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In our annual Today’s PA Survey, we asked our PAs to tell us one thing that would make their role easier. From reading the comments, it appears that today’s PAs would like either more time – or more communication. Preferably both.
Lack of time is an issue for all of us but that feeling of being constantly busy and running to keep up with yourself is stressful and demoralising. PAs reported feeling that they did not have time for planning and preparation, or that projects were finished in a wild rush and not correctly signed-off, leaving problems for next time. Respondents also said they would welcome even a small amount of quiet time to complete non-urgent but important tasks. But more than that, many said that their role – and their ability to do their job – would be greatly enhanced if they had protected time to talk to their boss on a regular basis.
While we can’t engineer a 30-hour day or a 9-day week (nor would we want to) there are small steps that we can take to make the most of the 7-8 hours a day we spend at our desks. For instance, we’re all familiar with Microsoft Outlook but few of us use it to its full potential. These days, it does so much more than just sending and receiving emails. You can automate routine replies, compare calendars, arrange meetings and automatically invite the attendees. You can even use it to schedule and track projects, seeing at a glance which tasks are still outstanding. Knowing how to use Outlook and all its little tips and tricks can save you up to 90 minutes a day.
PAs also felt that greater clarity and communication – between PAs and managers, teams, colleagues, even throughout the organisation – would also make their lives simpler. Lack of communication and not having all the information needed was leading to mistakes, delays, and time wasted.
As well as this, there needs to be more understanding of what a PA actually does! There is a sense of frustration that colleagues are unaware of what the role entails. One PA said their team thought the role was something they had just fallen into … because they couldn’t do anything else!
Worryingly, PAs also commented that they would like a little more respect and support from their boss. This answer appears regularly in our surveys – and it still doesn’t make sense. It is the role of the PA to assist their manager(s). In order to do this, there needs to be a level of mutual respect. If this is not the case, and PAs are not receiving the support they need, then they will be unable to do their job effectively – and it is the managers who will miss out.
The same is true of bosses who think that it’s quicker to do various tasks themselves rather than ask their PAs. We had several comments regarding managers being “precious” about their emails and calendars. What these managers fail to appreciate is that time is finite – as we all know only too well! – and it is much more efficient for PAs to manage emails and run diaries than for the bosses to do it themselves.
Defining your role is one area where you can make progress yourself. If you’re becoming the ‘go-to’ person for everyone in the office, constantly solving problems, and being expected to help out in every “emergency”, it’s time to take action. Look at what your role actually entails. Remind yourself of your job description. If it states that your role is to work with, and assist your manager in meeting their objectives, then your priority is clear. You may need to find a few simple (and guilt-free) strategies for saying “no” to everyone else.
Remote working, flexibility, and more control over workloads seemed to figure much more in this survey that in previous ones. However, there were also some interesting comments regarding difficulties in contacting colleagues who were working remotely … For PAs in the office, dealing with managers and team members who are working from home can sometimes be problematic, and clearer guidance may be needed all round.
Also highlighted in the survey was an issue that many of us can identify with. PAs and EAs work with senior managers and directors, whilst not necessarily having the same level of seniority themselves. This is very much a balancing act and it is important to retain your good humour and to keep in mind that how you behave reflects on your boss.
But of all the comments and suggestions, we think one respondent came up with the best idea of all. What is the one thing that would make your role easier? A matter transporter. Perfect. We’ve seen Star Trek, and we reckon matter transportation is exactly what we need. Anything that cuts down on the morning commute sounds good to us!
MD and Principal Trainer