Administrative Assistants Make Less Than Most. So Why Are They So Happy?

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The link between money and happiness is tough to unravel. It's a tugging match between esoteric thirsts like love and satisfaction, and very real demands like food and shelter. But a recent report involving administrative professionals suggests that the old cliches are at least partially true: you don't need a lot of money to be happy.

U.S. News and World Report parsed through it's "2012 Best Jobs" list for positions that need more workers but have a relatively low pay scale (less than the national average). What's interesting, though, is that employees in all of these these jobs report a high level of satisfaction at work. The list includes administrative assistants, who make about $31,000 a year, or approximately 25 percent less than the average for all American workers.

The report credits "corporate culture and outstanding office benefits" for this high level of job satisfaction among administrative assistants. I'm never quite sure what "corporate culture" means, so let's set that aside. It is true that administrative professionals report decent benefits, according to IAAP's most recent Administrative Professional Skills Benchmarking Survey. At least two-thirds of the respondents receive vacation, sick leave, life, health and dental insurance, a 401k retirement account, education assistance, and short and long-term disability coverage.

So benefits could account for why administrative assistants are happy at work. I suspect, though, that something else may be at work here. A 2010 study found that employees who believe in their own abilities are much more likely to be happy at work. Most of the administrative professionals I've met are extremely competent and confident. They also, by and large, love what they do. They may not always be happy, but I think many of them are genuinely satisfied with their work. Helping people is valuable, and helping people is what administrative professionals do.

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