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Administrative Assistants Working in a Team – Ask an Admin

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Ask an Admin is a concept that brings administrative professionals together for the best peer to peer advice from administrative assistants and executive assistants from around the world!

This week Elizabeth comes to us with a tough question:

Dear Admins:

I find myself in a conundrum.  In our division, we have myself (Executive Administrator) and three Team Assistants (two in our building, and one in another state).

After a long period of uneven support of specific local teams which resulted in the termination of a previous Team Assistant, we hired a new Team Assistant to take over the area.  Thinking to avoid a repeat performance, the candidate was interviewed several managers in the impacted area, as well as the Executive responsible and myself. The start was auspicious – lots of energy, interest and willingness to learn. We are now 15 months in and I observe there is significant departure from the first 90 days – late arrivals, early departures, unwillingness to take on work, lack of communication, dropped tasks, etc.

I am frustrated as the remaining local Team Assistant and I invested significant time to schedule weekly lunches to ensure we meshed personally, initiated a weekly Admin Team Meeting to discuss activities and needs for backup support, and arranged a weekly all-day work-together session on Fridays to close the week and answer any questions that came up in real-time. Despite individual conversations and an intervention which included the Executive for the impacted area, the behavior does not change.

I have come to realize that this is a management issue – lack of oversight, unwillingness to oversee the employee.  I am at a loss as to the next step. My boss, our division lead & the manager’s boss,  is informed.  The admin’s manager is not willing to manage the employee to the detriment of his teams and allows the incomplete work to spill over into the task lists of myself and the local Team Assistant. Staff members complain, but the feedback falls on deaf ears.

What is an admin to do besides pick up the additional workload to ensure the service across teams is consistent?

Okay, now that is a tough question! What is one to do when “all pistons aren’t firing” properly? The team is suffering because one isn’t pulling their weight and it sounds like the others are having to put extra effort into covering for this individual. Wow, very tough question!


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Ask an Admin will be a weekly post on our blog that presents a question that you or a fellow administrative professional submitted to us. We will choose one question per week and post it on our blog.

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7 thoughts on “Administrative Assistants Working in a Team – Ask an Admin”

  1. Dear All:

    Thanks for all your input and observations. I appreciate all of your advice.

    A few things not covered in my original query:
    – I did converse with the problem admin about her personal life. A new rocky relationship certainly contributed to her lack of focus. Generally, she puts all things (including the 2nd job) before the primary job.
    – While I do not have any supervisory role over this person, the responsible manager certainly treated the relationship as if I did, deferring always to having her ask me for direction at all times.
    – The other Team Assistant & I did have a pointed meeting with the underperforming Team Assistant and her boss after another instance where she dropped a ball for another meeting. The meeting resulted in the manager shopping around a narrative about the “mean girls” picking on the new girl, much to our dismay.
    – HR & upper management are aware of the situation & we have worked together on a list of Admin Tasks and backups for specifics tasks. Management just needs to publish it.

    In the meantime, I’ve on the “let it fail” strategy, which frankly, I don’t like. It’s negative and hurts the teams impacted. I guess that I will have to get comfortable with “putting the pain where it needs to be.”

  2. One thing has not been done. Talk to her about it. She feel it is ok to do this if it is not brought to her attention. As the Sr. it falls on you. This is why it has fallen on dead ears to upper management. They expect you to handle that area. Once it has been brought to her attention as a warning, then comes the paperwork of failure to do her duties if she doesn’t change her work ethics.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Alicia Sinclair

    Hi Elizabeth,

    This sounds like a tough and frustrating situation. Integrity is a virtue good admins hold dear and watching someone not keep their end of the bargain is like nails on a chalkboard. What you have that the other sole admin (in the other state location) does not, is an accountability partner. You have your other admin with you and that helps you both stay focused and accountable. When you are one admin with a passive manager, either your integrity kicks in or your laziness does. I would caution you to avoid picking up the slack too quickly, however. I’m a firm believer in allowing people to experience their own consequences even if that means the entire office suffers for a while. If you pick up the work, you have enabled the behavior. You’ve covered up the failure and made it even easier for this admin to hide. If you pick up the work, you take away the opportunity for their manager (and yours) to feel the pressure of complaints and frustrations of other office personnel. Then they will not have the chance to practice their managerial skills in holding her accountable. When you let people fail because of their own actions, you give them an opportunity to learn and grow. I also didn’t read that you have oversight of this person. If you do, then you have an obligation to hold them accountable in partnership with their direct manager. I’m curious if you have had an individual conversation with their manager. Sometimes people ‘manage up’ really well, so he/she may not notice there is a problem. Also, consider that they have their own system, partnership and agreements that work for them, including time off, flexibility of in/out times and work dispersement. Question your perception. You are seeing things from an entire state away. Sometimes when we are far away from a situation we don’t fully understand the up close dynamics. Give the benefit of the doubt, if you can. Good luck!

  4. That is a very tough question. You are not alone. This happens in more workplaces than you can imagine. The answer is not easy. Do you need your job, because if you say much, you may be the one that gets asked to leave. (It’s funny how that works.) The other option is to not do the cover up for that employee. Stop enabling them to not do their job. If things aren’t done, how will that impact the rest? Will the employer notice the “miss”. Enabling is not helping anyone. It stressful for the one covering up and doing the extra work. That employee does not learn to be accountable for their actions (or lack of action) in this case. It is detrimental to staff morale. I find it ironic that managers in that position don’t want to fulfill their duties to make sure their team is performing to potential. Good luck!

  5. I agree with Melissa’s comments. Document everything. Proof will go a long way with your argument to either talk to her or have another discussion with your manager that changes need to happen now. Bottom line is, its affecting your level of service to your local customers. And if they or you don’t do anything about it, the office will suffer.

    I can also appreciate the mention of asking her about her personal life. If you are up for having that discussion, it could prove beneficial. You can find out if there is something that you can help her decide on that would allow her to focus on her job. Sometimes taking a personal interest in someone can go a long way. However, if you try that and nothing comes from it, I say let the ball drop where it hurts. If you are constantly covering for her or doing her job, you need to let something impactful fall through the cracks to get their attention. But do it in a way that it’s all her. A situation that only she would be handling. You wouldn’t want to jeopardize your job in the process. This sounds like a very frustrating situation to be in. Hang in there!!

  6. Go to Human Resources. Let them know your concerns. If it still lands on ‘deaf ears’, you will need to decide how to proceed to take care of yourself. If you are going to overwhelmed, maybe your manager will help you.

  7. What is going on in her personal life? It sounds like it’s a personal issue, not a work issue.

    Although it may not be your role, you may have to have that uncomfortable conversation to “lay down the law” and discuss your concerns with her performance and how it’s affecting the rest of the admin team. You could also continue to raise the issue with your manager in the hopes he will get her manager to take action. Do you have an HR department that could help? The employee may need to be put on notice, either pick up your socks or leave.

    Document, document, document as much as you can of the troubles you are having with this person. Having to go through the hiring process again may be painful, but it may be necessary. You need to have documentation to back up the problems should the decision be made to let the employee go.

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