At 27, Gloria comes off as a middle-aged woman. Humbled by circumstance, she wears a crooked smile, has frail skin and holds a rosary in her shaky hands.
Yet if you had but met her seven months ago, you would have seen a lively secretary of a flamboyant executive in Kampala.
Back then, she enjoyed a salary and spending time with an attractive boss who had the hots for her, and took her to corporate parties and cocktails. Generally, she was living the dream of every fresh graduate, until everything came crumbling down.
By 25, Gloria was ahead of her class, and earning a salary (that was increased twice). After two years of close supervision, Gloria and her boss grew close and started a secret relationship that saw them discreetly meeting in bars, hotels and lodges. Her happy days came to an end when she got pregnant, was fired and now stays at her mother’s place with her baby.
Secretaries, like Gloria, closely work with their bosses, which often makes spouses jealous of their proximity and relationship. But are they a necessary pain that spouses or girlfriends have to endure? Can’t bosses do without them at work?
Well, in ‘The Case for Executive Assistants’, an article by the Harvard Business Review, personal assistants or secretaries serve to make executives more productive by saving them time when “they filter the distractions that can turn a manager into a reactive type who spends all day answering e-mail instead of a leader who proactively sets the organisation’s agenda.”
However, sometimes secretaries, in the drive to save their bosses’ time, do more than their station’s duties.
“Traditionally, a secretary’s duties were mostly related to correspondence, such as typing letters, maintaining files of paper documents and preparing her boss’s itinerary, among other things,” says Damalie Kuteesa, the human resource manager at Infectious Disease Institute in Mulago.
She also notes that secretaries are an improved version of the now phased-out copy writers; secretarial responsibilities have undergone a vast change. They plan their bosses’ itineraries, arrange meetings, answer personal calls and even pick up their children from school.
In 25-year-old Flavia Namugenze’s case, for example, her boss makes her run personal errands.
“Last week he got me to choose a new rap CD for his son and then he asked me to peel an apple for him because he doesn’t like the skin.”
Since bosses spend a lot of time with secretaries, they tend to give secretaries, like Namugenze, other roles that would have probably suited their spouses better.
As a consequence, Maggie Mzumara, a motivational speaker and communication consultant, says secretaries and bosses then get attracted to each other because of spending a lot of time together. Assuming it is a 9am-to-5pm job, a secretary spends nearly eight hours with the boss every day.
Little wonder that Gloria says she knew everything about her boss: his favourite meal, colour, medication, hanging spot, his mum’s and daughters’ birthdays. “I was the last resort to solving the puzzle; I was the ultimate wife,” states Gloria.
When people work closely together, like secretaries and bosses, psychologist Dr Tina Tessina explains that they develop a bond.
“Unlike speed dating, singles’ events and online dating, the office actually gives you a chance to bond with a person before declaring your interest. Working side-by-side with someone daily, seeing him or her under pressure, commiserating over problems and congratulating over wins, give you a portrait of a person on the inside as well as the outside which always matters in a relationship.”
But regardless of spending time with the boss, Mzumara appeals to secretaries to dress and act appropriately. “Your boss is a man; you can’t wear a drop-dead, enticing outfit because that piece of clothing will become his problem.”
Despite the common notion that bosses have affairs with their secretaries, Jackson Ssensalire (not real name) says it is a wrong perception.
“At work, once you misuse power, your career is as better off as done. When you sleep with one secretary, once you get tired of the sex, you will sack her and replace her with another gullible girl,” says Ssensalire, a retired legal advisor.
It is the fear of misusing power that saved Ssensalire from becoming a nuisance at work, but reveals that his wife was his former secretary. “To be frank, there may be intimacy due to constant working together, but it is all part of being human, especially if you’re both single. If you are married, you have no business having feelings for another woman.”
He thus maintains that office affairs can yield into much more than just a fling as his turned into a respectable marriage. But not every man shares Ssensalire’s sentiments.
“An office is the zenith of all unfaithfulness [for relationships]. When a boss is with his female assistants, they are both as dangerous as a dagger; they both have extreme powers to seduce each other. The boss will use his cheap gifts and the secretary, as you may know, will use her body,” opines Michael Mukasa.
Mukasa’s conviction stems from experience: “This guy [boss] would load my girlfriend with assignments daily. He then started asking her to finish some of them over the weekend in his home office. That is when I realised my girl was slowly drifting away from me.”
He later dumped her for carrying her boss’ baby, but unlike Gloria, her boss assumed his paternal rights. Even then, Mukasa says his ex-girlfriend regrets the affair because the boss moved her upcountry and is now dating his current secretary.
If we are to take the two men’s stories into account, it is true that the environment at work is conducive for relationships to spring between bosses and secretaries. Sometimes, is not driven by the boss’ superiority or the secretary’s fear to lose her job; at times, it is a mutual arrangement.
Aisha Koheirwe, a housewife, agrees that work can be a starting point for relationships to flourish.
“The problem with us, the wives, is that we’ve studied and many times forget to treat our men right. When he goes to work, he’s surrounded by more threats than just a secretary: the tea girl’s charming smile, the receptionist’s warm ‘good-morning’, a colleague’s sweet compliment...,” says Koheirwe, who adds, “These are things he may have stopped getting from a wife ages back. He can easily creep into any of these women’s beds at anytime.”
To avoid getting involved with bosses, Ssensalire advises secretaries to stick to their job descriptions and bosses to be ethical enough.
“You can’t go on ‘wifing’ [having a relationship] everything that is appointed as your secretary,” he says.
Personally, after Ssensalire married his secretary, she continued working for him to keep other would-be secretaries at bay.
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