Last month I asked you all to complete a survey which asked what are the big topics for discussion at the moment. What stuff should we be debating, what is going on, what should be changed and what is working well within the Assistant industry. Thanks to the hundreds of you that completed that survey. Here are the results…

The big PA questions - what do you think?

Are there any additional questions we should be thinking about?

  • In this day and age are companies unintentionally discriminating by not hiring PAs from an ethnic background?
  • Raising the profile of being a PA. In Australia I would say I was an Executive Assistant and people would understand what I did and respect my career. When I moved to London people didn’t understand my role and I even felt embarrassed to say what I did. Support staff are crucial for all businesses and I think that organisations like Practically Perfect PA will help raise our profile. I am now a virtual assistant and proud of it. I do it around my children so I can safely say being a PA has enabled me to travel the world, get a job within weeks of arriving in two countries and now as a mother it continues to give me work.
  • How do we ensure that PA’s are kept up to date with the latest technology (including training) to assist our bosses with their work?
  • What are some of the natural career progressions for EA’s? When you are good at your job and you are so valuable to your boss how do you voice your need for progression without making your boss nervous that you want to move out of your role completely. What are some of the complementary courses companies should be putting EA’s on?
  • Are we being supported sufficiently by businesses in relation to undertaking training and other external courses to improve our skill set and to enable/encourage us to keep abreast of technological advancements.
  • Are systems diminishing the role of the PA?
  • Does your job description reflect your role?
  • I am always keen to hear about PAs/EAs who have changed their career path after a successful life as an Assistant and how they went about deviating to another walk of life? I am often told by peers and third parties that I work with that I have a lot of potential, but pinning them down to what that would be is so tough. After 8 years of being an Assistant am I just going to get laughed out of a new role in another part of the business?
  • More insight on the recruitment process and all it entails.
  • What are some tips to make a remote Assistant-Executive relationship great? With technological advances these days it is quite easy for Assistants to work on a remote basis. In our office, we have an Assistant that supports 7 Associate Directors that live in various parts of the State. She sees them infrequently (about once a month), but talks to them daily via phone and email. She is able to provide administrative assistance through phone, email, software, document scanning, etc. I think the challenge is how to make these relationships stronger when you don’t always get the face-to-face time as you would in a traditional office Assistant-Executive relationship. This example also applies for Executives who travel frequently; Assistants who have the capability to work from home; and Virtual Assistants.
  • What is the future of this role?
  • In an office that is growing and changing every day (or so it seems), what is the best way to handle change? The main areas (to me) would include changes in job descriptions for you, your boss, and your co-workers. When their job changes, so does the assistant’s job. Part two of that would be: what is the best way for you to help your boss find their “new normal”? That’s a biggie for me right now.
  • How should we be adapting in a world where technology is making managers more self-sufficient and diminishing the role of the Assistant or redundant?
  • The role of technology in the role it’s pretty central now, if you want to progress you need to know about and keep up to date with technology.
  • What qualifications should we have and are we remunerated correctly for the work we do?
  • I am not a PA but I have been a senior exec with PA support for many years and have strong views on how organisations should value PA’s. I also think that many PA’s could bring more to the business, especially around implementing change if they knew how to do that.
  • How do we get Directors to realise our worth?
  • Are we paid the right salary for the work that we do
  • How do I get the public to value the work I do? Public impression is low.
  • Should our employers be funding our training and ongoing personal development? (And by that, I mean they should, but should we be asking them so that this becomes ‘the norm’) – also from that, what defines ‘training’, is it courses for PAs, the Office show where much knowledge is gleaned, ExecSecLive i.e. Bigger conferences for PAs and what about things like memberships to organisations such as EPAA… Should PA’s be ‘classed’ in a different way i.e. Not as ‘support’ staff, but as business assistants?
  • I think the main challenge we face as PAs is receiving recognition for our job and getting the correct salary. There are too many job titles going round for PA/Office support roles that is hard to gage a salary spectrum and many workers are being paid far too little for the role being done.
  • How do we get the public to value the work that we do? How do we change the perception of “just an admin”?
  • Is the Private sector better for PA’s compared to the Public sector?
  • Technology is updating at such a rapid rate – Apple vs. Android and offices using both.
  • How do we find harmony with our “difficult” co-workers when tensions are high?
  • How do we engender respect (as a peer) from colleagues and vendors, especially those with a “Mad Men” view of an assistant?
  • We’ve moved from being called the secretary to an administrative assistant or executive assistant or associate, non-exempt to exempt, but the organisational culture still places the assistant in a non-managerial role. We are project mangers and our project is the management of our our executive’s life and responsibilities. How do we push Human Resources globally to make the change?
  • In an ever more digitalised world, is this the beginning of the end for PAs? In an ever more digitalised world, how important is it to keep up with social media and, further, not let it overwhelm days and workloads? How can we persuade smaller businesses that it is worthwhile investing in training and CPD?
  • How do we keep ourselves from ‘alienating’ colleagues (both in our own firms as outside) by using all the digital communication methods we have at our hands. – Which by the way most of the times are a godsend!
  • Are we keeping up with ‘current trends’ in the VA business or sticking to our own ideas of what works?
  • What tools are out there to make our lives easier? What support networks are out there that can help us support and guide each other? How do we know when our execs are being irrational or unreasonable? Can we tell the difference?
  • The main questions that I ask myself on a daily basis are regarding qualification, career development, salary and value. These are all really important to me and you have already listed these above. Career development is essential to anyone who wants to succeed. The only other thing is regarding what being involved in networks can really do to benefit us. I still don’t know everything that is out there.
  • Should PA’s be entitled to a part of the company annual bonus?
  • What, if anything, do I need to improve upon? What additional skills do I need to add to enable my support to be more comprehensive? Am I learning what changes my boss needs so that I can support them better?
  • I think career development is critical. A top assistant plays the “every role” and has to have at least a peripheral knowledge of finance, operations, production, marketing and IT. Often this is learned on the job through building solid business relationships, conducting meaningful conversations and recording any learnings so that you can quickly react when something comes up. But I think it is important and worthwhile to continue development with avenues such as conferences or online learning portals.
  • How do we continually grow in our roles
  • How do we keep up to date with technological advances (especially if your IT department is slow to grasp the latest versions/ways of working)?
  • I think you have captured all the questions that would be front of mind for me and the sense I have of the PA industry. You’re right, things are always changing. I guess it’s up to each of us to make our situation work best for us as individuals as PA jobs can vary incredibly from one organisation to another, some of us work 1:1 and therefore the relationship with our boss is key and all sorts of variances. Networking is an important thing these days, if just to keep up to date with what other people are doing and knowledge sharing. I think what always strikes me about the PA industry is the will to help other PAs out, it’s a great industry to work in!
  • Expectations from employers across the different sectors of the employment market e.g. education; local government, banking. How the location of your employer affects you: are expectations of what you do and the salary different in London from those in the Midlands?

What next?

So now we have the questions and you have the answers. We are taking these topics to PAs based in and around Leeds and Edinburgh.

During the course of the events we will look to resolve these big questions that face our industry today. Through group activities, debates and all the latest technology, we will discuss the challenges faced by PAs today.

The dates and times are:

Edinburgh – Thursday 30th June, 15:00 – 18:00 

Leeds – Monday 4th July, 15:00 – 18:00

All of the events are free and you can register right now. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

The big PA questions - what do you think?

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