Support Staff But Does Professional Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about doing professional work but with support staff pay:

I have worked here for over 25 years. I am smart and I do a job that others in different departments do at this company and they are considered “professional” staff while I am considered “support” staff. However, my boss (whom I thought was going to bat for me) keeps getting told that others in other departments who do the same work I do (impossible to do exactly what I do) are not considered professional staff.

Every year I request an upgrade to professional staff–not even a raise, just the recognition that what I do is not “jock strap” work. Our receptionist works half time now so I must answer the phone when she’s not here. Since I leave at 4:30 (because I come in at 8:30) and the office is supposed to be open til 5:00 (for those who come in at 9:00), the office will officially be closed at 4:30 because “there’s no one to answer the phone” — there are two other people here but they are professional staff. It has been mentioned in staff meeting how demeaning it is to ask someone to answer the phone.

My boss knows how I feel about answering the phone and yet he asks me anyway. Eight other people work in this office. I am too old now and the job market is horrible so I can’t go looking for another job. After working here for 25 years I get 4 weeks vacation and my pay is pretty good. Although I would get many more benefits if I were considered “Professional” staff. Now I’m beginning to feel that my boss is trying to get me to quit so that they can hire someone younger, thinner, and for a lot less money. Help me make it through the day. What can I say to my boss?

Signed, Feeling Demeaned

DearĀ Feeling Demeaned:

I can well understand your frustration if you feel you are working at a higher level than your job designation indicates. That is a common problem in many companies with which I am familiar. In many organizations so-called support staff are, in reality, doing many jobs outside their job description or job title, without being acknowledged. It’s particularly irritating and hurtful when coworkers or managers, who should know the truth, do not acknowledge it.

So, I do agree that there is reason for you to have this reviewed with the goal of remedying it. However, I don’t think your boss is the best person to consult about it, especially if you have tried that approach. He or she doesn’t have the authority to make the change and may be equally frustrated at asking repeatedly. Have you tried writing a letter directly to Human Resources or a similar group?

Consider writing a memo to them in which you ask to have your work audited or reviewed for the purpose of correctly determining what job title or designation you should have. You can have your boss forward it, rather than asking him to do the work.You may have done that already, but it doesn’t sound as though you have gone to them directly.

Get a copy of your job description and show how much more you do than the description. If you are only doing the description, that shows they are not wrong in their decision. Even then you could ask to have the job title reviewed to bring it more in line with the tasks being done.As for the issue of what others in other sections do: It is often the case that no job can be easily compared to another. However, it may be that there are aspects that can be compared-especially the levels of work overall.

One way to consider the difference is this: Professional staff work for external customers (Within or outside of the organization.) Support staff work for internal customers within their own office or section. Often these seem like peers, but the fact is they can ask the support person to do work for them. Professional level employees are not obligated to do work at the direction of coworkers.Perhaps considering that concept can help you word your request to HR in a way that is compelling for what you are trying to convey.

2. About the phone: I doubt that any job description excludes phone-answering when it is needed.So, it sounds like everyone should do it. But, if you are considered support staff it certainly is appropriate to have you support others in that way. I don’t see why such work is demeaning, since phone calls are answered by people of all levels in offices of all kinds, every day.

3. You say, at the end of your question, that you feel your boss is trying to get you to quit so he can hire someone younger, thinner, etc. Yet you say your request for an upgrade has gone on for years. I’m sure your boss could have found other things to make you want to quit during that time, if that was his goal. Probably he has asked and been told no, and he doesn’t have enough of a personal interest to keep pushing. That is another reason to contact HR on your own.Job titles often require salary changes, so that may be the primary concern of HR. In some companies job titles are aligned with pay, and in other companies titles are given to keep people feeling more satisfied with their overall work.

I know of someone who was formerly a clerk-typist (support staff) and now is the Manager of Marketing Materials (same job, upgraded title.) The title was given because she successfully showed that, on her own, she worked with vendors, artists and others to produce materials she thought were needed–and not because she had been directed to do so.I do urge you though to not assume you have enemies who are trying to keep you down or have you quit. Probably you just have bosses and coworkers who are more concerned with their own situations than they are with yours. If you wait for them to get as concerned as you are, you’ll have a long wait. See what you can do on your own, working with your boss as much as possible on it.I hope these thoughts can give you some new ideas. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops.Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.