by Grace Judson
I’m sure it’s no news to you that you do a LOT—and I’ll bet you do most of it very well.
You manage your time and your executive’s time (and sometimes several executives’ time). You make sure the office supplies, copier, meeting agendas, and travel itinerary—and everything in between and beyond—are up to date and running smoothly. You field requests from inside and outside the company, up to and including soothing coworkers’ frustrations and conflicts. You have little privacy or opportunity to really put your head down and focus on your priorities.
Let me guess: the only time anyone really notices what you’re doing is when something breaks, someone makes a mistake, communication goes awry, or some other unexpected curve ball creates disruption. Then they notice, but they notice that something’s wrong, not all the things that have gone right.
Yes, I’m over-stating the problem…
If you’re lucky enough to work in a supportive environment with a communicative, engaged boss and helpful coworkers, great. You can stop reading now. The reality is that at least some of the time, every administrative assistant feels overwhelmed and under-appreciated.
What can you do about it?
Don’t get sucked into believing it’s all your fault. Yes, sometimes you make a mistake. Welcome to the human race! And of course, be honest with yourself. If you’re consistently making mistakes, you need to fix them and figure out what you need in order to stop making them.
But if you’re being asked to work miracles without the information or other resources you need, it might be something else entirely.
Last spring, I spoke with an intelligent, talented, motivated young woman who had the misfortune to be working in a truly toxic organization. With a boss who was consistently inconsistent, and who refused to communicate but expected her to “just know” what was going on and what she needed to do—right down to making travel arrangements without knowing the dates (I’m not kidding). This young woman had come to doubt her ability and even wonder if she was capable of being a good admin.
I told her bluntly that she needed to get out of that company ASAP. I added that, based just on the 15 or 20 minutes we talked, I’d hire her in a heartbeat if I had a position open.
It wasn’t her fault, but she had been told so often by her executive that she was screwing everything up, she had begun to believe it. Happy end of story: she left that job shortly after we spoke and is now assistant to the CEO in a great company where she feels challenged and appreciated.
So, let’s say it’s not that bad, but you do feel as if you’re not recognized or acknowledged for the work you do. Is your job description an accurate reflection of your responsibilities? (Do you have a job description? Many people don’t!)
If it’s not—as is often the case—take some time to review it (or create it!) and make a list of what needs to be added and what needs to change. Then you can schedule time with your boss to review the updates you want to make. This is a great way to point out just how much you do—and it’s also an opportunity to see if there are things that can or should come off the list. It’s also a great way to open a conversation about a raise!
Do you receive emails acknowledging the work you do? Save them. Create a folder and put them all in there. When things are tough, go back and read them again. Use them as evidence of your good work when you get your performance evaluations or your one-on-one meetings with your boss.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness and lose track of just how much you’ve actually done. Then, when your performance review comes around, neither you nor your boss know the real magnitude of your accomplishments. To prevent this, keep a running log—in a notebook or on your computer—of the projects you’ve completed.
Why is this about “better conversations”?
As I wrote last month, one of the most important conversations we have is the one with ourselves.
As the story about the young woman I spoke with last spring illustrates, our internal conversation is inevitably impacted by our external situation. While it’s nice to think that some extremely evolved humans can feel good about themselves regardless of what’s going on around them, the reality is that this is not how most of us operate. We need support from others—whether family, friends, or colleagues at work—to reflect back to us how we’re doing and even who we are. When the incoming feedback is overly or consistently negative, that’s not healthy or helpful.
Most of you reading this aren’t in a toxic environment such as I described. But most of you also have times when you feel unappreciated and taken for granted. Don’t let that become part of your internal conversation. Instead, actively seek out positive support, whether it’s from those emails praising your work or from a conversation with your boss or a close coworker.
Our brains are neurologically hard-wired to focus on the negative; that’s how we escaped being eaten by saber-toothed tigers. But this means that today our boss’s frustration at a mistake or a teammate’s annoyance at a dropped ball will tend to feel disproportionately bad, whereas the boss’s “Hey, thanks, great job!” or your teammate’s “Wow, I don’t know how you did that, but go you!” slides into oblivion all too quickly.
That’s why I suggest keeping those emails and taking those notes. It gives you a chance to remind yourself that you’re doing a great job—even when other people might be saying something different.
If you find this subject matter compelling, consider adding to your CAP credentials with the Organizational Management (OM) specialty certificate. For more information about getting the OM, please visit our website.
Grace Judson is leadership coach who works with recently-promoted managers to help them discover their personal leadership style, build confidence in their leadership skill, and develop their careers. She can be reached on her website, www.gracejudson.com, where you can take her brief leadership communication quiz and learn just how good YOU are at communicating effectively.
Interested in learning more about managing that internal conversation? Check out her program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head” at www.gracejudson.com/managing-your-inner-critic.