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.
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
Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing a series of blogs on events, well more specifically how assistants can organise and run great events within the context of their role. I wanted to give you a quick round up of the issues discussed and some additional tips that I think you will find useful when running your events. Here are the links to my previous blogs: How to negotiate when planning an event Site visit and other venue considerations … click to continue
Over the years I’ve organised a variety of team building events from week long forums to after work drinks in the local pub. I would imagine that most assistants have been asked to arrange something for their team as we do tend to be the focal point for social activities in the office. It is such a great achievement when we manage to create something that works well and everyone had a great time. it is also so important that … click to continue
Most of us will be involved in organising an event at some point in our career particularly if your company does not have a dedicated events department. When I first started as an assistant I was helping with events fairly quickly and one of the first tasks I was asked to complete was writing and sending out joining instructions for in-house training courses. This was a fairly basic task at the time but was helpful for the person conducting the training to … click to continue