Any pointers on ‘filing etiquette’?

Question: “I supervise a clerical worker in my department. She has difficulty knowing where to file folders with only initials or those that begin with a numeral, e.g., CPP or 3M. She mixes them in anywhere. I have tried to explain “filing etiquette,” but she tells me she knows how to file. Can you give me pointers? Is there a new acceptable way to file?” — Robin

Ella Ledet June 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

When filing by name should you put a comma between the last name and the first?

N. Madera October 14, 2009 at 1:52 pm

You didn’t answer her question. She is asking about the correct way to file the papers to make sure she is telling her the correct thing. She will have to redirect her later, about her attitude. Thanks

Red August 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Just for fun, I pulled out my Gregg Reference Manual (don’t leave home without it !) to check out business practices in this area. The “rules” are set out very clearly and are easily understood, with lots of examples (14th & Grand Salon, A & D Terminals, ADS Graphics, AAA, A&D Printers, ADS Reports, etc.). The Gregg Manual has been regarded as the industry standard for more than a century, but is updated to reflect changing usages.
In my office, we use the Gregg method, but within each file folder, we file chronologically, with the most recent piece of paper on top. We hold to the same rules throughout the entire building, regardless of department or individual preferences so that anyone can pitch in and help in an emergency, and still find things.

Admin 123 August 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Filing standards are based on the needs of the person that owns the documents. It should be easy to retrieve by either alpha numeric order, the numeric would come first. It doesn’t sound like a filing problem here but more like a insubordination issue. Good luck on using an assertive approach with sending the message on “who’s the boss”. Remember the golden rule and proceed with caution and document everything for your HR files in which she isn’t supposed to access. 🙂

Tara August 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

I believe Lisa has the right idea. How To File In Your Office, is the problem, the girl maybe should not have said, she knew how to file, and we certainly do not know how she said it, Robin did not say she said it with an attitude. Lets all try to keep things on a positive note, insubordination to me is very a very serious charge. That is for Robin to decide as she is there and we are not.

Sandi August 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Given the big picture, I totally agree with the suggestion by anonymous to hear her out first. Today we are working with four different generations who approach and view things in an entirely different manner. The manager/supervisor has the means and authority to set the tone for the working relationship as well as the opportunity to teach even the most challenging employees. I believe we have all had aha moments that were somewhat uncomfortable but most influential on our careers that were all because of someone who had the authority and took the time to be specific, to encourage and empower.

The best of luck. . .

Sandi August 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Given the big picture, I totally agree with anonymous. Today we are working with four different generations who approach and view things in an entirely different manner. The manager/supervisor has the means and authority to set the tone for the working relationship as well as the opportunity to teach even the most challenging employees. I believe we have all had aha moments that were somewhat uncomfortable but most influential on our careers that were all because of someone who had the authority and took the time to be specific, to encourage and empower.

The best of luck to you . . .

Barb. August 7, 2009 at 3:26 pm

In my last job, I had taken over for 2 predecessors who didn’t know how to file, so they would make multiple copies of each document – tear them apart and file “pieces” in different ways – with no cross-reference as to where the “pieces” came from.

When I took over, I went through 4 full-sized 5-drawer file cabinets of papers and consolidated everything down into 1 actual file cabinet of usable documents. I filled 6 large recycle bins with the “pieces.”

My boss had been paying these 2 women $15 per hour (when the going rate was $8 to basically drink coffee, talk on the phone, and file their nails – which they seemed to know how to do ACCURATELY!) We sold the unnecessary file cabinets to a used furniture dealer.

I couldn’t believe how much they took advantage of having a boss that just trusted them to run the office. He never knew, until I came along, just how badly things had been managed. And what they had done on IRS, bills, and payroll – AAGHHH!!! Almost drove me to drink!!!

Former File Clerk August 7, 2009 at 2:50 pm

My first thought was, the employee should NOT have told her supervisor that she “knew” how to file. I would never dream of telling any supervisor that, even if we had grown to have an excellent working relationship. In my filing experiences, I, too have wondered about how something might be filed. Sometimes it can indeed be confusing. But guessing and then throwing caution to the wind is *not* always a good idea, especially in filing. I always, always ask someone if I’m not sure about where a file may need to go. I agree with the others above on their suggestions and input. Great thread of conversation.

Angel – Records Analyst August 4, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I agree with Lynn, Mark, Lisa, Janey. Although I admit to my own confusion about whether McCoy comes before Macintosh, Records Managers have an expression — “if it’s misfiled, it’s lost.”

Janey August 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I concur with Lynn and Mark. I know remember the last time we hired a file clerk. I gave a filing test, out of 25 applicants only four passed the test. You state you are her supervisor, is that an actual supervisor where consequences can be handed out for insubordination or work performance or are you a supervisor that only oversees without any authority for that employee? If its the later, document the problems and then move forward with the person who actually has the authority to fix the problem. If you can then I would suggest a set of written rules and a talk about performance, what is expected, and how to meet those performance issues. if you still have problems then I would write her up and follow company protocol.

Anonymous August 3, 2009 at 10:20 am

I agree with all of the above comments really.

My biggest thing is the way she reacted! I file for 3 different departments at work and my personal policy is that before starting you try to feel out how that person/department wants their files kept. Then if a situation arises such as the initials etc. I would ask specifically what their preference is. You certainly don’t get defensive and make snotty remarks. It is better to me to show humility and apologize for not realizing or possibly remembering that that individual wanted it the opposite way.

Good luck with this one.

Lisa August 3, 2009 at 10:04 am

I agree with everyone else. It’s not filing etiquette or the preferred method of filing that you want her to learn, it’s How To File In Your Office. And that’s what you need to present her with. Then she can’t argue she did it right, when you can point out where she did it wrong. And if she still can’t do it, it’s a supervision issue. A cheat sheet, or doing some work side-by-side with her until she gets it will help.

Mark July 31, 2009 at 6:00 pm

When I read that, it sounded a little like insubordination to me (“I know how to file.”) What we have done is pulled the phone book white pages out and used that as an example of how things would be filed. Then, give a test. Make out 20 or 30 index cards, with each one representing what could be a file, and see if she does them correctly. Plus, I would strictly avoid the phrase “filing etiquette”, since that applies it is a guideline. Instead, maybe “filing policy”, “filing requirement”, or “filing rules”, something along those lines, where it is obvious by the term you use that these MUST be done, rather than SHOULD be done.

Anonymous July 31, 2009 at 3:34 pm

You may want to hear her out first. She may have a better idea. However, if it doesn’t work for you, then you need to explain why you have established the process you have. Then, it might help if you give her a “job aid” (aka a “cheat sheet”) so she can follow the steps to the process you expect her to follow since it’s different than the one that has become “second nature” to her. You are her supervisor, so it is up to you set the tone for appropriately managing change. You can’t expect her to be open to change if you consistently demonstrate that you are not. Also, she may simply not understand what you want. So maybe it would help you to learn some straightforward, but non-threatening methods for communicating what your expectations are for her.

Fellow Admin Assistant July 31, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I agree with Lynn. If you’re her supervisor, she needs to follow your direction. It’s surprising how many adults don’t know how to file or know their alphabet for that matter. You might want to type up a protocol with instructions and maybe a couple of examples on how the company wants their files maintained and pass it out to everyone and post it for all to see. We’re in a time of listening to a variety of devices instead of actual reading to gain and develop valuable skills and so much is getting lost because of this. This employee of yours also needs to learn to respect the fact that you’re the supervisor and her response to you was inappropriate.

Barb. July 31, 2009 at 3:01 pm

You might try asking her to look something up in the phone book with those same types of issues. Where is she going to find them there? This is the standard way of filing – for a reason.

Lynn July 31, 2009 at 2:59 pm

For one thing, if you’re her supervisor, she shouldn’t be telling you she knows how to file. Especially when it’s obvious she doesn’t. Without being too overbearing, you may need to sit down with her and explain how things need to be filed in your office. If she has a problem with it, explain the reason – standardization so anyone can find whatever file they need. If the problem continues, you may need to take some type of disciplinary action such as a warning for not performing her job duties in a satisfactory manner. I know that seems harsh but sometimes that’s what it takes to get through to employees.