This year, don't just send flowers.
That's the message some secretaries would like to send to their bosses between now and April 26, which is Professional Secretaries Day.
Not that they don't appreciate a bloom or two, a lunch out or a box of chocolates. It's just that too many bosses treat Secretaries Day as an obligation -- and it shows. Sending the same gift to everyone, for instance, makes some secretaries feel like cogs in a wheel.
On the other hand, bosses who ignore the tradition leave their assistants feeling left out.
Contrary to popular belief, Secretaries Day is not an invention of Hallmark Cards. But a company spokeswoman supplied this historical tidbit:
The idea came from a group now called Professional Secretaries International, and, in 1952, the government took them up on the proposal.
Charles Sawyer, then the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, designated a day "to remind secretaries of their obligations to the profession and to bring recognition to secretaries for their vital role in business, industry, the arts, government and the professions."
Lately, that recognition has been translated into gifts, and the best come straight from the heart.
Sylvia Hollingsworth was surprised and delighted to receive a huge bouquet of flowers last year from an ex-boss, who enclosed a note: "To a great former secretary," it said.
Ms. Hollingsworth's current boss in Irvine, Calif., after nosing around for perfume preferences, gave her a bottle of the fragrance "Tea Roses."
For the past three years, Faviola Solis of Chicago has received a gift that cost her company very little: an extra day off, to take sometime during the year.
It's a dream present, she says, and "makes you feel very, very appreciated."
Gift certificates, too, can be a thoughtful acknowledgment of someone's tastes or interests, whether these include reading, music, gardening or cooking.
And who wouldn't appreciate dinner for two at a favorite restaurant, compliments of the boss?
Janet Russell, of New York, still has the personalized notepads that one boss gave her many years ago. So often in corporate settings, only managers and executives get their own pads and stationery, says Ms. Russell. By giving secretaries something that they normally wouldn't have, the boss "elevated our status."
Glen Williams, of Chicago, may have felt the same way the time he and his supervisor went to lunch at the boss' private club.
DDB Needham Worldwide in Chicago has made a hit with seasonal gifts to employees from the company, leaving to individual bosses the option of also sending their own. One time the theme gift was a painted flowerpot, and another time the ad agency passed out umbrellas decorated in a cheerful springprint.
But there can also be a dark side to Secretaries Day. Bosses who forget may pay a price, as secretaries keep grudge lists (yes, it happens).
At the other extreme, some bosses take the whole thing too far, causing unpleasant competition about who got taken to the most expensive restaurant, for example.
Expensive gifts (those costing $100 or more) seem to miss the point. It's the thought, not the price tag, that matters most. Bosses should find meaningful ways to say "thank you" to their chief helpers, and not just on Secretaries Day. The best gift for this day -- and everyday -- is respect.
Deborah Jacobs, a business writer specializing in legal topics, regularly contributes to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Newsweek. Write to her c/o Chronicle Features, 870 Market St., Suite 1011, San Francisco, Calif. 94102. Please include your name, address and telephone number.