Help! I’m drowning in administration and can’t do my real job

Dear OOO,

For years, the companies I have worked for have cut their budgets by (first) cutting back on support staff. But it does mean that senior executives are doing more and more administrative work. I’m not saying it’s below us; administrative work is crucial. It’s just that doing the tasks we’ve been hired for, which can help the bottom line of the business, gets sidelined or pushed back into the evening and weekend hours. Is there a way to combat this trend?


My first thought when reading your question, Anonymous, was that you must be a fellow journalist – support staff barely exist in most of the companies I have worked for, and few industries have cut annual budgets so much. than ours. But then I wasted two hours of my day in a burrow of depressing articles about the death of administrative jobs – it turns out that 40 percent of administrative assistant roles disappeared between 2000 and 2020, a number comparable to job losses in the manufacturing sector. And that was before the pandemic, which caused massive cost reductions at a large number of companies, but whose lasting effects are not yet visible in federal data.

So you are not alone, and this is an absolutely worrying trend. Administrative staff are often the only ones to protect businesses from total chaos. In addition, 95% of these jobs are held by women, one of the many factors causing them to suffer disproportionate unemployment rates during this recession. Some of these positions are occupied by long-time employees with invaluable institutional knowledge, others by young whippersnappers destined for managerial positions. Too many people take these roles for granted, but they certainly miss them when they are gone. And of course, it doesn’t make economic sense for companies to lay off lower paid support staff and therefore give paid senior managers administrative duties, but I have long since stopped trying to rationalize most of the work. business decisions.

I wonder though: how did you try to deal with this in your own workplace? If you’re not doing the job you were hired to do, something needs to change. Or if you work nights and weekends doing it all, you might burn yourself out and leave the company. Did you tell anyone that?

Easier said than done, I realize. Most of us, especially members of one or more historically marginalized groups, have been socialized to avoid making waves at all costs, silently doing whatever it takes to make the place work and the boss. be happy. But I would also say that we have a responsibility to model behaviors – like defending ourselves – towards our colleagues, especially the youngest and most vulnerable. A colleague recently did something in front of me that seemed simple but slightly surprised me at the time. While discussing his job with a superior in a meeting between the three of us, he said something like, “I would recommend that we transfer the X and Y tasks to someone more junior. This will allow me to do A and B, which I can only do. He also pointed out that he knew there was currently no obvious person to take on these responsibilities, but he came up with some creative ideas about people who were ready to grow and try new things.

What I like about this framing is that it was constructive but didn’t bury the point in a flurry of apologies or “just thought” statements or ambiguities. Try it, anonymous. Maybe your boss will dismiss you or tell you that 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 haven’t realized how much extra work you’re doing – because they’re oblivious, or because you shot yourself in the foot covering it up – and once you do. bring to their attention, they ‘I want to fix the problem. (You may not have more support staff, but there may be other ways to ensure that disproportionate burdens do not fall on one person.)

Finally, remember that losing top executives and hiring new ones is a huge puzzle that your boss would very much like to avoid, and it gives you leverage when explaining what you need to do your job effectively. and feel fulfilled in your work. So call them.

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