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A Day in the Life of a Office Manager

“An office manager is responsible for the smooth operation of the day-to-day business of the company,” one manager wrote us, adding the caveat: “No excuses accepted.” A good office manager makes it possible for other people to function efficiently. Office managers work closely with the company partners, owner, or president to meet their company’s staffing, equipment, and organizational needs. Duties may include pricing products from vendors, interviewing job applicants, managing payroll, and reimbursing members of the firm for out-of-pocket business expenses. An office manager must exercise sound judgment day in and day out, and any lapse can result in termination. This may be the reason that office managers generally take their jobs so seriously. Pressure can be significant, particularly for those in charge of large offices. Office managers who succeed have confidence, common sense, loyalty, and the ability to motivate others. Survey respondents who were part-time office managers added the importance of being able to work with others on a team or in pairs to coordinate smooth operations. Although it is common to think that an office manager should be an angel of tact and discretion, existing on the favorable review of his superiors, people in the profession disagreed. Many office managers said their jobs require them to be somewhat more firm than gentle when projects have to be completed, equipment needs to be serviced, or difficulties with staffing spring up. “You’ve got to stand up for what you know are the right decisions for the company, even if the boss disagrees. You live on your reputation, and when you have to do your job to someone else’s commands, you have to voice your opinion,” said one fifteen-year manager. He was supported by a number of others. “Tough,” “precise,” and “go-getting” were also words that popped up many times on our surveys. The greatest satisfaction that office managers mentioned concerned their productivity. Office managers can see immediate results from their decisions; they can control their environment (within the boundaries imposed by their employer). This ability to determine one’s own fate cuts both ways, however. Office managers have a very high turnover rate, due to firing, job mobility, and retirement. They are often the first one to be let go when conflicts arise between producers and managers, and they are frequently blamed for office problems that are not of their own making. Office management provides a very structured environment with clearly defined duties for those with financial, organizational, and interpersonal skills. One needs to have a high tolerance for risk and not be too concerned with job security.

Paying Your Dues

Office managers are not required to have any specific degree, but most employers value a college degree and organizational, planning, and communication skills. Suggested courses include organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, finance, and English. Employers at smaller firms also recommend accounting studies, as payroll issues and some financial oversight may be part of the job.

Present and Future

The position of office manager developed along with the growth of the modern firm. As companies expand and diversify, workers are required to perform more and more specialized tasks. Office coordination of the needs and the output of the workers is critical to the productive operation of the company. The office manager helps to standardize information, facilitates communication, and makes sure that employees are able to do their jobs. The future of office managers looks bright. Many economists predict that the economy will continue to grow and provide more office managing job opportunities over the next six years.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Many office managers direct small firms. They gain valuable experience in purchasing, negotiating deals, smoothing staffing difficulties, and predicting their firm’s future needs. This last experience, learning to anticipate problems and requirements, is the most difficult and most important for the new manager. Office managers make contacts with staffing agencies, and hone their interviewing skills. Hours are long; salaries are average.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year veterans have gained a good sense of what the job entails. A number are beginning to bump into wage ceilings in their current firm, and the race to find new jobs begins. Many work at three, four, or even five firms in five years. A number move into jobs with larger staffing requirements than they are used to and must have strong organizational skills to meet this challenge. Hours are long; salaries are competitive; job security drops as the stakes increase.

TEN YEARS OUT

Contact with partners and managing directors of firms increases, and many office managers jump to very large firms. Some are given a specific area of responsibility, such as Office Manager in charge of Staffing Needs or Office Manager in charge of Supplies and Equipment. These are valued positions, and many in them suddenly become averse to big risks and spend much of their time protecting their position. Hours and satisfaction remain steady; pay remains about the same from here on in except for cost-of-living adjustments.