Approaching the Millennium
The State of the Boss/Assistant Union

Paul A. Douglas Ph.D.

There are 5,000,000 secretaries and administrative assistants in the US labor force and more than 6 million individuals in the role of assistant on this continent. According to the US Federal Bureau of Statistics there will be an increase of 45% in the number of clerical jobs in the United States within the next 10 years. In Canada this translates into 30,000 new positions each year for the next 10 years. Secretary/administrative assistant is the largest, single occupational category for women. Yet with so much discussion today about empowerment, creative challenges for women and team building, there has been very little research done into the changing role of assistant, a persuasive and important role in our society.

It has been our intent over the last several years, through our research and our conversations with thousands of secretaries and assistants from large and small organizations, in the public as well as the private sector to fill this research gap. In this regard, we are pleased to publish the result of our 1999 survey identifying changes in attitudes, as well as trends and challenges faced by today's secretaries and administrative assistants. This survey was conducted throughout the United States and Canada in the spring of 1999. In total 2100 people responded to the survey. The questionnaire was composed of 30 core questions as well as a series of demographic questions. In addition to the core and demographic questions, each participant also completed a 80 question Behavioral Styles Profile (A Myer-Briggs type indicator). 

While it is not possible to provide a detailed discussion or analysis of each cross correlation here, it should be noted that some of the more interesting and significant correlation's related to the differences in perceptions and attitudes held by secretaries and administrative assistants falling into the various behavioral styles.


  • Stress levels for individuals acting in the role of assistant are on the increase.
  • The most often reported factor contributing to that stress was responsibility without authority. Fully one third of all respondents and 40% 0f those earning over $ 40,000.00 / yr., identified this as a major problem.
  • While job satisfaction levels remained basically unchanged since last year, the job satisfaction of assistants earning over $ 45,000.00 /yr. went down.
  • The gap between job satisfaction levels in the public and the private sectors widened.
  • Over 80% of respondents said secretaries and administrative assistants were being given increased responsibilities.
  • The vast majority of secretaries still say they would rather work for a man than a woman. 
  • Interruptions and the procrastinating bosses remain the two top time wasters for administrative assistants.
  • Technological innovations continue to impact of the role of, assistant to with the percentage of managers doing correspondence on their own computers increasing from 63% to 68%.
  • Generally administrative assistants feel more respected than they have in the past.


Question 1 My job title is:

a) Secretary 17%
b) Administrative Assistant 34%
c) Personal Assistant 8%
d) Executive Assistant        29%
e) Other   12%

Question 2 Years of work experience

Average  9.2

Question 3 Age?

Average   40.38
Range  18 67

Question 4 Sex?

Female      93%
Male           7%

Question 5 I am employed by a:

a) Large Corporation  22%
b) Small Company  14%
c) Government   36%
d) University, Education 13%
e) Hospital, Health Care 7%
f) Military   4%
g) Non-Profit Organization 3%
h) Other   1%

Question 6 I live in the following state or province:

Question 7 My salary to the nearest thousand dollars is:

Average $ 36,500
Range  $ 19,000 132,000
Mode  $ 42,000

Question 8 My highest educational attainment is:

a) High school     23%
b) Some college    46%
c) 2 Year college    17%
d) Bachelors degree    12%
e) Post graduate degree   2%

Question 9 My primary boss is:

a) Male 69%
b) Female 31%

Question 10 I have worked for him/her for ______ years.

Average 4.3 years

Question 11 How many people do you supervise?

Average 2.93*
* When compared to job title as indicated in question 1, the following distribution was found:
a) Secretary 1.3
b) Administrative Assistant 3.2
c) Personal Assistant 1.1
d) Executive Assistant 3.4
e) Other 3.9

The Core Questions

Question 12 I find my job satisfying and rewarding.

a) Strongly agree    34%
b) Agree     56%
c) Disagree     9%
d) Strongly disagree      1%
Question 13 As compared to last year I find my job:
a) More satisfying and rewarding 48%
b) Less satisfying and rewarding 16%
c) About the same   36%
Question 14 Secretaries and assistants are more respected today than they were five years ago.
a) Strongly agree    19%
b) Agree     60%
c) Disagree     20%
d) Strongly disagree      1%
Question 15 Secretaries and assistants should put their own advancement and welfare ahead of their boss's.
a) Strongly agree    9%
b) Agree     35%
c) Disagree     50%
d) Strongly disagree      6%
Question 16 Secretaries/assistants should sacrifice their own job satisfaction, if necessary, to help their boss succeed.
a) Strongly agree      3%
b) Agree     13%
c) Disagree     67%
d) Strongly disagree    13%
Question 17 I would rather work for a man than a woman.
a) Strongly agree    22%
b) Agree     55%
c) Disagree     17%
d) Strongly disagree      6%
Question 18 My primary boss is very satisfied with me and my performance.
a) Strongly agree    61%
b) Agree     36%
c) Disagree       2%
d) Strongly disagree      1%
Question 19 I would encourage young people to pursue a career as a secretary or administrative assistant.
a) Yes    59%
b) No     41%
Question 20 I would rate the relationship I have with my primary boss as:
a) Excellent     62%
b) Good     31%
c) Fair       6%
d) Poor       1%
Question 21 I would rate the relationship I have with my co-workers as:
a) Excellent     49%
b) Good     46%
c) Fair       4%
d) Poor       1%
Question 22 I have been sexually harassed in the workplace.
a) Yes  23%
b) No  77%
Question 23 From your experience, what do you see as the most stress producing aspects of the role of assistant?
a) Responsibility without authority 31%
b) Difficulty saying no  16%
c) Problems with boss    3%
d) Conflicts with co-workers  16%
e) Time pressures   19%
f) Lack of job security    1%
g) Lack of advancement  9%
Question 24 My greatest organizational or time management problem is:
a) My failure to plan properly   7%
b) My boss's procrastination  16%
c) My inability to say no  14%
d) Interruptions   33%
e) The telephone     6%
f) Meetings      4%
g) Failure to delegate     4%
h) Multiple boss conflicts    10%
Question 25 My second greatest time management problem is:
a) My failure to plan properly   8%
b) My boss's procrastination    6%
c) My inability to say no  15%
d) Interruptions   26%
e) The telephone   19%
f) Meetings      7%
g) Failure to delegate   14%
h) Multiple boss conflicts    5%
Question 26 I would say my primary boss is:
a) An excellent time manager  20%
b) A good time manager  38%
c) A fair time manager  26%
d) A poor time manager  16%
Question 27 My primary boss creates letters or correspondence on his/her own computer:
a) Often  45%
b) Occasionally 21%
c) Seldom  2%
d) Never  22%
Question 28 What percentage of your time is spent typing or word processing?
Average 40.72

Question 29 I act as secretary/assistant to _______ managers.

Average 3.48
Question 30 Generally, do you believe secretaries/assistants are being given more management responsibilities today?
a) Yes  87%
b) No  13%
Past Articles
Establishing Trust & Rapport
Procrastination - Overcoming Inertia

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