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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 have been struggling with this issue for ... well, years.

I am an administrative secretary to the director of my department. A few months after I was hired (five years ago), they opened up a position for a receptionist. We hired a woman who seemed bubbly and friendly: no problem with answering the phones and handling the mail. After hiring her, the director decided that I would be her supervisor (without any change in title or increase in pay).

Within the next year, she started having crying jags because her grandmother was sick. By the second year into her service, she got much worse. She was acting very oddly -- manic -- and then, she started becoming adversarial and started making claims that people were following her ... including helicopters. She was having hallucinations.

Within a month, she seemed to have a complete breakdown and collapsed on the floor, writhing and crying and begging for help.

One of the assistant directors helped get her to a psychiatric hospital. She was hospitalized and out on leave for about four or five months. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She had been prescribed medication previous to her breakdown, but we suspect that she stopped taking her medication.

She came back to work part time and gradually increased her schedule back to full time. And we accommodated her, allowing her to take the time off for all of her doctor appointments.

I feel for her, tremendously. I have friends who have had serious mental health problems. I understand how debilitating it can be and how important it is for her to have stability and a steady paycheck. I have wanted to help her.

Within the year after she came back from her leave, she seemed to be doing better. But then, slowly, she started sliding back to that unstable place. She comes to work dressed totally inappropriately: in flip-flops, sweat pants and t-shirts, many times. She walks around barefoot more and more frequently. He mannerisms and voice become very exaggerated and, well, odd.

She is constantly up and down from her desk, going into the kitchen, asking to use the bathroom eight to 15 times a day. (She does get an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks, as well). She has been in the negative for her sick time for several months now. She doesn't have any vacation or sick time left because of all the time that she has taken off (not doctor-related; I let her make up that time). A number of times, she come into work hours late, without getting an OK beforehand and with no plausible explanation.

I have spoken to her several times. I have written her up and had her sign the letter. I have kept records of all the problem behavior. I have contacted our employee assistance program on several occasions. She went to see them (at my request) on numerous occasions. I have talked to my boss; she basically doesn't want to have anything to do with the situation. I have researched the issues of bipolar disorders and the workplace on the internet, but it is mostly from the perspective of the person afflicted with the illness.

I am trying very hard to work with this situation. I can see, though, that it is unlikely to get any better. And it is really frustrating me and wearing me down.

To top it off, my boss has me cover for this receptionist whenever she is away from her desk or out for the day. So, not only do I have to deal with this very frustrating and delicate situation, but I am the one who has to compensate for her shortcomings by covering for her all of the time.

Frankly, I find all of this very unfair.

Even if I asked my boss to take over supervising this employee, it would not help me. My boss has a reputation for NOT dealing with anything. She is the proverbial head in the sand. If I was no longer this employee's supervisor, I am guessing it would just get worse and then I wouldn't be able to do anything to improve the situation.

It seems as though my only option is to continue to deal with this on a day-to-day basis or look for a new job.

I know this is a mouthful, but perhaps someone has experienced something similar.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not just another difficult employee who can be disciplined and eventually fired if they don't comply. It is not that simple. She has a mental illness and she is a union employee on top of that. It isn't that I want to fire her, but it has been literally years that this is going on now. I can't take it much more.

Any suggestions?  -- Susan

Question: I like my job, and my manager and I want to keep working for my organization in the federal government. However, my salary has not increased in 6 years due to the job classification cap. I am about to retire in 3 years. How do I approach my manager to increase my salary, when I know the answer to a raise is negative?  -- Lynn

Question: I am in a position where my workload is very low. Sometimes, I have nothing to do, except maybe a little photocopying or handling the mail.

Sometimes, I have to create work, if I can. But there is only so much work a person can create.

The classes that I took in the past (Excel, PowerPoint) go unused because I’m never asked to work in Excel or PowerPoint.

Because I have been in this department so long, I’m afraid to move on because my skills have gone down and I’m a bit afraid that I may not be able to handle the next job. Plus, some bosses don’t treat assistants well. I would hate to lose my job altogether.

I need some encouragement or advice as to what I should do while I’m here in this position. I’m at a loss. Thank you.  -- Anonymous

Question: I'm trying to find an essential tool I use every day and can't find it anywhere, and am hoping my fellow admins might be able to help me.

I have accumulated well over 600 3" x 5" Rolodex cards over the years. My problem is, I have room for only 500 on my open "flip"-style Rolodex. I've had to start rubber-banding the extras together or they all fall out whenever I need a phone number or address.

I would prefer a rotary metal Rolodex (the metal ones with a knob you twist around to the card you need).

The only 1,000-card Rolodexes I can find are:

1. A rotary one with MUCH smaller cards. (I'm not going to retype all 600 cards just so they fit on the new 2 1/4" x 4" cards!)

2. A 1,000-card "open file" holder like the one I have.

Does anyone know of a rotary-style Rolodex holder that holds 1000-plus 3" x 5" Rolodex cards?

Thanks, in advance, for your help.  -- Busy Executive Assistant, Rochester, N.Y.

Question: We have several partners in our law firm who constantly ask administrative staff to do personal things, like shop online, wrap gifts, make personal travel arrangements, print personal photos, etc. As the administrative manager, I find this offensive.

Partners feel that admins should do whatever they're asked, since the partners have to stay 'billable.' I think it's disrespectful and promotes a 'master/slave' mentality.

Your opinions are appreciated.  -- Office Manager, West Palm Beach

Question: I work for a government contractor in Washington, D.C., with fewer than 15 employees. I was hired three years ago as an accounts payable clerk, but my duties are more along the lines of an administrative assistant. The pay is good: I've gotten a raise two of the past three years.

But I'm debating whether I should stay or go.

I haven't left yet because I have such a great boss. He is very supportive and understanding of my being a single parent and part-time student. (I'm a year and a half away from my bachelor's degree in accounting.) He allows me to bring my child with me to work whenever necessary and take time off during midterms and finals to study. Although he is great to work for, I feel like I'm not making any progress professionally.

My problem is that I'm bored at work. I've tried asking for more, but there isn't more for me to do. My other problem is that I spend roughly about four hours a day commuting. I make the trek every day because of the flexibility I have.

I'm questioning if having a job with this much flexibility is worth this amount of unhappiness. Any thoughts?

Thanks.  -- Feeling stuck and unhappy

Question: I am a human resource coordinator who handles payroll, benefits and related work for about 100 employees, and I am being "forced" in very stern written communications from my direct supervisor to "fully cross-train" a co-worker "in all aspects of all duties and provide instruction and access to all documentation."

This co-worker does the same job as I do, but for a separate division of our department. She handles approximately 60 employees.

This is a very unusual circumstance; not warranted, in my opinion. (We do the same job but for different employees.)

The other side of this story is that this co-worker (female) is very good friends with my direct supervisor (male). They tell each other everything, and my co-worker has been asking me for all of my information but has told me nothing about her job. It's almost as if this cross-training is a ruse, convincing me that they just want my information so they can easily be rid of me.

I have been having some health issues lately. I have fibromyalgia and perhaps lupus, along with some other issues, and have had a lot of physician appointments. But my work is always completed, no matter what I have to do to get it done. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel as if they are pushing me out.

What should I do? I have been complying and have been cooperative and nice, but I am not happy.

Please help!  -- Being Pushed Out in Ohio

Question: I work for a company that has multiple locations with only three to five employees each (arcades located in malls). Our store managers have to deal a lot with employees showing up late for their shifts and calling in absent after their shift has begun, as well as no-call no-shows.

Because we usually have only one person on duty at a time, this can become a nightmare for the store managers, who have to cover shifts when employees don't show, causing lots of overtime and double shifts.

I'm trying to come up with a new attendance/tardiness policy and would like some suggestions. (We have a "No verbal warning" policy in place; everything must be in writing.)  -- Carey, Dallas

Question: I need help organizing/cross-referencing file folders. My boss writes the name on the material and keeps it in either his office or mine. The problem occurs when he has a new or follow-up meeting that some of this information could pertain to; we can't locate everything because different names of folders may apply to similar information, etc.

This has been ongoing but now is occurring more frequently. Please help. Thanks.  -- Donna

Question: I am an administrative assistant for the president of my company and I feel I'm not being utilized enough. Does anyone have any suggestions or suggestions on books to help me get my boss to utilize me more? Thank you.  -- Anonymous

Editor's note: The National Institute of Business Management publishes two books that might help you:

  1. Results, Recognition and Rewards.
  2. Supercharge Your Career.

Find ordering information about both -- as well as about Personal Report for the Administrative Professional -- at

Also, you might check out How to Get From Cubicle to Corner Office, by Joel Weiss, and Become an Inner Circle Assistant, by Joan Burge.

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