In Defense of the Office Manager

Being an office manager is a tough job, folks. I know, I know, that sentence just made a substantial number of you roll your eyes so far into the back of your heads that you can see your brain. Trust me, I know. After 11 years of running the same office, I still deal with the constant questioning of what exactly it is that I do all day. I would like to clear up a few common misconceptions about the often-times most despised person in the office.

I like to think I am a pretty good manager. I do everything I can to support the people on my team, whether that means covering the front desk, making copies for a court filing, or grabbing them lunch if they are slammed. I rarely say no to them, unless the request is completely unreasonable or impossible. My partners don’t hand out raises very often (read: almost never), so I always approve vacation requests, cover for people if they need to leave early or take a long lunch, and basically do what I can to provide them with the benefits that aren’t monetary compensation. But managing and working with the staff is far from my only responsibility. I would LOVE to have that be the focus of my job. Unfortunately, it is a very small piece of an extremely large pie*. So let’s clear a few things up, shall we?

The Office Manager Works for Everyone. Every. Single. Person.

People get frustrated with me sometimes for not addressing their every need immediately. They get upset if something slips my mind. Even though I always ask people to “please send me an email,” they rarely do. I try to remember, I promise. Unfortunately, it is my responsibility to make sure every person in this office has every single thing they need to perform their job functions. If someone asks me for something in the kitchen, I can guarantee that four other people asked me for something different before I made it back to my office. If I have my phone or a notepad on me, I can keep track; if not, well, my brain can only hold so many things. I have to make sure everyone, from the receptionist to the most senior partner, is taken care of. Most people have a few people they assist; I assist 25. It’s hard to juggle. So please, bear with me. I are trying. When I forget, it isn’t because I don’t think your need is important or a deliberate slight. It means I can only do so many things at once. If it is important, please, take ten seconds and send the email.

I Am On Call 24 Hours a Day

I am very lucky that my firm pays for my cell phone. I am also totally fucked because that means I am expected to answer it whenever it rings. Now that we live in an age of emails on our phones, I am also expected to respond to those. I respond to emails first thing in the morning and before I go to bed at night. I have had attorneys call me on a Sunday to find them the nearest office supply store to their location when they were traveling. They called me from their iPhone. The iPhone that has a magical Internet application right there on it. The same iPhone that I used to search their location for the nearest office supply store. So not only do I work 24 hours a day, I answer stupid fucking questions for many of those hours.

You Would Not Believe the Things I Have Had to Do

I was a nanny for many years. I have often joked that being a live-in nanny was the best training I could have ever had for my current job, except here I don’t have to wipe anyone’s ass. While this is true, I have had to send multiple emails to the men in this office regarding their excessive use of toilet paper and moist wipes clogging up the toilets. Yes, I have had to do this more than once. More than three times. So while I may not have to wipe their butts, I do have to teach them how to do it properly. Please remember this the next time I forget to order the right pens.

I Am Always Looking Out For My Staff

I spent hours every year working on our medical plan renewal. Hours and hours of meetings, spreadsheets, research, and numbers to try to find the best plans at the best prices. I have done battle with my partners to keep the employees’ costs down. I have begged and pleaded to keep our current (incredibly generous) cost-sharing plan in place so the staff doesn’t have to pay more. This year, I actually managed to avoid a cost-increase altogether, which is virtually impossible in the current insurance market which is a total shit show. I often hope that someone will acknowledge the effort I put into this Herculean task, but the only thing that happens is constant complaints about how shitty their coverage is and how expensive their co-pays are. Even though their co-pays only went up $5 and their cost-share went down $200 a month, some see this as a net-negative. I don’t know how that math works in their heads, but however it does, it is always my fault.

Everything is Always My Fault

Everything that goes wrong in this office is my fault. It might not actually be, and 90% of the time it absolutely is not, but that is irrelevant. Everything is my fault. Even if its not, I will be blamed for it. For example, I tried to organize a company picnic this year. I sent out multiple emails to my partners regarding their available weekends from July-September. It so happened that there was not one weekend that the four of them were all available. I then sent out four separate emails that said, “There are no weekends you are all available. How would you like to proceed?” Why four, you ask? Because none of them, not one, responded to any of them. After four attempts, I gave up. In the last attorney meeting, I was asked why I had never gotten around to scheduling the company picnic by two of the people who had never responded to my email. I then slammed my head against the wall loudly and repeatedly in the hopes it would knock me fucking unconscious.

Regarding the Resume You Sent

This is a touchy subject, so I will be as diplomatic as possible. If you don’t receive a response to a resume, please don’t flip out on me. When I post a job ad, I receive between 250-400 resumes within 24 hours. I would love to respond to each person individually letting them know we filled the position, but it just isn’t going to happen. I am one person. I am in charge of maintaining an office of 25 people. I am in charge of HR and hiring, but also IT, library maintenance, benefits administration, marketing, website updates, covering phones, grocery shopping, taking my coworkers to the airport and doctor’s appointments, watching people’s kids when they bring them to work, making sure the phones work, building engineering issues, and on and on and on. Please understand that it isn’t because I am a thoughtless bitch who can’t be bothered to simply let someone know if a position has been filled. It is because it is not possible for me to add “respond to a grand total of 547 resumes” to my list of tasks.

The mark of a good office manager is that people don’t know what they do all day. That means that all the things it takes to make the office run smoothly are being taken care of by someone other than you. If the lights are still on and your key card lets you into the building every morning, rest assured it is because your office manager is on top of things. If there is coffee and tea for your consumption and soda in the fridge, it is because the office manager realizes the value of keeping their employees sufficiently caffeinated.  If you go to the dentist and your insurance is all properly in place, it is because your office manager worked really hard to make sure you had good coverage. 

So yes, I may be feeling a bit unappreciated and shit on lately. So maybe, just maybe, hug your office manager today. Actually, don’t do that. Sexual harassment lawsuits are nobody’s friend. Try a metaphorical hug instead. I promise it will mean the world to them.


*mmmmmm… pie… somebody please bring me a pie…

4 replies on “In Defense of the Office Manager”

As you know I recently moved. My job was at a small firm where I functioned as the office manager, the executive assistant, a project manager, IT, and general all around fixer. I’ve continued to work remotely after the move, but in a much diminished capacity. I spent a lot of time before I left trying to get people up to date on how to handle things, creating extensive spreadsheets with passwords and log ins, and ‘you’ll need this information’.

All of which amounted to nothing. After 8 years, they were awfully used to me handling all the nitty gritty details. Last week, someone IM’ed me asking where a particular object was in the office — how am I supposed to answer that? I live across the world!

Office managers are totally under appreciated.

I cannot believe they IMed you for that! No, I can totally believe it, because no matter how many incredibly detailed instructions you give people, they refuse to do things themselves if they think you might be able to do it without them expending any effort. ARGH!! And even after all these years of Internet sole-mating, Slay, even more things come up that show we live parallel lives- minus the move across the world. I miss you, Slay!

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