Knowing when your work ends and your personal life begins is often ignored in the corporate world, warns Declan Halton-Woodward, EA to CEO at Handlesbanken Wealth/Heartwood. He shares why assistants must learn to say ‘no’ once in a while
I was once asked in an interview, “How far does the job go for you, where’s the line?” My response involved a far-fetched scenario about disposing of a body (in jest). I got the job.
Of course, I was joking; humour can help in interviews and it was appropriate in this particular conversation.
But this question and the correct response to it is a wholly contested topic in our profession. ‘The line’, meaning where work ends or your work-life balance separates; for some is in perceived menial tasks such as collecting coffee or getting lunch, while for others it’s about picking up the phone at 2am.
I hear, see and read a lot about saying ‘no’, how to say ‘no’, and the work-life balance. Having been a private PA I have always been against this, in that world there is never ‘no’, there is no balance. I think the mentality is very different in the corporate environment, but perhaps there is something to learn from it.
Being indispensable is a powerful trait; the person your exec calls when everything goes wrong, when no one else can help, when it’s a two-person kind of body. It means you are valued to them and the business and that in turn means you will be developed, promoted and allowed to thrive. There is, of course, a limit, there’s a reason every few scrolls on my LinkedIn feed I see a work-life balance article; it’s really important to some people and there is value in it.
One of the most important things I have learnt is that every single assistant role is unique, each requiring a different approach and expecting different things. Going in, it’s our job to know exactly who we are, how we approach things and what we expect so that we can assess whether the person or organisation is right for us. Because there will be firms and people who expect the line to be in far different places to where we put it.
Knowing what’s expected and what we are willing to give is key. It is our responsibility to find out in the interview and to sit down with our execs to lay out in clear terms ‘the line’.
My top tip: what HR departments think and what the exec actually expects are usually two vastly different things.