The South African National Office Professional of the Year Award, celebrated its 25th year in 2008. It is a benchmark for outstanding performance and achievements by office professionals within the business community in both private sector organisations and government.
It acknowledges an office professional who demonstrates continued commitment to leadership, education and operational efficiency within his/her organisation, and who makes a significant contribution to his/her profession.
This year, the award ceremony took place at a gala event at Carnival City on Secretary’s Day, 3 September 2008 and Jana van Heerden walked away with the title.
Jana is a PA at the CSIR. She is young, vibrant and committed to introducing a cost-effective, accessible mentoring programme for office professionals around the country.
TT: Tell us a bit about where you grew up and what your career aspirations were?
Jana: I grew up on a farm in Limpopo, about 60 km from Nylstroom & Warmbaths. I always wanted to be a teacher. The one thing that farm life taught me was to appreciate anything and everything, even seemingly silly things like enjoying the rain. In the city, people don’t always realise the importance of rain. On the farm, we counted the days to when it would start raining – it meant that our crops would flourish and that we as a family would be able to “survive” the next year. I also learned to cherish friendships as there were only eight children in my class.
TT: What made you decide to study for your National Diploma for Office Management and Technology?
Jana: When I finished matric I wasn’t actually quite sure what to study. I still wanted to become a teacher, but I also knew that teachers are very poorly paid. I considered studying law, but also thought of emigrating. Instead I took a gap year and, when I returned, I consulted a family friend who worked at the Tshwane University of Technology and she told me about the Diploma in Office Management and Technology She mentioned that Nelson Mandela’s PA, Zelda le Grange, had studied the same course and that immediately gave me the boost I needed to take on the challenge!!
TT: Do you feel your qualification prepared you for the reality of the work environment?
Jana: I would say: “Yes and No”. In theory we learned a lot, but I was certainly not prepared for the different personalities that I would encounter. I also didn’t graduate with sufficient skills to handle office conflict, stress in the workplace and simple things like telephone and voice skills, handling enquiries and how to be confident in everything that you do.
TT: What does your current position entail?
Jana: I’m the office administrator/PA for the Polymers & Bioceramics group at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Apart from this I’m also the SHEQ officer for our unit. SHEQ = Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Officer.
TT: Take us through a typical work day and the kind of tasks you are responsible for?
Jana: I usually start my day in the office at 7:00. This gives me at least an hour of “me time” in the office. This allows me to prepare for my day and get important info ready for things such as meetings, functions and audits. A typical day will consist of handling client enquiries, doing travel arrangements for our group, making sure that all SHEQ matters are attended to. This will include checking that the labs are in good conditions and that those colleagues who work in the labs have all the required safety equipment on. Quality will consist of checking that all documentation and work procedures and systems are of such a quality that it complies with the ISO 9001 standards.
Checking the stock of kitchen groceries and office stationery also plays a big role. If there’s no coffee, people won’t work! :
Arranging meetings and taking minutes of those meetings. A lot of ad hoc admin is done on a daily basis, this usually consists of any other help my manager requires from me.
TT: You took the proactive step of approaching Saloshni Naidoo, also a CSIR employee and a former finalist in the National Office Professional of the Year Award, to mentor and coach you. What benefits have you derived from this relationship?
Jana: The first thing that comes to mind is attitude – to have confidence in what I do, to take on tasks without doubting myself. Also not to be afraid to ask questions if I don’t know or understand something. Saloshni also taught me critical factors on how to handle big/small functions. What important things to look at when booking venues, ordering food and making use of electronic equipment etc.
TT: What part of your job do you find the most challenging?
Jana: Handling people in the workplace, purely because people are not the same each and every day. Sometimes they have ups and downs that no one can control, but one always needs to be neutral and try to understand people. You can’t afford to be too sensitive about how people talk or act towards you on certain days, as they also have their bad days, and you need to learn how to cope with that.
TT: Do you feel the role and contribution of PAs and Executive Assistants to the overall success of their companies is acknowledged by management, and what can be done to improve this further?
Jana: I have to be honest and say that the CSIR most certainly do acknowledge AND support PAs and Executive Assistants in their career development. I think the big reason why some companies/management don’t acknowledge office professionals is because they still have a very negative perception about office professionals. I would like work at creating awareness amongst employers and managers to show them what an important role we as office professionals play. I also have to say, office professionals should be proactive in becoming business partners of their company and not be content with just being a “traditional assistant”. They should stand up and show everyone what they are worth.
TT: Why would you recommend the administrative profession to a matriculant considering their career prospects?
Jana: I would say that the administrative profession is currently bursting at the seams, and that the opportunities and possibilities are endless. It’s also one of the fastest growing professions currently and office professionals will be able to take on much bigger projects and responsibilities than in previous years. Office professionals are an integral part of any company and if we can get those people who would like to contribute to a company’s wellbeing it would be excellent!
TT: What do you hope to achieve during your year as National Office Professional of the Year?
Jana: My main objective it to learn as much as I can! I would also like to create essential networking relationships, as I know it will help me tremendously with doing my day-to-day work and bigger projects. I will also represent OPSA in any possible way and try to encourage any other office professionals to take on the challenge of applying for the National Office Professional of the Year award. One of the exciting things that I will be assisting OPSA with is implementing a mentoring programme that I’ve worked on as part of my final judging assignments, specifically for OPSA members.