Three reasons your assistants keep quitting

(MoneyWatch) Besides a romantic partner, there are few relationships more important to your everyday well-being and success than the one you have with your assistant (hence the terms "office wife" or "office husband"). A solid support staff can help a boss get through busy days as well as tough months or even years. But have you had trouble with your assistants leaving after a few months, even though you think you're a good manager? Here are three reasons you might be seeing this constant exodus:

You're hiring the wrong person
Who is your ideal assistant? "Sometimes as bosses we have a fantasy of who will be our assistant. Maybe it is a [prestigious] college education or assertiveness or ambition. Maybe we think 'bright and energetic (read young),'" says Beth Banks Cohn, founder and president of Banks Consulting! LLC. The problem? Young and ambitious can be synonymous with upwardly mobile. "Entry-level jobs are just that, the stepping stone to other, higher level, more lucrative jobs. If you want an assistant who is going to stay with you for a long time, hire someone who wants to be an assistant," suggests Cohn. In other words, someone with a few years of experience in executive management might be better suited for the position than an eager college grad.

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You don't treat them with true respect
While they might be under you on the company roster, treat your administrative staff as the valuable members of your team that they are. "When leaders praise in private and demean in public, you're literally kicking your MVP out of the door," says Washington D.C.-based management consultant John Haynes III. Showing respect means hearing their ideas and opinions. So if your assistant has suggestions, listen to them and heed the good ones, says Haynes: "Part of the genius of assistants is their ability to create structure, order, process and systems where there is none."

You don't get to know them
You don't have to be BFF with your assistant -- in most cases, that's crossing a professional line. But you do need to relate to them beyond your requests and tasks, whether it's learning about what motivates them personally (for instance, a devoted mom who might need a slightly flexible schedule) or professionally, says Mary Kier, CEO of Cook Associates Executive Search. "Treating an assistant as an office slave will ultimately lead to resentment and is anything but motivating. Take the time to learn what they want from their job and where they'd like to be in 1 year, 5 years," she suggests. Once you know where they want to be, help them build a path there. They might have to leave you in the process, but it won't be in the immediate future. Plus, you'll develop a reputation for nurturing talent, which will make the position of your assistant more appealing to future candidates.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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