Bosses vs. Secretaries: Who Is Really More Essential?

administrative assistant, secretary

As many administrative assistants know too well, so much of the work they perform day in and day out goes unrecognized. It was the awareness of that slight that gave rise to the first Secretaries' Day (now Administrative Professionals' Day) 60 years ago.

And if you don't think the work that office managers, receptionists and other support personnel perform is important, think again. A recent poll of Facebook and Twitter users found that nearly two-thirds (65.2 percent) felt their offices were more likely to fall apart without the presence of the office manager than without the boss (30.3 percent).

In addition, the unscientific survey, conducted by the online retailer of office supplies,, in advance of this year's April 25 holiday, found that administrative professionals often perform duties beyond just those contained in their job description. Those included necessary business functions, such as managing staff and accounting, as well as lending personal support to colleagues.

Running errands or dealing with personal issues likely contributed to respondents reporting that their office assistants know more about their schedules than their spouses, 41.6 percent versus 33.5 percent.

Though much of that work may seem unglamorous, many support staff positions are among the best jobs to have these days, according to recent rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

"Receptionist" and "administrative assistant" are among the top 50 jobs of 2012, the publication says. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the economy will add nearly 250,000 receptionists jobs by 2020, with another 317,100 positions needing to be filled by those quitting or retiring.

It's just such favorable job prospects that resulted in receptionists taking the 22nd spot in the overall occupation ratings. Still, with a median wage of about $25,000 a year, it's easy to understand why so many existing jobs will need to be restaffed.

Prospects for job growth among administrative assistants, which ranked 46th on the U.S. News list, are more tepid, according to BLS. Still, the agency forecasts that about 120,000 jobs will need to be filled by 2020. Pay, at about $31,000 a year, is better than that of administrative assistants, but still modest.

Low pay combined with such mundane tasks as answering phones, routing calls and greeting clients may be one reason that office support staff are often portrayed in mainstream TV programs as frustrated.

They include the character Pam Halpert from "The Office," who edged out Mimi Bobeck from "The Drew Carey Show" as the top pick among respondents when asked who they'd like to have at their workplace, according to the poll.

Meanwhile, Joan Holloway, the office manager in the popular AMC cable-TV show "Mad Men" finished a distant third (19.6 percent). Christina Hendricks, the actress who portrays Holloway, was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2010 and 2011 but didn't win, proving yet again that great work isn't always recognized.

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