'Support staff' means a lot

Apr 28, 2016 Betty Starks Case

In many places, that's where most of the work happens

Call them what you will. But I'm here to define the position as you may have never seen it defined before.

Are they administrative professionals, secretaries or administrative assistants?

The holiday devoted to honoring these important office people on the last week in April in many foreign countries and America has been criticized for being patronizing to administrative officials by separating the work they do from the rest of the office as mere "support staff" to others in the office.

I'm not sure precisely where "support" ends and "production" begins. At my first full-time office job in the Pavillion school years ago, I learned in performing these simple little "support" jobs that the secretary's desk was where most of the office work took place.

Wearing a coat of many colors, so to speak, I became school district bookkeeper, purchasing agent for teaching supplies, issued salary checks, figured deductions, and withholdings, submitted official reports and funds to state offices, and maintained a wall chart to provide an ever current view of district finances.

The job also included operating the intercom and telephone with proper and patient direction of all communication - even if I was up to my ears in aforementioned math that must be accurate to the penny. After all, I was bonded.

The school superintendent's office was directly behind mine. He was a fine man and appreciative of all the help -- especially, when I heard a loud crash and hearty laughter, rushed in to find him on the floor behind his office chair that had toppled when he leaned back to rest his feet on his desk.

In the years when uranium was booming, I was hired by Federal American Partners to set up its Riverton mining and milling office, ordering office equipment and supplies, and hiring an assistant "so you can't blame me if your equipment or assistant don't work out for you," my new boss explained.

Ray also had mines and a mill to tend out in the Gas Hills. Again, I became more than the job title "executive secretary" could imagine.

"Me? Write a stripping contract?" I asked in disbelief.

"Figure it out. And while I'm at the mill, you can prepare the report to the Atomic Energy Commission," Ray growled. "It's due shortly."

I liked the responsibility, and Ray enjoyed my sometimes sassy responses. I don't tolerate being talked down to, and I explained that to him. Clearly. Lucky me, that turned out to be a characteristic Ray admired.

Later, in the corporate offices of an international company, I worked in the engineering department, a job I liked because we were always building something somewhere.

There was much to learn. But I also learned that while secretaries were often viewed as "mere support staff" by many in this big world, engineers, despite their almost unbelievable knowledge about creating bridges, mills, and mechanical things, were often a little short on ability to communicate it clearly in a letter. It just wasn't their thing.

But what's the use of composing a letter to top management if the point hasn't been made clear because of faulty sentence construction, inaccurate spelling, or inept grammar?

Ability with language is not to be belittled. These guys were smart, and I liked working with them. But I also knew how much a part of the project we "secretaries" actually were, though credit was seldom acknowledged.

Communication, after all, means making a point in a manner that others can clearly understand your intent.

Wouldn't it be shooting yourself in the foot to belittle the source of your literary acumen?

These professionals who have the ability to make others' work look better and more clearly defined should not be disparaged. They've been treated in a patronizing manner far too long.

It's time we acknowledge their contribution to the success of the job. And pay them accordingly.

A final story from my last office job: Seeking one day to bring a more literary approach to the subject at hand, I went to my favorite engineer's desk and asked, "Ken, isn't it true that it's better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness?"

As if to dismiss the secretary's nonsense, Ken mumbled, "Yeah, I guess so."

The engineer in him alerted. Might the weather affect this project?

"If the wind ain't blowin," he added.