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Why Administrative Professionals are so Damned Stressed!

By Paul A. Douglas, Ph.D, founder & CEO, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc.

It is all about power or more accurately the absence thereof.

Maybe it is because as school boys and girls we were taught Lord Acton’s dictum “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” that many of us think that Power is a “dirty” word. We often view power in a pejorative way.

Yet it is really the lack of power, or at least our inability to use power in a non-manipulative way that is at the root cause of both individual failure and organizational immobility. I believe that it is not power but rather powerlessness that we need to fear.

If we lack the power to control our environment, to influence others, we die psychologically.

Myriad stories tell the tales of prisoners of war who, when put in isolation for long periods of time simply died for no apparent physical reasons. Likewise infants deprived of direct human touch often become victims of Marasmus – a condition characterized first by lethargy, then by physical inactivity and finally by death.

Powerlessness and lack of control is often the greatest source of stress in our lives. In a recent study by the United States Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, it was found that there is greater stress in the role of administrative assistants than in the role of surgeons.

How can that possibly be? Physicians make life and death decisions; our lives are literally in their hands. Someone might die at a result of one mistake a surgeon makes. If an administrative professional makes a mistake, people don’t die, at least not right away; yet, empirical evidence shows physicians are less stressed than administrative professionals.


The Ten Most Stressful Jobs:

  1. Laborer
  2. Admin. Assistant
  3. Inspector
  4. Clinical Technician
  5. Office Manager
  6. Foreman
  7. Executive
  8. Waiter or Waitress
  9. Machine Operator
  10. Farm Worker

Source: The United States Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

The admin is more stressed than the surgeon, because the latter has much greater control over his or her environment. Excellence is the order of the day in medicine. Virtually anything that the surgeon needs to do his or her job is provided to her or him. Yes, the downside risk is greater for a surgeon than for the AP, but admins have less control over their environment, resulting in higher stress levels.

The administrative assistant or executive assistant is an intelligent individual and she or he is also a conscientious person. The administrative professional can see problems coming. They will often try to engage the boss to head off what he or she perceives as an impending threat and danger.

Yet, the boss often fails to respond in a timely manner thereby avoiding a full-blown crisis and that is stressful for diligent administrative professionals.


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