Fifteen Years And Feel Like Office Equipment!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling disrespected:

I have been a secretary/receptionist for 15 years with 3 small companies (10 employees or less) and I am awesome at what I do. I have an issue that keep re-occurring. That issue is when co-workers and/or supervisors not respecting my space or allowing me the freedom to make small decisions on how I complete my work. Some examples are: things being deleted and/or moved on my computer without my consent; a supervisor who is not very good with computers (and I am an expert user) will tell me how I should search for files; a temporary person (daughter of supervisor) who tells me how I should be doing my job, etc. In all cases, I have used positive communication skills to state the reason(s) why I do something in a certain way and that I would prefer to continue with my way because it allows me to be very efficient.

In all cases, however, the person suggesting the changes has been completely inflexible. It is their way or no way. If I continue to assert my position, the discussion turns into an argument that I lose. It is very frustrating. These issues are so small but every time I back down and let someone make these little changes I feel that I have absolutely no control in my job and that I am basically just an extension of the office equipment. (I know, I know it is very anal of me). How do I assert my needs when positive communication skills fail? Is there a solution or do I have to just suck it up and do what they say regardless of how I feel on the matter?

Signed, Unheard

Dear Unheard:

The essence of your frustration seems to be that, like Roger Dangerfield, you get no respect. How can you assert yourself without being nasty? There may be no solution, but possibly, you can. In each instance that you describe, you were in a reactive role. And that is not bad; except you ended up feeling controlled rather than winning a bit of respect.

This pattern must have developed over the years. Others in the three companies pull rank on you telling you what to do and how. If this is to be more than a suck it in and live with it, you will have to determine what you want and don’t want. Make a list of the ways you want to be in charge, such as in matters regarding the computer; you might make a rule that no one should ever touch my computer! Regarding the temp telling you to change the way you do things, you might make a rule: changes in procedures may be suggested, but if the job has been going well my way, I will consider the alternative suggested but will not feel it necessary to argue about changing it.

Once you think through what you want to control about your job, put that in a job description statement. Also list tasks you perform for each company that you should be informed of, consulted about, and asked for approval. Chart these, possibly create a table using your computer skills: on the left list the things you do in a vertical column and across the top in a horizontal put the words inform, consult, and approve. it may take several pages to list these tasks, and that should be educative and impressive for those when it is time to show it.

One more step, ask yourself what you would do if you owned or managed each of these companies. How might you cut wasted time, supplies, and overhead, and are there ways you would innovate? Jot these down. Also how would you manage? Would you have regular staff meetings, such as coaches hold skull sessions after a game to re-enforce what was done well and what needs changing? If you were manager would you like to be included in weekly sessions that address the questions: How well did we do this week? What went well and what might we do differently? Are we working together as a team?

Now you have an agenda and it is time to schedule a meeting with the manager of each company or a joint meeting of all three companies and all 10 employees. To schedule such a meeting, you will need to briefly state the purpose of this meeting–to review and discuss your role in the operations of the business(es). Why? Because you are a long-time employee and are committed, loyal, and want to be included in making them even more successful. You have some ideas about what would make you more effective in your job, and because you work for three companies, you think it is wise to have a clearer understanding of your role in the operations. You should find a time that will allow for extended discussion, probably at least an hour. Once the meeting begins, you will need to restate the purpose of the meeting. Have copies of your job description and chart for all to see. You propose and then prepare to be flexible, but firm, in that you want clarification and a voice in what is disposed of and what will be understood as the duties and boundaries of your job description and day-to-day involvement.The very assertiveness that initiating requires for such a meeting and creating its agenda should enhance your status and make it clear that you should have a say in what goes on. Does this make sense? Weigh these ideas and use these suggestions as a springboard for planning what you will do or not do? Of course, from here, we cannot know the job-specific details that you do. So feel free to reject or modify or use these suggestions as prompts for your own. Probably the meeting should conclude with naming a date, say a month or two ahead, to evaluate if what is decided is working well for all concerned or should be modified.

Send us a weather report of how the office feels after you get the much needed job clarification and respect you want. Make it clear that you are thinking WEGO, not ego. I forecast a climate change that you will appreciate.

William Gorden