Girl Talk Career Blog

May 6, 2010

How to Be A Clueless Executive Assistant

Filed under: All Things Office — lisalahey @ 5:53 am

 Wow Girlfriend,  talk about shooting for the moon (yes that was sarcasm).  I read a Q & A recently in a Linkedin group just for EA’s. An EA wrote in stating she has to work too much overtime including every weekend for her boss and she’s not happy about it.  So she and her coworkers discussed the situation.  It appears that as individuals they told him they “don’t like the overtime” situation. She then asked the Linkedingroup if she should go discuss the issue with HR.  Wow again.  I mean if that isn’t clueless Girlfriend, what is?

I doubt that she and her colleagues are working every single weekend in a month to keep the boss happy. I just don’t believe it, colour me cynical.  And even though there may indeed be overtime every night a certain amount is reasonable.  She stated that they have to wait for him to “return to the office every night” before they can leave.  How late is he returning?  A half hour? An hour?  Big deal!  That’s called overtime and that is a reasonable amount of OT.

Or perhaps you are unmotivated in your work and your boss is trying to hint about that troublesome situation.  I see youtube videos all the time aimed at employers about how to motivate their employees.  In this economy with all the job cutbacks and layoffs can you believe that employers have to worry about instilling motivation? Seriously! Consider yourself lucky to have a job!

A truly professional EA needs to keep these issues in mind:

  1. The key word in Executive Assistant is Assistant, not Executive.  You are the boss’s helpmate, right hand man or woman, what have you.  That means you answer to the boss not the other way around.
  2. A successful EA buildings a partnership with his/her boss and tries her best to make him look good to other people, NOT to diss him behind his back with her/his coworkers.
  3. NEVER NEVER NEVER go over the boss’s head no matter what the issue!  You WILL lose – the fight and your job. Period.

Instead there are a few things to consider in this scenario or any situation with a boss who seems to be doing something unreasonable in the office.  Consider the following:

  1. Communicate professionally and effectively.  What does it mean to say “we told the boss we don’t like the overtime?”  Did you mumble it in a nervous, offhand way?  Were you whining?  Did you offer a reasonable alternative such as taking work home with you?
  2. Did you ask the boss why the inordinate amount of overtime was necessary WITHOUT being confrontational?  In other words, is there something in YOUR work performance that he is finding lacking and so he requires that you remain behind to help you complete your projects to his satisfaction?  If that’s the case he is trying to save your job, not make you miserable.
  3. Try approaching him with this type of comment:  “I’m concerned about the amount of OT I’ve been putting in since I think it might reflect poorly on my work performance.  Am I not performing up to standard?  Are there suggestions you can offer me to help me achieve my goals in a more timely fashion?”  Then be prepared for the answer.  It might be more brutal than you thought.  Have a notebook on hand to take notes about how you can improve your performance. Stay calm and collected. Don’t be hurt. It’s business not battery. Then ASK the boss to help you put together an action plan to start brushing up on your EA skills.
  4. Request another review to get his feedback on your action plan and performance and make the date with him in his appointment book before you leave the office.  Give it about a month so you have time to put his suggestions to use.
  5. Remember he has ultimate control over whether or not you get to keep your job.  Going over his head, whining about overtime, talking about him behind his back to your colleagues are surefire ways to get your surely fired.
  6. Manage upward.  Yep. That kind of probing for feedback about your work performance so you can ease up on the OT is called managing upward.  You are setting boundaries without being obvious about it.  If you are professional enough in your approach your boss will not figure that out straightaway and he will appreciate your professionalism.

Consider that you might not be EA material either.  Or perhaps working in a corporate environment or even working for someone else isn’t for you at all.  Consider becoming a freelancer or an entrepreneur in a completely different field.  Or it could be as simple as changing industries. There are many factors that can weigh on a disgruntled employee and of course we always blame ourselves last if at all because that is human nature. 

I’m no saint either. I am equally culpable. When I was in my early 20’s and just starting out as an EA I made that kind of mistake with my first boss..  In my eyes she didn’t seem satisfied with my work. She told me off once in front of a staff member. I blamed her for all of my supposed problems.  Looking back I realize now that yes there were times she was somewhat unreasonable but so was I. My attitude went from great to so-so to downright unprofessional and that was NOT the way to handle things.  After a while I am NOT kidding you she would tell me she wanted me to do a certain task and I would just say “no.”  Can you believe she tolerated that?  So there is no doubt in my mind now that I wasn’t the easiest employee to have in the office either. Mind you I was just a kid and as the saying goes “if I knew then what I know now” I wouldn’t have handled the situation like that. On that note what I have learned is this: if you aren’t part of the solution you ARE part of the problem.

Also consider that your boss may indeed be insensitive to your needs and he is NOT going to change.  Then you must consider the following:

  1. ADAPT to his style.  It is what it is and it may not ever change.
  2. Quit.

Here is a short link to a youtube video about dealing with bosses, coworkers, etc.  You might find it helpful:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2GsqwYiT70&feature=related 

Now that you’ve clued in best of luck in your quest for less overtime!

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