Earlier this year, there was a sense of outrage among the public and disability charities when a man from Hull received a letter addressed to Mr BlindMan.
Paul Harris was only registered blind last year and the correspondence from Kier Building Maintenance was therefore very distressing.
“I just couldn’t believe it. Words just can’t explain how I feel, I’m really upset,” said Mr Harris.
It emerged that an administrative worker had mistakenly entered details relating to his personal circumstances in the ‘name’ column rather than the ‘remarks’ column.
Ann Massam, from Hull and East Riding Institute for the Blind, said: “He has recently been registered as blind and that in itself is enough to come to terms with.”
“Then to get something like this through the post, it just shouldn’t happen,” she added.
A spokesperson for the company apologised for the error but the damage had already been done, leading to bad publicity for Kier.
This is just one example of many typing errors that are made every year – some are amusing, but others can lead to potentially very serious consequences.
Kerrie Fuller, membership manager at the Institute of Professional Administrators, said that such mistakes made by secretarial staff can be extremely costly to businesses.
“I think it can depend on which sector as to what the damage can be sometimes,” she explained, citing the example of a couple in New Zealand who mistakenly had zeros added to their bank balance and had spent it before they were made of the mistake.
“That’s an administrative error, somebody in the admin department will have mistyped money going in or coming out.”
“There’s a clear problem there because it’s the bank’s fault. I suppose they’re insured for that sort of thing but it still got a lot of press coverage and made the bank look pretty stupid,” she said.
“Also, we’ve known of cases where in legal situations, certain paperwork has to go to the courts within a certain period and if you don’t get those reports in on time or with the correct legal information – it’s all very exacting and specific – and if you don’t manage to do that, you’ve got huge repercussions and a law case potentially,” Ms Fuller added.
This is where training and experience can come to a person’s aid, with the likes of typing courses helping administrative staff to brush up on their skills and maintain confidence in the job they’re doing, which can be important for cutting out mistakes.
Another potential stumbling block for secretarial staff is a database, where inaccurate or out of date information can cause embarrassment further down the line.
“Most people use an Excel spreadsheet to do mail merge and you’re relying on that database to contain the correct information and it being completely up to date and relevant,” said Ms Fuller, which suggests that Microsoft Office courses could be a good idea for secretarial and administrative workers that want to try and reduce the possibility of making mistakes.
“It’s because we’ve got these systems doing it all electronically that it’s easy for those mistakes to happen,” she added.
“When we used to do it manually, albeit 50 years ago, your attention to detail used to be better because if you mistyped you had to start again, the letter had to be completely retyped,” she said, which potentially acts as a reminder of the importance of touch typing courses for maintaining those all-important skills.
“I think training has a lot to do with it. But it’s a basic attention to detail problem and it’s a very difficult thing to teach,” Ms Fuller explained.
She said that a good knowledge of Microsoft Office is important, as this can help to reduce errors, but asserted: “It would be impossible to get rid of it completely, by definition human beings make errors.”
“We all have an off day at work, but a lot of it is about slowing down, taking time to do what you’re doing properly, rather than rushing to get it done,” she continued.
Another way for businesses to combat this problem is to make sure that they have internal procedures in place so that secretarial staff are constantly checking for any errors and also updating information as required.
All of this highlights the importance of secretarial staff for businesses and the pressure they are often under to do their job well.
“Attention to detail is almost something you have as part of your personality,” asserted Ms Fuller.
“You’re either a big picture person or you’re a small details person and a lot of people who are small details people are naturally better at doing administration because they’re very thorough,” she concluded.