The classification of secretaries in its present form has to be dropped. That is the conclusion of the committee that looked into the position of secretary at TU/e in the (near) future. Managers and HR advisors should determine the salary scale of secretaries based on their tasks and not their place within the organization. Up to now, the position of secretary was divided into the following levels: working at an ‘institutional level’; secretary at a department or large support service; and active in a group or at a smaller support service.
The advisory group proposes to work with three levels in the future. Level A (scale 6) concerns administrative and secretarial tasks under the direction of a supervisor and/or within a clearly defined framework. Employees who work at level B (scale 7) are expected to display a higher degree of autonomy and pro-activity. Level C (scale 8) implies a more substantive supporting role and/or the coordination of work execution. More specific details are laid out in the plan.
One of the reasons for drawing up this advice is the evaluation of the supporting staff policy, which asked for extra attention to the future position of secretary. This process gained greater momentum after TU/e distinguished university professor Bert Meijer wrote a letter to Cursor in 2017 in which he called on the university to ‘place every secretary in their next salary scale.’
The working group advises the university that every department and service must analyze their current workforce of secretaries before the end of the year.
Cursor asked Robert van der Drift some questions about the advice. He is chairman of the working group and managing director of the department of Mathematics & Computer Science.
What was the workgroup’s task?
“Our goals shifted somewhat over the course of time. Our original task was to ‘organize a process that would clearly define the position of secretary,’ and we looked towards the future. That view of the future is still present, but we realized that it would also be helpful to look at the current situation and identify the problem areas.”
How did this advice come about?
“One of the things we did was to look at other universities, but we didn’t spend too much time on theoretical matters. Our point of departure was our own view of the issue. We then asked secretaries whether our findings and suggestions matched theirs. Simply talking about their own tasks and seeing the difference between positions proved to be very helpful for everyone. People recognized the general points we had sketched out; their input mainly concerned the nuances.”
What will change for secretaries?
“This is not simply about placing everyone in a higher scale. That isn’t the essence of our advice. We understand that secretaries want to be recognized for the work they do, and we will certainly look into whether they are in the right salary scale based on their tasks. But it is also important to see whether they are in the right place and whether certain tasks should be part of their job responsibilities or not. For instance, if a secretary does a lot of work in the field of communication, perhaps it would be better to assign these tasks to a communications officer. Or assign the secretary to the communications department and look for a new secretary. The most important thing is to make agreements about these things. Let secretaries take over certain tasks. Some degree of professionalization can still be made among scientists who prefer to solve their own problems. We didn’t discuss the total number of secretaries within our working group, but I see their number increase rather than decrease in the future.”
Who will make sure that this plan will be implemented?
“The implementation group, which consists primarily of HR advisors and some members of the advisory group, will make agreements with the departments and services. The plan is that a triumvirate - which will consist of the secretary, the supervisor, and management - will then assess the tasks of a secretary. This will require some effort from the supervisors, who often are quite devoted to their secretaries. They often form a nice unity, but perhaps a secretary is better served by mobility. I myself keep track of everything in the Directors Council.”
How does this advice relate to the job classification system (UFO), which applies to every university?
“We still use the university job classification in the background, but we have mainly made it more concrete. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) also uses the UFO profile for secretaries, but the results are expected by 2021. I know that other universities wrestle with this as well and that the other universities within the 3TU federation are very interested in our advice.”
Bert Meijer is distinguished university professor and author of a letter that partly initiated the working group.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I took note of the advice. It took a while, but a secretary’s position has received recognition and acknowledgement in a positive manner - especially those secretarial positions within large departmental research groups that have become more complex over the years. Fortunately, they will now be rewarded accordingly. Your salary should be based on the work you do, not on your place in an organization. It will lead to more rotation and a greater sense of recognition, and many secretaries will be placed in a higher scale as well. Scale 8 is not a distant dream for a departmental secretary. I am very happy with this advice and I am confident that the coming job performance reviews will result in several promotions to higher scales, or the prospect thereof. If I contributed to that with my column, that’s great. I wrote it in an attempt to widen the discussion about equal treatment of men and women. Instead on just focusing on female professors, I proposed to financially reward women in predominantly female professions as well. And we aren’t finished with this issue by any means; there is still a great deal to be done as far as equal treatment of men and women is concerned.”
Marieke van Riet recently started to work for the International Office of Industrial Design, but she was a secretary at the Department of Electrical Engineering before that. “I responded to a call to take part in the working group. It always struck me that the three people at our office spent most of their efforts and time on different things. The differences are even greater on a larger scale, and that is why we wanted to come up with an instrument that allowed us to make that differentiation visible.”
“I think we eventually realized an elegant and clear instrument that takes into account the acknowledgement of a secretary’s increased responsibilities and also includes the appropriate financial reward. Just think how many secretaries are working in groups! It’s also positive that the important role secretaries play in groups has been acknowledged, as well as the fact that they play a major social role. They are usually the ones who show new staff members around.”
Alice Litsenburg, another member of the working group and secretary at the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, is pleased with the advice as well. “I think the advice takes away a lot of dissatisfaction with the job classification. And it’s positive that we were able to put the issue in a much wider context. It’s great that some people will be placed in a higher salary scale, but it’s just as important that the career-growth opportunities have been made clearer.”
“I have been working at TU/e for eighteen years now and I have a pretty good idea of how this organization functions and of the role the many different secretaries fulfill. I often think of how I can broaden and deepen my knowledge in order to keep my job interesting. I grab the chances that come my way and my supervisors give me the opportunity to do so. That should be possible for everyone.”
“I hope that every department will quickly implement the advice so that every secretary will have the opportunity to sit down with their supervisor and talk about their current position or a possible change. And I hope that secretaries will feel that they are being taken more seriously and will feel more appreciated.”