Opinion

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Making mistakes, flexible working and social media. Four administrative professionals from around the world share their experience and opinions.

You’ve made a mistake at work at work – now what?

Tafline Sullivan – Realising that I’ve made a mistake at work sends me into a heart-pounding, cold-sweat panic. I tell myself this is because I’m such a conscientious employee, but the truth is it’s the next steps that really reveal a person’s character. In my experience people would rather work twice as hard at covering their tracks than they would at admitting and fixing their mistake. Inevitably, someone has to take the blame and it can end up being an innocent party. This violates trust between co-workers, can lead to poor productivity and even high staff turnover. Since that is an environment that no reasonable person desires to work in, I strive to swallow my pride and admit my mistakes when they happen. It’s not easy; as an EA being meticulous equals being valuable. But accepting responsibility and taking appropriate action right away and not dwelling on what went wrong demonstrates that my supervisor can trust me in the future. It is also the surest way to rebuild their confidence in my ability to get it right the next time. Not all mistakes are created equal, but following this course of action with minor mistakes and seeing the positive outcome has made it so much easier to follow when it really counts.

Marie-France Grimonet – If you are overloaded with work, it is always going to happen. First, take a breath and if possible go out for couple of minutes of fresh air to calm down. Evaluate the situation and consequences, think of the next steps.
Try not to brood: what am I going to do? What will my manager and co-workers think about me? Will I be dismissed from my job?
Think of what the consequences could be and make a plan to solve the problem. Admit that you have made a mistake and inform your manager at the earliest opportunity of what has happened. Accept your responsibility and never blame third parties. He/she will appreciate that you are being honest.
Don’t forget that we all make mistakes at every level of the hierarchy. Think of the Chinese saying “failure is the mother of success”. Once the mishap is behind you, lesson learned and move on!

Michela Luoni – It depends on the severity of the mistake and the possibility of a quick fix; It may happen that a trivial oversight has major repercussions so if you can’t solve the problem without additional costs that impact on the company it is better to be honest and admit to the boss, but have an alternative in hand.

Nicky Morris – Admit to your Manager as soon as possible that you have made a mistake. Time really can be the difference between a mistake and something catastrophic. What you may perceive as a “small error” may be costly to your employer in terms of loss of money, clients or reputation.
You will create a much more of a manageable situation with your Manager if you have already thought of a solution or ways to limit and ensuing damage (damage control).
An example of a mistake I made at work a few months ago was as follows: My organisation has a mailing list which clients sign up to through a specific email address. On receipt of these emails, I add the clients to our distribution list and then send them the standard “thanks for subscribing” email. Usually this is done by bcc’ing the clients into the email. Unfortunately on this particular morning a crisis was unfolding at work and I got distracted – instead of bcc’ing the clients, I cc’d them into the email – thus exposing a list of approximately twenty clients to each others’ email addresses. The error became apparent within a few minutes when one person emailed us to complain.
My solution was to quickly inform my Manager; we consulted our organisation’s Privacy Officer and then sent an apology email individually to each client. Thankfully there were no other complaints; in fact we even received three “thanks for advising me” emails in response.
It certainly pays to act quickly in a planned manner, rather than take the panic approach.
My final tip would be to (obviously) apologise, reassure your Manger that it won’t happen again and ensure that this is the case by implementing/amending procedures/practices. And don’t beat yourself up about it – everyone makes mistakes; it’s how you deal with those mistakes that really matters.

What do you think about flexible working?

Tafline Sullivan – Flexible working is, in my opinion, essential in the modern workplace. While I work a more traditional nine to five day, several employees at my company work flexible hours. It benefits the employee who has a difficult commute, allowing them to accept a job in a location that rush hour traffic might prohibit. It benefits the employee who needs to juggle their schedule around their spouse or children. The advantages to the company include employee loyalty and improved morale due to a good work-life balance. However, there are companies that don’t manage this option as well as they could and this leads to frustration. It behooves all employees if the schedules of the few who work flexible hours are published internally. It is good practice for those employees to record on their voicemail message what their hours are. I’ve even received an Out of Office response from someone, not because they were on vacation but simply to state the hours that they work so that recipients would know when to expect a response to their email. As an EA it is imperative to manage expectations, particularly since an EA speaks on behalf of the executive(s) they support and executives are seldom known for only working during work hours.

Marie-France Grimonet – There are many ranges of working options and different ones in each country.
I believe that working 4 days a week is valuable when bringing up children, despite the part-time salary reduction. Having a day off when young children are not at school is a great opportunity to spend more time with them.
You may also have long commuting hours. This was the case while I was working in Paris: 3 hours every day! I was able to avoid the rush hours working flexi-time. Far better enjoying a good book than being packed like sardines in the Underground!
In France, the legal number of working hours is 35 per week. Most companies agreed to a standard working week of 37 hours and in compensation employees are allowed two days off per month. In accordance with companies’ agreements, the days can be taken as extended weekends or as extra holidays. Work-life balance, is it genuine? Definitely yes but it all depends on your private life and your occupation.

Michela Luoni – Unfortunately, the flexibility to arrive or leave your job in a less rigid schedule, working from home or in general the ability to manage your working independently (for example the time of the lunch break) does not apply to all companies, not being mandatory by law, but the result of the choice of your organisation.
A request to work part-time for example to look after your child, currently falls within the private contract between the employee and the company but in my opinion should be granted.

Nicky Morris – Flexible working is absolutely essential in today’s business world – especially where we are trying to encourage women (in particular) to progress in the workforce.
I was the first person in my organisation to request flexible working hours. I had returned to work full-time after having my son (now 4 years old). However after 14 months of full time work, I was finding it too much and also missing out on vital stages of his development. I therefore requested to work three days in the office and 1 day from home. Since my request, more employees in our organisation have requested work flexibility.

I created a proposal for my CEO, which included how I was going to be managing my role and tasks, communication between home and office and what effect this would have on my colleagues, direct reports and the organisation. The arrangement was very successful for both me and my employer. I returned to full time office based employment in May 2010.
The technology that we have available today makes flexible working a very real option for all employees and employers. Providing you get the job done, work can really be done at any time of the day or night, especially if you are in a job where you are communicating worldwide across differing time zones.
Employers are able to cut costs by hot-desking and therefore using less office space and power. There are also environmental considerations in terms of travel to and from work. The standard 9-5 work day is becoming less realistic. I think flexible working will become more and more the norm in coming years.

Do you think social media should be available at work and if so, do you think your workplace should be monitoring its use? Why?

Tafline Sullivan – There are positions that need to make use of or monitor social media, such as marketing communications. Naturally, this question is not referencing these positions and neither will I. For the rest, I don’t believe social media should be available on work computers. It is unprofessional to socialise excessively at work, even with coworkers, vendors and customers, so it is fair to limit employees’ socialising to these groups of people. Should a company choose to allow access to social media, I expect this use would fall under the same company guidelines as use of internet and email at work. Most employers state that all messages sent or received are property of the employer and not private. This is not unreasonable if you consider the part that emails can play in litigation. Being aware of all these factors, I would be very reluctant to access social media at work even if I could.

Marie-France Grimonet – All depends on the kind of business. For marketing purposes and professional networking, an Administrative Assistant working for an SME can be assigned the creation, updating and moderation of the enterprise social media pages.
Likewise, a Virtual Assistant might wish to sell his/her own business in the same way.
In general, multinational companies block workstations from accessing private email accounts or some web sites by adding filters. But authorisation may be given if searching business-related information comes under our duties.
However, it can be time-consuming. Do we have time to spend on private social media?
In my opinion, deciding whether social media should be available at work is the responsibility of the organisation. Nevertheless, new technologies such as mobile operating systems eg. smartphones, i-phones, laptops cannot fully prevent the staff from logging into social networks in the workplace.
An appropriate code of conduct should be implemented to protect the staff and companies.

Michela Luoni – The usefulness of social media has a powerful impact on working: business contacts often become personal too and communication flow is facilitated through these channels but for now, they are viewed more as a diversion of your working hours instead of a significant help. I think it is fair that companies disable the IP address if you cross the line and use it for too much personal use.

Nicky Morris – I think it depends on what your purpose is for using social media. What will your business really gain from it?
My organisation did look into whether we would use social media as a business tool however for us, as a quasi-government agency that is very restricted in what we can/cannot say, it wouldn’t really be appropriate.
I think social media such as blogs, forums and discussion boards that are relevant to your work are worthwhile as an information gatherer and something that can be contributed to, provided they are dealt with in a similar way to the organisations business style/method of communication. It does carry the risk of employee’s saying something inappropriate.
Professional based social media such as LinkedIn or groups relevant to a person’s role/sector are an excellent tool in keeping up with what is happening in your particular area of expertise and on a global scale.
The ‘fun’ social media such as Facebook, instant messaging etc should be kept for personal time – it is far too much of a drain on businesses’ resources to have employees distracted by this type of social media. A better solution may be to have computers in break out areas for employees to use social media during their work breaks.

Tafline Sullivan
I am proud to call myself an Executive Assistant. I have worked in South Africa, England and the United States and have been in this field on and off for 14 years. The reason I say “on and off” is that I’ve worked mostly at small, growing companies with evolving needs and limited headcount. Having a broad range of skills I often fill in those gaps and, in some cases, my job description has changed entirely. While that was a great way for me to experience a variety of fields I am now in a true EA position and I love it.

Marie‑France Grimonet
I was born in London, of French parents and spent 15 years living there so I grew up fully bilingual. I worked for 40 years in France as a PA in the banking sector and the pharmaceutical industry. These days, I am enjoying life in Burgundy. Promoting the profession has always been one of my priorities. Secretarial schools invite me to hold interactive sessions with first year students and I am also on the examination board for the bilingual assistant certificate at the Vocational Training Organisation for Adults. I am a voluntary active member of European Management Assistants (EUMA) and like networking worldwide.

Michela Luoni
I work as an Office Manager for the Italian Information technology Association in Milan. Alongside my Italian, I am fluent in Spanish and English, with a basic knowledge of German. I have qualifications in secretarial duties and office management, with experience in both independent and team jobs and more than ten years experience in other diverse roles.
Since last April I am also in charge of the Milan Section of MACSE (Manager Assistant Career & Skills Empowerment), the first and only Italian non-profit Association. We aim to train secretaries as Manager Assistants, fostering their skills and increasing their profile.

Nicky Morris
I am British Australian and moved from the UK in 2003 “down under” to Australia. I have over 15 years’ experience in a mixture of administration and childcare and five years ago found my niche in combining the two as Executive Assistant at the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) based in Sydney. I enjoy sharing and expanding my skills and am always very keen to develop professionally and personally through professional reading, training and networking. Through websites like LinkedIn this is now possible on a global scale, which makes me feel that Australia isn’t really that far away from the rest of the world!

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About Author

Lucy Brazier

Lucy Brazier is one of the world’s leading authorities on the administrative profession. As CEO of Marcham Publishing, specialist publishers of Executive Secretary Magazine, Lucy’s passion is for the Assistant role to be truly recognised as a career and not just a job. With access to the most forward-thinking, passionate and knowledgeable trainers and administrative business leaders in the world, as well as personally meeting and speaking to literally thousands of Assistants over the last nine years, Lucy’s knowledge of the market and what Assistants all over the world are facing on a day to day basis are second to none. For full list of speaking topics or for further enquiries please contact Matthew Want at [email protected] or visit http://executivesecretary.com/lucy-brazier/

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