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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have had a new secretary for the last three months. Note that I have no say in hiring. HR hires, and then assigns secretaries--they usually work for three people.

I am not a demanding person, and I never get angry. I seriously ask her to do about 1-3 hours of work per day. She works for 2 other attorneys who are likewise very undemanding. She spends the bulk of her day on the phone with her adult children or reading novels at her desk.

She is a nice person, and I like her, but she is incredibly lazy. She makes zero effort to figure out anything--and I mean easy stuff, like labeling folders in a binder. I hate to ask her to do anything, because she is slow and inaccurate. There are other problems, and I am not the only one who has noticed. However, the other attorney is very young and as wimpy as me when it comes to talking to the secretary.

I have an occasionally tyrannical boss. I know what it feels like to be yelled at and criticized, and I hate it. I would hate to make any other person feel harassed or nervous around me.

In addition, the secretary is 62 years old a moved to the city recently after her husband died. She lives alone with her dog and has a shoulder injury. I know she just wants to make it through the next three years and retire. I also know that the job market it terrible right now. I do NOT want to make this woman's life difficult.

I need suggestions on how to deal with this situation. I don't like being a boss at all. I feel super uncomfortable telling a woman so much older than me what to do, or that she needs to do a better job--I feel disrespectful.

Does anyone have any suggestions? How do I stop being a wimp, and how do you criticize people who work for you without making them feel uncomfortable around you forever after?

Just so you know, I am an attorney, but I am NOT a confrontational person. I am not a litigator or any kind of lawyer who sues, and I never, ever go to court.
 

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What is HR's policy on dealing with issues with your assistant? Can you raise it with them and they talk to her?

If you need to talk to her yourself, try something like "I wanted to touch bases with you now that we've passed the three-month mark. First, how have you found things so far? I think [think of something] has been going well. However, I do have a few concerns, and I'd like to let you know about them so you have the opportunity to address them." Then list them, using a nice voice, and present it as a problem-solving thing. What can she do to get up to speed on how file labels are done? Emphasize that they're important to your practice because they enable you to quickly find what you're looking for, and so on.

It sounds frankly like she isn't a good fit, so I'd be addressing it with HR. Even if they assign you an assistant, surely they can move around one that isn't working. Or she may just quit when the problems are brought up, or ask to work for someone else - I've seen that happen with friends' assistants!
 

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I'm a legal administrative assistant (legal secretary) so I'm quite horrified that this is the level of "service" you have to tolerate. I agree with mammastar2 that you need to call her in for a chat and just politely provide her with a list of things she is expected to do and the list of things she is NOT to do. Reading novels at your desk when you should be working should be #1.

It is not your job to worry about her health and well being other than being a respectful boss. If she doesn't change her work habits within a month of your clarifying your expectations/needs, contact HR and have them address it.

Good luck!
 

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I identified with so much your post! I have been in similar situations.

I would provide her with a written list of tasks that need to be accomplished that day and another longer term list. The daily work is, well, to be completed that day.

The long term list should be worked at instead of novel reading, fill in work for when she has nothing to do. (OMG, I thought I heard/seen it all but reading at one's desk is a new one.)

When something isn't completed on time, I would ask "is there something preventing you from completing task X?" spun in a (respectful) way that causes her to evaluate and verbally express just why she isn't completing her tasks. Calling her out, for lack of a better term, may motivate her to work at an acceptable level.
 

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Depending on the nature of her shoulder injury, there may be some sort of accommodation she could be offered that would help her do her job. For example maybe she isn't filing because it hurts, but moving the cabinet elsewhere or getting a cabinet that is a different height would make it easier. A different kind of keyboard (Dvorak? QWERTY but more ergonomically shaped?) might make it easier to type. Usually it is up to the worker to request ADA-type accommodations, but I've noticed (anecdotally) that older workers, especially, are reluctant to request them because they "don't want to make trouble" and/ or are reluctant to believe that they are no longer young and able-bodied, and/ or are unaware of what they are entitled to. Whereas those of us who have been disabled from a young age know what we can get and how to get it. Of course the problem is that without accommodations, a disabled worker is going to do a crappy job.

So the point is that her health is your problem, but not in the sense that you should just let her lack of work go. It is your problem in that it might help if you meet with HR (usually HR would be the department to deal with it) to talk about what accommodations might be helpful to someone with a shoulder injury, and then get her those accommodations.

Obviously you have to do this in a non-discriminatory fashion, blah blah. HR SHOULD be able to handle it though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for everyone's suggestions. I think I will talk to the office manager and see what we can do.

Just FYI--she reads when she literally has nothing to do. I don't really care. I just wish she could take some initiative when I DO give her work.
 

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lolar2 conveyed what I was trying to put into words (poorly at that) - sort of "what can I do to help you be more comfortable/effective/productive?"
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Caneel View Post
lolar2 conveyed what I was trying to put into words (poorly at that) - sort of "what can I do to help you be more comfortable/effective/productive?"
I specifically thought of going to HR first because it doesn't sound as though this woman is very well aware of what accommodations might be available in the modern workplace.
 

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Can I come work for you? I have a lot of reading to catch up on LOL.

Seriously, I'd talk to the office manager, to her, and the HR if necessary. I understand not wanting to make this woman's life difficult, but she is making YOUR life difficult, and there are surely many, many, many people who would gratefully take that job and be genuinely helpful to you and your co-workers.
 

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It also occurs to me, it's possible that she already has gone to HR (or someone) about accommodations for her shoulder, and someone dropped the ball. You wouldn't necessarily have heard about it if that happened. So you might be doing her a favor if you address it.
 
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