By Max Clarke

35% of PAs say they would prefer to work for a man, while just 1.5% would prefer to work for a woman, according to the latest survey by Poolia recruitment specialists. The remaining 6 out of 10 expressed no preference.

In professional terms, three quarters of PAs still see their biggest function as acting as ‘gatekeepers’ for their boss, shielding them from unnecessary administration. However, the relationship between assistant and assisted goes deeper, with over 98.5% reporting that the PA and boss would discuss personal matters freely. This could perhaps explain why 12% commented that a good PA is even more important than a good wife.

Whilst the bond between PA and boss clearly remains strong, the survey also shows companies increasingly reliant on PAs who have seen their responsibilities and influence in the business increase dramatically during the past recession.

PAs are now much more widely involved in the business. Over 90% are now also dealing with office management, as well as being expected to turn their skills to events management (83%), HR (67%) and finance and accounting (73%).

In addition, they enjoy high access to company secrets. 88% of those surveyed saw board meeting minutes, almost 78% could access employees’ e-mail accounts, 70% were privy to employee grievances and disciplinary procedures and 73% were aware of everyone’s salaries.

This growing role in the business has perhaps eclipsed the PA’s more traditional role in their boss’ personal life, with 75% of respondents saying they only spend 10% or at most, 20% of their time on personal activity. This includes buying presents (33%), organising family events (26%), personal shopping (34%) and holiday bookings (almost 50%).

However, PAs still perceive many misconceptions about their role and qualifications amongst their fellow workers. In particular, they think other employees don’t see them as career minded or ambitious (44%), as having any qualifications or degrees (21%) and worse still, as not being necessary to the organisation (23%).

There is also a growing disparity between workload and pay. Many - almost 30% - report their workload and hours have increased dramatically at the same time as their pay and benefits are down. As a result, many PAs are looking to move on, and 40% say their first reason for looking for a new job is pay. But other significant reasons for moving include career progression (25% of PAs surveyed) and quality of the work environment (26% of respondents).

Gavin Warner, Poolia’s Operations Director, sees the recent credit crunch as a new turning point in the role of the career PA: “There is no question that the personal assistant is once again centre stage in the business, and in the lives of the person they assist, even if the rest of the company doesn’t yet see it and tends to undervalue them. Cutbacks in headcount have meant PAs have not only had to tap all their resources and skills to play a bigger role in the business. They are a key function in their boss’ life, both at work and in running their personal lives.

Gavin Warner concluded, “Businesses need to think carefully about the role of the PA in their organisation, tailor remuneration and create development packages to ensure they don’t lose their PAs, along with very valuable company information.”