by Chrissy Scivicque
In the past few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: Administrative professionals are often referred to as office “superheroes.”
It’s cute and I know it’s meant to be a term of endearment, but I have a problem with it. You see, as a former admin, I understand that our work can look magical. At times, we make the impossible possible. And yes, we often demonstrate super-human abilities.
But we are, undoubtedly, human. We have human limitations that have to be respected. We need breaks, for example. We need a manageable workload that can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time. We need to go home at the end of the day and spend time with our families, not focused on work 24/7.
These are basic human needs—but they are often dismissed for superheroes. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people “volunteer” the office admin to take on a major project, without taking a single moment to consider asking him or her first. They don’t think about the other priorities that might be on that admin’s plate, or the time already committed for other major projects. They just assume the admin will make it work, because he or she is the office superhero!
I’m not suggesting that people have to ask permission before assigning you every task. But, I want them to recognize that you are human. You have limits…and there’s a cost for everything.
Sure, you can get that last-minute report done tonight, but you’ll have to rearrange your to-do list and stay late to make it happen. That might mean missing dinner with your family or getting a few hours less sleep than you need. Yes, you can make the impossible happen! But, as a human, there’s a cost. And it adds up. It’s not sustainable to stay late with last-minute requests every night. That’s a recipe for resentment and burnout.
So, how do we help people respect our human limitations while also being the office superhero?
In my experience, I believe it boils down to setting clear expectations. Yes, we can absolutely make that impossible thing happen… within certain parameters. And if you want two impossible things done, you’re probably going to have to pick which takes priority. At times, we might have to take the two impossible things, cut them down a bit, and present two new options that are much more possible.
It’s a process of negotiation and adaptation. It requires listening to the needs of others, and also listening to your own needs. You only have a certain amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy to give before you collapse. Your job is to manage it effectively, and do the most with what you have. Your job is also to know where your limits are and clearly express them to others.
Admittedly, all of this can be hard to do, and you may want desperately to avoid it. But trust me when I tell you that just isn’t possible. I’ve seen too many admins who refuse to acknowledge their personal limits, and before long, they’re suffering.
If you want to be successful in the long-term, you have to create sustainability in your work practices. You have to take care of yourself so you can continue taking care of others. Learning to set limits and manage expectations with others is a big part of that.
I hope you’ll join my session on this very topic at IAAP Summit 2019. I’m looking forward to sharing some simple, effective strategies with you so you can continue being the office superhero, while still being a healthy, happy human.
Chrissy Scivicque believes that work can be a nourishing, enriching life experience—and she loves helping professionals discover exactly what that means for them and how to achieve it. Her popular website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to this mission. As an award-winning writer, certified career coach and experienced corporate trainer, Chrissy brings a unique perspective to the world of professional development. She is the author of the “Build Your Professional Development Plan” workbook and, “The Proactive Professional” (both available on Amazon). If you’re looking to re-energize your work life, try attending Chrissy’s FREE monthly “Ask the Career Coach” sessions and training webinars. Sign up to be notified of upcoming events here: https://www.eatyourcareer.com/signup/
3 thoughts on “Anything is Possible, But There’s a Cost”
This, this, this! Such perfect timing for me personally, as I had a bit of a “meltdown” just last week!
Julie, I also had a meltdown and ended up in the hospital. It’s not sustainable to always be the “go to” person and I need to learn the word “no”.
@Sally — sometimes I suspect that the admin can say no, but the boss over-rules. The impression most of us admins get is that if you say “no” too frequently, you’re giving your boss and team the idea that you aren’t up to the job and can’t successfully handle the pressure. I don’t think admins want to be super-heros, but everyone expects us to be just that.