Dear Margo: Keep Reminding Yourself: You’re the Boss

My staff at work are behaving like children and treating me like their care-taker. Margo Howard’s advice

Keep Reminding Yourself: You’re the Boss

Dear Margo: I’m in a big mess. Last year I started a new job that was a huge step up for me. It has provided enough stability to allow my husband to go back to school. But now, almost a year in, the job has become very stressful. (I am a student adviser at a college.)

The administrative staff (the politically correct term for “secretaries”) decided they don’t like me, and they are very often nasty. They get aggressive with me if I say I am too busy for a student walk-in, even though we don’t normally take walk-ins. They make things up about me to tell the boss, such as my not returning phone calls or emailing students back. One of the admins, as we call them, is now giving me the silent treatment. Some of my students have even complained about their treatment by my staff.

When I tried to talk to my boss about this, he said only vague things about “finding balance” and “getting along.” This is very hard for me, but it’s also bad for our office. I need to make this job work until my husband is done with school two years from now. Can you help me figure out how to handle it? — Distressed in Denver

Dear Dis: You really must take up this matter with your boss — again. I would suggest documentation, even if you have to reconstruct various episodes. Tell him that “finding balance” and “getting along” is advice he needs to give the admins. When you, as the boss, and students, who are the “clients,” think there is something wrong with your staff, there is something wrong with your staff.

As a prelude, however, to returning to the airy-fairy Zen master who is the boss, have a sit-down with the admins and tell them things have reached a critical mass, with both you and the students finding them unhelpful. Ask what the real problem is. (Perhaps they were attached to your predecessor, or maybe they walked all over her, too.) I would listen carefully, and if there is anything they have to say that has validity, make it a point to say you are happy to know this and will work on it. Often an admission of deficiency can go a long way to placating complainers.

If Mr. “Finding Balance and Getting Along” is still vague about what he can do, I would recommend going one step higher. There is no reason you need be held hostage by recalcitrant “admins.” — Margo, remedially

Jumping Back In

Dear Margo: After a marriage of 20-some years, I am about to dive into the middle-aged dating pool. I suspect it will be very different the second time around, but part of me thinks it may be just like picking up where I left off. Friends tell me, however, that it’s a whole new ballgame and difficult. You seem like the perfect person to ask because I know you know about this, no offense. — Bella

Dear Bel: None taken. The similarity with then and now is that when dating someone new, there’s an effort on both sides to sell oneself so as to be seen in an appealing light. The big difference is that with mid-life dating, both parties have quite a bit of personal history behind them. There’s a catching-up dynamic with middle-aged people that I call “And what did YOU major in?” You will wind up telling a potential boyfriend about your education, kids, maybe grandchildren, the ex, and a million little details that did not figure into dating the first time around. But … chins up. The men you will be seeing are just as nervous as you are, and I’m here to tell you that you will get the hang of it. — Margo, optimistically

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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56 comments so far.

  1. avatar John Hlavaty says:

    I have a question – why are we replacing words such as secretary, steward and stewardess, garbage man, etc.  Is a waiter or waitress now a cuisine administrater?  I recognize that some words were archaic and needed updating, but I see no difference between an “admin” and a “secretary”.  In my world both have always been the same.

    With regards to the rude staff, it is still not too late to salvage the process.  The LW can simply state that now that she’s been here a year and observed how the place operates, she wants to sit down with staff to air grievances, find ways for improvements, etc.  For example, when the LW refuses to take a walk-in student, the staff may role their eyes feeling that the LW is lazy and playing video games all day.  In truth, the LW is probably very busy – which is why walk-ins aren’t usually accepted.  To showcase how busy she is, she must become more transparent.  Let her staff know what is critical, what their roles are, what she’s doing, how they can help her and even how she could help them.  Sometimes just knowing that you are willing and able to help your staff is enough to dispel some negativitiy.   I would also take the staff to an off-site location – perhaps a Dunkin’ Donuts or equivalent.  This may allow them to be open and free as they are outside the confines of work.  As Margo suggested, documentation is key.  Then, after all of this, if there still isn’t any improvement, continue documenting and go to your boss once more.  If that doesn’t help, document that and go to his superior.  Rude treatment of a boss is insubordination and can be grounds for dismissal.  But worse is rude treatment of the people they are there to serve – the students. 

    • avatar R Scott says:

      Because Administrative Assisstants rarely do what secretaries used to do. They have different skills sets and quite frankly some higher expectations. Also, she does not have staff of “secretaries” that assist her with her job. She has a staff that consists of people doing autonomous administrative duties. 

      By the way your post is great and I hope she sees it. She needs to start owning and managing this situation.