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Page Personnel Research: Secretaries look for more substance in their work

  • Secretary’s role has changed
  • Huge demand for qualified secretaries
  • Still much uncertainty for the profession

Amsterdam, 8 October 2015 - Page Personnel research shows that not only is the role of secretary developing, but secretaries’ own ambitions are changing with it. “The lady who gets the coffee is a thing of the past,” says Joost Fortuin, Managing Director at Page Personnel. “In her place, we now find the more specialised personal assistant, office manager or executive assistant, with much more substantial duties.” The only remaining trace of the traditional image of the secretary is the fact that the role is still mostly performed by women.

Is secretaries’ search for more depth or more extensive duties responsible for the shifting content of the role, or are more demanding job requirements responsible for secretaries’ shifting ambitions? And who takes care of the coffee nowadays? “People get their own,” says Fortuin. “It’s the modern way. The reason for the role’s shift is a case of the chicken and the egg: demand for specialist assistants is growing, such as legal secretaries or secretaries with specific sector expertise or a certain educational background. At the same time, we see that secretaries themselves have a greater drive for personal development, and the role’s image has shifted significantly in the past few decades. Not only have the requirements expanded, the names used to describe the role are also evolving: personal assistant, executive assistant, office manager, legal secretary, management assistant, and so on.”

81% of respondents feel their work is challenging and varied, and the research also shows that no fewer than 92% go to work feeling positive. This is an exceptional level of satisfaction, which - according to Fortuin - is in line with the development of the role: “At Page Personnel, we see that many international corporate organisations and legal offices are specifically hiring juniors in order to offer them the opportunity to develop. This way, they create a challenge and the opportunity for individuals to realise their ambitions, which leads to staff rating the employer more positively. Another fringe benefit is that organisations can retain knowledge, as offering a long-term career path encourages staff loyalty.”

Uncertainty despite growing demand
The research shows that many secretaries are currently keeping an eye on the employment market. The research shows that a massive 60% are actively or passively looking for a new job, and that a quarter are uncertain about the continuation of their role.  

“The role is sensitive to economic conditions,” says Fortuin. “The first person to feel the effects of a worsening economy is the secretary. You are in a supportive position, so you add value. However, because of this it remains a risky profession. Secretaries face redundancy due to budget cuts sooner than their colleagues who are closer to the primary process.”

Luckily the recovering economy is good news for the profession: “At Page Personnel, we’re currently seeing a huge demand for qualified and experienced secretaries. This will not only provide greater security, but will also offer the opportunities to deepen their role that many secretaries are looking for.”

More substance
A large majority of the secretaries in the survey (70%) indicate that they want to take on more responsibilities, such as duties in the areas of communication, PR and marketing, planning and HR, as well as more advisory roles in projects or corporate processes. Management duties are also on many a secretary’s wish list.

Fortuin comments: “A lot of secretaries primarily want to support colleagues and take work off people’s hands – it’s an intrinsic part of the role. Aside from that, they are increasingly looking for challenges in the areas of coordination and organisation, and opportunities to advance within the company. We see roughly two types of secretaries: one is happy, enjoys the role sufficiently and would like to stay in her comfort zone, as opposed to those who want to move on and are looking for a more substantial challenge. They might want to take on more advisory duties, or advance from the position of management secretary to executive secretary. We often see this last group move towards interim work or to project management offices.”