30 December 2011

Some bosses just don't know how to work with an admin

Have you ever worked for someone and they under-utilized you or just didn't seem to know how to work with an assistant?  I once worked for a young boss and you could tell he wasn't quite sure what he could give me or what I was capable of doing.  I had enough experience that I just started doing some of the things and when he saw I was ready, willing and able to do it, he gladly passed it on to me.  For other things I spoke to him about it and asked if it was something I could do.  He was very appreciative of the effort. 

Another young woman I worked for seemed to be intimidated by me at first because I was the age of her mother, but over time we started to have a great working relationship.  I would often tell her to quit apologizing every time she gave me work to do as she was my boss and I was there to assist her.

IAAP has an article on their website about how to work more effectively with an administrative assistant that I suggest would be a good start for a conversation with your boss.

26 December 2011

Workplace Harassment and Bullying

I am not a lawyer and this is not considered legal advice in any way, but we recently had a lawyer come to speak to us about workplace harassment and bullying and it really cleared up a few things for me. As a supervisor I was especially interested because I don't want to cross the line, but because I am a supervisor I do have times where I need to speak to staff about various matters. But even if you aren't a supervisor there are things we can say that might be offensive and hurtful to others. 

I was happy to learn that workplace harassment and bullying is based on how a reasonable person would have reacted given the entirety of the circumstances. Therefore if you are an overly sensitive person and found something to be harassing or bullying, it might not be considered so. For instance if I walk down the hall and fail to greet my co-workers, that might be rude, but not fall under workplace harassment and bullying. Also, having to speak to an employee to correct their behaviour or to try to encourage them in their performance (such as performance management, discipline, directives and enforcement of rules and policies), even though the employee may not like them is considered a normal function of a supervisor and not harassment or bullying. 

I was suprised to learn that any person can commit harassment whether they are an employee, co-worker, contractor, supervisor or part of management and that the workplace includes meetings off site, social events and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I am always surprised when I see co-workers writing on Facebook pages about a boss they don't particularly like or that they are so bored at work.  Don't they think their employer or other employees who they might be friends with can see this? 

Here are some examples he gave us of what may constitute harassment: physical acts or gestures, taunting or bullying, verbal abuse or racial comments/references, derogatory comments or jokes, sexual material (even material sent by email) or inappropriate behaviour used to control or influence.  Less obvious examples were things like belittling or intimidating behaviour, creating a hostile work enviroment, disrespectful or discourteous behaviour or overly aggressive or assertive behaviour.

I would suggest if your office hasn't addressed this subject yet, having someone come in to explain this very important aspect of working together would be a good thing so everyone is aware of what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour in the office.

Here some links with more information:
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Bullying in the Workplace
Ontario Government website on preventing workplace harassment and bullying
Canadian Human Rights Commission information on anti-harassment policies for the workplace
Legal aspects for United States

10 December 2011

The water cooler is leaking...

Office talk, or water cooler conversations, can be just that: what did you do on the weekend, what activities are your children participating in, what great new restaurant have you tried, etc. etc., but what about when the conversation turns to gossip?  Gossip can be vicious and in some cases even lead to disciplinary action or getting fired if you are the one doing it.  Depending on the severity of it, it can be seen as a form of workplace bullying and harassment and  is a very serious matter.  To be the victim of gossip can affect how your co-workers interact with you and if you know the gossip is going on about you, it can affect how you interact with others.  It is embarrassing, humiliating and just darn wrong!

Have you ever been the brunt of office gossip?  Have you ever participated in it?   

The problem with gossip from the perspective of the person who is being talked about is you probably have a good sense that it is going on, but you don't know the specifics so you react and try to counter what you think people are saying.  Because you don't have all the details, your reactions might further fuel the gossip and on and on it goes.  For instance, if I think that someone is bad mouthing me, I know they are only telling one side of the story so I might want to give my side of the story and in essence have now continued the gossip.  It has the effect of each party trying to win the other person over to their side.

I have had personal experience where I have been the brunt of the gossip.  It is hurtful because you don't have a chance to defend yourself and what the person says is left to stand as is and only has their spin on it.  Unless the people who hear the gossip take the time to get to know you and find out for themselves what you are like, their thoughts about you will be tarnished by what they have heard. 

I find that most times it is a lack of communication on every side.  The person gossiping should really be speaking to the person they are targetting and work out any issues directly with them. The person being gossiped about has a harder time because they don't really know what is being said and/or who is saying it, but they usually have a good idea.  I recommend to that person to be better than the gossip and don't perpetuate it.

What if it is affecting your job and your supervisor is reacting to the gossip and their perception about your performance is suffering because of it?

Supervisors have a greater responsibility and should not participate in gossip at any level.  They should speak to their employees if they have issues and work it out with them.  If someone gossips to them, they should challenge the person to do something about the issue they are complaining about and offer to facilitate between the parties if that would be helpful.  Nine times out of ten the gossiper will not want that because they are only... well...gossiping.  By challenging them you let them know you will not be part of the gossip.  If the gossip is more than just gossip and there is some truth behind it, then by challenging them you may get to the bottom of it and find there is something that needs to be addressed and then you can be seen to be part of the solution.  It is always better if people talk things out and work together.  The longer the gossip is left to go unchallenged the worse the situation will be for everyone and the harder to get down to the truth.

We spend so much time at work that it is worth the effort to cultivate our work relationships in a positive way.  There is no room at the office for negative talk about anyone.  If there is a performance issue with someone, then that needs to be addressed with the person and not with others.

How gossip is handled in your office starts and can end with you.  What are you going to do the next time someone comes to you with some juicy bit of information about someone?  I know I am going to try harder to be professional about it, even if and when I feel I am the victim.  My reaction will usually clear up any doubts about me as a person and employee.

3 December 2011

Working with your boss

I work with a boss who is very self sufficient (in other words he could live without me, but chooses not to) and a friend of mine works with someone who wouldn't know what to do without her help.  Which would you prefer?

My job is unique in that I do my own work apart from my boss.  He does his thing and I do mine.  My work is generated by what he does, but I pretty well carry on with my duties on my own.  I do provide other support to him, but he doesn't really need it, but likes it.  The problem is when we are both working on the same thing and I think I am the one doing it, but in the meantime he has done it, i.e. we both contact the same person and he says he is available and I say he is not.  Of course when I check his calendar he really isn't.  Too many cooks in the kitchen is not a good thing.

My friend's boss needs assistance in every little thing.  I prefer having a job that gives me a little more independence and being able to work on my own on projects, but it all depends what you signed up for. That is why when I go on an interview, I interview them as well.  I want to make sure this is a good fit for me.  It is all personal preference and strengths.  It is just not my thing to provide that level of support, but there is nothing wrong with a boss needing it or with you providing it.

I also like that my boss is not a micro manager.  I feel confident I know what my job is and I just go about doing it and respecting the deadlines to get it done.  He would not like it if I missed a deadline as then it would affect him, but he trusts that I know what I'm doing.  Although I do like this kind of working relationship, it makes it harder when you first start a job with a boss like mine because they just expect you to step in and start doing it.  I was not used to that at first so was waiting for him to tell me what needed to be done, but quickly discovered that it was going to be up to me so took on the challenge and found I enjoyed it even more than being told what to do.

I worked with another admin who didn't seem to know how to proceed without having her boss tell her step by step what needed to be done next.  It all depends on your maturity, your confidence in your skills and what your previous work experience was.  I expect that an inexperienced admin will need more guidance and I enjoy working with them as they learn, but my goal is always that they will work towards knowing their job and taking it on as their own.  We will always need some sort of guidance in our job since we are the support staff, but some jobs we can take on ourselves.  For instance, if you are in charge of ordering supplies, I would think that over time you should be able to take that job on and set up a schedule of when to order, have an orderly supply cabinet so people can find things and work with the vendor to get familiar with how to order (whether online, by phone or on paper) and finding deals and best prices, etc.

If you work with a micro manager then you have another challenge, but for your own personal growth I would suggest that you try to take on as many jobs as you can.  Show your boss that you can do it by being one step ahead of them.  When you know the order is due, approach them and ask if you can go ahead and make the order.  They will start to relax and rely on you that you know what you are doing.  Be smart about it though and make sure you really know what you need to do before taking it on. I have worked with people who tried to show initiative, but they weren't quite ready to take it on by themselves and that didn't work out very well.

So what can you do?
  • Be willing to learn and work hard at knowing your job, especially at the beginning.  There is a lot to learn when you first start a job.  Put in the extra time to learn it.  It will be noticed and will pay off in the end.
  • Write down instructions so you will know how to do it the next time and won't have to ask the same questions over and over.
  • Show your boss that you know what needs to be done next without them telling you.  If you have been on the job for awhile and your boss is still not giving you things to do on your own, take a chance and do something you are confident you know how to do and see what happens.  You may be surprised that they were just waiting for you to do it on your own.  Or they may be suprised to see you can do it without them and will be happy they can give you the job instead of them doing it.
I recall working for a lawyer who would dictate letters for me to transcribe. Over time I knew exactly what needed to be in those letters, but day in and day out he would dictate them to me. One day when I received a certain correspondence, I took the chance of drafting the letter and preparing it for his signature. He was pleasantly surprised and from then on let me do it. It gave me greater job satisfaction and relieved him of this task.

Working with someone is the same as every other relationship.  We are getting to know each other and as you get to know the other person you start to learn their preferences, what makes them cranky and what makes them happy.  They are also learning the same things about you.  It is easy to have misunderstandings and assume things if you don't take the time to get to know your boss.