I’ve been working really lllllooooonnnnggggg hours recently and I can definitely say it has taken it’s toll! I can not wait to have a break over Christmas and New Year. I bet most of you feel the same!

For me I know I can work pretty much flat out for about three months but then I need to have a holiday otherwise I can get run down and just a bit grumpy. Working flat out in the world of assistants means being available 24/7, taking on extra projects, working long hours and generally being around for anything the boss needs. This is fairly common right? And we are even more available if we have laptops and business phones. Technology certainly has freed us from our desks but has also made us really really available!

I personally don’t mind working long hours if I need too and I don’t mind getting phone calls in my free time if that call is an urgent one but I do also have boundaries when it comes to my work / life balance because well I do have a life outside of work! I think all assistants need to set boundaries for a number of reasons but also because we can be taken for granted so easily. We do our jobs so effectively that I think our managers can expect us to be around all of the time and they do have a tendency to become very reliant on us. Boundary setting is an important part of any relationship (be it personal or working) so where do we draw the line?

So where do we draw the line?

Well I think the best place to start is with yourself and your priorities. For me quality time with my friends and family is a priority. I don’t want to be checking my phone, or answering emails when I am in their company. If I am at home, in my sweat pants on the sofa watching rubbish TV (I’d like to say this is rare but I would be lying) I don’t mind doing some work but when I want to spend quality time with my loved ones I am not going to be available for the office. Remember we don’t get paid for the extra hours.

The second best place to start is with your boss. Let’s face it, they are not going to start the conversation about boundary setting at work. I’m afraid you will have to assert yourself on this one. I make sure at the beginning of every new role I ask my manager the following questions:

  • Do you want me in the office when you are in the office?
  • Do you expect me to answer my mobile phone / emails outside of office hours?
  • What is the culture here regarding hours, do people work over their expected hours and if so is this from the office or remotely?
  • What hours do you work? When do you switch off?

And lastly I tell my boss a little bit about me so that they know I have other priorities outside of work. For example I used to play netball twice a week which meant I had to leave the office on time. This is a risky approach, nobody wants to annoy the boss early on in the role but what happens when you are working really long hours and they are totally unsustainable? The only one suffering is you! I believe most managers are reasonable and will respect your boundaries if you are flexible in other areas.

I always think one of the best assets we have as assistants is that we can be really flexible and we should be because we don’t know the emergencies that will crop up in the office and we don’t know when we have to drop everything to complete urgent work. Our flexible approach to work will mean on occasions we are in the office for some long periods of time. So I think of flexibility as a trade off. Yes I will be flexible when I need to and I will make sacrifices but I will also leave the office early every now and then because I make the hours up elsewhere.

It is all about compromise.

Yes it really is all about compromise especially when you are an assistant. Concentrate on doing most of your work during working hours, be available when there is a crisis and turn your phone/ laptop off when you want to spend time doing fun things.

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  • Saba December 19, 2013   Reply →

    Great post. I find it difficult to set boundaries at work. Part of it is I want to come across helpful and the other part is that I have a need to be needed. Double edged sword really. Sometimes, when I’m on leave or not in the office and get a phone call, I am tempted not to pick up. But then I feel guilty. And when I think I should approach the topic with my boss, I think that maybe I’ll be making a big deal out of nothing and they’ll think I’m not willing to go the extra mile… Do you have any advice on how to approach this scenario without upsetting the boss or making them think that you don’t want to help? I get scared that all the hard work I do during my working hours can be overshadowed by not wanting to be bothered during my leave (which I think we are all entitled to and it’s unfair to impose in that time…).

    Have you faced this type of situation?


  • Michelle B December 19, 2013   Reply →

    I agree, this is a great post! Setting boundaries at work is important if you are going to have a life. Of course, sometimes easier said than done. I have often felt the same way as Saba in my thinking. You laid out a good plan in how to approach and what kind of questions to ask when starting with a new boss. I also like what you said about flexibility and compromise. It is applicable in any relationship including work. Also the reminder that we are not always getting paid to do the extras on off hours.

    This helps as I approach my next Administrative job opportunity. I really enjoy reading about your experiences as you relay them honestly, clearly, knowing that we experience these challenges too and you provide excellent tips to all of us on how to handle it! Cheers to you!

    Michelle *-)

  • Sara January 23, 2014   Reply →

    Work life balance – sigh. Just about to start another PA role and I am hoping they are as flexible as I always am. Previously, I gave everything to my role as PA to a Vice President of a large firm. He always told me that should I ever let him down and leave him stranded without transport at an airport that he would fire me. So you can imagine my shock when at 3am one morning he called to say his taxi hadn’t arrived and I was to sort something for him. I did sort it spending a good hour chasing the lost transport. Over and above my listed duties I think, but he still fired me!! Work life has to be flexible and I am now very cautious about being too giving and being taken granted for. I won’t let this happen again but am also determined not to let anyone I work for down, so setting perameters early on is a good idea for all concerned.

    NB: The VP also got fired 2 weeks after me for his adverse reaction towards his PA. Suitably justified I think in this instance.

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