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Advantages And Disadvantages of Secretarial Work

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Change is constant in any electronic office. When automated equipment was first introduced in the office, secretaries voluntarily began to use it. Those individuals who were uncomfortable with new technology continued working in traditional environments. However, now the entire organization is affected. All support personnel, including supervisors, managers, and executives, are becoming involved with new technology. This is an important element to consider in choosing a career.

When making decisions about a career, you undoubtedly should select one that is satisfying, enjoyable, and at which you can perform well. Some of the factors you should evaluate in selecting a career are your likes and dislikes for certain kinds of work, the opportunities within the field, promotional paths for upward mobility, earning power, socialization, and employment opportunities that exist now as well as in the future.

Probably the single most important advantage in planning a secretarial career is knowing that a great need exists for this category of office work. Even during periods of recession, the demand for secretaries is high because of the tremendous amounts of paperwork that companies must process. For this decade, the job outlook is very good. Another advantage of secretarial work is the diversity of options that are available in selecting executive and administrative work or specialties, such as legal, educational, or medical. In addition, alternative schedules to the traditional work day from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. are now operative in firms across the country. If you are a busy homemaker, you may choose to work part time, or if you enjoy learning about many companies, you can work as a temporary employee. Still more interesting is flextime for individuals who want to work around family responsibilities.

Trends In Office Environments

Dramatic advances in office automation have provided a new world of opportunities for secretarial careers. No longer are jobs necessarily dead-end clerical positions. New avenues of career progression have opened up for individuals who keep updated in skills and knowledge. Secretarial workstations now contain the hardware and software for multifunctional responsibilities such as word processing, data processing, and telecommunications.

Workstations are integrated through local area networks. Secretarial job responsibilities are growing and expanding in direct relation to the sophistication of the equipment secretaries are operating.

The rate of growth is phenomenal and is opening up more diversified career opportunities that require different attitudes, skills, higher-level decision making, problem-solving abilities, and new knowledge qualifications. A question pertaining to these new designs is: Who will manage these systems? Undoubtedly, the person who will qualify will have to understand the broad concepts of office systems, management, productivity, and personnel administration.

Another trend in office environments that has implications for those who want more meaningful work experiences is the growth of departments of human resources. Management has seen fit to shift its emphasis from the sole use of technology to increase productivity to more efficient use of people. This presupposes good human relationships among staff hierarchy which ultimately results in greater job satisfaction, a feeling of "belonging," and the surfacing of creativity skills that were previously dormant. Organizations have converted their personnel departments into departments of human resources, which focus on management of people rather than administration of policies and procedures. In these companies there is an organized effort to match people with jobs. There is an assessment of skills, knowledge, and abilities of personnel, and personal growth is encouraged. Some firms incorporate career counseling and training in their program.

This new direction in organizational management supports the theory that even though office processes are automated, it is human intelligence and motivated, competent personnel that are needed to communicate and expand on that information.

With the realization by management that personnel is one of the key areas in reaching the goals of office automation also comes the need to improve work environments. Work space, equipment, and furniture are now designed to accommodate the needs of people as well as the task. This has resulted in attractive, landscaped surroundings that serve the psychological and physiological needs of the workers. You need no longer work in a dull, stress-producing environment due to isolation, high noise levels, poor lighting, and hard floors. This whole new area of study in the office, known as ergonomics, is concerned with people's needs.

Another factor that has impacted the office is the fact that information is now a corporate resource, similar to plant and equipment. Information and communication are becoming almost synonymous terms as we witness the interconnection of machines. Of what value is information unless it is communicated from person to person and from location to location?

Therefore, office administration now occupies an area of importance in company goals equal to marketing, finance, and personnel.

Mobility To Managerial Levels

The status of the traditional secretary was and still is structured on a one-to-one basis with a principal. From the time word processing was first introduced, the number of traditional secretaries began to decrease, and in automated offices, secretaries now support more than one principal.

Typically, secretarial mobility is in tandem with that of the boss. Advancement comes in the form of added responsibilities. For example, executive secretaries perform higher-level tasks and assume certain decision-making responsibilities. In the February 1991 issue of New Woman, Kelly McGee writes of the executive secretary to the president of a large firm who has earned power, perks, and the respect of her peers in addition to being well paid.

Top-notch executive secretaries, McGee states, have it all-clout, autonomy, responsibility, and frequently a support person reporting to them. Other advantages of this level secretarial position are luxurious offices, bonuses, pensions, and profit sharing.

If you are a secretary in an office that has been restructured for automation, whether it be a centralized or decentralized pattern, you do have diversified career options for lateral or vertical movement. Laterally, you could switch from jobs with one type of responsibility to another, such as from computer operator to trainer. Vertically, supervisory and managerial opportunities do exist. New positions that have been created are information manager and chief information officer (CIO). These individuals must have a technical and conceptual knowledge of the field and an understanding of the business operations of the organization. Interestingly, secretaries were the ones initially trained to become managers of word processing centers.

If you wish to aspire to managerial positions, then you may be able to achieve this by progressing first into an entry-level managerial job after earning an appropriate college degree in business, personnel administration, or accounting. You also would be wise to concentrate on developing the following qualifications: human relations skills, flexibility in dealing with others and in making efficient changes in operations and procedures; willingness to delegate; ability to direct, guide, and motivate employees; a pleasant, yet assertive personality and enthusiastic attitude about the system; and an understanding of the company, including its goals, its policies, and its philosophy.

Through secretarial work, employees can demonstrate a potential for management responsibilities. This experience in combination with continuing education will open up channels for promotion. Continue to update your knowledge and skills and keep abreast of technological advances by joining professional organizations, by attending seminars and workshops, and by reading current literature in the field. Finally, sometimes even adhering to all of these suggestions will not be promising for you unless you take a positive attitude and view your job as a career rather than a job. This means you must do more than just what is expected of you, and you must plan strategies for reaching certain goals. Opportunity may strike, but some people also make it happen. Accept the challenges that are offered to you, make your desires to advance known to your supervisors and management, and maintain this visibility.

Teamwork-It Works!

Autocratic management styles from top-down are beginning to change. Many work environments are now involving employees as team members. This type of management enables employees at all levels in an organization to participate and share responsibility for implementing organizational goals. Secretaries who are team members and actively contribute to key processes of the firm have wonderful opportunities for career growth.

An example of a company in which teamwork has made a difference is at the Ford Motor Company. New challenges and opportunities are now available for Ford's secretaries. They are more involved in the administrative functions of planning, organizing, and complex problem solving. What are the skills and personal characteristics that secretaries need to demonstrate as part of a successful team? First and most important is commitment to company goals. Other essential qualities are:
  • Effective communication-interactive listening, sensitivity to others, mutual consideration, and separation of emotion from fact.

  • Professional development-assuming the responsibility of continually upgrading skills, both technical and personal; continuing education; keeping up-to-date on changes in the industry; and networking with colleagues in the field.

  • Positive attitude-taking the initiative to make suggestions and to get things done. ?
Gloria Foster, an executive secretary, states that those who take the initiative make things happen: "They recognize opportunities to improve, change, create, and contribute to their work environment." You can use these various means; familiarize yourself with all aspects of the organization, volunteer for jobs other than what is expected of you in your position, keep learning and add to your storehouse of knowledge, and contribute to a productive and harmonious working environment. Effective teamwork leads to improvement in a company's productive operations and to more satisfied employees who have gained a professional identity within the organization.

Opportunities For Older Individuals To Reenter The Job Market

Some personnel experts believe that workers beyond the age of 50 have a competitive edge in the job market. They usually have had previous experience with several employers and are looked up to as role models by younger workers. The older employee conveys an image of stability. Until recently, mature individuals had been returning to the job market for several reasons: an inflationary economy bringing about a need for additional family income; self-fulfillment; boredom after children grow up; changing social values; and the women's liberation movement. However, the trend towards early retirement has decreased this needed resource. The number retirees not looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen from 17.2 million in 1989 to 18.4 million in 1990.

Despite age, mature individuals have many opportunities to find employment. Many of them, when they first return to the job market, look forward to full-time employment with trepidation, not certain that they will be able to cope with the demands of the job as well as with their personal and family responsibilities.

Therefore, some of these mature individuals may opt for temporary or part-time jobs-an expanding mode of employment. Before long, this worker usually adjusts to the workday routine, begins to gain self-confidence, and is ready for a full-time position.

With the dearth of qualified secretaries and the thirst for qualified help to fill the positions that go unfilled each year, the returning adult who has a sense of responsibility and loyalty and who possesses good skills should have no difficulty finding and keeping a job. Since the majority of offices have at least one micro computer and a printer, these adults should enlist in continuing education courses to update their skills, abilities, and knowledge.

Many adult training centers, public schools, private business institutions, and colleges have developed one-year certificate programs for the adult who wants to return to school. These adults may enroll in refresher courses or may wish to learn specialized skills needed in offices with modern technology. Some schools even have cooperative work programs where students work in industry for a stipulated period of time each week. This experience enables the mature adult who has been a homemaker for many years to become accustomed to the working environment and to get a broad view of the changes that have occurred.

Misconceptions About Secretarial Work

There have been many misconceptions about secretarial work which need clarification. These perceptions pertain to poor image, low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement, women's work concept, and replacement by automation.

Image of the Secretary

Technological innovations have brought many changes to the secretarial profession and will continue to impact the work secretaries do. In the past, "She is 'only' a secretary" or she is ''my gal Friday" were images of a secretary attacked by the women's liberation movement. Because of this image, many qualified individuals shied away from entering the field. However, through the hard work of professional secretarial organizations and changes brought about in business with the advent of word processing environments, which created secretarial specialists as well as supervisory and managerial positions for secretaries, this image began to fade.

As you read in previous chapters, new areas of responsibility have developed for secretaries which involve the mastery of word processing, spreadsheet, and database management software. Some are even using desktop publishing to design brochures, manuals, and fliers. With the emphasis on human resources, some are also becoming organizational team members. Those individuals who are actively involved need to demonstrate the ability to analyze problems and make decisions, to exhibit professional behaviors, and to use good oral and written communication skills.

Women are becoming more vocal and self-assertive, demanding respect as professionals. They want responsibility and wish to advance in their careers. Today's secretary is better educated than those of previous decades and will not be relegated to low status. In fact, executives themselves are realizing that qualified secretaries are harder to replace than good executives. In essence, the secretary is a valued staff member of the office; and as positions become more responsible, secretaries will receive greater recognition.

Title changes are also being made to improve the image of the secretary, and it is becoming quite common to hear "assistant", “administrative assistant”, "administrative support staff" and "executive assistant," rather than "secretary." Some companies are developing job descriptions to reflect increased responsibilities. In others, the secretary may still be expected to have good shorthand and keyboarding skills, although performing administrative duties is a major part of the job. In effect, the "executive secretary" performs similar tasks. In information processing environments, however, the responsibilities are expanding to include a knowledge of information systems. Those secretaries who already have terminals on their workstations must know how to retrieve information stored in the computer and how to send communications electronically. Whether known as a secretary or administrative assistant, tasks may be similar. Perhaps someday there will be more definitive titles based on levels of responsibility. Nevertheless, you, the secretary, no matter what your title, must believe in the job and in yourself.


Another misconception about secretaries is that they are paid low salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in October 1990 that the average monthly salaries ranged from $1,654 for Level I secretaries to $2,736 for Level V. Compare these earnings with those of computer operators whose compensation ranges from $1,381 per month for Level I to $2,483 for Level IV.

Accounting clerks averaged $1,220 a month to $2,154, while personnel clerks/assistants received monthly salaries from $1,281 for Level I to $2,197 for Level IV. Another look at some metropolitan districts indicates that in the Newark, New Jersey, area, top-level secretaries can earn as much as $760 per week and in Hartford, Connecticut, $557.50 weekly. The low average point in these cities is $413 and $397 respectively?

Secretarial salaries have been rising each year. You must also consider the fact that the demand for secretaries is not only multiplying but a dearth of qualified individuals exists. When the economy improves, undoubtedly corporations will have to raise salaries considerably to attract secretaries. All indications are that there is a bright, exciting future for this career field.

Advancement Opportunities

In the traditional office, advancement depended upon the promotional potential of the employer for whom the secretary worked, frequently locking in capable secretaries at a particular level. However, in changing office environments today, this is no longer true. All you need to do is look at an organizational chart to see career paths available to secretaries. The administrative secretary, for example, may handle assignments for more than one executive, thus becoming more likely to be recognized by at least one of them for excellent performance. This could lead to middle management positions or supervisory positions over other administrative assistants. Similarly, individuals who may work solely on equipment can advance to positions that might entail training or supervising groups of operators, which could ultimately lead to secretarial management positions,

The secretarial position has been the route to managerial positions for women and men. However findings of a study of male secretaries revealed that 40 percent of the 50 male secretaries surveyed chose secretarial work as a career rather than as a stepping-stone to management. It is erroneous to believe that you can graduate from a program in business management and be employed immediately at a top managerial or executive level without the appropriate experience.

"Women's Work"

There has been a movement for women to leave traditionally female occupations for those that were once exclusively for males. As for males entering the secretarial profession, they are beginning to see the opportunities and satisfaction that they can derive, particularly with the invasion of technology and systems in office environments. The future may be more promising, and we may see more males entering the profession for the following reasons: as firms delete the word secretary from titles, men will not feel the "stigma" attached to the job and become candidates for available positions; during economic downturns; jobs are available now and projected to continue in the future; automation is creating many opportunities for upward and horizontal movement; challenges for systems and innovation and creativity exist; and supervisory and managerial positions with varied titles and responsibilities appeal to the upwardly mobile. Another interesting factor that might reverse this "female occupation" is the trend towards workstations where executives are now being forced to perform keyboarding functions once exclusively within the secretary's domain. Reluctantly, executives are learning to "key-in" their own requests on their terminals. This, too, should bring about a different set of attitudes about secretarial work.


According to the 1990-91 Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of secretaries is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations throughout this decade "in line with the general growth of the economy."

Neither automation nor economic factors will have an adverse impact on employment of secretaries. The demand will continue to be strong. What will happen will be changes in the role of the secretary both in traditional and automated environments. Undoubtedly, there will be demands for secretaries with different kinds of needs and personal characteristics with the trend toward telecommuting, or working at home.
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