“It’s just admin”

01 Iceberg

As a Business Support recruiter of many years, unfortunately “just admin” is a phrase I’ve heard all too often. There’s even a stigma in the recruitment industry that recruiting support roles is easier, and of less value, than recruiting technical roles. Understanding why it’s considered “just admin”, and educating people otherwise, is a topic I am particularly passionate about.

There’s many contributing factors as to why this standpoint is prevalent in the building industry – and it’s not just by project staff or management, but even by operational staff themselves.

As a recruiter in the Architecture and Building Engineering industry, I am in a unique position to get an insight into the mindset of both business support professionals as well as those who employ them. To ensure it wasn’t anecdotal bickering, we ran a quick survey of Architecture candidates and clients to validate that our perceptions were reflective of the market.

Here’s some of our key findings:

Operational staff resign and aren’t replaced. Instead other team members are expected to pick up the slack, often working additional hours. This fuels the feeling that what they do each day isn’t valued and it’s quick and easy. Over 40% felt that their operational team were not valued.

Resourcing for support is often an after-thought. Often the recruitment of technical staff is prioritised over support staff, resulting in insufficient operational support. This can result in unnecessary pressure and unrealistic deadlines on the team. Administrative resourcing should be considered alongside planning for increased project staff. Requesting for a report or document from your administrator at 4.50pm, and saying it needs to be done before COB, is not valuing their time or their role.

Unbalanced resource allocation. One team member is running around like a headless chicken, whilst another is trying to make 3 tasks stretch out the entire day. Productivity and efficiency is questionable if there’s a lack of performance tools, with an up-to-date position description being key. If the size of the business has changed, the operational functions of the business have likely changed too. PDs may need to be revised to ensure appropriate resource allocation, and operational team efficiency. Almost half of respondents felt that inefficiency in their Ops team stemmed from having no PD or a lack of clarity in their PD.

Administrators/Operational staff are disposable commodities. Companies are all too quick to dismiss support staff, feeling they can easily find another one, a better one. And whilst this may be the case, I would argue that finding good support staff is becoming as difficult as finding good technical staff. I can’t remember a time when a job brief hasn’t included the need for the person to “hit the ground running”! Just like project staff, support staff are worth the investment – however there seems to be less patience and time invested to train and develop support staff. Management should appreciate that finding a long-lasting person often means getting over a few hurdles first. 29% of respondents felt that inefficiency in their Ops team stems from a lack of training and development.

Burn out. There’s a tendency to overload the top performing members of a support team, simply because they are reliable, efficient, and will do the task well. But if you want to retain your good people, there’s a fine line between valuing their contribution to the business, and taking advantage of it.

Systems, policies, procedures, or processes are out of date or unclear. 42% felt that they weren’t clear. If you’re feeling under-resourced, consider that it might not be an additional person you need. Instead it might be a review and improvement of your operational infrastructure. 42% of respondents felt that they weren’t clear.

Having the wrong operational support can be extremely damaging, and adds to the argument that “it’s just admin”.

Conversely, a planned, structured and well-trained support team that is truly valued by their employer can play a significant role in the success of an organisation – I see this every day with a number of our clients as well as our own business.

“No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.

Joseph Addison​