I’ve been working long hours recently, and I can say it has taken its 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 new projects, working long hours and generally being around for anything the boss needs. This is relatively common. And we are even more available if we have laptops and business phones. Technology indeed has freed us from our desks but has also made us available!

I 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 several reasons but also because we can be taken for granted so quickly. 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 essential 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 long hours, and they are 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 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.