If all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy, then some of us are about as boring as we can get. If she manages a busy executive, a Revolutionary Assistant may have to be available 24/7 even in a low-key workplace. But in the world of Wall Street or other 24/7, high-intensity businesses, a Revolutionary Assistant can work herself to death if she’s not careful.
I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again, and the June 2016 issue talks about the unrealistic expectations being placed on employees in a high-intensity industry. It can be difficult to “find your place” in a workplace that demands you be available at 3PM and 3AM, and in order to cope, employees must make adjustments in their lives. In fact, “Managing the High Intensity Workplace” authors Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan say that they find three employee strategies emerging within those “always available” cultures: accepting, passing, and revealing.
These three strategies each have their merits, and they emerge based on the employee’s innate tendencies. There are benefits and pitfalls to each.
Accepting – These are the employees that grit their teeth and do what’s expected of them. When that call comes in at midnight, the employee not only answers but possibly does a little bit of work to address the issue. If they manage subordinates, they expect them to take the same approach to their careers.
- Benefits – They’re blending in well and living up to expectations
- Pitfalls – They may burn out quickly; they may also have a hard time developing promoteable employees
Passing – These employees make it look as though they are available for work 24/7, but they really aren’t. They just aren’t letting on. They might respond to an email right away, but say, “I’m working on it, will be back to you in a few hours” and then go on about their lives until they have a moment when they can address the issue.
- Benefits – This employee protects his career but still enjoys other aspects of his life.
- Pitfalls – Not only are they probably not building close relationships at work (for risk of being “found out”) but they also perpetuate the “ideal employee” myth by fulfilling unrealistic expectations
Revealing – The most “rebellious” of the three strategies, the employee simply says, “I will get to this later tonight. I’m at my daughter’s swim meet.” They reveal themselves as resisting the norm and may think that the 24/7 culture needs to change
- Benefits – These employees enjoy open relationships with colleagues, protect their free time and have lives outside of work
- Pitfalls – They could damage their careers by not “playing along” and may not be credible enough to move the organization away from the high-intensity culture should they try.
The article goes on to recommend changes to each of these employees’ strategies – accepting workers should carve out time for their personal lives and not expect subordinates to behave like they do; passing employees should try to develop relationships with a small group of co-workers and reinforce to the boss that outside activities don’t hurt performance; revealing strategists should focus on results instead of time spent and encourage others to be open about carving out personal times in an effort to change the culture.
But what of the Revolutionary Assistant? If she supports an executive, it’s pretty likely that executive is one of those “accepting” sorts, and while many of them learn early on that they shouldn’t expect 24/7 from their subordinates, Revolutionary Assistants are often caught in the cross-fire of last-minute travel and off-hour meeting scheduling. Here are some suggestions that might work:
Revolutionary buddy system – If you know you’re going to be away for a few days or over a weekend, alert your manager and arrange for a member of your admin network to cover for any emergencies that might come up. Reinforce with your manager your need to detach and recharge your batteries for a few days before you leave.
Carve out time for you and the family – If having dinner with your family is important, then make sure that you’re free during that time. Turn off your mobile device and enjoy them, and after everyone has gone to bed, check in one more time to see if there are any last-minute needs. Let your manager know that this will be your daily practice.
Encourage your manager to step away from this kind of culture – Sure, time is money, but well-rested, many-faceted employees make a better company. S/he should take a few hours away from work each night, a couple of weeks of vacation each year…and set an example for the subordinates.
As a high-powered Revolutionary Assistant, I’ve done the 24/7 thing and burnt myself out plenty of times. Be a great employee…take time for yourself.
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