Will we see the rise of The Secretary again?

Will we see the rise of The Secretary again?

The “Stop the World” opinion piece in the last edition of the magazine attracted a lot of comment with most suggesting that life will only get faster so we might as well prepare for even more daily e-communication. Although another wrote in and questioned whether we may see the return of secretaries for the busy executive? Was professional life, it was asked, going full cycle?

The issue of mental burn out has long been a discussion point dating back to before the rise of emails. Interestingly, even back in 2003 – which were still early days – it was felt that the lifespan of a Managing Director was only five years and the lifespan of a Chief Executive Officer of a FTSE 500 company was 28 months.

Given that everyone today is much more accessible and handling far more e-communication, it is fair to expect these figures to be worse but to the contrary, they have improved. The average life span of an MD has increased to around 7 years and CEOs to 36 months – even despite the financial crisis.

It’s hard to understand bar the fact that maybe decision making, although more pressurised, is easier to be accurate with as all have more information with which to make informed decisions. We all are working harder but maybe more accurately too? But maybe less on gut feel?

Research has noted that executives have 45 per cent less time to make a decision than ten years ago but somehow, executives are adapting to this reality. Is it sustainable?

We live in a more accessible world

However there is less doubt that although everyone is more accessible than ever before, the amount of emails that every executive receives means that every day is full on and there is very little time for reflection. They have bucked the expected trend of burn out by meeting the challenge of the increased e-communication with seemingly better results.

But logic still dictates that something will have to give? Does there need to be a human shield, a gatekeeper for the ambush of sales emails?

In fairness the last six to seven years have been a fight to survive and many have needed to adapt to new environments. The funds needed for a full time sectorial position were non-existent in many companies. Now as things begin to settle and companies start to plan again, executives will need to have time in their busy day to reflect and consider strategy. It is therefore logical that we do begin to see the rise of the secretary once again.

Back in the 80s, pools of secretaries were very common. Even middle management had a secretary but it was a different era – one of the personally typed letter and strong personal relationships.

Rise of technology

With the rise of the laptop and the mobile phone, middle management worked at hot desks or in the field with mobile technology. Communication was more immediate and direct and in a recession this was logical. However there is a limit to the level of e-communication anyone can handle effectively and arguably we are past that limit. The average executive can only mentally take on board the details of 30-35 emails per day and yet receives close to 200. This has doubled in the last decade. If the trend continues then executives will stop being as accurate and begin to sink in the mass of information surrounding them. It is natural that we will see the rise of extra support for management.

The last six years have already taught us the limitations of the virtual world in terms of developing strong networks and relationships. There is good reason why the execs from the 80s and 90s are still strong today – and have lasted longer in senior positions than any generation previously.

We are now starting to see the move back towards working relationships and it is natural that the work cycle will continue with re-employment of secretaries for more than just senior execs. Life does seem to go full circle.

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