11 July 2009

The importance of having someone to talk to

Recently, I met with a former colleague for an inpromptu lunch. It was very timely that we met because I had a lot of things on my mind that I needed to vent about and it turned out so did she. Sometimes we just need someone to be our sounding board and an outsider to the situation can often see things more clearly.

The admin profession lends itself to taking on new and sometimes challenging projects. If something needs to be done at the office that doesn't fit anyone else's job description, it is usually the assistant that is asked to do it because, well, we are the assistant and our position is not cast in stone. (In all honesty, that is what I like about the job, but sometimes it makes it a little difficult).

This is where an assistant network can come in handy. I often reach out to my network to get answers to problems that come up at the office or just to lend a sympathetic ear. Having the opportunity to hash it out with another assistant is a great resource. We can all help each other.

For instance, I found it challenging when I first started my new job. I had a big learning curve going into it and I didn't know any of the other assistants so I felt all alone with my challenges. I can tell you my friends and colleagues got a lot of phone calls in those early days and it was a wonderful resource and help to me.

Below are some things that I have found helpful to build my network:
  1. Join a professional association such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). IAAP is a group of assistants who get together and encourage each other in our jobs and careers. Sometimes I go to our dinner meetings and take polls at the table I am sitting at about some office procedure I am thinking of implementing and get their feedback on how they do things in their offices.
  2. Read professional magazines when you get the opportunity. IAAP has a magazine that comes with being a member called OfficePro and it has very useful articles. When I receive my copy, I circulate it to the assistants in my office for their information and reading. Another one I like is Administrative Assistant's Update, but there are others.
  3. Sign up to some interactive Admin Assistant sites such as OfficeArrow, Admin Secret and DeskDemon. They have discussion boards where assistants write their questions or concerns and assistants all over the country (and world) read it and if they have an answer, try to help. It is surprising how similar our situations are, no matter where we are from.
  4. When you leave a job, you don't have to leave your network behind. I am still in contact with people from many of the offices I have worked in over the years. It is nice to keep the connection for our mutual work benefit.

One of the reasons I like having outside networks is since they do not know the people or history about a particular work situation, they can look at it with a neutral eye. We do have to keep our company privacy in mind when sharing and never give specific details, but it is easy to give a general work situation and no one is the wiser as to who it is about and no company secrets are shared. The problem that sometimes occurs with sharing with current co-workers is it can turn into office gossip. Some situations however need to be kept in-house and only those who are involved would benefit from discussing it and understand what it was about. This is where a strong assistant team is nice to have. Since our positions are so similar, it is to each other's benefit to work together and help each other.

Perhaps, you are reading this and thinking some of these things can be a big time commitment. I understand! We do need to have a life outside of work so I find the best thing is to pick a few that work for you. Check out some of the sites and organizations and see which you would find to be most useful. Ask yourself if you have the time to go to a meeting once a month. Perhaps those with young families do not, so gear your outside activities to what you have time for and what you can afford.

The nice thing about on-line sites is for the most part they are free, but what they don't charge in fees they can take up in time, as many of us have experienced with sites such as Facebook. You can spend a lot of time in front of your computer.

Work life balance is always the best way to go, but if you need a hand or a listening ear, just reach out. There is help out there and it is usually closer than you think.

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