For years, companies I worked for reduced budgets by (first) reducing their staff. But that means senior staff are doing more and more administrative work. I am not saying it is among us; admin work is crucial. It is only that the execution of the tasks for which we have been appointed, which can help the core of the enterprise, is eliminated or driven to evening and weekend hours. Is there any way to combat this trend?
My first thought when I read your question, Anonymous, was that you need to be a fellow journalist – support staff barely exist in most of the companies I work for, and few industries have cut as much of the annual budget as we do. . But then I lost two hours of my day in a rush of depressing articles about the death of administrative posts – 40 percent of the administrative assistant roles disappeared between 2000 and 2020, a number comparable to producing job losses. And that was before the pandemic, which caused huge cost cuts at a large number of businesses, but whose lasting consequences are not yet visible in federal data.
So you are not alone, and this is definitely a worrying trend. Administrative staff are often the only people who keep companies from utter chaos. In addition, 95 percent of the positions are held by women, one of many factors causing them to suffer excessive unemployment rates during this recession. Some of these positions are held by longtime employees with invaluable institutional knowledge, others by young sweepers destined for senior leadership positions. Too many people take these roles for granted, but they definitely miss them when they are gone. And of course, it makes no economic sense for companies to lay off lower-paid support staff and thus get higher-paid senior staff to do administrative work, but I have long since stopped rationalizing the decisions of most companies.
However, I wonder: how did you try to handle this in your own workplace? If you do not do the job for which you were hired, something must change. Or if you work nights and weekends to get everything done, you run the risk of burning out and leaving the company. Have you ever told anyone?
Easier said than done, I realize. Most of us, especially members of one or more historically marginalized groups, are socialized to avoid waves at all costs, and quietly do whatever it takes to keep the place going and the boss happy. But I also want to argue that we have a responsibility to model behaviors – such as standing up for ourselves – towards our colleagues, especially younger and more vulnerable. A colleague recently did something in front of me that looked straightforward but stunned me a little at the moment. While discussing his work with a superior during a meeting between the three of us, he said something like: ‘I would recommend that we move X and Y tasks to someone younger. It will set me free to do A and B, these are just things I can do. He also pointed out that he knows that there is currently no obvious person to take on these responsibilities, but he has presented creative ideas about people who are ready to grow and try new things.
What I like about this essay is that it was constructive, but did not bury the point in a flurry of apologies or ‘I just thought’ statements or expressions. Try it, Anonymous. Maybe your boss will shake you off or say there is no one else who can do these tasks, in which case you might consider looking for a new job. But maybe they just did not realize how much extra work you are doing – because they are unaware, or because you shot yourself in the foot by smearing it – and as soon as you bring it to their attention, it’s I want the problem rectify. (You may not be able to find more support staff, but there may be other ways to ensure that disproportionate burdens do not fall on one person.)
Finally, remember that the loss of senior staff and the appointment of new people is a big headache that your boss would very much like to avoid, and that it gives you the opportunity to explain what you need to do your job effectively and you feel fulfilled in your work. So call them.
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