Two years ago, EUMA Greece was awarded the responsibility of hosting EUMA’s Spring Training Day this April. Who could have foreseen at that time, the economic turmoil that the county would find itself in?
Executive Secretary spoke to Eleni Rizikianou, EUMA’s National Public Relations Officer, and Gina Theofilidou, National Chairman EUMA Greece, about how their roles at EUMA and how administrative professionals in Greece are dealing with the devastating economic crisis.
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you both from? What is your background?
I was born and grew up in Athens, Greece, although both of my parents come from the island of Crete, a real heaven on earth. We used to spend our summers there. As a child I was very restless and naughty, curious about anything. To play with dolls and stuff like that wasn’t my thing at all. One of the first’s presents I ever asked my parents for, when I still was at junior school, was a briefcase! My favorite game was to play like I had an office of my own. When I saw pictures on the TV with secretaries, I found it fascinating – I knew then I wanted to be one of them.
After high school I attended secretary and computer studies, while at the same time I started working as an Assistant Secretary in the cement industry. Two years later I found a job as a Secretary in the legal department of an insurance company. All this time I never stopped attending courses and seminars about personal development, communication, marketing, everything that could help me improve my professional and personal skills. Currently I study Greek civilization at the Greek Open University. It may not be relevant to my profession, but not only is it something I always wanted to do, I gain a lot of knowledge. Not to mention that it helps me improve my ability in reading and in writing.
I was born and grew up in Athens, Greece. I married 12 years ago and I work in the same company as my husband. I am sure that many of you will wonder if it is good to work together, but both of our jobs are so demanding that we hardly see other during office hours. I am a mother of a small ‘princess’ named Erofili. She is 6 years old and from the moment she was born, she was the living proof that heaven is on earth.
I was a quiet child, shy and sensitive but also quite stubborn, especially when I wanted something. My mother worked as a Secretary in the State Nursing Home and I believe that was the main reason behind my unconscious selection of this profession.
So, when I attended high school and I had to make a choice between university studies and college studies I choose College – Greek-English Executive Secretarial Course and I got a bachelor degree.
My first job was through the career program that our college had, to an export company. I worked there as an Assistant to the Client Service department and was responsible for the preparation and validation of export licenses needed for the exports. What I gained from this work was my personal contact with officials of the embassies, the knowledge in the integration process of exporting and the acquaintance of different cultures.
At the end of 1994 I was hired in my current company, GfK Hellas, a multinational market research company which is located in Athens, as a Receptionist, moving swiftly to work as an Assistant to the Client Service department.
I have attended several courses and still do at every opportunity. Two years ago I completed a one year distance learning course at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Public Relations and Business Administration.
What are your current roles?
I now work as an Office Manager. I am in charge of four departments and report to the Managing Director. I love this job. It has sharpened my mind, always demanding the best of me. I also am a EUMA member in the Greek team since 2007, and currently also a member of the National Committee as Public Relations Officer.
Since 2002 I have worked at GfK as a Personal Assistant to the General Manager. I am also a EUMA member since 2008 and currently I am Chairman of the National Committee (from 2010), and member of EUMA website team from 2009.
As you can imagine, my day is extremely busy, however, I love my work and my involvement in EUMA as it has many dimensions and many opportunities to do different things in various sectors.
You are currently on the committee of EUMA Greece which hosts the European Spring Training Day in Athens this April. How did you end up doing this?
Joining EUMA was the move that changed my career. At first it was just that I wanted to join an association relevant to my profession, then I realized that being a member of EUMA is much more than that; it is a school. You can gain knowledge you can never gain by just working in a company. Meeting so many assistants from all over Europe, interacting with them and benefiting from the networking gave me a push up that believe me, my boss understood! Being a member of the National Committee of Greece is a still big challenge as it is a multi task job running along with the regular one, plus you know you are working with and for your colleagues.
Training day in Athens in April is the result of a desire of the Greek team to organize a successful event for all the EUMA members. One of the many things I’ve learned so far as a EUMA member is that diversity is not a barrier, and when you care to understand a person, you cannot do it without knowing their background. Organizing an event in a different country each time is not only about training, it is also an opportunity to get together, to know each other and be familiar with one another, understanding our different cultures. When the decision was taken the situation in Greece wasn’t like today. However, if we had to make the decision today, we would have decided the same thing, because it’s not about how difficult it is, but how certain you are that you can do it!
As a restless spirit, and especially after I became Personal Assistant, I was wondering if there is any association relevant to my profession, a group of people with whom I could share my concerns and my interest for development. That period one of my colleagues informed about the association called EUMA, that was in 2007.
I joined EUMA in 2008 and it was the best choices I have made. EUMA is the key to benefits, from acquiring knowledge, meeting people with same interests, and experiences that you cannot gain only by working as an assistant.
When I informed my boss about the association and he saw my enthusiasm after every working meeting I participated in, he covered my membership fee and supports me in every opportunity, by participating in EUMA events and giving the authority to use the conference rooms of our company every time I need to. In June 2010, I was elected in the National Committee as Chairman.
An opportunity for personal and professional development and most important, great responsibility. My bigger challenge here is to balance personal, professional and EUMA life. Most of the days I have the feeling that 24 hours are not enough.
The decision to organize the European Spring Training Day in Athens in April, was taken from the former National Committee. But all of us in the new National Committee were thrilled with the idea of being the organizers of an event which brings together members from across Europe, so different but with a common objective, learning and development.
Of course, Greece is not the same since the decision was made, but the enthusiasm and the professionalism remains and all of us wish to welcome all participants and make them feel like home.The training day topic is very interesting and creative and Athens is a beautiful European city, able to attract the interest of every demanding visitor.
What has been the most challenging thing about organizing the Training Day?
When you make a decision to organize an event like this, volunteering, you have to make a commitment so you can accomplish your mission. Of course things might change. As much as you want to predict everything, something unpredictable always comes up. Then it is the time to prove to yourself and your colleagues that you are a Management Assistant and there is no such thing as predictable in our profession. However, the biggest challenge is to find sponsors to invest their money on advertising themselves and promoting our training day. We have to use all our talents and arguments to convince them that we are the gate keepers they have to pass in order to sell their products! And what a challenge this is in Greece in 2012 where everything is changing so fast.
To undertake the responsibility of organizing such an important event especially since one of the main goals of the Association is education, requires you: a) to devote most of your personal time, this requires commitment and great sense of responsibility and professionalism; b) to select the appropriate people in the group who will carry out the work with great attention to the last detail; and c) to communicate with all of our contacts, sponsors and partners.
Greece has had some pretty negative press recently because of the current economic crisis. What do you think has been the impact of the crisis on your members?
Let’s just admit it – Greece is in the most difficult situation ever. Everything we knew, everything we had, no longer exists. The Greek citizens are frightened as the quality of our lives is the biggest issue. The cost of living gets more and more expensive every day. In the meantime our salaries get even lower. Of course EUMA Greek members are affected. We had to reduce our annual fee as it was a request of the majority of our members.
The companies in Greece are cutting expenses; therefore memberships and education are deeply affected. It is rather difficult for us to get approval for all the training we want and used to get. Less and less members are attending the seminars, and it is very difficult for one person to attend every single EUMA activity. There are also a number of potential members who come to EUMA looking for a job, having exhausted other possibilities. The impact of the crisis is deep and is going to get even deeper. This is a reality we have to face as much as we don’t want to.
It is true that Greece is having the most difficult experience in her history. Citizens of this country are under economical and psychological pressure, and the worst feeling is that this situation has no end. Salaries are decreasing rapidly, taxes are rising, prices of consumer products remain high in relation with household income, fear and insecurity has become the new reality.
Several of our members lost their jobs after many years with the same employer. Although our job is very critical, demanding and full of responsibilities, the crisis affected the way companies judge their employees and tend to consider our work as a work that can be done by anyone in the company. Several of our members received a reduction to their salaries under the ‘umbrella’ of economic difficulties.
It is noteworthy that, any negative impact on professional and personal life of a member has an impact on the association as members ‘disappear’ and hold a position of indifference in all directions, even in training, despite what everyone would expect.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing administration professionals currently?
The global economic crisis affects the way companies are dealing with their employees. In order to reduce expenses, companies’ fire employees and now less and less people are coming to fill their place. Administration professionals are very critical for a company and perhaps they will be the last to go. However, they have to respond to many more tasks than before. Our work has become more demanding, dealing with pressure and new responsibilities. Of course all the above doesn’t come with an increase of our salary. At the same time, we need to be up to date with every new technical matter and always keep the balance between work and personal life. Being an Administrative Assistant is a profession that requires appropriate studies. This is a fact that can be proved by the job announcements, and each one of us is very proud to lead our profession to a much higher level.
My participation in EUMA conferences and training days has given me the opportunity to meet and discuss with professionals from foreign countries, the differences and the problems of our profession.
Management Assistants are very important for a company, and used to be the last to go. With the new economic ‘situation’, promotion, better salaries and consideration as a valued member of business management are gone. Perhaps you could find them in multinational company but it also depends in which ‘generation’ the people you work with belong to.
Job requests for Secretaries or Management Assistants have not decreased but the criteria for selecting people has changed and increased significantly. Employers now ask for very experienced people to support Executive Management staff, able to adapt in the new professional environment with the minimum training or no training at all. Candidates age should be between 25-30 years old only, able to work under pressure and be proactive.
Administration Assistants need to have a university degree, preferably in Business Administration and be proficient in 3 to 4 foreign languages, with preferences for Russian, German and Chinese, except English which is a language that is considered a prerequisite, working 10 hours at least per day, and all of this for salaries that do not reach 1,300 euro gross.
I strongly believe that here lies the ‘magic’ of our profession. Management Assistants are able to adapt in any circumstances and develop their skills, so will always be in the front line.
Last year the Greek team of EUMA cooperating with HR service companies, which have a specialized Department for Administrative Assistants (Management Assistants Search), created a support programme in terms of career management to provide upgraded services to its members, in a competitive environment with increased requirements for the profession of Secretary or Administrative Assistant.
The members of this programme through EUMA will have quicker information on employment opportunities and will receive substantial information from experts to explore appropriate opportunities to move.
What’s the best piece of advice that you could give to our readers?
The key to success is never stay still; never believe for a second that you know everything. As good as you may be in your profession, you can always be better. Try to constantly educate yourself by reading or attending seminars or joining associations such as EUMA. Listen to the more experienced people, but always have an open mind for a new idea which probably will come from a younger person; every single one of us has something to share. Networking is a powerful weapon in this competitive world. As the jobs reduce, those who stand up can also stand much more chances to reach their targets. The world is moving forward and we need to be able to follow.
Do not stop learning – learn languages, new PC software, follow trends and keep moving. It doesn’t matter your age or if you are experienced or not. Learn to hear people you meet, and pay attention to every single detail. In our profession you never know when you are going to use it, but it will definitely be a valuable information sometime. Read newspapers, books, magazines, attend seminars and conferences. Be everywhere you can, update your knowledge and your skills continuously.
So what’s next for EUMA Greece? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
EUMA is the only association in Greece regarding our profession, and it is very critical for all Management Assistants. Although our country will have to deal with many difficulties in the years to come, I strongly believe mutatis mutandis (by changing the things we need to change), the Greek team will keep doing the best for the development of every Management Assistant in Greece. In five years from now, when my term as Public Relations Officer will be completed, I will be still a EUMA member with a role in one of the committees. But the thing I want the most in five years or in 10 years or tomorrow, is always to be able to work and be treated with dignity and to not allow this crisis to change our values and everything we gained working so hard all these years; to still have a job not only to pay my bills but to be able to create and evolve.
EUMA Greece has a significant advantage, it is the only association in Greece and its existence is vital for Professional Assistants. Maybe the next years will be very difficult, but it is an opportunity to distinguish ourselves, to provide our knowledge and our support to our managers and our companies and help make the difference.
The Greek team will continue trying for the best, promoting the profession in all businesses regardless of the industry involved, informing managers about the benefits their assistant could gain though her involvement in EUMA, search for new opportunities, providing its members the training and the necessary materials to develop their skills, their network.
In five years from now I will still be member of EUMA, maybe in another position in the National Committee or just an active member so that I may contribute to the growth of the association.
I would like to see myself taking on new and exciting challenges in an enjoyable environment in an increasingly responsible position, that enables me to utilize my talents and work closely with my colleagues in solving important problems, and hopefully, outside Greece.