New technology sweeps away role of gatekeeper secretary

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The secretary's traditional tasks of taking dictation and answering the boss's telephone are disappearing as managers switch to e-mail and mobile phones, a survey out today suggests.

Secretaries still complained of overwork, even though three quarters of bosses write most of their own letters and 64 per cent take business calls on their mobile telephones.

A study of 754 secretaries found that a third complained of working longer hours than they did two years ago because they were diverted to other tasks.

They claimed typically to work an extra day a week in unpaid overtime, and a quarter claimed they did not take a break during the day.

Secretaries said they had taken on extra responsibilities including finding new staff and other management tasks, according to the survey by OfficeTeam, a recruitment firm. A fifth said they spent nearly half their day working for someone other than their boss and were forced to pick up the work of any colleagues made redundant.

More than one third of those questioned said there were fewer people to share the workload. The volume of work they faced was cited as the main cause of stress.

"The traditional picture of a secretary used to be as a 'gatekeeper' for her boss - no one could get in to see the boss, speak to him on the telephone or make an appointment with him without her knowing about it," Steve Carter, the managing director of OfficeTeam, said.

"That has all been swept away by new technology. They have less direct contact with their boss, but they have more general responsibility within their organisation."