Why do you stay with your employer?

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Engaged employees contribute effectively to their organisation’s success explains Shelagh Donnelly

For some, the answer may be simple: you’re staying put in the interest of financial stability. Local economies aside, some institutions have been shedding human capital and brick and mortar investments as they shift to flexible work assignments and invest in artificial intelligence (AI).

For others who work in vibrant labour markets or positions not adversely impacted by digitization, you may have more options. So, why stay put in a specific role or with a particular employer?

Interesting, fulfilling work is likely high on your list. So are good colleagues and a positive work environment. Employee engagement is a critical factor, one that’s recognised as a contributor to increased profitability. What does employee engagement mean to you, though? Well, it goes further than employee satisfaction. As articulated in HR solution provider Aon Hewitt’s 2018 Global Engagement Report, it represents “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization”.

Think of the say, stay, strive principles: Do you have positive things to say about your organisation and advocate for it? Do you intend to stay there for the long term? Are you motivated to strive to give your best efforts? If you’re able to say yes to all three questions about your job, you’re an engaged employee.

Where does your principal (aka executive) fit into this?

The importance of mutual respect and a good rapport with your principal (aka your executive) cannot be overstated. They’re relevant not only to the health and productivity of the organisation, but also to the health of your career.

Think about it. Your principal has the highest level of authority of anyone in your immediate working environment. It doesn’t matter whether your principal is a supervisor, a manager, or a member of the C-Suite. Whatever his or her job title, that person has capacity to influence your career prospects. This is, after all, the person who conducts your performance evaluations. ­­

Engagement aside, there are also functional considerations. Your principal can endorse or reject your requests for professional development (PD or CPD) undertakings. This individual also has influence over whether projects and other opportunities are afforded to you in your current role. These are all factors in your professional growth, visibility and career prospects. Depending on the sector in which you work, this person may wield power over whether or not you receive a raise, or the size of your bonus.

Let’s consider this working relationship from the perspective of an organisational expert. Linda A. Hill is a Harvard Business School professor and author who serves on a number of boards and writes about leadership. She’s cited as saying that a strong, positive relationship with one’s manager helps you to “stay aligned with the priorities of the organization, understand its constraints, and get access to the resources you need to get things done”. That’s common sense, and these factors are critical for assistants who logically want to support management’s ability to deliver on the strategic plan. When you and your principal are aligned, and you have access to information and resources, you’re well positioned to succeed – not only individually, but as an organisation.

Conversely, you’ll know you’re on shaky ground with your principal if you find your exposure to projects, resources, development opportunities, information and even some people curtailed. Imagine trying to meet your performance goals without support for the requisite training, or the green light to participate in conferences or networks. If you’re out of the loop when it comes to information, you’ll be working from a position of disadvantage and there’s a good likelihood that your performance and performance evaluations will also suffer.

Assistants join organisations, but leave managers

I’m paraphrasing Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman here. However, ongoing issues between you and your principal could have an impact on your job security – and, therefore, your financial wellbeing. While many executives will say they couldn’t manage without their assistant, it’s likely that – from a financial perspective – you are more dependent on your principal than s/he is on you.

If you’re in a working relationship that’s a constant source of stress, you have some tough decisions to make – that is, if someone else doesn’t make them for you. Some time ago, Forbes published a leadership article citing a dozen or so signs that it’s time to leave one’s job. Harassment and bullying are on the list, as is illegal behaviour. So are constant stress, feeling unhappy about the job, lack of work-life balance, and a feeling that you don’t fit in. Further indicators? Job stagnation, finding your skills untapped, and compensation that doesn’t measure up to the level of your contributions. What about a sense that your ideas are no longer heard or valued? You bet. As you may guess, not getting along with your principal also made the list.

Often, people will keep plugging away, trying to work through a situation. They may be hesitant to act on the knowledge that it’s time to move on, either to another department or another employer. One problem with staying put, though, is that stressful relations with your principal can also impact your emotional and physical wellbeing. For, while assistants are financially compensated for their work, most employees also want to be liked. Consider, then, the words of Jean-François Manzoni, the President and Nestlé Professor at Switzerland’s IMD Business School. Manzoni is quoted as saying, “We are wired to please authority figures” and, unsurprisingly, “When your boss doesn’t like you, it’s painful.”

If things reach a point where you determine you need to make a career move, prospective employers will logically seek out your past principals’ input. It’s not unusual for an employer to adeptly relay a carefully phrased reference in order to support such a departure. If you’re less than comfortable providing the name of someone with whom things didn’t work out, though, cast your thoughts to also identifying other referees in your current environment, people who are able to give unqualified positive references.

What keeps assistants engaged? Knowing that their principals respect their employees

Some among you will know that, through my website, I conduct regular Weekend Polls in which I check the pulse of what’s going in the world of assistants. We examine, and I report back on, a range of topics that are relevant to the career.

A few weeks ago, I was reviewing articles about the skills and competencies assistants should bring to the table. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought, to see what assistants hope their principals will bring to that same table? Let’s face it; this is a two-way street, even if one person is seen to have the right of way. In an interview situation, it’s not only the employer assessing the candidates; any assistant worth her or his salt will also be assessing the prospects of a positive working relationship. With that in mind, I presented readers with 21 characteristics of a good executive. I asked assistants to rate the importance of each of these qualities on a scale from one (nice, but not a priority) to five (critical).

What came out top? The principal’s respect for people across the organisational chart. You can find the full results of this particular Weekend Poll on my website. For now, though, here are the Top 10 qualities of a principal according to today’s assistants.

  1. Respectful of people across the organisational chart
  2. Demonstrates Integrity
  3. Invested in the organisation’s success
  4. Demonstrates leadership
  5. Shares information
  6. Assumes well of the assistant’s efforts unless proven otherwise
  7. Supports the assistant’s professional development
  8. Makes the assistant feel valued
  9. Is a good role model?
  10. Is inclusive of the assistant and other colleagues

If you’re able to credit your current principal with possessing the majority of these qualities, it’s likely a safe guess that you’re an engaged employee – which positions you to contribute effectively to your organisation’s success!

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About Author

Shelagh Donnelly

Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Her Exceptional EA website, www.exceptionalea.com, has been read around the globe since 2013, and she writes weekly for Diligent Insights. Shelagh is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant. Shelagh will be speaking at Executive Secretary LIVE Wellington, 21 & 22 May 2021. For further information and to book, visit www.executivesecretarylive.com

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