Sunday, 11 June 2017

Mind the gap! Dealing with the difference between what you're employed to do and what you actually do....

Executive assistant job description

You don't need to tell an EA that there is usually a massive gap between what is written in their job description stating what they're employed to do and what they actually do on a day-to-day basis. It's no secret that most job ads that detail available EA positions and their accompanying position descriptions are usually just copied and adapted from whatever can be found floating around on the internet from job ads posted previously. Unfortunately though this contributes to much of the incorrect stereotyping that attaches itself to our roles, especially when the responsibilities listed are just the usual run of the mill, diary and email management. Much of the time, the job description that you apply for may not match what you end up doing depending on the actual Manager you are paired with and the approach they take towards the EA/Exec relationship. You can be hired to a role that may look extensive on paper, promising a partnership and much respect in the team you'd be working in, but in actual truth can be overstated based on what the expectations are of you by your Manager. And vice versa, I've had many EA's come to me concerned that what was listed on paper is incredibly far from what they are asked to do extensively on any one day. It's important that when the brief is taken for an available EA position that it is captured and adapted to what the actual expectations are of that Manager, so that the successful EA that accepts the role walks in to exactly what they are expecting, and nothing different. When the hiring manager is not involved in this recruitment process, a gap will usually unfold weeks into the EA's employment where they realise that the role is not what was promised.

Throughout my career I've been in both the 'over promised, under delivered' scenario, and the 'under promised, over delivered' scenario. So what does that look like exactly? And what should you do if you end up in either of these situations? Because the reality is, when you accept any EA role your intention will be to stick it out and create a fulfilling relationship between you and your manager, and not to have to walk away after a few months because the job isn't what you thought it was.

The over promised, under delivering scenario
Ok, so you land yourself what you believe to be the perfect job and think it will fit in well with your current skill set and experience. But when you start the job you realise as the weeks go on that you've landed yourself into a team that not only doesn't respect you, but that the Manager assigned to you doesn't respect or value the experience and skill set you bring to the table. So what do you do? I've spoken with many EA's before in this position who either just ride it out, unhappy as they are for years on end, or at the other extreme end up walking away straight away, leaving those that hired them high and dry and having to start the recruitment process and orientation training all over again. Neither is ideal, and I myself, at some point in my career have unfortunately done both, which I look back at now and think how silly I was and how easily the scenario could have been fixed if I had of known what I know now. It's no revelation that successful EA/Executive relationships are built on communication, but if you don't open those communication doors up straight away in the first weeks of your employment in a new role you can leave yourself stuck in a rut and with a Manager that either just accepts that you are sulky and unhappy, or worse still they actually think you're happy with the current state of communication levels (being none) and working relationship (being poor). It takes balls to sit down with your Manager and have a frank and honest conversation about your ways of working and what they (and you) could do better to improve the relationship, especially when you are just first starting out with them and wanting to make a good impression. No body wants to rock the boat or seem like a real 'up-start' when they first start a role and are developing that relationship, so often EA's will come in and take the stance that they are 'observing' what's going on and how the Exec works before they make their move. Meanwhile, many of these EA's won't ever make that move after thinking that their Manager is stuck in their ways of working and probably will never change. The fact of the matter is, everyone can change the way they work. If we can, then they can too, so using the excuse that they're set in their ways is not acceptable, especially if you are seeking an ideal relationship with them (which you should be!). So what do you do? Well that's easy, you talk to them! From the get go, before your 'observation' starts its important to sit down with them and have that 'ways of working' conversation. And after that initial conversation, have follow up check point meetings with a two way conversation on what's working and what could be done better.

But what if you are already stuck months in, maybe years, in a role that has under delivered on its original promise to you and you are really at loggerheads with your Manager, who you feel is just not utilising you properly? Well I'm sorry to say, you are just going to need to sit them down and have that difficult conversation with them. But rather than make it a whinge session it's important to bring fact to the table. No Manager likes to be presented with problems, only solutions, so you will need to go away and work out how you can actually work better. Present to them what you were on boarded to do, and what you are actually delivering on, pointing out how far it is from what you are doing now. What more could you be doing? List out what skill sets you actually have that you could put in place to make their life easier, and ultimately give them the time back to perform the things that only they are capable of. At the end of the day we can't do their job for them but there are many things that can be done that will make work life less frustrating for them. If you aren't getting what you need out of them, then say so, and tell them how you can. If for example, you find yourself constantly chasing your tail and running around trying to collect overdue material from them or on behalf of them for submissions way past their deadline, then suggest a new process and present how this will make things better for both of you and the team. The key is getting them on board with your plan, and if after your conversation you feel them straying from the plan then you need to be prepared to call them out on it. Many EA's shy away from calling their boss out on things like that, but if you want to escape the stereotypes that have latched on to us, then we need to be prepared to speak to them with confidence and maturity as any other team member on the leadership team would.

The under promised, over delivering scenario
But what happens if you're in the opposite scenario? What happens if you've landed a job that you think your skill set is a match for, but when you start in the role you find the job is so much more than they promised to you and you're delivering on things that are way out of the realm of what you ever thought? I've seen this time and time again, and even experienced it myself, where you expect one thing and on arrival find out you are doing ten times the workload you thought, and have responsibilities that are way out of what's deemed acceptable for the role. Yes you manage, but as time goes on you start to become bitter that you're not being paid in line for with what you're delivering which in turn just tarnishes the relationship you have with you Exec. So if you find yourself in this situation where you are seriously being taken advantage of, and perhaps they're even pushing you to do more, it's once again time to have one of those difficult conversations. Again the advice is similar, you aren't going to sit them down and present them with a problem, but instead a solution, all presented along with the facts. So list out what you do, everything you've done in the time you've been in the role, and match it up against what you were brought on to deliver. Point out to your Manager how big the gap is on what you are doing in comparison. If you're not coping, unfortunately its important to spell this out, as difficult as it is, as quality of work as an EA is more important than quantity. If you aren't keeping up to your usual standards because your workload is too large then its important they see this and should be quick to adjust things as they won't want things leaving their office that aren't up to their standards. Are there things on your list that others could be doing? Are you been given projects that aren't part of your role and are taking away from your duties of looking after them as your Manager? If you work in a team of EAs the solution may be right in front of you and may be a case of spreading the workload around more evenly, as not all EA's workloads are even as we've established, based on who they work. Identify the things on your work list that either shouldn't be there, or are taking away from your other responsibilities, and make suggestions on whom else could do these or where the work should be spread. Don't make this problem your manager's problem, but rather a suggestion of how things could be better based on your new process.

If you are coping on the other hand, but just feel bitter that you are being underpaid then it's time to ask for that timely pay-rise. Again present the list of what you're doing and the huge difference in what the role was originally structured to deliver on. Whilst you may be delivering on everything that they're asking of, you must make them understand that the pay doesn't match the responsibilities. No body likes asking for a pay-rise, but if it's going to make you happier in the long run then its the conversation you're just going to need to have. It's like that saying, "happy wife, happy life", perhaps we should create a saying just for EA's that says "happy EA, better day".

The key takeaways in either scenario is to communicate, speak up, be bold and be confident. I've always been a firm believer in EA's adapting to the working style of their Manager (not the other way around), and I still believe that, but it's about being adaptable and coming up with processes that will fit in with them and their working style. That's what makes our role so unique, we facilitate and deliver working styles that are customised for each Exec/Manager we work for. Its never a one-size fits all scenario of EA's just performing a role of diary management, even though that's what we are stereotyped as doing time and time again. The more we are prepared to speak out and speak up in our roles, then the more respect and credibility we will gain, not only as individuals but also as an industry. Never settle for what is dished up to you, especially if it doesn't make you happy. If you are being treated poorly, being disrespected or being utilised in a way that is unacceptable, then speak up. This in turn will help change others perceptions of what we are there to do, whether its your Manager or your team, or the colleagues that work around you. The EA/Exec relationship is a true partnership, and that's what it needs to be seen as. But if we don't have the confidence to speak up when we are not happy and not in working relationships that are working, it demonstrates to others that the role is only there to perform the admin of the Manager and the team, which we all know is so far from what we actually do.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

EA Interview Questions? A Piece of cake!


I've been doing lot of interviewing of late and I feel like I need to write a fresh blog on nailing EA/PA interviews. I've written a couple of other blogs in the last year on the interview process, but feel like there are some key factors that need to be called out and brought to the forefront of everyone's minds. Interviewing by no means needs to be a scary or intimidating process, and potentially can be so easy if you just follow the right formula. For EA/PA roles you can almost predict the questions you'll get asked, so your answers should be nothing but well prepared. And if you are turning up to interviews unprepared and with no specific examples in toe, you can kiss that job goodbye. We all know the attributes an EA/PA needs to have, so its not hard to sit in front of an interviewer and reel off things they want to hear. Things like "I'm super organised; very efficient; pro-active; flexible; work well under pressure; have great written and verbal communications skills; and are great at PowerPoint and Excel" are things we can all say. But whether you are actually are any of those things, or can do any of them is another story. Providing examples of things you've done and talking about how you organise yourself and your manager is key to allowing the interviewer into the workings and mechanics of your brain. If an interviewer can't tap into the way you actually operate and try and gauge a mental picture of how you work and organise yourself, then you've got Buckley's of progressing further into the process. So I've listed below the key elements on how to be successful in an interview, and given the amount of interviews I've conducted in my time, you may want to actually take note of these tips, especially if you're to job hunting at the moment!

1. Prepare your examples
First up, make a list of ALL the amazing things you've done throughout your career thus far, or if you're just starting out then all the amazing things you did at School/Uni, in your part-time job or even in your personal life. So put things on the list like - processes your implemented; challenges you've came up against and how you overcame them; events you managed end to end; situations where you came up against challenging personalities and how you dealt with them; and any other general successes that you've had - really just list out anything that you would want them to hear about. This will form the basis for all the answers to their questions. The questions you get asked for EA/PA roles are always standard and easily pre-empted, so you generally can adapt your list of successes to fit the answers to them. I previously wrote another blog that you can find here around the interview process in general and all the factors you should take into consideration when interviewing, but quite specifically it covers off some of the questions you will get asked. All of these questions can be answered using your list of successes just by adapting them to fit. It's a really easy formula, the key is just to remember what you've got on your list!

2. Don't be fluffy, be specific
So as the questions start being fired at you, regardless of whether they ask you to provide an example or they don't, be specific and provide examples anyway. As I said earlier, its all too easy to answer questions by telling the interviewer what they want to hear on how organised you are and all the attributes that you carry that are important to the EA/PA role. So rather than telling them that you're organised and that you have no problem managing conflicting priorities, tell them specifically what you do and how you do it. And to be quite frank, saying that you 'make lists /keep a to-do list' just doesn't cut it. Anyone can keep lists, or say that 'communication is the key' when it comes to managing another person, but it doesn't mean they do it well or that they are in fact well organised. Instead tell them what you do as soon as you come into work to organise yourself for the day, tell them how you engage your manager and assess their priorities (and your own) and how you deal with the urgent things that come up that require your immediate attention. Have a particular challenging day in mind that you can describe which details each step you took and be prepared to talk about it at length. When asked the question (or similar), "tell me about a time when you had both your manager's asking you to complete something urgently, what did you do and how did you manage their expectations" -  don't talk generally by saying "I would do this..." or "I would do that...", your responses should always be prefaced with "I DID do this...or "I DID do that....". Be concise with your answers, slow down on your delivery and make sure what you're saying all makes sense. If you ramble off things too quickly, you're not only hard to follow, it just demonstrates that you get flustered under pressure - which may very well be inconsistent with what you are telling them!

3. Prep for the 'tricky' questions
If you find yourself heading into murky waters, or down a difficult path (perhaps it might be a question around why you left your last job after such a short time, for example) - first of all be prepared to answer it and not skirt around your answer. If there is anything on your CV that looks questionable, i.e short stints in a role; big gaps between jobs; or maybe a contract that didn't get extended - have your answer prepared, practised and ready to roll off the tongue. Stumbling over answers because the answer is awkward, never looks good to anyone. Now I don't suggest bending the truth as you  must remember recruiters these days can stalk the hell out of you on line and more than likely work out what may have happened themselves, but you can twist the delivery of the answer a little to give it a positive outlook rather than a negative one. Over and above all of this though, its important that you be genuine.  As an interviewer myself, I can always tell when a candidate is embellishing the truth, is uncomfortable with what they're being asked, or is just outright making stuff up on the spot, which will never play in your favour. Essentially though, the more prepared you are, the more genuine you can be and you can comfortably answer anything that is thrown at you, all whilst showing your true character. This leads onto the next point around creating a connection.

4. Create a connection
As soon as your interview commences it's time to move into 'multitasking' mode. So whilst concentrating on what they are saying as they set up the interview, its important that you quickly asses the interviewer's approach - their tone, body language, and level of friendliness/seriousness. So whatever stance they have you will quickly need to match them. So if you sense the tone as being serious then get serious, regardless of whether you're a bubbly and over the top personality type. Similarly if you sense the interview is going to be light hearted and casual, then lighten up. Like engaging with anyone you want to impress, you want to make a connection with them, so they genuinely like you.

5. Prepare your questions
When doing your interview prep make a list of at least 10 questions you want to ask, and something a little more in depth and intelligent than "how many people are in the company", for example. Chances are, most of the questions you may have prepared are probably going to get answered through the interview process anyway. So if you get the end of the interview and the interviewer says to you, "now do you have any questions?" and you say, "no, I think you've answered them all", it shows how little interest and under prepared you are. Of course they will always undoubtedly end up answering your most basic questions (those around how many people in the team/company, how many direct reports does they have, and what's the team structure like etc etc), so it's important you have a couple of questions up your sleeve that you know they won't cover off through the conversation. Now it's essential you do some research on the company your interviewing with and if you know the potential manager's name, then research on them too. And whilst you're doing your research you hopefully will stumble across some detail on the company or potential employer that you could use to draft some questions around. This will actually show you up as being an EA that isn't just about the job they perform, but also an EA that actually has an interest in the industry/market/company they work for or in. So try to ask a question around the company's priorities, and that too of the potential Manager you would be supporting. This is your opportunity to ask them as many questions as they have asked you, as you are interviewing them to see if they would be a 'right fit' for you too, so the more questions the better. A full list of good questions to prepare can be found here in my previous blog, "Searching for perpetual happiness, the interview questions every EA must ask the Exec".

Prepping for an interview is no different to preparing for an oral exam. Do your research on the company/manager/team/role, have your pre-empted questions ready with answers well drafted (write them out and practise them), and finally your list of questions that you will in turn then ask them. If you're truly passionate about what you do as an EA, and are proud of your achievements, spending 45 minutes gloating and talking about yourself really isn't that hard, especially when you actually know what questions will be asked of you. Really the whole interview process is a piece of cake, and you've really got no reason to do anything other than kill it!



Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Q: "Siri, will you be my Exec Assistant?".....Siri: "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't help you with that"


Robots workplace

I've just read an article that has literally made my blood boil and really riled me up. It's on a topic that I've been meaning to blog about of late and as its a subject that certainly is a hot topic of discussion at the moment. It's also something that has begun to be 'joked about' in my office, but those individuals that choose to joke about it with me should start practicing their 'duck', if you know what I mean! Anyone that says to me that my job will one day be done by a robot should expect a firm fist to fast approach their face! Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are not a new phenomenon, but with technology fast advancing, there is an idea progressing out there that some day (and some think that this will be some day soon) that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will in fact replace Assistants entirely. Now I'm not sure who these people are that are out there making these proclamations, no doubt they are probably the makers and designers of this technology, but one things is for sure, they are definitely NOT EAs or PAs, nor have they ever been! This topic feels somewhat familiar though, especially given my recent blogs and correlating 'movement' I'm trying to initiate around the demolishment of negative or incorrect stereotypes associated with our roles, and I'll explain why as I go on.

Now the article in question was in fact printed in a leading EA/PA industry magazine. But for a magazine that is written specifically for Assistants, I was surprised to read this. Obviously Virtual Assistants (VAs) are not new to our industry and understandably for some Executives/managers, having an Assistant who is remote to their business works for them, especially when the tasks that are being asked of them don't necessarily need the Assistant to physically be present in the office. But the concept that a robot could take over these tasks entirely is something that I cannot get my head around.

The article suggests that if we don't up-skill ourselves with more training and education, our roles will eventually be made redundant, and I quote from the article, "PAs still need to prove they're essential as technology evolves". It explains that the rise of this AI technology will eventually be so advanced that all the tasks that we do on a daily basis will essentially be able to be done by the likes of Siri, Alexa or some technology similar. It suggests that we should be considering training in areas like HR, finance and marketing, in order to keep a requirement around our positions. Craig Allen, Director at Change Group says in the article that, "PAs are already acquiring new skill sets and extending their roles into other areas", as to "ensure they have a place in the workplace long term". I wonder if his EA/PA (if he even has one) is 'up-skilling' herself given his comments?!  I believe though that if you are being forced to do HR, finance or marketing within your EA role, you are probably being taken advantage of, as this is not traditionally part of our role. And if you do some of these functions within your role you absolutely should be having a discussion with your manager around re-titling your role and matching your salary to whatever a marketing/finance/HR manager would earn. I've seen it all too many times before, where small businesses bundle corporate functions into the EA or Office Manager role, just to save on headcount. And we all know that these functions really are so far from what we do, that we would in fact require formal training to do them. But the idea that we should be expanding ourselves to include these functions, just to validate our existence, is nothing less than an insult to what we currently do.

I'm all for further development as Assistants, but it should never be done to validate our roles, or to 'keep' them and ensure we have a place in the workplace. Rather, further training and education should be undertaken to better ourselves so that we are more valuable to those we support. We shouldn't be doing it for fear of rising technology, nor for the fear that our roles may no longer be required!

Some of the experts quoted in the article I actually feel are in no position to speak on behalf of the EA/PA role. I quote, "The role of the PA is one that is often mooted to be at risk from the rise of the robots", says Jeremy Campbell, Chief Commercial Officer at Global HR and payroll provider, SD Worx. "In fact, rather than making PAs redundant, AI is more likely to help complement their role and even add to the overall influence they have within the organization". Words clearly spoken by someone who has never been an EA/PA. The article goes on and explains, as Jeremy reinforced in his quote, that these AIs are something that may in fact make our job easier. If used in conjunction with our own skill sets, they could take over some of the repetitive tasks that we often do. But when I actually stopped and thought about this, I wondered how well these so called robots, could do some of these tasks we commonly do? I know, as no doubt you probably do too, that whenever I ask Siri to do anything, her answer is "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand what you mean" or "I'm sorry, I cannot help you with that". I can hardly see myself though, or my Executive for that fact, as tech-savvy as we are, tolerating Alexa or Siri whilst they try to identify by voice recognition the names of all the attendees required at meetings. Not to mention trying to spell out some of the rather complex project names and acronyms we use in our business! But what truly is laughable though is the struggle Siri/Alexa would have trying to find availability of certain company Executives who are booked out for months on end, and who would need the intervention of an Assistant to shift the diary around, just to accommodate what potentially may be an urgent meeting request. On top of that, I would truly wish Siri/Alexa luck in finding available meeting rooms to match the requested meeting times, especially ones that are restricted or not available on the network and that require a manual request of the meeting room owner to book it. Many business processes would have to be adapted, on top of their internal systems, just to accommodate these AIs. And although they say that the technology will develop and get better as they work to produce the 'perfect Assistant', so will we. The fact of the matter is, we all get better every day, every time we perform tasks. Practise makes perfect remember!

The thing is, these tasks that are labelled as 'so simple a robot could do them' can actually be done by us, with our eyes closed in the matter of 1 or 2 seconds, so will this technology actually help us? Or as technology so often does, will it actually fail us? Or hinder us? The idea that a large company full of managers, all asking their robotic assistants to do things, is so far fetched, especially when it comes to calendar synchronisation and integration. Yes they could tell you where you're meeting your next appointment and when, but then again, so will your eyes if you just care to look at your calendar. But Campbell continues in the article and states, "Robotic process automation can operate at the user interface layer of business application and work between existing systems to mimic tasks which were usually carried out by PAs". Now I ask you, what tasks do you think he's referring to? I hate to say it, but clearly another person who really has no idea on the variety of tasks we get asked to do on any given day, and the complexity surrounding them. Once again our job is boxed up and assumed to be something that it's not, and all because of out of date stereotypes that are still attached to the role. Which is ironic given we are talking about the advancement of our roles here. And if we are really going to bring our role out of the dark ages into the 'future', then there needs to be a better understanding of what we do and the value we add. No robot can replace the 'personal touch' we do add to the role, and no matter how much training we embark upon, the personal and human touch we offer, along with the opinions, view points, advice and not to mention, memory of what's been done previously, can never be replaced.

The article states that Deloitte's latest Global Human Capital Trends report revealed that only 16 per cent of leaders surveyed said they felt ready to manage a workforce consisting of both people and AI, and you can see by my points why. But the article also states that research from a luxury support specialist, Change Group, claim that 44 per cent of London-based PAs fear that robots at some point will replace their roles. My message to them is, relax, we aren't going anywhere....trust me. And whilst I'm always an advocate for more training and development, don't let fear dictate you actions on this one.

I'll finish by saying this - although the argument is that AI will improve efficiencies and productivity, essentially that is what we are here to do. And like any business - systems, processes and technology all can do that, but there has to be someone behind all of it - driving it, initiating it and implementing it, and that's where we come in. As much as they want to put the fear into us that AI will either take over our roles entirely, or even partially, at the end of the day, the key part of the EA/PA role that robots will NEVER be able to take over, is relationships. Just think of all the things that will be absent for that manager/Exec if Assistants were no longer there? - the trust, the loyalty, the second set of eyes/ears, the second set of arms and legs when they're too busy to get their coffees or lunch. And I'm not saying that Assistants are just there to get the coffee, but robots will never be able to replicate the relationship and human touch elements that we bring to the table. But it's not just the manager that will suffer without our physical presence, its also the relationships of all the key stakeholders too, both internally and externally. Essentially if Assistants were not there, business' would struggle to run. Others can joke around or blow wind up us by saying that 'we basically run the company', but you know, and I know, that we actually do! It's like saying that one day AI will replace all CEO's or Company Directors.....it's never going to happen! And quite frankly the idea that is developing that Assistants could be replaced by an electronic gadget is just insulting.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Bitten off more than you can chew? When it all just gets too much........

When it all gets too much at work

I don't usually write my blogs about my own personal experiences but I've decided in this blog to hone in on something I'm going through on this occasion, because from one EA to thousands of others (being all of you lovely followers), I know you're all going to be able to relate to this feeling I'm having.......

In a role that can be unexplainably busy with a lot of 'flow flow flows', and sometimes little to no 'ebbs', you can sometimes find yourself wondering where you actually get the stamina to do your job? Or worse still, you start wondering where you're going to get the stamina to in fact keep doing your job, especially during times of high stress!! I'm sure you've all been in a similar situations before where you come home after somehow ending up in a full day of meetings (which isn't that common in our often desk-bound jobs) only to find yourself switching your laptop back on to catch up on the 250 emails that you didn't get around to answering because you'd been pulled into these raft of meetings that you were 'required to sit in'. Sound familiar? And at particularly busy times of the year these occasional days of endless meetings followed by countless emails to catch up on at night, can turn from the odd occasion to becoming your normal routine that you find yourself in for weeks on end, if not months, whilst you try to keep on top of your workload. But the wonder woman/men that we are, we keep going, burning the candle at both ends, not wanting to fall behind, not wanting to disappoint, or God forbid putting ourselves in a situation where we are so behind that we actually have to speak up and say we aren't coping! None of us ever want to paint ourselves as being incompetent, or worse still not strong enough to deal with what we're being asked to do. But as organised as we are, and as cool and as calm as we try to be, occasionally we do feel like we are going to crack!

So today I want to give you all some advice around this particular scenario when you feel like you're hitting your breaking point, and I include myself for this advice too! Because it's common sense, but common sense that sometimes needs to be spelt out to you, before you start to dissolve into anxiety and panic.

Perhaps you've started a new job and you are just not keeping up or getting it?; perhaps you're managing a project or event that you're expected to deliver on top of your every day responsibilities?; or you're temporarily looking after another Exec/Manager for whatever reason?; or perhaps you've got things going on in your personal life that are taking away from you keeping on top of what would be your normal workload that you could normally do with your eyes closed? Whatever the situation is, you start to think, "I've bitten off more than I can chew!". That little voice in your head starts to take over and start asking you, "well how one earth are you going to manage all this? or get all of this done?". And this voice isn't just one that likes to rear its ugly head when we get busy with work, it also likes to frequent our heads when our personal lives get too much too. But it's how we respond to that voice that is key. So what do you do? As you start to spiral into a panic there are some things that you can do to take back the control of the situation. Because this is what it's all about right?......control. As Assistants we all have something in common, and that is that we generally are all 'control freaks'. And to me, that's not a bad thing. The world needs control freaks, otherwise things just wouldn't get done! But when we feel like we are losing control, that's when things can start to go pear shaped. So I've listed some steps below that I think we all should consider when we start to spiral into that 'I've bitten off more than I can chew' mode.

So first and foremost you need to:

1. STOP!
When you are feeling a sense of being so overwhelmed it's time to stop what you're doing and walk away for a breather. You cannot produce good quality work when your stress levels are peaking, so it's important to walk away and regain your composure. Take a walk; have a glass of wine; or go and have a chat/vent with a friend or family member (try to avoid talking to work colleagues if possible just to ensure you keep your reputation in good form). The idea is to just pause, so you can get it together. The last thing you want is to actually end up in tears or in a tizz where you end up doing or saying something you'll regret, all because the stress just got to your head.

2. Re-asses and prioritise
When you're feeling overwhelmed, it's time to prioritise what you've got to do and when. We all know that when we look at our to-do-list from a holistic view it can make us literally feel weak at the knees and have us start to doubt whether we've actually got the capacity, time and energy to do it all. So make a list, prioritise what's important, what needs to be done now and what can wait. Never feel like it's all got to be done now or on this very day, but what I will say is if you can knock off a whole lot of small stuff to make you feel better about the 'size' of the list, then by all means do that. And if that means one night allocating 3-4 hours to just to 'knock off' some tasks, then do it! Or if you can work from home one day, just so you don't get bothered or pre-occupied with other priorities, then do that too.

3. Communicate
I seriously feel like a broken record sometimes when I harp on about communication, but essentially it's really important when you start to feel overwhelmed to start communicating. Don't ever feel shameful because you think that you aren't coping. If you are seriously being pushed to your limits, then it's time to have a conversation with your manager. Obviously though some busy periods, events or projects are just 'busy times' and we just need to get through them, but if you don't speak up you may not get the opportunity to be offered some help that you wouldn't normally get it if you didn't ask. If you don't ask, you don't get.....simple. And if even if your manager can't help you from a workload perspective, at least if you told them where you're at from a workload/stress point of view then in turn your credibility will go up as you've actually had the maturity to talk to them about it rather than bottle it up and potentially implode.

4. Get some perspective
It's time for a reality check.....you are only one person and you can only do what you can do. So stop putting so much pressure on yourself as Assistants' so frequently do, and take a chill pill. There is always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel, so when you feel like the world is starting to crumble around you, reassure yourself that there will be an end. And if you can't reassure yourself, tell someone else to tell you!

5. Plan time off
I think regardless of whether you're in a busy phase or not, its super important to have holidays or time off planned throughout the year, for your own sanity's sake. We are all given 20 days leave for a reason, so it's important to make plans throughout the year to take these days off. And not just a day here and a day there, ensure you plan to take at least a week off at any given time so you can actually rejuvenate yourself and get the down time you need. Not to mention, holidays actually can be that thing you look forward to and can be that 'light at the end of the tunnel' that you really do need when things get crazy.

Lastly I want to say one final thing - when people get stressed and overloaded with work the number one piece of advice you will commonly hear from others will be:
1. Just chill out
2. Meditate or practise mindfulness
3. Exercise
4. Don't drink or indulge in any unhealthy behaviours

Those pieces of advice are all very well but seriously when you're an EA/PA and you actually have serious responsibilities that you must deliver on, you just don't have time to go and pop off to the gym for a 2 hour work out, or sit under a tree and meditate for an hour a day......you've actually have got things to do! The key is regaining your composure and reigning in your stress by actually re-organising yourself. But by all means if you can re-organise yourself to allow yourself to go and workout every day for 2 hours and do everything that you need to, then hats off to you, but you have to do what works for you.

So you're all probably wondering why I'm feeling like I've bitten off more than I can chew at the moment, so I'll let you in on a little secret.......On top of my day job, that I normally manage with ease, I'm currently going through the motions of rebuilding 'Who's the Real Boss' and moving it off the Blogger platform and transforming it into a hub/platform that you can all visit and subscribe to and share in my passion of this extraordinary role that we all do and my dedication to transform the perception of the EA/PA role to ensure its a great job for all of us that do it. On top of that there are also some other things that I'm working on that I will announce to you all when I do launch my new website, and its something that I do hope that you will all join me in celebrating when it launches. But stay tuned for all of that, and I'll do my very best to take my own advice here and try not to implode  with stress whilst I'm trying to organise it all! :)



Sunday, 16 April 2017

The EA/PA Role: When your friends and family just don't get it.....

When others don't understand what you do for a living
Do you ever get the feeling that all your friends and your family think you do is answer phones and make coffee? Do you think sometimes that even though they say they get how busy you are, that they really have no idea? And do you think sometimes even though you bear your frustrations to them about certain challenges and frustrations that you have, that deep down inside they think its not a 'real' job?

I conducted a survey with you all not too long ago and one of the questions I asked you was if you thought your friends and family actually understood what you did as an EA/PA? 73 per cent of you told me that you didn't think your friends and family really understood what it is that you did each day, and 20 per cent of you said that they had NO idea whatsoever. These stats don't surprise me one bit, and I'm sure they probably don't surprise you either. As much as we can tell them all about the extremities of what we can be faced with on any one day, you're sure in their minds that they see you just sitting there like that image of a 1950s secretary, looking pretty at your typewriter and perhaps filing your nails, saying, "yes Sir" as your boss asks you to 'take a memo'. As much as we try to escape these archaic stereotypes of the assistant image, they have somehow attached themselves to us, leaving everyone who is close to us to believe that we are nothing but a paper pusher and glorified tea lady.

So what are we going to do about this? Because I kind of get the feeling that many of us are just sort of happy to live with these incorrect myths flying around about what we do and the value that we add. Call it complacency, or perhaps maybe enough of you feel valued and you think this isn't a reality for you, but the reality is that this isn't about how you are actually treated in your workplace and whether you get the respect you deserve, this is about what others think of us and what we do. And I hear you say, "why should we care what others think?". Well we absolutely should care about what others think and as EAs/PAs we have a responsibility to the role to create and sustain a positive image of it so that it's a great role for anyone that does it.

To me there is a re-education piece required around our roles, and who better to do the re-education than ourselves. For too long we have sat back whining and complaining that people don't respect us and see us for all the value we add, but meanwhile we aren't willing to stand up and make change for the better. No one else cares enough to change these out of date stereotypes associated with our roles, so it's time we stood up and took control of the situation once and for all.

You may have noticed recently I have posted some images on my social media and LinkedIn group asking you all to 'join the movement', and then I've also posted subsequent 'myths' associated with our roles that I label as being 'BUSTED'. I've labelled all these posts with the hash tag #demolishnegativeEAPAstereotypesforgood. And my plan is to continue to put up these myths every other day with my explanation of why they're busted and will continue to hash tag them with the handle so everyone is aware that they form part of a bigger movement. If you too feel passionately about this, and are fed up of the untrue images that others have of us, then I ask you to get on board with me. Anything you see online like this, that is a re-education piece for others, then re-post it with the handle, #demolishnegativeEAPAstereotypesforgood. Re-educating is up to US, and nothing will ever change unless we are bold enough to stand up and make it happen. So I encourage you to join this movement and help to re-educate others. Re-post my posts to your own friends and followers and spread the word of the busted myths associated with our roles! If enough of us can spread the word then we can ultimately re-paint a new image of ourselves as leaders and managers in our own right, and managers of our Executives, as that is what we really are.

But there are other things you can also do within your own circle to re-educate your family and your friends, so that they start to understand what it is we REALLY do:

1. Talk about your role - Speak up, tell stories and get creative!
Although our role is hard to define and no two days are never the same, it doesn't mean we can't talk about what happened in our lives on any given day so that others understand better some of the challenges we face. How many times have you caught up with friends or family and you're asked the obligatory question, "how's work?" and you respond, "yeah busy, as always, really busy!". But that's where you stop. Mainly because so many things happened that you wouldn't dare bore them with all things you've been asked to do this week, and nothing really happened of great significance (in your eyes) so you find yourself asking them instead 'how's work going for them?'. And the particular accountant or lawyer you're speaking to starts talking about some big case they're working on and how they're working around the clock because of a particular challenging client that they're dealing with etc etc etc. Sound familiar? And as they're telling this to you, you're thinking to yourself, my job is JUST as challenging. But the thing is they'll never know that, because you didn't speak up. So I challenge you the next time someone asks you 'how's work?' to actually tell them. Tell them how your boss sent you out on a mission to find a venue for an off-site for 150 people with a 3-day turn around, and all because of the need to get the team together after some team announcements. Or maybe you could tell them about how you were up until midnight the night before last working on some PowerPoint slides for your boss because he/she insists upon leaving everything to the last minute, even though you had been asking them about them for weeks? Or maybe you could tell them about the training you had to coordinate for 1000 people ensuring that every single on of them completed it within a set time frame and it was you that had to follow up every individual personally? Get my drift here? We get asked to do such a variety of different things, that to us don't seem that mind-blowing or interesting, but it all comes down to your words and how you describe it. So speak up, tell stories and get creative the next time you're asked 'how's work?'.

2. Call others out - Be bold enough to defend the role
Have you ever been in a situation where you find yourself at the butt of a joke about 'secretaries' and how we just make coffee all day? You know that its just a joke, but behind every joke really is an element of truth, especially when we get represented this way on TV and in movies. And we really have two choices when put in these situations, we can laugh and say nothing, or we can speak up and call the person out on it. Now you might think, 'well come on, it's just a joke, lighten up!' and you may very well find yourselves on the end of that response. But if you really want others to value what you do, then be prepared to stand up for yourself. You don't have to be rude, but instead maybe just re-direct the joke and ask "is that really what you think we do?". Many a time I've found myself asking that when put in that situation and then asking them something 'stereotypical' about their job instead. Nobody likes to be stereotyped as we are all individuals, so instead hand out a taste of 'their own medicine' as the best remedy for unnecessary jokes.  

3. Share positive stories - Online and verbally
Often enough there will be really great articles shared online about how wonderful EA/PAs can be, and the one that springs to mind here is the one that did the rounds recently about how Richard Branson said he wouldn't be where he was today without the help/support of the assistants he has had throughout his career. And it's all very well for us to 'like' these stories and feel all warm and fuzzy inside about it, but rather than just keep stories like this to ourselves, share them around on your social media with bold enough headline posts that encourage your friends to open them and read them, and I'm talking about friends here who aren't fellow assistants, and have no idea about the role and all we do. Similarly, if you hear a good story about how a fellow assistant was recognised for their good work, then share it with others and spread the word. Others might deem your 'stories' as being insignificant, but who cares, you're doing your due diligence to the role, so tell your stories with pride.

They're just 3 of the things we can all do to start re-educating others towards this common goal and movement, and I encourage you to do them. Together we can make this role truly great for all that do it and #demolishnegativeEAPAstereotypesforgood !!!!