Last post was about my money – or lack thereof, thanks to the awful 2010 healthcare law. Now I’d like to talk about the employer’s money, and its effect on mine.

When we merged with a company based in Raleigh NC in 2012, a whole bunch of people were relocated from the Raleigh corporate HQ to ours. As my group’s administrative assistant, I was responsible for most of the leg work to get the new folks situated – getting them space assignments, filling out the 47,000 forms to get them all the equipment they needed, etc. Like any bureaucratic process, it had its ups and downs. There was one aspect that took me by surprise: almost every person I helped relocate requested a new chair. Apparently the company we acquired had invested heavily in updating standard workstation equipment, and when people moved to Charlotte and had to sit in the standard chair, they couldn’t make the adjustment. At first, I thought they were just being divas, but when the replacement chairs began arriving – and the new folks kept saying the new one was standard in their old office in Raleigh – I began to see their point. The new ones were much more ergonomic, and didn’t fail like the ancient ones that were standard in the Charlotte offices. I have to admit, these are extremely old chairs we’re sitting on.

For the last 2-3 years, I have developed some lower back pain. Recently, my ancient desk chair finally broke, so I put in a request for a new one – an ergonomic one if possible. Problem – these things cost $5,000! Boss Man says this cannot be approved without medical proof of its necessity. I’m not buying that. One of the relocated guys I got a new chair for got an ergonomic assessment done, and his entire cube was torn down and rebuilt. But I can’t get a chair without a doctor’s note. What’s the difference? Paul is an engineer, and I’m an admin.

I should have expected this. The policies of this company make it clear that if your title, job description, or degree has the word “manager’ or “engineer” in it, you are the valued employee. You can buy anything you want, including going to any professional conference you want, with the corporate credit card. For example, take the annual Summit conference with the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). I’m not only not allowed to use the corporate card to pay for it, but I have to use vacation time to go. The conference, when you add up registration, hotel, flight and food, is going to be about $2,600, give or take a hundred, depending on how well I eat. One of the recently-hired managers I support is going to a conference in Vegas soon. She gets to use the corporate card, does not have to take vacation, and the registration cost is $2,500. That’s just the registration, not including a flight, hotel or meal.

And what of certification? The vast majority of people in engineering positions in my companies are licensed Professional Engineers (PEs), and a lot of people in project management roles are Project Management Professionals (PMPs). Just about every professional certification has some element of continuing education requirement so that the holder keeps current on that profession. Guess what? Admins have one too. IAAP offers the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP). Beyond that, a CAP holder can get additional specialties added – Organizational Management (OM) and Technical Assistant (TA). I have the OM, so within the profession, I am James Edgar, CAP-OM. This certification also has a continuing education requirement – 60 hours every 5 years. I will get at least 15 hours’ worth at this year’s IAAP Summit. So that should bolster my case to get company assistance to go, right? Nope. You see, my company doesn’t believe the CAP is really a thing. Go to your employee HR profile, and there is a section where you can add professional certifications from a drop-down list. There are a zillion choices there. Did you know there was such a thing as a Certified Professional Water Drinking Tester? Me either. But it’s on the list. My certification is not.

The messages are very loud and very clear. Admins are less valuable than employees in other positions.

I know this is not unique to my company. I’d bet that at accounting firms, they treat CPAs and admins with equal disparity. I’m sure the big banks love their CPAs and finance & economics degree holders a lot more than their admins. I’m sure the gulf between the engineers and admins is present at all electric utilities, not just mine. So to simply say I’m going to find another place to work isn’t likely to change that situation much. Admins are a universally underappreciated lot.

There’s one thing that can be really vexing about this profession. It’s enjoyable work, and it’s satisfying to help a team achieve great results. But it’s a lot like being an offensive lineman on a football team – you’re down in the trenches, doing the dirty work and little things while others get the recognition, the only time your name is called is when you do something wrong, and the higher-ups – the team general manager, owner, scouting lead, etc. are rarely people who have played those positions, don’t know what they go through every day, and hold little appreciation for how terrible the team would be if they weren’t there. This is what makes the IAAP conferences so special. From my perspective, admins are much more locked in to others in their profession and the struggles it entails than those in other professions. Go to an IAAP Summit conference and you will see people who have only met through email giving each other bear hugs. There is a camaraderie that you won’t see anywhere else. There is a hunger to get better and elevate the profession that’s hard to find. And that’s why I will never miss one, no matter how hard my company makes it for me to get there.