Sometimes referred to as AAs or admins, administrative assistants are expected to grow in importance as organizations restructure and offices increasingly adopt new technologies. According to Melba J. Duncan, president of the Duncan Group, a New York-based organization that specializes in recruiting and training senior-level administrative assistants, they are progressively assuming roles once reserved for managers and other professionals.
In many organizations, admin assistants are now expected to train and orient new staff, ensure that departments and personnel adhere to spending limits, supervise other assistants and even troubleshoot malfunctioning office equipment. As organizations rush to adopt Internet-dependent technologies in a bid to improve efficiency, administrative assistants are increasingly taking on the responsibilities of managing corporate websites, coordinating remote teams and training staff to use cloud-based applications. In an interesting reversal of roles, they are also expected to help their newly hired bosses settle into their jobs. The list of responsibilities is expected to grow as organizations adapt to ever-changing operating environments. All this is in addition to the jobs that administrative assistants traditionally perform — acquiring, organizing and passing on information to staff and clients, routing calls, planning meetings, sorting emails, managing calendars, and so on.
Administrative assistants are also taking on increased workloads. The armies of assistants that were a common feature of many offices in the 1960s have gone the way of the carbon copy. It's now the other way around; a single assistant has to support several managers. A survey carried out by the International Association of Administrative Professionals showed that 52 percent of administrative assistants now support three or more people. The ratio will grow as long as organizations continue to cut costs by reducing support staff, and as long as they expect assistants to leverage technology to continuously improve efficiency and productivity.
Increased workloads and widening roles engender several challenges. One is the lack of authority to go with the increasing responsibilities. In some organizations, administrative assistants are managers in all but name. That leads to the next problem: compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual salaries in 2012 ranged from about $20,000 to nearly $50,000, with a median of slightly over $32,000. Members of the International Association of Administrative Professionals have a self-reported median salary of $45,000 per annum. Duncan feels that this is inadequate considering their increasing importance in many organizations, sentiments she has expressed in a report dubbed "The Case for Assistants" that was published by the Harvard Business Review in May 2011. There is also the question of limits. For instance, what is the maximum number of tasks, or people, that one assistant should be realistically expected to handle? Do they have to collect their boss' laundry, or should they restrict themselves to work matters? There may be no easy answers to these questions.
Administrative assistants look set to take on more responsibilities and grow in importance in the days to come. However, the process will not be painless if current trends are anything to go by. Hopefully, industry players will work together to solve the problems that are likely to be an inevitable part of the change.
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