7 Things Administrative Assistants Hate About Their Bosses

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: July 29, 2013

Here's Everything Your Assistant Wants to Tell You But Can't

Administrative assistants (aka executive assistants, or secretaries if you're stuck in the Mad Men days) are essential for any successful business to run properly. They epitomize the phrase "in the trenches" because they're the ones getting their hands dirty by doing all the things that need to be done that no one else can do quickly and efficiently. All the creative planning and brainstorming is great, but it's the administrative professionals who turn pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams into reality.

But because they're so reliable and always there, it's easy to take them for granted. Case in point, if you're a manager and completely unaware this week is Administrative Professionals Week, you likely fall into the aforementioned category. But even though you should be giving your assistant a gift this week, we thought we'd turn the tables and do something different.

Most administrative professionals need their jobs and therefore can't tell their bosses what drives them nuts about work on a daily basis. That's why we surveyed some assistants, let them vent and came up with seven things about you that your assistant wants to change.

7. "Stop Being So Inconsistent"

Administrative assistants aim to please and are always trying to do things the way you want them. But if the way you want things done keeps changing, it becomes pretty impossible to hit a moving target.

"Don't keep changing the rules for answering your phone. Do you want me to interrupt you no matter what you are doing when you get a phone call no matter who it is? Or do you want me to use my judgment and know there are certain people you don't want to talk to or would prefer to call back later?" said one administrative assistant.

The point is, be consistent. And if you do want to change the way you do things, let your assistant know. Because while they’re good, telepathy and clairvoyance are not skills most people possess.

6. "I'm Not a Babysitter"

Administrative professionals are many things and wear several hats. But while they often have to babysit their bosses, most of the assistants we talked to said they draw the line at babysitting kids.

“Really? You want to bring your kids into the office for a day and you expect me to keep them entertained, while getting all my regular work done too?” said one exasperated assistant.

Sure the occasional emergency is understandable and most of the assistants we talked to said they’re OK with stepping in as a babysitter due to severe and unforeseen circumstances. But making it a regular occurrence not only destroys productivity, it’s demeaning and insulting to assistants everywhere who never saw “Romper Room Coordinator” in their job description.

5. "Don't Take It Out on Me"

This one was a biggie from just about every administrative professional with whom we spoke. It’s true that most people usually end up hurting those closest to them. But assistants are not spouses, and they’re not paid enough to take emotional abuse for eight hours a day.

“I know other people can get you irritated and that sometimes that irritation is going to spill over,” said one administrative professional. “But try really hard not to take it out on me when someone else screws up. I’m in the direct line of fire every time it happens and it gets old.”

Another assistant agreed, and said it’s not acceptable for assistants to morph into emotional punching bags just because the boss has some family drama going on at home.

“My boss’s dysfunctional marriage constantly affects how the office runs,” said one fed up assistant. “He gets mad at her, comes into work in a bad mood and doesn’t want to do any work. But when he doesn’t do anything, he gets mad that he isn’t making enough money. They’ll eventually make up but then start to fight again and the cycle starts all over.”

4. "You Never Make Time for Me"

Exceptional assistants do their best to anticipate what their bosses need before they even know they need it. But that level of understanding and professionalism only materializes with time and a lot of communication. That’s why all managers need to understand the importance of carving out some time every day/week to go over things with their assistants and make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Make time for me, even if it’s just a few minutes each day,” said one personal assistant. “I can’t effectively do my job if I don’t know what you expect me to do or if I don’t know what’s going on. I need to know how you like every type of situation with every type of variable handled, and then I’ll need to ask less and less in the future. The more you invest in me the more you’ll get out of me.”

3. "You Don't Trust Me"

As with most things in life, the issue of trust (or a lack thereof) came up repeatedly when we talked to administrative professionals.

Companies go through the arduous hiring process because they want to make sure they get the best candidate for the job. It probably took several job interviews, assessments, and personality tests before the perfect assistant was hired, yet despite clearing all those obstacles, some bosses still question and nitpick every single thing. And it drives most assistants nuts.

“Don’t check to make sure that every single thing that you ask me to do has been done,” said one perturbed assistant. “Either you trust me to get it done or you don’t. If it requires follow-up or an update to you, you will get one…I promise!”

Another assistant mirrored that sentiment and said “Sometimes he trusts me to get things done and sometimes he doesn’t. But I always get it done.”

2. "Stop Taking Advantage of Me"

The general consensus among the administrative professionals we spoke to was that they care deeply about doing a good job and making their boss’s life easier. But that enthusiasm is often dampened when a boss does something callous and thoughtless.

Most administrative professionals have enough work to complete given their own job duties. But all too often, bosses will fall into the trap of passing too many of their responsibilities down to their assistants. “It’s rotten when you get me to do your duties for you while you take an unexpected vacation, while telling me not to fall behind on my responsibilities,” said one miffed assistant.

But of all the stories we heard, this one takes the cake:

“Sending me out for a daily drive in a hot car to get your Starbucks mocha-frappa-whatever, in 100-degree August weather when I’m eight months pregnant? Really?? I will never, EVER, forget that.”

1. "You Never Say 'Thank You'"

A lack of thanks was -- by far -- the biggest complaint amongst the administrative professionals we surveyed.

The interesting thing is, the assistants we talked to weren’t necessarily interested in raises and bonuses (although they wouldn’t have turned them down). The thanks they seek is much smaller and more basic than that. While they realize it is not a boss’s job to hand out gold stars all day long, a good boss will make a concerted effort to simply let his/her employees know they are appreciated on a basic level.

“Please know how much I take care of, divert, and/or process without you knowing to make your life easier,” said one executive assistant.

Another agreed and said “Show us your appreciation now and then by letting us leave early, buying us a lunch or simply by letting us know how happy you were with a job we did, or how we handled a situation. Good assistants thrive off that.”

Show Administrative Assistants Some Love

For people in positions of power, there is often great responsibility. Executives have a lot going on and more things to do in any given day than they can handle. But if they’re smart, they’ll take some of the advice in this article to heart and gain a renewed appreciation of the hard work performed by the people working underneath them.

A good first step is overnighting one of these thoughtful gifts to celebrate Administrative Professionals Week!

  • Flowers: Two dozen longstem white roses with a hand-blown glass vase says "Thanks, I appreciate everything!"
  • Administrative Professionals Day Gourmet Gift Basket: It's tough to go wrong when chocolate is involved
  • "Administrative Assistant by Day, Ninja by Night" T-shirt: A good sense of humor is always appreciated
  • Gift Basket Gallery Spa Perfect Relax & Rejuvenate Tote: Just what he/she needs to unwind after long work days
  • Save the Assistants: A Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the Workplace