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What physical toll do admins endure with a smile?

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Question: "I just moved into an administrative position after being very physically active at my old job, and the first thing a new colleague said to me was, ‘Good luck with the way this gig breaks your body down little by little!’ I do wonder about carpal tunnel syndrome, and weight gain from immobility, and what sitting in a chair for so long will do to me over the years … just what am I in for, anyway?” – Kirk, Data Technician/Receptionist

See comments below, and send your own question to Admin-Pro@nibm.net.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

susan October 1, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I sit on a yoga ball in my office. I love it. You are always moving and you get up and down more often. I do not like it when I have to sit in a regular chair for staff meeting etc. I can really feel the difference!


Lisa July 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Wow, I’m sad to see so many comments encouraging Kirk to get into another line of work. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been an Executive Assistant for 25 years (18 years with my current company) and love my job! I plan to retire with this company, and feel very fortunate to have a wonderful boss. So Kirk, please take these comments with a grain of salt and realize that there are good Admin jobs and companies out there.

And Kirk, regarding your original question, do what you can to stay active. Take a walk on your breaks or lunch hours, take exercise classes before or after work, watch what you eat. You know the drill!


DeeCee July 22, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I have been dealing with that very thing and am still trying to figure out what to do about it. My job is SO sedentary. The busier I am, the more sedentary it is. I have to force myself to get up and take walks around the office. I use a pedometer, and I am considering buying myself an ergonomic chair. But it isn’t enough. Unfortunately, I also spend too much time sitting in front of a computer at home in the evenings. I have to stop doing that. I love my job, but if I don’t start getting more exercise, I think it’s going to be the death of me. Muscles shrivel up and become shortened. Cardio health deteriorates. Those are very real issues in this type of job. If you can conquer them, you stand a chance of making it a wonderful career.


DB June 21, 2013 at 9:13 am

It’s funny, I thought my wrist pain was just my fault, and due to the fact that I have naturally weak wrists. I didn’t realize so many people struggle with it too! I’ve been wearing wrist braces (on both hands) for almost three months now. It hurts to type (I literally just had to pause in the middle of typing this because my left hand is throbbing) and even more to click the mouse. Luckily my job is as laid back as any will ever be, so I’ll recover some day, but STILL I’d say you’ll start to feel little body aches UNLESS you are proactive and exercise when you get home; not just major muscles, but the little ones you use every day (and the ones you don’t): shoulders, wrists and hips will need special attention.


Diane June 21, 2013 at 8:10 am

WOW…Some of these comments sound like a prison sentence.

I started in this field when I was a freshman in High School (+/- 35 yrs ago). I worked in the general office at school answering phones, copying and typing which continued through college. Secretary, Office Manager, and all levels of Admin have been my title over the years….YES, I gained weight at my last job because the workload was such that I sat for 10 hours a day and sitting (according to a prominent neurosurgeon) is truly the main cause of spine issues and surgeries. Yes, make your workspace ergonomically correct FOR YOU, Yes, get up and walk every hour… go get the mail, sit down do more work, get up and sort the mail, sit down do more work, get up and deliver the mail…there are ways around the sedientary admin workday. What I find most disturbing is the utter despair some of you feel at work. I, too, had that. I had a boss that made me physically ill, she was a tyrant and miserable. I was so afraid to leave that job because I had been there so long, had seniority etc., but I did and the weight of the world was off of me. I applied for and got a wonderful job with a DREAM company where the culture is such that bosses don’t expect you to lie for them, in fact, they want you to call them out on their mistakes… anything to make the company better, your work life satisfying, and to keep happy employees. If you are feeling that mistreated, unhappy, and overwhelmed, please gather the strength to move on… Perhaps this field is not for you. Being an admin, and an exceptional one, is hard work. You need to know everyone, everything, and have the answers everyone is looking for… if you are uncomfortable assuming that type of role, move on. Ultimately, the old saying is true… Life is too darn short, Enjoy every moment. But sit up straight while you’re doing it :-) and get up and move in between tasks!


Christine June 20, 2013 at 5:50 pm

The physical stress is the most difficult, in my opinion. It drains you so you are so exhausted it is difficult to spend time with family when you finally get home from work. I guess i just get so overwhelmed between being a wife, mother and admin that I feel like I never will catch up in any part of my life.


MrsG June 19, 2013 at 11:11 am

Anonymous is absolutely correct. I advise young friends all the time to do anything else you can but do not go into this line of work.
I am nearly 60 years of age and fell into admin work 10 years ago after starving out of grad school. Of every other position I have held in a long working life, this is the most physically and mentally wearing.
I have survived by obsessive documentation of all I do and all that is said to me, by leaving my integrity at home (must always be prepared to lie for a boss, take the blame for his errors and pretend not to hear his rude comments to and about me), seeing my chiropractor often and having a lovely, loving life away from the job. Most importantly, I leave the job at the job. I do not answer or even read work email at home. One more tip, get up from the desk whenever you can. As others have advised, take the stairs, walk around at lunchtime (preferably in a park) and remember that this is not your life, this is merely how you finance your life!


Jeanine June 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I have been a legal assistant/executive assistant for over 15 years. Everyone’s advice on ergonomical keyboards, mouse, and station, and moving around regularly outside of your workstation is definitely key.

However, two things have been vital for me to not have to worry about “secretary spread” (where your rear starts to look like the seat you’re in everyday)… First, small snacks during the day prevent me from getting too low on energy, especially mid-afternoon, and prevent me from overeating/eating too quickly at lunch. Second, you WILL need additional exercise throughout the week. Once you get into a routine, it does boost your energy level to deal with the work week. I play competitive volleyball at least once a week… Games are scheduled after work, so I keep moving instead of sinking into the couch when I get home; having teammates who are depending on me to show up for the game helps make sure I go. I recommend an activity where people are counting on you to show up (team sports, a walking companion, etc.), unless you’re truly motivated to make it to the gym on your own regularly. Wearing a pedometer also helps you see how much you’re walking (10,000 steps is 5 miles, and they add up quickly!).


Karen June 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I’ve been doing office work for about 30 years. Really, I don’t have any major health issues. I’ve experienced back pain and shoulder pain in the past, usually when work was especially tense, but both were temporary. Am I just lucky? Maybe. However, I have a few suggestions to keep the weight gain and other pains at bay: step up your physical activity outside of work, use keyboard shortcuts rather than the mouse, make connections with your coworkers to keep the workday pleasant, take breaks when you can. Working in an office does not have to mean automatic poor health.


Ava June 18, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Staring at a computer has definitely affected my eyesight – I have a little trouble adjusting to things in my vision for a few seconds when I look away from the screen. Only on weekends do I feel like I have my real honest vision! It’s definitely necessary to get up from your desk and look at other things every hour or so.


Jackqueline June 14, 2013 at 1:01 am

We use this link here in Australia


Ergonomic keyboard & mouse will make the biggest change to you life, if your boss has a problem tell him it will save them in the long run. Walk up and down stairs all the time, walk at lunch time, move every 1/2 hour – to the print room walk.

Above all enjoy your job it has more up then down


Enjoy Being An AA June 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Being an AA is a LOT of responsibility, no doubt, you are basically turned into an office manager, but without the title and pay. Yes, there is the wrist and weight issues, but it is up to you to make the job enjoyable, and I enjoy mine. Yes, I gained the weight, but have lost half by doing things like walking to someone’s office to tell them they have a call instead of transferring it. Doing filing or something different for time away from the keyboard and emails. There will be stressful days, and times you feel chained to the desk, but you are an important person (don’t forget that) to an office, where you do have to be two-steps ahead, and look before you turn. You and your boss, if it is a good working relationship, will be an asset, and communication is an absolute key…don’t forget that! Every job has its good and bad points, don’t focus so much on the negative, and see what the positives are and how they benefit you.


Kathy June 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Make sure you do an ergonomic assessment on your workstation. I just received a sit/stand workstation that I love. Prevention is key! Excercise at your desk. Many helpful tips can be found at the website below:


Me June 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I agree with Jon. When I get home all I want to do is lay down. Im mentally wiped out and that takes a toll on everything. I have to drink lots of coffee to get the energy needed for the job, but then I can’t sleep at night. Anonymous is also right. If you and the boss are not on the same page, get out while you can. I have had to train my boss which makes it even more frustrating because they should know the job and should be training me. Your lower back, wrists, elbows, and legs start to ache from the sitting. Try to get up every hour and stretch and walk around. That helps somewhat.


Jon June 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm

For me it’s been the sapping of my energy…I get home and I am WIPED out and just don’t feel like doing much of anything. It really builds up and I consider that fatigue to be a real physical toll brought to me by what I do for a living. Make sure you get yourself a good ergonomic chair, too, even if you have to pay for it yourself–your lower back will thank you!


Anonymous June 13, 2013 at 7:08 am

The worst physical toll is the stress. You will be falsely accused of not following someone’s directions and have to go back to meeting minutes to prove your innocence. Remember that the boss is always right and you’re always wrong (because you’re just the AA). Also, your boss may not communicate properly, which means you have to be even more perfectly communicative and think 15 steps ahead in order to predict outcomes, etc. Hopefully your boss won’t mind if you have questions when they don’t give clear definitions on what they want. People will think you already know procedures in place even though you’re new and there is no procedure manual — here you will learn the stress of learning by trial and error. All of this may happen within a few hours. There are usually two situations a week that cause me agony. Get out as soon as you can.


Many Hats June 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Oh my, Anonymous! If that’s how you’re being treated and your honest heartfelt reaction to it, perhaps you need to take your own advice and find an “out” ASAP. It’s not that bad everywhere.

I hope you make it back to this site. Quite a few people have offered their own experiences and recommendations; perhaps some of these would be useful to you in your situation.

Best wishes; hope things get better for you.


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