Be sure to check out our Magnum Photos gallery saluting office workers from the 1950s to today.
It's Administrative Professionals Week, a time to celebrate the hard work of the 4.1 million office assistants across America. But not everyone is keen on the idea of saluting secretaries. In 2006, Melonyce McAfee declared that the holiday fails to do anything except sow officewide jealousy and discomfort. The original article is reprinted below.
Here's a plot line for the writers at NBC's The Office: It's the last Wednesday in April. * Paper-salesman Jim presents a bouquet of tulips to his office crush, receptionist Pam. The accompanying card reads: "For all you do. Happy Secretaries Day." Competitive and cringe-inducing boss Michael, until now oblivious to the holiday, sees the card and orders a garish bouquet, large enough to blot out Pam's head and overshadow Jim's arrangement. The bouquet arrives at 4:49 p.m. Eyes roll.
Today is Administrative Professionals Day—the Hallmark holiday that leads to intraoffice jealousy, discomfort, and not much else. Believe me, as an assistant during most of my post-college years, I've shot my share of daggers at the colleague who got eye-popping floral deliveries while I sulked at my keyboard, giftless. The holiday also throws bosses off guard (the reason they have secretaries is to remember stuff like Secretaries Day). Or it lulls them into feeling they've thanked the minions sufficiently for a year's worth of underpaid labor.
The National Secretaries Association got the ball rolling with Professional Secretaries Week in 1952. The holiday was renamed Administrative Professionals Week in 2000, but I prefer the tell-it-like-it-is Secretaries Day. The NSA (now, naturally, the International Association of Administrative Professionals) claims the day is meant to enhance the image of administrative workers, promote career development, and encourage people to enter the field. But does it really do any of the above? Not for me.
In my first job out of college, I worked as a typist at a title company, a job akin to cryptography. I pecked my way toward carpal tunnel syndrome to turn chicken scratch into property reports. Typists served the entire office, but title officers also had personal secretaries. On Secretaries Day, we typists sucked our teeth at the bouquets on the secretaries' desks. At my next corporate job, I'd gained an "assistant" title. But along with the other assistants, I was still left empty-handed. The office professionals chipped in for a bouquet for the division secretary, who regularly pawned off duties on us assistants and huffed when asked to, well, work. "I can't believe they got her flowers," we hissed.
My mother, a former hospital administrative assistant, was surprised with three greeting cards and a gorgeous scarf last Secretaries Day. She wasn't aware of the holiday and was touched that the nurses in her department took the opportunity to thank her for working hard on special projects. But she also had to listen to a chorus of "I didn't get anything" from other admins. She says that didn't diminish her pleasure, but it does prove my point. When the holiday makes someone feel appreciated, it almost invariably leaves others out in the cold.
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