New Secretary Taking Over

Question:

I have been working with my boss (an attorney) for over 5 years now. I have been a loyal assistant and have followed him to one other place besides where we are now. Since he opened his own practice a few years back he has 2 associates. Just recently he hired another secretary to help with the workload but it seems she has taken over my job. We are assigned to cases and not attorneys. I feel demoted, almost like I am on the way out. How do I approach my employer about this issue without sounding so petty?

Signed,

Feeling shut out


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling shut out:

You feel that the new secretary has taken over your job–which implies she is doing more with the attorney with whom you have a long-time working relationship.

The key seems to be with who assigns the work. That is the person you want to talk to, whether it is your long-time attorney or one of the others. It would be helpful to compare before and after as a way to have a clear picture of what has changed. It would also be helpful to have a clear picture of what you would prefer instead.

Your employer may not even be aware of how work is being divided. Or, he may have hired the secretary and asked her to take work that would formerly have been yours. He may have done it as a way to help you out and thinks you’ll be happy with that. Or, he may have done it to slowly move someone else in your place. Although if things have been going well, that doesn’t seem likely. The best way to find out is to talk to your employer. If you want to ensure that he hears your words as being professional and concerned, not naggy or bitter, tell him that is a concern of yours. Start by saying, “We’ve known each other for a long time and I hope by now you know I am not a petty person who gets offended easily. (Note: And that had better not be the case, if you want to sell this conversation!) Ever since Mary started I’ve felt that maybe I was being moved out of the work I normally did–and I actually have felt that I’ve been demoted in a way, because of the way the work is being done. I have a list here of the work I normally did and the way the picture looks now. I appreciate that I’m not quite as pressured now that we have help, but it seems the work I’m doing now doesn’t reflect my capabilities and experiences in the office. Could you tell me how the decisions are being made about cases and other work? And, please be honest with me if there has been a problem and that’s why I’m doing less significant work than I used to do.”

You know your situation best, and what would be appropriate. Focus on the work rather than on who is doing it. Focus on what has changed and what you would have preferred not to change. Be ready to make suggestions about what you would like to see instead.

You DO likely have status because of your tenure. Even if the new employees are very capable and fine people, there is usually an informal status based on tenure. But, on the other hand, new employees don’t want to be relegated to unimportant and un-enjoyable work just so tenured employees can maintain their status.

You don’t say if you have a good relationship with the new secretary. That will also be a key for how your employer takes your comments. Keep in mind that the new employee likely has no idea how things have changed and is trying to solidify her position there, as many new employees will do.

Have a plan for what you would like to see happening and make that plan a good one for everyone. Maybe you could develop a new kind of work for yourself that would help the whole office and present that when you discuss this matter. Or perhaps it would help to ask for regular meetings with the person assigning the work and the entire team, to discuss issues related to work assignment, problems, opportunities and plans for the future, as it relates to the practice and the staff.

An important thing to keep in mind is that your employer, no matter how he feels about you or anyone else, is most concerned about getting the work done and making a profit, without undue hassle for him, since his work is to be an attorney, not an office manager. If you can make it all easier for him in some way, you will be appreciated. If you add to his pressures, you won’t be.

Use your experience with the attorney and his work to make business more successful and keep a positive work environment for all employees, and you will gain even more status than before!

I hope these thoughts were helpful. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know the results.

WEGO is about finding ways for everyone to feel fulfilled and included while achieving the work of the organization.

Tina Lewis Rowe