Well-kept secrets about the old-school "Secretaries Day"

Posted on 17.04.2018
The old-school "Secretaries Day" is that day of year upon which traditionally secretaries, administrative assistants, receptionists and other administrative support professionals are showered with cards, flowers, chocolates and lunches as a way of recognizing their contribution to the workplace. In Flemish, there is a widely used expression: "to put someone in the middle of the flower bed". And when it comes to "Secretaries Day", this expression can be taken quite literally, since flowers are still the number one gift on this third Thursday of April. At the same time, however, recent research has shown that fewer and fewer employers are making the effort to celebrate this day, and that is a pity!

"Secretaries Day" was brought into existence in the United States in 1952. By 1989, the concept had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and set foot in Europe, where it became a tradition too. In the course of the decades, however, "Secretaries Day" has undergone quite a transformation: these days, we tend to refer to it as "Administrative Professionals' Day", a term used to encompass the expanding responsibilities and wide-ranging job titles of administrative support staff in the modern economy.

In many an organisation, administrative professionals are key figures. Considering the fact that they are often the ones making first contact with potential clients and customers, they tend to be any organisation's "representatives". Furthermore, a 2015 study conducted by Robert Half highlighted the rapidly changing role of our contemporary management assistants, who are being given more and more responsibilities and projects to handle.  They are expected to display substantial levels of flexibility, and a good sense of initiative and independence - all of them strengths that are in the top 3 of most important "soft skills" looked for in any administrative support professional. In a nutshell, the days that so-called "secretaries" were above all expected and required to touch type, be fluent in several languages and master MS Office to a tee are long gone.

Nevertheless, in spite of this substantially re-written job description, those who consider celebrating "Secretaries Day" discriminative and sexist, are still plentiful. On the discriminative note, their reasoning is that it is outdated to attribute such amounts of attention to what is, in essence, merely one of the many important functions within an organisation. Appreciation for a job well done is important, but the same applies to any other job well done within that same company. Doesn't every organization equally run on the efforts delivered by hardworking accountants, janitors, sales people or even its CEO? And on the sexist note: what about our male administrative professionals? Shouldn't we equally be celebrating them?

I, personally, can see where these critics are coming from. It is a little like Valentine's Day: if you only celebrate your love for someone on the 14th of February, you're in trouble… big trouble!  True appreciation deserves - and needs - to be expressed all year round, and one single token of appreciation on Administrative Professionals' Day is not in the slightest going to make up for a lack of recognition the other 364 days of the year. Which is not to say, obviously, that that one single token of appreciation on that one special day isn't an indispensable link in a long and strong chain of necessary and sincere moments of appreciation throughout the year, because it most definitely is: let's not underestimate the effects of the role played by the media here! "Secretaries Day" is a hot topic and this is bound to create at least some expectations amongst your administrative staff. Secretly, many assistants will hope to be treated to that lunch, that special card, those flowers or chocolates or any other token of appreciation. So our advice is to not cast Administrative Professionals' Day aside. Instead, see it as an additional and special opportunity to express your appreciation that vital little extra - with the emphasis on extra, because as said before: one moment of appreciation a year is not going to do the trick!

Still need convincing?

Well, let us then challenge you to try a completely different approach by going back to the roots of the old-school "Secretaries Day". The original idea behind the introduction of this day was to take a moment to reflect on the added value secretaries bring to the table when it comes to the running of an organization, to thank them for that and to boost the public image of the job.

So, from this point of view, why don't you just drop the whole idea of that yearly bunch of flowers and, instead, take the time to write your administrative assistant(s) a little note, telling them how and why they matter so much to you and your organization as a whole.

We bet you this will leave a lasting impression - one that won't whither the way a bunch of flowers does!

In need of inspiration? No worries! We are happy to share with you some of our inspirational messages that are bound to help you on your way.

"Every day, you do your utmost. With your smile and your professionalism, you are always there to assist not only our customers but also our colleagues. Your engagement and enthusiasm are contagious. To us, your presence is invaluable. Thank you for being who you are!"

"Thank you for always thinking along and for taking such good care of us all, for your engagement and for your inner strength. You are a truly valued fixture in our organization and an indispensable link when it comes to our success. For all of those things, we are forever grateful!"

"Thank you for your engagement, for your flexibility, for your unstoppable enthusiasm - day in, day out. Today is YOUR day! Enjoy it to the fullest."

"You are our Queen / King of the Office, our tower of strength - exquisite all the way! And even though these words might sound a little cliché, this is nevertheless truly the way we feel about you. So thanks a million for everything you do for us!"

"You are our anchor. You always see the silver lining and your can-do attitude is a source of inspiration to many of us. We are very happy and proud to have you on our team. Thank you for being who you are and for doing exactly what you do - day in, day out."

Or maybe, last but not least, the following fun fact might be a useful one to bear in mind this coming Thursday: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "secretary" has its roots in the Latin word "secretum", "secret" - thus originally referring to "a person entrusted with a secret".

In other words, this profession we celebrate on Administrative Professionals' Day has been associated with trust and discretion since the earliest of times... surely enough, that in itself deserves some special attention, no?

Leen Joos