Should assistants 'make themselves look busy'?

Should assistants ‘make themselves look busy’?

During my formative years, I had a number of part-time and weekend jobs to earn some extra money. I mainly worked in shops where I would run around sorting out racks of clothes or helping on the till and changing rooms, it was a busy job, especially at the weekend, spent mainly on your feet and I must admit I absolutely hated it. I have a huge amount of respect for people that work in the retail business because I just couldn’t cut it. Don’t get me wrong I loved the fashion and talking to people and seeing how happy they were with their purchases what I couldn’t stand was the manager’s constantly telling me to ‘make myself look busy’ when there was absolutely no one in the shop and nothing to do. It just didn’t make any sense to me what so ever and as a moody and slightly stroppy teenager it was even more difficult to comprehend!

Last week I was chatting with a fellow assistant who told me that his manager had considered the hours he worked to not be long enough and that despite the fact he was coming into work at 8.30am and leaving at 6pm the perception other staff had of him was that he wasn’t putting enough effort in. The manager went on to say that he couldn’t fault the assistant’s work and everything was completed on deadline but to improve this perception he should work longer hours and ‘make himself look busy’ even if he wasn’t.

I must admit when he told me this I was quite shocked, if you are not busy and have completed all of your work that day should you stay longer to make it look like you are making the effort? Another point to this is as assistants should we be working the same hours as our managers to ensure we are always in the office in case they need us? What is the point of having access to technology that allows to work away from the office if we don’t use it and finally, where is the work/life balance?

I’ve been thinking about how I would feel if I was told this by my manager and here is my point of view…

  • I think it is an old fashioned concept to have to stay in the office to make yourself look busy, if you have finished your work and completed your contracted hours you should go home and enjoy your life outside of work.
  • However if something unexpected crops up or you are asked to complete a piece of work as a one off or emergency then it goes without saying that you should stay and do that work whether or not you are being paid any extra for it. Also as a good team player you should help other colleagues as and when they need it which might require you to stay longer at the office.
  • If you stay in the office to ‘look busy’ then potentially you are undermining yourself and your ability to complete work quickly and effectively within your set hours.
  • This kind of attitude from certain managers makes me wonder if they understand our roles. We are not there to be at the beck and call of those we are supporting, we are there to work hard and help them succeed in the business but not to work all hours for the sake of perception.
  • New technology means that we can work remotely and away from our desks. It is no longer realistic (or fair) to expect assistants to stay at their desk when our colleagues are working from home, answering emails from their blackberry and using iPads to attend meetings virtually. Why can’t we do this?
  • Most of us chose to be assistants because it is a profession that allows us to have a good work/life balance while still working with high level colleagues and earning a decent wage. Some assistants that I’ve met could take up a more senior position in the company but choose not to because they like this balance in their life. Should we work longer hours or match the hours of our managers without the financial reward? Controversial but it is something that should be considered.
  • Finally, I am happy to have a blackberry (or iPhone in my case) and a laptop and work extra hours from home if I need to. I also don’t mind if my manager contacts me outside of working hours if they need me for anything but I do mind being stuck in the office if I really don’t need to be there!

I’d love to know what you think about this, do you work long hours and are you happy to do so? Have you ever been asked to make yourself look busy while in the office and what do you do in that circumstance?

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