Almost 100 people responded to my Lead & Assist Giveaway Survey and as I reviewed all of the data over the past week, a few things became very clear: Executive Assistants (and any of the other 28 titles they go by) work very long hours, struggle to find work/life balance, are constantly managing multiple competing priorities, and yet, still love what they do.
First, let’s look at the hard data. I asked this group of pro EAs the following questions:
- What is your title?
- What are the top three responsibilities in your role?
- What is your work schedule? Do you work 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday? Do you have a flexible schedule? Do you work weekends? Or something in between?
- What is the biggest challenge you are experiencing at home or at the office due to your role as an Executive Assistant?
Here’s what they said:
- What is your title? // The overwhelming title that EAs go by, is (surprise!), Executive Assistant. Just over half of the respondents went by Executive Assistant. The rest of the survey participants who identified as an Executive Assistant, went by the following titles:
- Senior Executive Assistant
- Office Manager
- Executive Administrative Assistant
- Chief of Staff
- Operations Manager
- Administrative Assistant
- Executive Administrative Assistant
- Senior Assistant
- Executive Personal Assistant
- Senior Administrative Assistant
- Senior Executive Administrative Assistant
- Personal Assistant
- Executive Business Admin
- Executive Administrative Specialist
- Lead Executive Assistant
- Administrative Coordinator
- Office Manager & Executive Assistant
- Administrative Business Partner
- Team Administrator
- Executive Assistant II
- Executive Secretary
- Lead Executive Administrator
- Business Support Supervisor
- Director of Operations
- Chief Operating Officer
- Closing Coordinator
- Transaction Coordinator
My personal favorite was Director of Getting Shit Done. So, what’s in a name? Some say it’s simply semantics, others believe a proper title clarifies the role and dispels confusion, especially in a large organization, and still others want clear titles because many have worked very hard to get promotions and yes, the title that comes along with those increased responsibilities and seniority.
I used to fall into the semantics camp – does it really matter what your title is? In the grand scheme of things, no. If you are providing value at a high level and leading up, down, and sideways, then a title is irrelevant to the internal team. However, as I have grown in my career and worked very hard to get where I am, I understand this whole title thing a bit more.
Earlier this year, when I was speaking at the Behind Every Leader conference one Senior EA brought up this topic. She was proud of her accomplishments and had earned the right to the Senior Executive Assistant position; she was no longer an Executive Assistant and she was adamant that the roles and titles be clearly defined. I tend to agree. It doesn’t mean that the Senior EA is better than the EA, simply that their roles and responsibilities are different. They are both providing high value to their Execs (one may simply be supporting the Chairman and overseeing a team of other Admins, while the other is supporting two VPs). But I guarantee both have worked their asses off to get where they are. I believe in clearly defined roles, coupled with clear titles. I think it is particularly important because the EA role is still largely misunderstood and the more clarity we can provide to the public, the better, especially when interviewing for a new position.
2. What are the top three responsibilities in your role? // The three most prevalent job responsibilities for EAs are scheduling/calendar management, travel planning and management, and event/meeting planning, preparation, and execution.
In other words, managing the Execs life (personally and professional as there is usually a lot of overlap, especially as you start working with more senior level Execs or company owners). Being an incredible planner and project manager with the ability to anticipate needs, create contingency plans, and above all, be incredibly resourceful, while maintaining the utmost confidentiality are all critical to being a top EA. Sounds easy, right?
3. What is your work schedule? Do you work 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday? Do you have a flexible schedule? Do you work weekends? Or something in between? // As for work schedules, the majority of respondents worked 8-9 hours a day (usually from 8am/9am to 5pm), but that was just in-office. Most Executive Assistants said they check emails and work from home at night and on the weekends, and several EAs are on-call 24/7.
4. What is the biggest challenge you are experiencing at home or at the office due to your role as an Executive Assistant? // The overwhelming response was work/life balance and boundaries, followed closely by not having enough hours in the day to handle all of the shifting priorities.
Let’s dive into questions 3 and 4 here. Long, often undefined hours, coupled with multiple competing priorities is tough. I’ve been there and I get it. But here is my (probably) very unpopular opinion: That’s the job. That is what an EA does. And it’s not for everyone. But that’s why we need an Executive Assistant community – so we can talk through the challenges, vent on those tough days, and strategize about ways to control the chaos and increase efficiency and effectiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people should work all of the time. You need other hobbies, you need to spend time with friends and family, to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. It’s not easy for anyone to manage all of life’s obligations, and particularly difficult for EAs, but it is not impossible.
Ultimately, I think that EAs should make sure they are very clear about what they are getting into (with the caveat that no two EA roles are the same). Some positions may require being available at all times, some may ask that you simply stay connected via email, some require extensive travel, and others are simply 9 to 5, with no requirements outside of those hours. However, I would be skeptical about any position that is simply 9 to 5 (particularly at an Executive level). EAs make the life of an Exec flawless and what Exec do you know who only works between the hours of 9am and 5pm? Be aware of what the position entails before signing on.
Now, many of the survey participants also mentioned that they have flexible schedules. Again, they might be in the office from 9am to 5pm, but can run out to their kid’s soccer game, a dentist appointment, or meet a friend for lunch at their discretion. It works both ways. EAs may be up at 2am waiting for their Exec to land in Europe, but they may also leave early on a Friday for a pedicure.
So, why are so many EAs searching for that work/life balance if, in fact, most of the respondents said they love their careers in spite of the hours? I think it has a lot less to do with balance, and much more to do with not feeling in control of their schedules and their time. Very few positions are as demanding and dependent on the direction of someone else – someone else’s priorities, projects, needs, and deadlines. I believe that with the help of some clear expectations and extreme time management, inner balance can be restored, even if it still looks out of balance on the outside.
Reading all of the survey responses really bolstered my belief that being an Executive Assistant is an incredibly rewarding career choice. Despite some of the frustrations I read, I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be overcome with some personal development, fierce conversations, and time management. In fact, I think the frustrations only spoke to the passion and desire that all of these assistants have to be the best versions of themselves. They all wanted to learn, to improve, and take their careers and leadership to another level. No one was willing to settle for mediocrity, and that is both admirable and rare.
It is certainly an exiting time to be an Executive Assistant and I can’t wait to explore many of the above topics more in depth on my blog, during my Lead & Assist webinar series, and with my EA community.