once one of the supervisors said he was thinking about calling the police.)

Well, she finally stole something from me that I let her borrow. Nothing too important, but it’s the principle of the matter. She says she has to have it "around here somewhere," although she’s "looked everywhere."

I’ve notified her boss and his boss and even my boss (the president) of the incidents before this current matter. No one is doing anything. I mean, what could they do?

What more should I do, if anything? It makes me so mad that she’s getting away with stealing from people!  -- Shelly

Question: I work for a business owner as a bookkeeper and assistant office manager. I also am referred to by others as the business owner's secretary.

I don't have a problem with having so many roles at the office, but I do have a problem with all of the personal and family errands I'm sent on. I take members of the family shopping and pick kids up at school. I adore the family but I get so behind on my work at the office.

I have brought this to my boss's attention many times, but I feel like I am just making excuses for not finishing work on time. I also feel like this is holding me back professionally, as I have not received a raise in more than two years and I don't feel very productive. I know what I could do if I were allowed to.

My boss has told me that he trusts me so much and that's why I'm the one sent to help with personal matters. Fine, but I'm tired of watching all of the other employees excel and receive raises and bonuses.

What should I do?  -- Ann

Question: How do you address an issue with a co-worker who speaks and laughs very loudly in ongoing conversations at work, which is very disruptive when you're doing your work?

The problem is that no one seems to say anything to this person, even though everyone -- especially her supervisor -- knows that this is a problem.

How can this situation be remedied? Help!  -- Virginia

Question: I believe I have a unique problem. I'm the IT support assistant in the company I work for; I support the VP and eight managers. I report directly to the VP.

Every now and again, an associate brings in goodies (donuts, cake, candy, etc.) for the department and sends out an e-mail to the department inviting us to have whatever is brought in. Last week, one of the managers brought in donuts. I went to get a donut and, when I got to his workstation, he was having a verbal meeting with an associate from another department, and she asked me to get one for her. I handed her a donut and went back to my workstation.

The manager came over to me and, in the presence of the associate from the other department, proceeded to let me know that I had no right to give a donut to her, as they were not mine to give. I thought he was joking, so I was smiling and taking it for a joke! He proceeded to tell me that this was not a joke, and I was rude to give away something that was not mine to give.

The associate handed me the donut and said she would not take it, so I took it back to the manager's cubicle and told him that she no longer wanted the donut. I went back to my desk and sent the manager an e-mail saying I was sorry to take his donut but I didn’t appreciate his talking down to me by telling me I was "rude" and that, in the future, he should choose his words. I also told him that it wasn’t the culture of the IT department for people to be stingy with food and that I didn’t believe in my wildest dreams that he would be offended.

He responded that I knew that I was wrong and was hiding behind e-mails, that I should speak with him and that the problem with me is that I like to give away things that are not mine to give. (I am not guilty of that, and so that hurts.) He also told me that, if I responded, he would not read my e-mail because we both believe we should have the last word.

I am saddened by this whole thing, and I feel silly even talking about it with other people in the department, because I don’t want to be labeled as being disgruntled or disruptive. I told my boss (who is the manager's boss, too), and he says that I should drop it or I should sit the manager down and tell him how things operate in the department.

I feel uncomfortable around that manager now, and the hurtful thing is, I used to like him. I'm the person responsible for planning all the "fun" things in the department, and I really feel like something is missing now. I don’t feel like being a fun person, anymore, and with the holidays coming up, we usually have events like "pot luck" and gift exchanges, etc. Now, I feel like it’s such a chore!

What should I do?  -- Anonymous

Question: Nepotism: A big word that finally came to me under much distress. I'm a fairly new administrative assistant, although I think the position could easily be called something less; just being called that stresses me. Anyway, I work for a nonprofit organization where nepotism is going on.

It's really difficult to see others mistreated because a family member works next to them. Relatives work in the same department. Some people know of the "family affair" but say nothing for fear of losing their jobs.

The head person is too close to one of the high managers who allows this, so that person is unsafe to talk to; the HR manager is aware, obviously, but seems to either act like it's unknown or figures a way "around" the rules.

Is there not anything that can be done? Do we just live with it or go elsewhere?  -- Anonymous