What's your problem?

My boss's PA does as she pleases, especially when he is out of the office or on holiday. She arrives late, leaves early, and some days doesn't bother to show up.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

She takes more holiday than she is due, in the knowledge that she keeps the records. And she moonlights in another job. My secretary was made redundant last year on the basis that I could use the services of this woman, but she is never around when I need her.

It's putting massive pressure on the department's only other secretary, who resents her colleague's woeful attendance record and the extra work it causes her, and it's having a negative effect on other staff, who must be thinking this behaviour is acceptable. But when I approach my boss on the subject, he becomes defensive and waves away the problem. What should I do?

A. I don't like rushing into prurient assumptions, but you must be thinking what I'm thinking. I've no idea what they've been up to together, but it seems at least probable that this PA has some sort of serious hold over her boss, which in turn allows her to get away with murder. Her behaviour is so extreme that she must be very confident indeed of her immunity. No wonder he becomes defensive.

If this is indeed the case, your boss is never going to take action voluntarily or respond to the sort of tentative approaches you've so far made. It may seem a bit dramatic, but I believe your only hope is a cool, itemised, factual catalogue of this PA's transgressions, signed by all those who have been in a first-hand position to witness them, and delivered directly to your boss. I don't think threats of resignation are either necessary or wise. The most encouraging fact is this: since he only heads up a department, your boss must himself have a boss of his own. You needn't (and shouldn't) allude to this - if he fails to act, he'll know well enough what your next move will have to be.

Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group; he is a non-executive director of WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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