The other day I was asked what features I like in my new flat. It is terrible but I could instantly list a few things I didn’t like before I answered positively (the sofas too close to the telly, the dining room table is in a weird place etc etc!). I think it is human nature to think about your dislikes rather than all the things you adore, it just seems easier – especially when it comes to work!
I always say that assistants should try to remain positive at work and not moan too much and I do honestly stand by that.. but what if we could use our colleagues’ natural negativity to enhance our productivity and value in the company? Instead of asking our managers ‘what can I do for you?’ ask ‘what will ruin your day?’
Asking what your manager doesn’t want is as important as asking what they do want
I think this approach works particularly well when you first start a new job especially if your manager hasn’t had an assistant before or isn’t sure how to work afresh with you. If you have been in the role for a while but are struggling to develop your relationship with you manager or a colleague this approach might also be worth trying too. Here are a few questions you can ask your manager that will provoke good honest answers and will help you understand their needs and add value too.
- Is there anything you do not want me to go near or change in anyway?
- What is your biggest distraction?
- What do you dislike in your daily routine?
- Is there anyone that you don’t want to talk to… ever?
- Are there any points in the day when I should just leave you alone?
- What personality types do you dislike working with?
- Are there any aspects of my role that you don’t need me to do?
- What do you least value in an assistant?
- Are there any forms of communication you dislike?
- What details bother you? What doesn’t?
If you have been in the job for a while these questions are still relevant as you will probably gain a different insight into how your manager likes to work. Remember we are taking their dislikes and making them disappear!
I would say that asking negative questions rather than asking what success looks like is certainly refreshing and I think if you are honest with your manager and say you want to try a different approach they will go along with you and find it a fun way to develop your working relationship. As we all know it can be quite cathartic moaning about your least favourite parts of the day and I bet your managers get very little chance to do that!
I’ve been soooo busy with work over the last few weeks including business trips to Madrid, Amsterdam and the UK I’m still not quite sure which country I’m in at the moment! My new job has been great though and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, my colleagues really understand what I do, the skills I have and what I can offer. Feeling like this in a company has been few and far between for me, I’ve always had aspects of my job that I’ve loved and mangers that I’ve like working with but I have always wanted to do more and at the moment I am being challenged which is great and does make me feel very valued.
Last year Office* conducted a survey for assistants which asked a number of questions and is well worth a read if you haven’t seen the results yet. One of the statistics to come out of the survey which I found interesting was that 72% said they felt a PA was undervalued as a professional career choice. What a surprisingly high number!
Since the survey was published I’ve thought about that statistic quite a bit and I wonder if other professions would have such a high response rate. What is it about being an assistant that makes others question our career choice and why do we stay in a job if we feel that the career choice is undervalued?
Feeling valued is a key performance indicator which increases our engagement and motivation at work so if we feel that our entire career choice is undervalued surely this will have an impact on our performance at work? Or are we as assistants so used to feeling like this that we just get on with things as best we can despite being undervalued?
I truly believe that assistants have such a wide range of skills that we can really turn our hand to most things and are one of the greatest assets a company has but how do we prove that to our employer if they do not value the profession itself? How do we even begin to change this culture?
I don’t have all of the answers and I do think it is hard to change perceptions but I do feel that it has to start with ourselves. We have to take our profession seriously and we have to stand up for our career choices. I’m very proud of my career and where my choices have led me and I think every assistant should feel that I also strive for more. I know we can do it and if others do to then we will start to value our profession and surely others will follow.
What do you think about that statistic? Is it even relevant a year on? How do you get valued at work? I really would love to know your thoughts!
This is a question I have faced many times during my career. Your personal life can affect your work in so many ways, it could be anything from a few late nights that make you feel tired in the office to have real stress at home that really does impact your performance. How do you stop what is happening at home from interfering with your office persona?
Here are a few of my tips if you ever feel less than 100% at work…
- Try to use work as a distraction from what is happening at home by really getting stuck into the tasks you have. If you are not fully focussed on your work now is a good time to do the jobs you have been putting off because they are a bit dull. Do you have any filing or a load of photocopying to do? Use this time to get those basic tasks out of the way.
- If you are not very busy at work this is the time to get busy. Ask to sit in on meetings or do errands for other members of staff, anything to keep your mind off of your problems at home. Concentrating on other things can quite often cure the little worries you have in your personal life and put things into perspective.
- Do talk to your trusted colleagues at work but try to keep this restricted to lunchtime or over a coffee away from the office. It is good to talk through your problems and they may be able to help you with your work but don’t make this a regular occurrence as you don’t want to be seen to be too reliant on your colleagues.
- If you are “tired” and by tired I think you know what I mean! Remember you only have to get through 8 hours at the most. Drink lots of coffee, take regular breaks, go straight home after work and have an early night!
- Can you talk to your manager? If so do. I’ve had times that I’ve needed to speak to my boss and explain why I’m not performing to my best. They had noticed and appreciated my honesty. In fact my manager said I could leave early and get my issues sorted at home and start again tomorrow. It helped greatly.
- Quite a lot of companies I’ve worked for have offered support through a helpline which covers quite a few issues from money problems, to legal advice to counseling. I’ve used the helpline a few times and it does help. Even if they advice is a bit generic it can point you in the right direction.
- Plan something nice for the weekend ahead even if it is time spent in your home relaxing. If home is the problem try to go out or do something that makes you feel relaxed. Trying to get the most out of your weekend will mean you can feel refreshed once you are back in the office on Monday.
- If you really do need time off work to get your issues resolved do take the time out. Take a personal day, a holiday or phone in sick. If you need the time away from the office urgently then your manager should understand. If they don’t then I believe that says a lot more about the company ethos towards its staff than you!
It is important I think to keep your work life and personal life separate and sometimes this simply means putting on a brave face and getting on with the day. If, however, you are overwhelmed with your personal life do try to talk to your manager or HR. If it is not a regular occurrence your company should understand and help you and provide good support.
So here I am in sunny Madrid attending my first event as the Executive Assistant of Gallus Events. My manager is speaking about sponsorship to a group of event organisers who are all taking notes and listening intently. It has got me thinking about the differences between our profession and theirs.
The fact I even call what we do a profession is to some people quite shocking. I’ve heard in the not so distant past a colleague say something along the lines of “women fall into your job and don’t have to be qualified so why do you think it is a profession?”. I know I know, what he said was wrong on so many levels (not to mention completely sexist) but I’m sure most of you have heard something similar especially when seeking investment in your career from your employer.
Here are a few other excuses I’ve come across over the years that companies use not to train their support staff:
- You do not have a qualification to maintain so we won’t support your training
- We need you in the office at all times
- You should already have the skills you need for this job
- We will put this in your objectives for next year
The people surrounding me today take their profession seriously, how do I know that? Well they are here. They may or may not have a qualification in what they do but they all want to learn and are here to find out about new and innovative ways of working. Assistants should be exactly the same; we should be allowed to go to events that help us grow professionally. There are an abundance of events out there for assistants that are free to attend and have quality content but there are also a number of outstanding courses which we quite rightly are asked to pay for. Assistants across the world should be attending both.
At very senior levels, the return on investment from a skilled assistant can be substantial. Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo—for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek. In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that.
If this ratio is correct then really it should be in our company’s best interests to keep us up to date on all the new time saving techniques and the soft skills required to maintain the confidence required when dealing with those that want our boss’s time. If you are reading this blog then I guess I am talking to the converted in terms of knowing that you need to keep your skills up to date, and network with other assistants… Otherwise you would’t be here! So what can we proactively do to get our managers to invest in us because unless you do have an outstanding boss you will have to be proactive in seeking this investment in your career
If you are an assistant you will be a planner, no doubt about it! Use this skill to strategically plan your career. Write a list of what you would like to achieve per quarter. It could be anything from improving your Excel skills to overcoming your public speaking nerves. Think about how you can achieve these objectives on your own, through the company or with an external supplier. Research the suppliers that would assist you achieve these objectives. For example can you brush up on your IT skills by listening to a podcast or webinar? Are there any free tutorials online? If you would like to improve your time keeping skills could you go along to a training course run internally by your company? If it is a specific PA skill, for example minute keeping, find and research the best external supplier for that course. If you have proactively thought through your needs your boss is more likely to take you seriously.
Attend free shows such as The Office Management & PA event in June. Tell your boss you want to take a day out of the office to meet with potential suppliers but also attend FREE training sessions. Other than you being out of the office for the day (which is the same as you taking a holiday) what do they have to loose?
Do put aside a few hours a month for your personal and professional develop. Not just on your lunch break or at home (although sometimes you might have to) but also during your normal working day. Yes you are using the company’s time but they will benefit from your improved skill set.
We are a unique commodity in any office. We save the people that run the company time and this alone is invaluable. We need to think of ourselves as a commodity and with that comes investment. The best assistants are well oiled machines that can “do it all” but we still require the odd maintenance service every now and again!
Following on from Monday’s blog here are another five interview question and answers specifically for assistants. 1. How do you work within a team? A lot of assistants work with just their manager so it is important to stress that you consider this to be a partnership and in effect you are working together as a team. If the new role requires you to work in a department supporting a number of people the answers should detail the excellent skills … click to continue
I’ve written two blog posts on interview questions specific to PAs, EAs and admin assistants and they have both proved to be very popular so I thought I’d add another ten questions that I have been asked at various interviews over the years and my answers for them. 1. Why should we employ you rather than one of the other candidates? Use this question to really sell yourself. You do want the interviewer to pick you so really emphasis your strong points, … click to continue
I’ve just been reading this fantastic article by Richard Branson on LinkedIn where he discusses how much he values his assistant. I’ve always admired him but to see him praise the assistants he has employed over his career has really raised my estimations! If only all our managers could be so complimentary and aware of how useful we can be. There has been so much talk over the last few months about technology replacing the need for assistants. In fact, I know … click to continue
Thank you everyone for your kind messages over the last week. It is really nice to know that I have such amazing readers and just emphasises how supportive assistants are of each other… I always knew we had each other’s backs! Some of you have asked if I will continue the blog and I can confirm that I certainly am and actually will be able to spend a bit more time on my writing as my new employer is very … click to continue
So I have some big news to share with everyone today…. are you ready? Okay, well… I’ve just quit my job! *Gulp* On top of that I’ve just informed my landlord that I am moving out of my house *gulp gulp* and I’ve just told my friends and family I’m going to be moving out of London *sweaty palms*… I don’t normally spend a huge amount of time talking specifically about myself on the blog, I’d much rather share my … click to continue
I don’t know about you lot but I can not be happier that tomorrow is Good Friday! Not only are we out of the office for 4 whole days (sorry to those outside the UK that don’t get to share in this communal sigh of relief) but for the first time this year we can also stuff our faces full of chocolate without any judgement! What’s not to like! Over the last few days I’ve been going about my normal Easter business … click to continue