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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem


Dear Sue: I am in a quandary over the value placed on secretaries and support staff. There are many executives who treat support staff like family and value their input, ideas and suggestions.  However, my concern is with executives who continually treat support staff as second-class citizens. 

After a lack of communication created a problem, I had a run in with two of the people I support. After it was all over, one ended up making an apology and admitting he was wrong. We talked it through and have since had a very pleasant working relationship.

The other person became irate and threatened my job as a result. He tried to force me to work overtime without pay, miss my ride home and incur an expensive cab fare in order to correct the problem. I refused and became very upset. We exchanged words and I ended up being reprimanded, but he was not. What really bothered me was the fact that when he was questioned about what happened, he denied everything and everyone believed him. 

Within this company, it has been a common practice to allow middle-to-upper management speak to and interact with support staff anyway they see fit. In addition, I was promised a large bonus for some additional work I did. I came in early, skipped lunch and stayed late on many occasions to finish this project. I never received so much as a thank you, let alone the bonus. This is not only demoralizing, but will make me think twice before offering to help out in the future.

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with companies that place little value on support staff? Ironically, some of these executives can barely turn the computer on so I know my services are needed. - Unappreciated Executive Assistant

Sue Says: First determine if it is the company that places little value on administrative staff or if it is certain individuals. As you have seen, individuals vary in the way they treat people. However a company should have expectations and standards that need to be observed and enforced.

I am sorry you've had such a negative experience. It is disheartening that so many people treat others so poorly. Especially in a support role -- you are there to support this person, yet so little support is shown to you in return.

You can try to make a difference by refusing to accept unacceptable behavior. Continue to speak up and establish your boundaries. I am hoping that your letter will prompt others to respond with their experiences and reaction to your letter and when they do I will print the responses in a future column.

Dear Sue: A woman I work with went out of her way recently to help me with a very important, but tedious project.  She put more time and energy into this project than she needed to, and went above and beyond any expectations I had of her. Therefore I am very grateful to her for all of her help. 

I want to let her know how much I appreciate all that she did, but want to make sure I do it in an appropriate manner. Because we work closely together, are close in age and of the opposite sex, I am concerned about sending the wrong message. What would be an appropriate way for me to let her know I acknowledge the extra work she has done and really appreciate her efforts? 

- Grateful

Sue Says: I am not sure how far you want to go in showing your appreciation, but if you feel compelled to treat her to something, don't feel as though you need to be a part of it. For example, you might feel inclined to take her out for a nice lunch or dinner as a way of saying thank you.  But since she has already spent plenty of time helping you and time away from her own network of friends and family, why not provide her with a gift to share with them? A gift certificate to her favorite restaurant is one idea.

There are a number of other gifts you could give -- but many do have the potential to be misconstrued. A gift certificate to a restaurant is very safe. So is a note of appreciation or some type of plaque or award. I applaud you for your sensitivity, and am certain your efforts will be appreciated.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
For more Ask Sue articles, click here.

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