Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!
Last week, we talked about what it’s like to work in a fast food place or a chain restaurant. This week, we wrap up this series with what it’s like to be a secretary or an administrative assistant.
Back in the day, when I was in high school and college the first time around, in the summers I did temp work at various offices around Cleveland, Ohio, which is where I grew up. As part of my work-study financial aid package at Kent State University, I worked a few hours a week for one of my psychology professors, doing simple office tasks. Now, I’ve come full circle, and am once again a “secretary” at the insurance company where I work.
I’m an administrative assistant to a claims section manager who has responsibility over eight team managers, each of whom in turn have responsibility over six to eight claim specialists. They work first party fire claims. If you recall from the first post in this series, fire claims is our company’s umbrella name for claims that are not auto, life, or health. So the claim specialists I support handle damage to a policyholder’s home, condo, apartment, or business structure.
This wasn’t a job I sought out because I was dying to do it, although please don’t misunderstand me. I’m very grateful in this day and age to have a job with good pay and benefits at all. But I’ll be honest. It’s not work where I need to use my critical thinking skills.
Some might be saying but that’s great, Ravenna! You can go to work and chill! Not really. I spend my days doing typical office work. Typing, filing, answering phones, and generally being the go-to person for not only those I support, but everyone else who sits around me. Even though we work in a virtual environment and almost everything these days is electronic, I do have paper filing to do, but I also have electronic filing. Maintaining records, making sure information they need is available (i.e. not forgetting which folder-in-a-folder I put that email in), making them spreadsheets or pie charts, and all those fun Word and Excel types of things. We store stuff in a lot of different places, and my manager needs information to send up the chain of command at a moment’s notice.
I manage their time sheets and can approve absences in my boss’s place. When complaints come in, I’m the first person who sees them, and must set a calendar for reminder as well as forward them to the appropriate manager for review. When they compose letters in response, I’m the one who uploads them to the complaint, along with any documentation from the claim file needed for the response to the DOI – Department of Insurance. Remember I mentioned in that first post that we had to adhere to DOI standards? Well, policyholders make any complaints they have about the way their claim is being handled to that same entity, and our managers only have so many days to respond to each of those complaints.
Claims that have gone to suit take up a lot of my daily activities. Paper files must be maintained, and reminders of when updates are due need to be sent via email.
I also order supplies for our office, all the team managers, and all their claim specialists. Because they’re mobile workers, I can have most of the supplies shipped right to their homes. I also help them each maintain records of the equipment they have at home, such as printers and laptops, and put in requests for new equipment or updates related to those machines when needed.
I keep track of their training classes, and run reports when it’s getting close to the date they all have to have them completed.
Our managers each have daily, weekly, and quarterly activities they need to complete with respect to development of their employees, and I type all that up for them into the appropriate forms, and make sure those forms are uploaded into the correct database.
Occasionally, there are tasks they need me to take care of in the actual claim files. I was at an advantage coming into this role because I was already familiar with fire claims, and with our electronic claim system.
When we have new employees, or temp employees who come in as claims adjusters to help out during peak weather-related events, there is a lot of work to do to get them on board in a hurry. When someone leaves, there are no less than eight places their records must be updated, all electronically, to ensure the proper departments are notified of their leaving or transferring out of our section.
In addition to all my varied duties in my support role, I also share mail duties with the three other assistants in our particular building. We’re not a large enough operation center to have an actual mail room with a staff, so it falls to the four of us. And that’s been where the majority of the drama has occurred.
A certain culture develops in an office environment, just as it does in a restaurant, in an ICU, or on a team of claim specialists. The three other assistants with whom I work haven’t done any other kind of work, the way I have. This is all they know. Consequently, I find myself having to hold my tongue constantly at work when the topic of discussion, all day long, while we are each doing all the other things we have to do, becomes something along the lines of whether or not we should first be copying certified policies that go out to attorneys, or whether the claim specialists should take care of that piece, and then put the policy and corresponding letter in the outgoing mail slots.
Yeah. That’s my day. One would think it was a simple decision. It should be. It’s not. I don’t know why it’s not, but it should be.
Or, dealing with an outside employee (for example, an agent) that our security team sent back to me with a question I can’t even being to answer, simply because they didn’t know where to send her, and I’m right there on the same floor so I’m easy and accessible. Definitely not my job to support this person, or to help her, but to not do so would bring down backlash on my head that’s not worth it to incur. I did, however, speak with our security team afterward and offer an appropriate alternative to agents or agent staff who are visiting our office for the day. We have an agent vice president on the fourth floor, and he has a secretary up there. She would know how to help them, and would have the resources they need to answer their questions. I do not.
People play pass the buck in big companies like this, just as much as they do anywhere.
Then there are all the other people who sit on the same floor as I do, but who don’t work in the same department. They work in departments with team members who are scattered around the country, but when something happens to the printers and fax machines on the floor, I’m the one they come to. Or when they need supplies and haven’t a clue who is supposed to order them for their department (a thing they really should know!), they come to me.
When our administrative services department comes to our office to move someone to another floor, or to install a new piece of equipment, and they have a question about an empty cubicle on the floor where I work, they ask me. I would have no way of knowing any of this information, but I’m there, so they ask.
This is in addition to all the other daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly things I need to do for my boss and his teams. As you may have already guessed, that forty-five minutes a day I get for lunch doesn’t yield much writing. This is why I’m up at 4AM every day, and why I sit here all weekend, desperately trying to catch up on my word count. Not that I’m condoning sneaking in writing at work. Not at all. But it’s not something I’ll ever have to worry about getting “caught” doing in this job, because I literally do not stop all day. And a great many things I take care of during any given day have nothing to do with my actual support role.
It’s not difficult work. Not at all. For most of it, once I learn how to do it and where to go for help, it’s not even work I need to use my brain to accomplish. It’s time-consuming, especially when I’m trying to accomplish something unrelated to my actual role, but it’s also boring and repetitious. The things the others get up in arms about are so mind-numbingly petty that some days I just have to laugh. Either that or I’m fighting to stay awake during the discussion.
Until next week, Happy Writing!