Maximize Your Assistant: The Importance of Boundaries

by | Mar 15, 2021 | Blog

A great working relationship with your assistant involves openness, transparency, trust, and even empathy. Working together and practicing these four things will lead to a tight-knit relationship with your assistant that feels comfortable for both of you. But without good boundaries, the relationship could go from comfortable to full of resentment over time. In this post, we are discussing boundaries and why your assistant needs them.

Boundaries Make and Break Assistant Relationships

Boundary issues aren’t as clear as black and white. In fact, a lot of times, when we talk to potential clients or acquaintances, we hear horror stories that stem from bad boundaries, and they don’t even realize it.

Imagine it is Monday morning and time for your debriefing session with your assistant. Your assistant greets you with a hello and asks you how your weekend was. You had a good weekend so you share some details, and you ask them the same question in return. Unfortunately, your assistant had a bad weekend, their car broke down on the highway, their child broke a family heirloom, and the stress caused an argument with their spouse.

Your quick 15-minute debriefing meeting has now gone on for 30 minutes, and you have not discussed a single thing relating to the workday. You have started the week already feeling behind, and now you find yourself wondering if you should send your assistant home because they could use a break.

On the other hand, the conversation could have gone very differently. You shared your weekend with your assistant, and when you asked your assistant, they responded with a simple, it was good. Out of curiosity, you dig for more information like asking them what they did, how their spouse is, how school is going for their kids. Eventually, you get all of the details out of your assistant, and afterward, you look at the clock and realize you are running late.

At first, getting to know what is going on in your assistant’s life does not seem like a bad thing, but both of these are examples of bad boundaries. Even though you will be getting close with your assistant, it is important to remember that your assistant is not your best friend.

Assistants Take Care of You

You likely hired your assistant because you needed support. You needed someone to help you when you feel like your head is barely above water, you needed someone to act as a gatekeeper when you are on a tight deadline, or even someone to just keep you on track. You hired your assistant to take care of you, and it is important to remember that.

When the boundary lines begin to blur, and you start seeing your assistant more like a friend than an employee, you are heading down a rocky road. In the beginning, you may feel comfortable knowing more about the person that is caring for you, but over time, issues will arise. Some common issues LifeSquire has seen when this happens is:

  • The executive becomes very close to their assistant, entrenched in their lives. They start to feel responsible for fixing problems in their assistant’s professional and personal life.
  • Executives hesitate to ask their assistants to do what they truly need them to do because of the things happening in their life. It will feel good to both temporarily, but eventually, the executive will feel resentment because they aren’t getting what they need out of the relationship.
  • The assistant begins to see their boss as their friend and starts to mismanage expectations, and their performance begins to suffer.
  • Over time, the assistant will begin to feel like they know the executive best because of the friendship and all of the information they are given. They may start feeling like they are more powerful or should be treated differently than others.
  • Once the executive is aware of the problem, strict boundaries are enforced, and the assistant begins to feel let down and discouraged.

Maintaining Boundaries

Now that you have read about a lot of the problems that come with boundary issues with your assistant, you are probably asking yourself what you should do? You know that you should let your assistant in, but you aren’t sure how much. This is where we tell you; this is not solely your responsibility.

For the executive and assistant relationship to work, your assistant must set and maintain boundaries with you, but that does not mean that you can’t help. Some examples of how an executive can help their assistant maintain their personal boundaries include:

Do Not Dig for More Information

If you ask your assistant a question about their personal life and they reply with a short and positive response, accept it and move on.

Establish a Schedule

Executives often work far more than anyone else on their team, so don’t expect your assistant to always be available. Stay with-in their working hours, but if you need them after hours, ask them if they are available. Don’t just expect them to constantly drop everything for you during their personal time, but trust that they will get back to you in the morning.

Be Upfront With Expectations

As we mentioned in part 2 of this series, communication and expectations should always be at the forefront. Your assistant can better set boundaries when they know what is expected of them. If something changes, communicate that.

Sometimes You May Hear a “No”

During busy times, you may ask your assistant to do more or some things that are not normally in their role. Just like you, sometimes your assistant may not be able to take on more or stay late. Accept the no, and ask them who they think could help out instead.

If boundary issues dwell in your workplace, it’s time to start correcting that. Schedule a meeting with your assistant to discuss issues and boundary problems. Once you have both discussed your needs, it’s time to start incorporating them. It may not happen overnight, but working toward maintaining boundaries will make you both more productive in the end.

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