Wednesday, April 21, is on many calendars as Assistants Day. Once again, the Wednesday in the last full week of April rears its ugly head. This is a holiday I would like to see stamped out. I see it as less an opportunity to celebrate and more as a trap to make sure someone feels slighted.
It used to be Secretaries Day. Then it became National Administrative Assistants Day. And now, apparently, it has been shortened to Assistants Day.
Have I mentioned yet that I hate this “holiday” (and I use the scare quotes around the word very deliberately).
First, let me state that while I have never been a secretary or an administrative assistant, I appreciate and honor those who have held those positions. My hatred of the holiday that supposedly honors those in the positions is that it is rarely obvious who holds those positions, except for the people in them. Not even the bosses know what those titles mean to the people who hold them.
My first awareness of this day goes back to my days as a software engineer, back when it was referred to as Secretaries Day. On that day, I went to lunch with several other software engineer friends. We were a mixed group of men and women, as most groups of software engineers were in those days. As we entered the restaurant, a member of the staff handed each of the women a rose. When I asked what it was for, he said it was for Secretaries Day. I tried to give the rose back since I wasn’t a secretary, but he stared at me blankly and didn’t take it. It wasn’t that I felt insulted by the assumption that I was a secretary. I felt uncomfortable for the man who had apparently been told that any woman who entered the restaurant must be a secretary.
A few years later, when the holiday was still referred to as Secretaries Day, I worked in a government office, no longer as an engineer, but still not a secretary or admin assistant. Our office suite had offices with windows and doors along one wall. Desks without windows or doors lined the front of the bank of offices. Some of those desks were for secretaries. Some were for junior-level staff members for whom no office was available. On Secretaries Day, someone decided that each person whose desk was in the row in front of the offices should receive a plant for Secretaries Day. At least one of the junior-level staff members in this case was insulted that the position of his desk conveyed a status he hadn’t considered appropriate. In this case, it was clear he was insulted.
Another time, each secretary in an office suite received something unique, selected by the executives they each reported to. I watched one of those women cut the flowers of her bouquet from the stems because her bouquet was smaller than that another woman received.
A few years later, once the holiday was rebranded as National Administrative Assistants Day, a male secretary in a different office resented the fact that, while the women in admin positions in the office received flowers and cards, he did not.
Today I saw balloons and bouquets on sale in the grocery store for Assistants Day. What does that mean? Whose job title is simply Assistant?
Come on. Why would anyone come up with a holiday that is rife with risk of leaving a coworker feeling insulted or underappreciated? What must we do to stamp out this hideous “tradition?”