You may be in a role where you are given a personal assistant, or an office assistant providing you with that administrative support. Or even if you don’t, you may have had the need to seek help with your office admin staff. Regardless of where you are placed in the office, you will encounter them, whether they are your executive’s assistant, the front desk staff of receptionist, or your team secretary.Here are some things you might need to know about them, in order for you to be able to engage with them properly and in the most effective way.

Recognise the nature of their work load. They are not sitting there waiting for work to do. In most cases, they are inundated with tasks, lists and competing priorities. When you are not their direct manager, you will not expect to be attended to straight away. In this case, if you require their help, ensure you allow plenty of time for them to complete the job for you, and enough time to get back to you if you are after feedback or some extra help. Sometimes they operate on a “queue” system where they get to do tasks on their in-tray on a first come first served basis. So expect not to be hear from them if your task request is at the bottom of the queue for the day.

Be nice to them. Admin people are known to be naturally helpful, they are people-persons and very accommodating. But this does not mean you are to abuse their kindness by getting them to do everything for you. And you have certain requests, as a matter of courtesy, you need to tell them in a professional manner. They are not slaves who respond to barking orders, or bullying. It is best to be nice to them, as you are asking for a favour. And when they in turn ask you to do a favour, be willing to help if required. Be courteous as well. This is not to bribe them or anything, but from time to time it would be good to show your gesture of appreciation by treating them to that occasional coffee shout, sending them a thank you note, a small gift, by engaging them in good conversations, or anything that would build rapport rather than create animosity. Sometimes even if they do not expect it, a gift or a bunch of flowers can brighten them up, if they were also to help you secure a major deal, project or helped you complete a very difficult task.

Be aware of their skills and talents. It is not good to push your admin support into doing something they know little about or nothing at all. Not only this will cause you and the admin person undue stress, this could also strain your working relationship. Most often they like to highlight things they can do, and pride themselves with their accomplishments. Ensure you are able to delegate the right work according to what the admin staff can do, and minimise if not give to someone else tasks that they cannot perform. I certainly know this and have experienced being thrown in tricky situations just because people insisted that I do things on the fly or just because there is no one else to do this. While some admin support staff can learn on the go, there are certain things that are not simply that easy to pick up on if technical knowledge or expertise is required.

Admin staff are gems in the workplace. Treat your admin staff with respect, and acknowledge them as your gems in the workplace. Verbal praises are appreciated, as well as some material rewards. But do not do this for lip service alone. These are real people after all who bear the brunt of the challenges or stresses at work. They are loyal and should be treated exactly how you expect to be treated at work. When you face a difficult employee due to competing interests or other issues, address it directly with the admin staff concerned. Be their ally and they will certainly be yours as well.