Is Administrative Professionals Day Demeaning?

Is Administrative Professionals Day Demeaning? April 20, 2015

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This Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the work of secretaries, administrative assistants, receptionists, executive assistants and other administrative professionals. While it is one of the most celebrated workplace observances, the day is also met with mixed feelings.

I can understand the ambivalence. As a past administrative assistant and receptionist, I’ve done everything from taking out trash and cleaning toilets to organizing large events. There were days when I enjoyed the satisfaction of simple tasks like making labels for a mailing or helping someone navigate a website. But there were also awkward moments.—For example, working as a receptionist for a small investment company, I ate cake and chatted with executives and admins alike at an office baby shower. At the end of the shower though, no one seemed to know what to do with their plates. Should they walk 5 feet to put them in the kitchen? Or leave them there for me to clean up? There were only 7 of us in the room, so there was no hiding your decision. They chose to leave them, after making some hesitant glances at me. It was an uncomfortable reminder for all of us of our differing statuses. And I felt condescended to.—I had a two unvoiced protests, both in defense of my dignity. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I know who I am. I respect my work. So should you.” The second was “I can’t believe I have to serve these spoiled people. There’s more to me than this job.”

A quick scan of some online forums and articles revealed that I wasn’t alone in my angst.

From a forum:

I am an Admin Assistant (struggling writer!) and one of my co-workers wished me a Happy Secretary’s Day and now I am fighting back tears. It’s not that I look down on secretaries, but for some reason I feel demeaned by this holiday. Am I wrong to feel this way?

From another forum:

…I too am tired of doing administrative work…You are pretty much looked down on, talked down to, treated like an office maid, and expected to handle more and more responsibilities as if you are a robot. People don’t respect you or your space…One day my boss asked for some staples. I gave him a strip of staples to to put in his stapler, and he throws it at me and tells me to put the staples in it.

And here’s some thoughtful analysis from a U.S. News blogger about why she sees the holiday as patronizing. Her bottom line:

Admins deserve respect and appreciation year-round. They deserve professional development opportunities, useful feedback and to be taken seriously as people doing important professional work. And they deserve to be compensated and rewarded in accordance with the work they perform…Flowers and a card once a year are no substitute for any of that, and continuing the practice threatens to keep them from being seen as professionals like every other professional in the workplace.

How does the Bible help us think about some the status issues at play here—whether we’re the administrative person or the awkward (or even obnoxious) co-worker or boss?

First, we should recognize the value of administrative work. Each person’s work, regardless of the status of his/her position, contributes to the good of the whole organization. We should fully respect people who, on a daily basis, are responsible for the “behind the scenes” work of supporting and enabling others. The God-given ability to do this job well is recognized in the Bible as the gift of helps. The gift reflects the nature of the giver–God. It requires detail-oriented attentiveness and anticipation of others’ needs.

Second, if we interact with administrative professionals, we can respect them as whole people—just like ourselves—not defined only by their jobs, not mere servants. Part of the “humiliation” of a low status position is how others see–or don’t see–you. Constantly serving others—especially in a job that is thankless or not well paid, or where one feels disrespected—can be demoralizing. Administrative professionals arrive at their positions from different avenues. Some see their jobs as a stepping-stones to other opportunities. For others, administrative work is a career choice; they are good at and enjoy it. When we take time to really see each other, when we affirm others’ dignity, we connect with our own humanity and participate in God’s work of calling each other into fullness.

And finally, we should all remember our equal status before God.

“Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:26–29; emphasis added)

In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds the congregation in Corinth that most of them do not come from the ranks of the privileged classes. Instead, God accomplishes his purposes with ordinary people. Since Paul’s day, many Christians have attained positions of power, wealth, and status. However, his words remind us that we insult God if we allow these things to make us arrogant or disrespectful toward people in lower-status positions. Paul’s point is that such distinctions have no place among the people of God. We can never regard other people as “less than” or insignificant.

Read more from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary about status and spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians.

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