Just what now? Juggling your place in the organisational structure
How do you usually get introduced in the workplace? Can it sometimes be a bit vague, like the person introducing you doesn’t really know what it is that you do? Or are the words that are used to describe your title often preceded with the word ‘just‘? “Oh she’s just the assistant” or “she’s just our office manager”. Meanwhile you’re standing there and thinking to yourself, ‘there is nothing just about what I do!’ How do you think they would react, for example, if you retaliated back and introduced them as “just our Head of Finance” or “he’s just our General Manager”? Because when we all sit on the same leadership team, there really shouldn’t be any discrepancies in hierarchies. We all should sit on the same level and have the same respect for one another, right? Well, unfortunately sometimes we all know that’s not always the case. I cannot tell you how many times in my career I’ve been introduced as just the assistant. In fact, worse than that, I recently was introduced by a fellow colleague, as what I would describe, as nothing more than my boss’ lackey – “So this is Edwina. She’s Jo Blog’s EA…….so yeah um, she sort of just does like whatever Jo asks her to do.” Literally picking my jaw up off the desk, I thought, you can not be serious right? It takes the cake for disrespect, as clearly this person’s perception of what I do is nothing more than subservient. Meanwhile, I’m sure if I had some other sort of whiz bang title, I wouldn’t be writing this particular blog.
Now I don’t know about you, but in my experience, introductions of assistant’s can usually go one of two ways – you either get the grand introduction where your colleagues refer to you as God’s gift, literally blowing the wind up you in an attempt to butter you up and ensure you’re onside for the next time they need something from you or your boss. Or you get the ‘just’ introduction, which is nothing but disrespectful to you and your role and displays nothing but ignorance on the value we add and the role we hold in the leadership team.
Now you’ve all heard me chirp on before about how the respect we receive will always be connected to our executive presence and what we emit to the world as assistants, and my position on that remains unchanged. But I must call out, that unfortunately for us all, we continue to have an uphill battle in this area, especially when the organisational charts that we sit within visually demonstrate us as sitting outside of the structure, countering this equal respect that we demand. Now we all know this place in the company organisational chart – as you’ll see below, rather than sitting alongside the other direct reports of our manager where we belong, instead we sit outcast on a lonely little island, all by ourselves. Albeit, our position on the structure does seem to be higher on the chart than everyone else, but I’m not sure that really counts for much. The intention to show our seniority is there, but the reality is quite far from that. But all of this begs the question, why is our position treated differently to others on the leadership team when we all essentially directly report into our manager? Why doesn’t the assistant role sit down in the structure at the same level as the other direct reports? Who came up with this idea to isolate us away from the rest of our team?
If we were however, to advance beyond the traditional titles of our roles (EA/PA etc), we would no doubt elevate the level of respect we receive, probably tenfold, and no doubt change our position in the org structure to be at the same level as the rest of the team. Unfortunately however, we all know that no matter where we work, if we hold a title of Executive or Personal Assistant, we are bound by many things – our place in the org structure, the responsibilities we have (and don’t have), and how much salary we take home. The EA/PA job title will, if not always, come with a set of expectations surrounding it and will nearly always be restricted by the ‘band’ or ‘job level’ that it falls into. This, in turn, prohibits us from taking on extra responsibilities that sit outside of our role and limit us from earning any more salary than what we do. But it’s not all doom and gloom! If you’re feeling cemented in your role, perhaps disrespected and are eager to develop and grow yourself from your current position, there are ways around this.
I’ve seen throughout my career, many EAs transition into Chief of Staff, Executive Management and Administration Team Leader roles, just to name a few. In fact I heard a great story once of an EA that was working in a large banking corporation, where she had been working upwards of fifteen years, with all those years as an EA. Eager to further herself and frustrated that she was sitting at the top of her salary band, she decided to go away and research the elements of her role that she was responsible for that actually formed part of other roles within the company. For example, she did a lot of accounts management and management of the team budget, which was not dissimilar to that of Finance Manager. She researched that particular role and found it to sit in a higher band than her EA role did. She then continued on researching the other roles in the business that her role was comparable to – Events Manager, Social Media Manager, Human Resources Manager etc etc. As the list accumulated she prepared a spread sheet of the different titles and correlating job bands that weren’t dissimilar to the role she was delivering as an EA. She presented it to her boss with the proposition of changing her title to include the word ‘Manager’, which would then push her in to the next job band and entitle her to a significant salary increase and some proper formality around these responsibilities that she was delivering outside of her role. Smart huh? Her manager then went away and had her job review proposal approved and she now works as Executive Administration Manager and is earning a salary well in advance of what some of us can only dream of.
Now you might be thinking, my boss or company would never go for that! But that’s not to say you can’t give it red hot go! Obviously you need to be worthy of this title/responsibilities review and salary increase, but we shouldn’t be afraid of confidently standing up there and asking for what we want. But first before I go on, I want to set the record straight here – by no means am I downgrading what we do, our titles, what we earn, or our position on the org chart. Many of you may be very happy doing what you’re doing, and more than anything be proud of it. And if that’s you, then hats off to you! We need more proud assistants in our profession that are flying the flag for what we do. But if you’re at the other end of the spectrum and you feel like you’ve got ants in your pants and are eager to get off that island you’re sitting out on, then it’s time to start putting together that plan on how you’re going to develop further and grow your career.
Spell out what you do
This is the time for you to shine. Often enough our bosses will have no idea of all the responsibilities we have and all the tasks we deliver each day, and mainly because we don’t bother to bring every small thing to their attention. Well why would we? We are their to lighten their load after all, not involve them on every single thing that gets asked of us. It is difficult though to remember everything that we end up doing each day, so my advice is to keep a running list of everything you do – and even if you don’t plan to present this to your boss with the intent of a role review, it’s a great piece of documentation to have when it comes to your annual review time. Once you’ve collated your list of duties, match them up to other similar roles as I described – perhaps you do a lot of events, finance, HR, marketing – and if these sit outside of your job description (which they often will), it’s a good time to point that out.
Spell out the hours you put in
Your boss won’t always be privy to the hours you put in, especially if they’re not there to witness what time you come in or go home each day. Similarly, if you’re putting in hours outside of the office, then it’s important that they are fully aware of this. Detailing the hours you put in really demonstrates your level of commitment, and this is really significant when pushing for that role review. Your level of commitment will be what shows you are more dedicated and more committed than the next assistant, and are more worthy of a role and salary review.
Research your salary
Do you know how your salary weights up against other EA roles in the market? If you don’t know, then you should. But you don’t necessarily want to be paid like any other assistant, you want to be paid your worth, and if you are demonstrating high levels of commitment and dedication to your role then a salary to match those levels should be in order. We often shy away from having these salary conversations and mainly because we all know that as assistants we can only be paid up to a certain level. But as I’ve said, you need to clearly demonstrate everything you do that is outside and above what a normal run-of-the-mill assistant does and take that argument to your boss and have the confidence to ask for what you want. Now when I say ask for what you want, this is the time to be realistic, as anything unrealistic will be dismissed and just not taken seriously. So ensure you’ve researched other similar roles accurately and be well prepared to talk to your findings and present your argument. And be prepared to battle this one out as it won’t be any easy feat by any means, especially if you’re highly paid as it is. But remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Feel like you’re lacking in particular areas? And are those areas holding you back? Well do something about it! Companies won’t usually shy away from investing in staff training, but as long as it’s worthwhile, of course. So if you can find the course that you need to take your career to the next level and can demonstrate that it’s worthwhile, not only for you, but for your manager as well, then by all means go for it. There are an abundance of online courses out there, with anything from event management, to courses in Excel, basic financials and minute taking. And I hate to say this, but sometimes you’re better off doing a course where you’ll walk away with a certificate or qualification, rather than spending huge amounts of money attending generic EA conferences that don’t really qualify you for anything.
Get your manager on board
It’s all very well to do all this work preparing your argument as to why you think you amount to more than what you do, but unless you actually have your manager on board and on your side then it’s pretty much a waste of your time and efforts. So my advice is to regularly have career discussions with your manager so that they are fully aware of where you are, and where you want to be. They will be your greatest enabler, so it’s important to get them onside.
As EAs/PAs, it’s no secret that we work hard at what we do, and usually for little recognition. And it’s not uncommon to feel frustrated in your position, whether you admit to it or not. Whether it’s those disrespectful introductions that p*ss you off, your inequality in the leadership team or org structure, or even just the way you sometimes get treated – if this is something that resonates with you and you’re tired of defending the role and what you do, or perhaps have inner anxiety about furthering your career, don’t get down-and-out about it all – build on what you’ve already established. If an administration career is what you’ve chosen, being an EA/PA doesn’t have to be the be-all-end-all. Many of us feel like once we’ve reached the top of our game as an EA that there is nowhere else to go from there, but that’s not true at all. Be creative, look really hard at the skills you have and the things that you do each day that you probably take for granted, and build on that. Lastly, talk to your manager about it all, especially if you’re feeling frustrated with where you’ve landed or the lack of respect you feel you receive from your fellow team. They will be, or should be, your biggest advocate, and if they’re not, then it’s probably time to move on and take your career elsewhere.