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How do I tell boss: ‘Quit hogging admin’s time!’?

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Question: "I am an executive admin assistant with two senior-level admins below me.  One admin appears to get all the work thrown at her, because her bosses have the biggest teams. I want to level the load between the three of us, which won’t be the problem. My problem is how to communicate to the directors that they will not get the support they typically received, as we are spread too thin. How can I word an email to the directors that their teams must start being more self-sufficient?" —Terry

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel July 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Looking at the grand scheme of things is a huge help! If the work load is unbalanced where one of the three of you is getting 75% of the work, then sitting down and hashing out the possible work arounds is necessary. Definately agree that you’ll need your boss’s buy-in so that it comes from the top down. Volunteering a specific assistant to take on more without her knowledge could really make the spit hit the fan :-) You’ll want to involve every assistant effected in the load leveling efforts, so each one feels that have a say so in how the work is divided. Getting a visual look at the load and each person’s responsibilities (both current and proposed) is another great way to get everyone on the same page and see the big picture. Everyone is doing more with less these days, so hopefully the directors/managers will be understanding with the likely adjustments they’ll need to make with regard to their expectations! It’s a great idea to work on a project like this to do exactly that- reset expectation across the board. Hope that helps & best of luck!

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Lynne June 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I agree with Cathy’s approach, and in addition to that, let them know the criteria you are using to decide which projects to take on. That way your decisions are objective and hard feelings are less likely to develop. I’ve learned that just by asking a few questions, something that was initially “an emergency” becomes, “whenever you have time.” Or sometimes a director can be talked down from their original grand scale idea to something more manageable.

It also helps if you brainstorm other resources with the directors instead of flat-out refusing. I recently had a situation where a director had convinced herself that I was the only person that could do a series of tasks, but after we talked about it together, it turned out she didn’t need me at all.

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Cathy June 27, 2011 at 10:48 am

The best approach would be to simply state the time constraints facing the three administrative assistants, rather than communicating that the teams need to be more self-sufficient. The message should be positive, rather than negative. You will also need to be specific when communicating how the workload will be distributed.
“In an effort to responsibily fulfill all our projects and timelines, it has become necessary to approve all future projects prior to handing them to our administrative assistant team. Therefore, please see me or Ms. X and we will give thoughtful consideration to each of your projects. Please know that we hope to help you all with your workload, but may be unable to do so. Thank you for your understading.

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Chandra June 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm

We have a “Support Services” team that is crossed trained to support all the departments within the company. We have instituted and communicated to all managers a policy that states all work requests must go through the manager of Support Services to be approved and balanced between all members of the group. Granted there are some that actually sit or work with specific departments, but they may not always have the right skill or bandwidth to take on a new task. This allows the manger of Support Services to make sure no one is overloaded and the right person is doing the right job. This also makes her the only bad guy when it comes to pushing back on managers about it. On thing that is really important is to get YOUR manager’s buy-in or it won’t fly.

Sometimes communicating this isn’t easy, but I found the best course of action is to 1) document the policy; 2) Communicate the policy in a manager’s meeting; 3) Send an email that states the policy; 4) have your staff reinforce it by directing the other managers to you when they get a request; 5) When you get a request, set a time-frame they can expect it completed; and 6) push back on them when it is something that can be accomplished by their department.

This way you don’t actually have to tell them they are not getting the level of service they previously expected, you are just re-setting their expectations. If they decide that they need something faster and you can not give it to them, then that is where step 6 comes in. If they want it faster, do it themselves…

It seems to have worked out pretty well here (after some hard push back). GOOD LUCK!

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