To become a successful board-level director you would expect that individual to be somewhat of a workaholic, if not extremely passionate about their job. All of the executives I have worked for have been passionate about their career and the organisation they work in, some have been what I would describe as workaholics. You know the type; they are alway switched on, they are always available and they are always on their iPhone. Not to even begin mentioning the hours they work. Working for a workaholic boss can be tricky for most people but for assistants it can really difficult. Are we supposed to match the hours that they do? Are we supposed to be in the office when they are in the office and are we supposed to get through the amount of work that they do? On top of that, how do you even start supporting someone who considers their job as the most important thing. Here are some tips for those of you that are working for a workaholic.
Ask what is expected of you
With every new manager I have worked with in the initial interviews I have asked what they expect of me as their assistant. Once I have been given the job I ask the question again during the first meeting together. It is really important that you understand what your manager needs in an assistant and when they will need you to be around. I always ask what kind of hours they work and when they tend to arrive into the office and leave so that I know if I have to adjust my preferred hours. Asking these types of questions in the early days of your relationship will set you in good stead. If you didn’t ask your boss this question when you first started working for them, it’s not too late, particularly if you are struggling to keep up with their demands. During your next review ask that you discuss how you work together. They may not realise that you actually would prefer to get into the office after the sun has risen or leave before your other half goes to sleep!
Set some boundaries
It is important to set some boundaries with your boss but also with yourself. It can be easy to get sucked into a workaholics schedule so you have to be quite disciplined. Discuss the hours that you want to work, obviously there will be times when you work long hours but this shouldn’t be the norm. Ideally you want to be able to get all of your work done that day, go home at a reasonable time and not have to check your emails until you go to bed! If you are struggling with your work load and the demands of your manager you will need to set some boundaries and you will have to communicate your new position.
What is realistic for you?
The problem with workaholics, particularly when they are your boss, is that they may not realise firstly that they are workaholics and secondly that not everyone else wants to work as hard as they do. If they are comparing themselves to other executives in the organisation, fair enough. But if they are comparing themselves to their staff that is certainly not fair. To work successfully with a workaholic you have to be strong and you have to understand what is realistic for you. If you have other commitments outside of work you shouldn’t feel bad about that. I’ve always said it is important to match your work style with your boss but at the same time you must think about your preferred work style and how it might compliment your manager’s. For instance, if you are racing through work to keep up with their demands but you prefer a more methodical approach you might end up making mistakes which they will certainly pick you up on. When it comers to working for a workaholic you have to really think long and hard about your circumstances and what is realistic for your situation.
Try to get as much work done in your working hours
A compromise that I have found to work well when working with a workaholic is this – you work really really hard when you are in the office. Make sure your manager understands that you are doing everything you can to support them within the boundaries you have set yourself. If you have to work through your lunch but leave at a reasonable time, surely this is a compromise worth taking. If you try this approach, time management will be crucial and you will also have to be pretty strict with those colleagues that interrupt you and take up an unnecessary amount of your precious time.
What are the positives?
Okay, I know I’ve just spent quite a bit of time writing about the negatives but there are loads of positives when it comes to working with a workaholic. They tend be be driven, successful and passionate. Qualities that can be really infectious. I always found that I worked harder when I had a workaholic boss but I was also rewarded more frequently and my efforts didn’t go unnoticed. I’ve worked for really lazy managers and that was much much worse.
What can you do to free up their time?
Last but no means least what can you, as their assistant, do to free up their time so that they can go home early for a change! Take a look at the tasks that take up a lot of their time and think of ways that you can help reduce their workload. For example, do they spend most of their day in meetings? If so, can their diary be structured in a way that they have a few hours to spend at their desk. Are colleagues meeting with your boss when really an email will do? Do they spend a lot of time doing their own admin – that is something you will have to wrestle out of their hands straight away! Tell them you want to free up their time and work on solutions together. As much as a workaholic loves their job they will appreciate getting away from the office early – well at least once in a while!