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Jun 2018 | Leadership & Change Management

THE EVOLVING (AND INCREASINGLY CRUCIAL) ROLE OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROFESSIONALS
KOULA VASILOPOULOS, OFFICETEAM

A good assistant is worth their weight in gold, and while many of their contributions are immeasurable, some have recently been quantified in a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam. Senior managers report that their administrative professional’s efforts save them an average of 101 minutes a day. That’s more than eight hours each week — the equivalent of a full work day. In addition, all survey respondents reported that their administrative professional is important to their success at work. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of them said their assistant’s contributions are very valuable.

 

“Only 43 percent of those surveyed said that their current manager takes advantage of their full range of skills, revealing tremendous untapped potential.”

 

Administrative professionals not only have to keep everything they’re working on organized and on track, but they’re often responsible for making sure executives and team members stay on schedule too. Some of the many ways administrative assistants save their managers time include:

  • Organizing their schedules
  • Responding to emails or attending meetings on their behalf
  • Screening their phone calls
  • Analyzing data and creating reports
  • Proactively offering solutions to issues or challenges

 

I. How the role has changed
 

In the past, the main requirements for support staff roles used to be typing/word processing skills, and knowledge of business telephone systems. Today’s administrative professionals are tasked with a growing list of varied and complicated duties, from data analysis, management, and fiscal responsibilities, to hiring and training. Three in four senior managers (75 percent) said office support workers’ responsibilities have increased in the past five years. In addition, 64 percent feel administrative professionals have a more promising career-growth track than five years ago.

The expansion of administrative professional responsibilities can be attributed to economic changes and rapid advancements in technology. When companies are forced to make cutbacks, administrative assistants often take on the responsibilities of middle management in addition to their regular tasks. Consequently, the day-to-day duties of administrative professionals have expanded to include things like making purchasing and budgeting decisions, planning company events, and training employees to use software.

It’s not uncommon for support staff to help on things outside their traditional job descriptions. According to OfficeTeam’s Office of the Future survey, support staff are assisting in expanding areas that include:

  • Event planning. Administrative professionals are pitching in to plan morale-boosting events like office celebrations, award programs, and team-building activities. They’re also playing a role in organizing mission-critical corporate on- and off-site gatherings, client functions, virtual meetings, and conferences.
  • Cost control. Many administrative professionals already help to identify costly inefficiencies, negotiate with vendors, and streamline procedures.
  • Technology. Administrative personnel are often early adopters of new hardware and software. They frequently train others on technology and field common technical questions.
  • Social media. Organizations may tap administrative professionals for help with updating company profile information or images, monitoring user comments or feedback, writing social media posts or monitoring competitor activity.
  • Hiring. Administrative professionals are assisting their companies in hiring personnel by interviewing candidates, updating job descriptions, screening resumes, and posting employment ads.
  • Corporate social responsibility. Support staff are helping their firms organize volunteer activities such as community service projects and food and clothing drives. They also play a role in coordinating fundraisers for nonprofit organizations (i.e., charity runs/walks/bike rides) and environmental initiatives (i.e., group beach cleanups or recycling programs). 

 

Additional findings from the Office of the Future survey revealed that support staff skills are often underutilized. Only 43 percent of those surveyed said that their current manager takes advantage of their full range of skills, revealing tremendous untapped potential. Administrative professionals also have transferable skills that can benefit an organization’s various departments. Executives surveyed identified finance and HR as among the top areas office support workers are most likely to transition into. Per the survey, administrative professionals would also like the opportunity to help their teams with:

  • Budgeting, purchasing and contracts
  • Business development
  • Customer service
  • Development of corporate policies and procedures
  • Employee benefits and perks
  • Employee onboarding
  • Employee recognition
  • Investor relations
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Mentor programs
  • Office safety
  • Program management
  • Staff training and development
  • Strategic planning
  • Website and collateral design



II. Top skills in demand for administrative professionals

 

As administrative assistants' responsibilities increase, the skills and attributes that define a top-notch administrative professional expand as well. Here's a look at some of the enhanced skills employers look for today when seeking top talent for administrative assistant jobs:

1. Stronger communication skills. Now more than ever, employers seek administrative assistants who possess strong verbal and written communication skills. Administrative professionals interact constantly with a broad range of people, including vendors, clients and employees, so it's imperative that they be articulate. The demand for English and French bilingual administrative professionals has also increased.

2. Broad technology skills. The workplace has experienced a boom in technology usage over the last decade, and administrative professionals have had to expand their skills to keep up. The roles of administrative assistants have evolved from conquering spreadsheets and memos to include areas such as accounting, payroll and HR applications. Word processing skills are still necessary for administrative assistant jobs, but they're just one piece of a larger skillset. The technology and software skills top-notch administrative professionals should now possess include:

  • Knowledge of design and layout software such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Photoshop and InDesign
  • Expertise with web-based tools like Concur for making travel arrangements and keeping track of travel expenses
  • Advanced proficiency with Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint
  • A working knowledge of social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, to help companies build their online reputations
  • Familiarity with database management software, such as Microsoft Access and FileMaker Pro
  • Excellent Internet research capabilities

 

3. Previous industry experience. Organizations in niche sectors, like healthcare, real estate, manufacturing, or construction, often prefer candidates with an industry background. When you hire within the industry or public sector, administrative professionals are often already adept at that industry’s or organization’s specific software, so they require little or no training. They can also keep up with and contribute to office conversations because they're familiar with terminology.

 

III. Recognize administrative staff for their contributions

 

Why is employee recognition so important? Staff work happier and are much more likely to stay at your company if their efforts are valued and acknowledged. In fact, two in three employees (66 percent) said it’s likely they would leave their current position if they didn’t feel appreciated by their manager.

There’s a lot that employers can do when it comes to keeping employees happy, especially with regards to showing appreciation. Canada ranked fifth out of eight countries in an international study of employee happiness, according to research released by Robert Half. Clearly, there’s room for improvement.

The results are published in a new report: It’s Time We All Work Happy™: The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees. For the study, Robert Half worked with leading happiness and well-being expert Nic Marks and Saamah Abdallah of Happiness Works. Marks’ team evaluated the levels of employee happiness among more than 23,000 working professionals across Europe, North America and Australia. According to findings from the survey, the top three drivers of employee happiness in Canada are:

  1. Having pride in one’s company
  2. Feeling appreciated for the work they do
  3. Being treated with fairness and respect

 

Celebrating the accomplishments of administrative staff can help fuel these three drivers of workplace happiness. Some easy ways to show gratitude for their efforts include:

 

  • Say thanks. Regularly acknowledge employees’ great work verbally. Point out how their efforts will help the company or assist clients and customers.
  • Celebrate milestones. Organize team lunches or off-site outings to recognize the completion of projects or special events, such as work anniversaries.
  • Spread the word. Share a message sent by a customer or other stakeholder lauding the work of a fellow staff member. Feature standout employees in the company newsletter or recognize them at a staff meeting.
  • Give a little. Offer gift cards, movie passes, or sporting event tickets to employees who go above and beyond on a project. Consider giving extra time off or vacation days for a job well done.
  • Encourage professional development. Reimburse staff for participation in industry associations and conferences. Offer tuition assistance for courses that will help employees in their jobs, and subsidize the cost of exams required to attain professional certifications.
  • Develop leaders. Recognize an employee’s skills by asking him or her to mentor others. Have a policy of promoting from within, and make sure staff members know there’s a path to career growth in your organization.

 

Administrative professionals who feel appreciated are motivated to go the extra mile, saving their managers time and playing a key role in ensuring the organization stays on-track. With the right development opportunities and recognition, administrative professionals not only keep the office running smoothly but make it a happier place for employees to work.

 

KOULA VASILOPOULOS is a District Director for OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing and consulting company. For more than 18 years, Koula has led a successful career with Robert Half and has held senior management positions in Western Canada. Her perspectives and knowledge on workplace issues and labour trends are often featured in major media outlets, and she provides curriculum guidance to leading educational institutions across the country.

 

Sign up for our Editorial Round Table webinar on July 5th, 2018 1 - 2 PM ET to discuss all of the Leadership and Change insights of the issue. It is your opportunity to connect with the contributors, ask questions of your own, and engage with municipal leaders across Canada.