I HAVE been a stenographer for ten years, and if my work had not been rated “excellent” by a prominent King's Counsel in our town. I would be more reticent about writing on this subject. But since I consider him to be the best employer I have ever had, I value his opinion, and therefore feel that I am qualified. Out of some twenty-five men for whom 1 have worked, he is the only one I consider perfect, yet I probably worked harder in his office than in any other.
Granted that an employer has the privilege of doing as he pleases in his own office (I thought I’d beat someone to that), and that “if she doesn’t like it she knows what she can do.” it’s high time some advice was given to businessmen. For some years magazines and newspapers have been full of articles entitled “Tips for the Business Girl” and “Hints for Stenographers,” which most of us have read religiously, and 1 hope there are employers who also have open minds. Let me assure you that this is not my opinion alone.
During the time 1 have worked, 1 have been employed by men with a variety of virtues and faults, and. of course, combinations of both.
But even the thought of the employer mentioned above, whom I shall call Mr. K.C., still calms .me. just as remembrance of the worst employer I ever had. whom 1 shall call Mr. “Rush,” still gives me a headache; and 1 therefore believe that a comparison of these two men should illustrate my point.
In the first place, Mr. K.C. marched smartly into his office at about 9.05 a.m., and said
“Good morning” to the girls in the outer office as if he meant it. Don’t be too inclined to pooh-pooh the importance of this morning entrance. Mr. Rush, on the other hand, generally came tearing in at 11 a.m. as if the devil were at his heels, trying to create the impression that his reason for lateness was “pressure of business," when we all knew he had merely slept tx late. I have said. "Good morning, Mr. Rush.” in my politest manner, to lxanswered by a look of amazement, followed by a grunt; and I have known right then that by 3 p.m. that day 1 would feel like a rag. because I would have to make up for the time lost by the boss’s late arrival. In fact, quite often when I worked for Mr. Rush I didn’t get out to lunch until 2.30, which is quite a few hours after 7.30, my breakfast time. And 1 have a normal, healthy appetite.
Then, Mr. K.C. went into his office and closed the dxr while he read his mail and consulted his diary', after which he rang for a stenographer. Going into his office was a pleasure, for a number of reasons, small yet worthy of mention. One was that his desk was as tidy as it could be. There might be stacks of papers on it. but they were neatly stacked, and he could put his hands on anything he needed. I could sit down comfortably at his desk, directly opposite him. because the desk was built for dictating, and there was a place for a stenographer to put her feet. If only some men had to sit. turned sideways in a chair for two-hour stretches, getting kinks in their backs, there would be more comfortable desks purchased.
I hadn't thought of it until now, but it does seem strange that all the equipment in Mr, Rush’s office w'as just a
little bit wrong. The girls’ desks were so small that we had to use chairs to hold the overflow, and the typewriters were the largest, most cumbersome things I have ever used. It was impossible to type quickly on them, yet there w'as never an office where speed was more necessary. It’s odd that men who take such excellent care of their automobiles, and so regularly check their oil, will expect miracles from rickety old typewriters that are never even serviced by the typewriter companies.
Mr. Rush, of course, had no place for his stenographer to sit while he was dictating. Sometimes there w-asn’t even a chair vacant, because he invariably dictated with his office full of clients. When a chair wras finally vacated, the next thing was to find an open space on his desk—which always looked as if a cyclone had hit it — upon which to place the notebook, and then set my jxmcil flying to get down the first half of the letter, which he had commenced to dictate before I got seated.
Just as I startl'd work again at my own desk, I’d be called back into the office.
"Get me the file of Black vs. White,” he’d say.
I’d answer; "I believe I saw that file on your desk this morning, Mr. Rush.” He’d eye me coldly. “It isn’t here.” he’d state flatly and snootily.
What was a girl to do? It’s poor policy to argue at any time, and more so in front of clients. So I’d murmur an apology and go out to ransack the office and waste more time. The other girls would help me, and after fifteen minutes of extensive searching, Mr. Rush would burst out of his office, his face very red. “What’s the matter with you girls? Can’t you find that file?”
“No. sir. 1 can’t.” I’d say. my face red, too.
Then one of the other girls would speak up. oh. so timidly: "I saw that tile on your desk this morning.
He’d glower first, then snort, and stride into his office indignantly, with me at his heels. We’d both dig—yes, "dig” is the word and one minute later we’d unearth the file. I’ll swear this happened at least once a day during the six months I worked for Mr. Rush, and 1 can assure you that it’s a nerve-racking business. Such an episode certainly takes the starch out of a girl, and it never made Mr. Rush any sweeter tempered either. I sometimes wonder if he wouldn’t have felt better if he’d remembered his manners and apologized for being so pigheaded.
’ I '11ERE is also the matter of dictation.
-Iand as far as Mr. K.C. was concerned. 1 positively gloated when 1 took it from him. He knew what he wanted to say, and his diction was [X'rfect. Too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of these two things. Mr. K.C. talked quietly, calmly and clearly, hence the stenographer’s neat shorthand could be transcribed with twice the speed that it could if given by a sloppy dictator. And I have known Mr. K.C. to give me enough work in one hour’s time to keep
me busy all day. He always tried to give all his dictation to a stenographer at one sitting, the first thing in the morning, which is a considerate gesture on the part of an employer.
Not so with Mr. Rush. He was, without a doubt, the worst dictator from whom I have ever taken a letter. In the first place he always dictated with his pipe in his mouth, and, whatever you may think to the contrary, it can’t be done. Words that come slithering around a pipestem simply don’t sound as they are intended to sound, and when occasionally the pipe, in its pumping up and down, begins to slip out of the dictator’s mouth, and is gripped wildly between his teeth on its way out, the word then in formation is merely gibberish. Mr. Rush also mumbled, and because he was always in a hurry, he talked so fast that it was hard at times to know whether or not he was even speaking English. Then he’d stutter and say: “No. cross that out; no, put it this way. Now read that back. Stop right there and put this in.”
The result, after an hour’s dictation, was generally two letters that looked like Chinese puzzles, full of insertions, asterisks and deletions. To make this description wholly accurate and complete, when the finished letter was handed to Mr. Rush, he’d systematically change the whole thing and hand it back. This procedure was repeated sometimes three times, and very' often he’d insist that some phrases were stenographic errors and not his changes. Then he’d run his hand through his upstanding hair and groan aloud at the amount of work he had to do, and say he didn’t know when in the world he was going to get it done. I’m still wondering.
The ability to dictate is a gift, no less, and, strangely enough, seems to have nothing to do with any profession. It is, rather, dependent on co-ordination of thought, and it would surprise a lot of men if they knew how much their minds rambled. A stenographer couldn’t get away with it. It is tiresome to see a man gaze out of his window, daydreaming, then come to with a start and ask, “Now, what was I saying?” half a dozen times throughout one letter. It would be nice to be able to say. “Come, come now, Mr. X., get your mind on this business, and we’ll both be able to go home at five o’clock, for a change.”
My suggestion to these poor dictators is that they draft out their letters on paper before attempting to dictate them; I’ll warrant it would save time in the long run. Where a stenographer has to take work from one man only, time lost in this manner is not so important, but if she does work for two or three, it can disrupt her day.
Mr. K.C. was also an honest man, and his firm, an old and established one in our city, was respected and admired. In addition to the pleasant atmosphere of the office, I have always been proud to say I worked for them. It’s comforting to work for people who pay their bills and tell no lies. Nothing can be so unpleasant for a girl as having to stall off creditors, and I maintain that no employer has a right to expect it. I suppose there are exceptions, and perhaps I would be more charitable if I had not noticed that invariably the men who evade paying their bills are those who spend money lavishly on clothes, entertainment and liquor.
Doing substituting work for short periods, I have encountered this sort of thing on several occasions., and it hasn’t taken me long to sense what the situation was. In fact, the attitude of the creditors usually is that the stenographer is a fellow conspirator, and goodness knows it goes against the grain to be told to say that the boss is “out of town.” when very likely the creditors know otherwise. It’s also embarrassing to have someone phone and bark. "I’ve already left my number three times today; why don’t you give it to him?” when you’ve seen your little memo tom up and thrown in the wastepaper basket each time. Men who do this sort of thing usually try to keep a girl waiting for her money, too.
Dresses Cost Money
WHICH brings us to the question of money. A minimum wage is all very well for beginners, but if a man wants a stenographer with years of experience and excellent references, he should, of his own volition, pay her a good salary.
In one of the three biggest cities in Canada, I heard of a vacancy. I was told by a friend of the firm that they wanted a clever, personable young lady, who knew how to dress, because she was to “meet the public,” and I was so sure that the salary which accompanied such a position would be in accordance with the requirements that I didn’t even discuss it when I was hired. I remember thinking that the two girls in the office weren’t very smartly dressed, though I soon learned that they were excellent stenographers.
So imagine my astonishment when I found that, after working for that firm for nine and eleven years respectively, those girls were each drawing $70 a month. I immediately began looking for another job, because I knew that when the clothes I had began to wear out, 1 wouldn’t be able to buy more at that salary. The work was hard and pressing, and the firm was prospering, but the girls’ salaries had been “cut” about five years ago, and hadn’t been raised during the recovery. Yet if those two girls had left that office together, chaos would have resulted. They both lived away from home, and it was easy to see why their clothes hadn’t quite the style this up-and-coming firm would have liked. Why do men expect stenographers to dress as well as their wives do, on a fraction of what their wives spend? So, Mr. Employer, if you expect your stenographer to dress as secretaries in the movies do, remember, the girls will love it, but it takes money !
No Ulterior Motives
AND NOW that the subject of wives has been brought in, I suppose no article of this type would be complete without some mention of them, since we are so often called “office wives.” Perhaps it is significant and perhaps it isn’t, but Mr. K.C. had the loveliest wife imaginable, the best behaved children and the most peaceful home, while the wife of Mr. Rush was what is popularly known as a “party hound.”
As for stenographers being called “office wives,” I regard the term with distaste. I’m sick and tired of people trying to frighten wives into thinking we’re a blackhearted lot. If there’s anything most of us appreciate it’s having our boss’s wife like us, and we know when she does and when she doesn’t. Most stenographers have men friends of their own, and indeed, with so many of Mr. Rush’s type alive, we wouldn’t have such employers as friends if they were handed to us on silver platters. The only girls I’ve ever seen who have had crushes on married employers are the type who have no men friends, and wives needn’t worry about them. So, in retaliation, I say that we resent the attitude of so many women toward us. Most of us work because we either have to, or want to, and we have no ulterior motives.
And as a counterclaim and parting shot —there’s one thing some wives do that stenographers dislike. That’s leaving Junior at the office while she shops. Her husband’s stenographer is no nursemaid, and it’s taking a very unfair advantage. The stenographer hasn’t the privilege of slapping his little fingers when he tamers with office machinery, and however much she likes him, she hasn’t the time to play. Saturday morning seems to be the popular time for this, while mother is doing her Sunday marketing; and Saturdays, being half days only, are busy mornings in almost any office.
Very few girls expect their employers to be perfect. But, Mr. Employer, if you know your grammar isn’t what it should be, don’t hesitate to tell your stenographer you don’t mind a little editing. I f you keep her working late, thank her for staying; and if you lose your temi>er without reason, apologize. A little consideration can cover a multitude of sins, and you will be surprised at her loyalty. It’s the employer who follows the Golden Rule who is the winner in the end !
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