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Not being used to my full potential

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Question: I am the executive assistant for the CEO/president of a small (45 employees) company. The boss frequently travels, either on business trips, family trips or hunting trips. While he's gone, he might check his e-mail once a day, but he relies heavily on me to check his e-mail, handle things that I can, return calls, answer questions, etc. Usually, once a day, he’ll call and get any pertinent info from me.

He gets about 30 e-mails a day and one or two calls. About five of his e-mails contain something that needs to be handled; most are simply “junk.”

When he’s around, I have JUST enough to keep me working very slowly. I feel as though I'm not used to my potential; I really prefer to be TOO busy! I have assumed all the responsibilities he will allow, I assist others in the company as much as I do him, and do a lot of research on potential customers, partners, vendors, etc., without being told. I have PLENTY of initiative, I go above and beyond constantly, and I do a lot of things. But when he's gone, I literally could get all my “work” done in one hour a day!

It’s very frustrating, because I don’t feel like I’m worth my paycheck, sometimes. But there’s nothing I can do to remedy it. He has specifically said I’m doing more than he would ever ask and that I’m capably handling SO much and the folks in the office all have their jobs to do and any offers of assistance I give are usually politely declined. I mean seriously: I don’t feel like he needs me to be in the office while he’s gone. We have a telephone system and VPN, and I could literally work from home and be JUST as available.

I don’t really want to push for that, because he really doesn’t like folks to telecommute. He likes them to be in the office, especially me being the “face” of him when he’s not here. Inevitably, things arise that I might need to make a decision on.

I paid for an online continuing-education course from a local college and have been doing my studies at work. Seeing as it’s an administrative course, I don’t feel bad about that. But after that, I'm still left with three to four hours a day with absolutely NOTHING work-oriented to do because I have DONE IT ALL, already!

My long story boils down to this: Should I look for another job that's more fast-paced and I feel like I’m worth my paycheck?

Should I try to talk to him about working part-time while he’s out of town?

Should I feel guilty on a day like today when our gas has been turned off due to a leak the gas company has to locate, I feel sick (several employees have the stomach virus going around), have a headache, have nothing to do, have received ONE single e-mail in two days that I could do anything with, and made a copy of a receipt for one other person? Should I be feeling guilty for checking my e-mail? What am I missing?

I’m so frustrated because I have a VERY strong work ethic and a fast-paced mentality, one can reorganize the files only so many times!

HELP! I don’t want to be watching the clock!  -- Liz


I would apply for a new job. There are plenty of companies out there that would do anything to have an employee they way you say you are. You've done/tried everything else.

Sounds like you need another position at a faster pace compamny. That slowness would drive me insane.

I'm an adrenaline junkie myself and feel your pain. It sounds like you have tried to get more responsibility but you are at the point of having outgrown the position. It would serve you best to find another position outside of the company where you can grow and have opportunity for advancement and challenge. You sound like the type of person where it really isn't about the pay check but about self-satisfaction from knowing you did a good job or overcame a challenge, so you do need to move on - great things await you! Best to you.

I'm in the same boat as you and unfortunately looking elsewhere. I'm new to this company, but so far I may get a rush of work but complete it in a couple of hours and I'm done. I left a very fast paced, barely time to breathe position to take this one at a huge pay increase. But I just don't feel comfortable with the salary vs work ratio. If you have been honest with your supervisor and he insists that he does not want your time spent elsewhere you may only have three options: 1) deal with it and take as many of those online courses as you can; 2) see if there another position in the company you would love to be promoted to and go for it; 3) begin to look elsewhere just remember that the grass may not always be greener on the other side. Good Luck

I was in a similar position with my last job. It got to the point where I could do everything in about 2 or 3 days a week and no-one would even care or know if I was out the other two! I was highly paid and always had annual performance ratings well above average. Yet, the thought of 10 more years of working like that (before considering retirement) was killing me. I thought my mind was going to mush and that, if I had to find another job due to a layoff or something, I'd be little more than a dull blade rather than the sharp worker I once was.

Unless you are a year or two from retirement, I say go find a challenging job to keep you happy and challenged mentally. If you don't you might even find yourself ailing physically after a few more years.

Man, are you a lucky person! I know this just sounds trite, but if I were in your shoes I would take some professional on-line courses to get a degree of some sort. If you are young I think this is the best thing to do since you have so much time. Even if you are older you can recreate yourself. Then, you can look for something else with that much more under your belt. At some point explain to your boss that you really need more to do and that your sanity is being affected by not having enough to do.
I was working at a bank after being out of the work force for awhile and noticed that the higher your ranking in the "support" profession the less you have to do unless you are an Office Manager like me and you get to do everything for everybody all the time. They always wanted you to just sit pretty and if anything comes up "you are there." A waist of time to me but some people like to be in that situation, that status symbol. To make this short I think you should enhance your skills with a degree with the time you have and move out of that position into something meaningful and productive for you as well as a company you like. Good luck!

Don't feel guilty about being paid a lot. We are rarely paid what we a really worth. But go for the biggest challenges you can find! Life is too short.

Unless something has been lost in the posting, you could well spend some of the excess time improving your grammar and punctuation. Your wording is not as good as it should be and your sentences are not very well constructed. You should investigate proper punctuation, comma splices, introductory clauses and several other things. Unfortunately, administrative assistants are judged rather harshly on their command of language and grammar. Your title of executive assistant places you on an even higher level.

I'm in a similar situation; I get my work done by noon or earlier everyday. I get paid well to "be there just in case." I almost quit 3 months after starting this job last February and when I told my boss, she told me not to leave that she would give me more to do. That was great for about a month and now it's back to surfing the net (I got all my christmas shopping finished online months ago...) Anyway, I now look at it as exchanging my time for money. The pay and benefits are great and it's close to home... so I'll be here till the send me away.

I think you are lucky and wish that I had a job like yours. You have the time to continue your education with online classes so continue to do that. Start looking for another job after you have taken the classes you need. You may find a job like mine. You sound like you would be suited for my job. Want to trade? My job is so busy that I do not have time to organize my files and that is so stressful for me. I handle the payroll, accounts payable and all administrative duties and to add to that I am sent out on personal errands for the owner and his family. I often do not have time to finish my work in the office because I am out most of the time running errands. I have at the moment a house to refinance (I am juggling 2 banks trying to get the best rate) I am also trying to negociate buying a piece of equipment and have 2 advertising reps fighting over who gets to be our rep. I have bill collectors calling because our previous bookkeeper neglected many bills. Sometimes I just want to run away. I like all of my coworkers, am paid well and my office is close to my home. Those are big factors that keep me going. You should keep taking online classes they will benefit you and will help you in your next job. Good luck.

I would make another attempt to take on more work (from other departments). Instead of offering to help on a temporary basis (asking "Do you have anything I can help you with" and being turned down politely), perhaps you could take on some other duties permanently. That makes all the difference in the world -- you would "own" those new responsibilities.

My own job has "morphed" over the 11 years I have worked here. In addition to my duties as the assistant of the CEO and Board of Directors, I have taken on many duties (permanently) in the Human Resources department. They are very grateful to have someone else take over these duties, and it makes my job much more interesting. Also, you would be available to your boss when he needs you, but doing other (hopefully interesting) things to fill your free time. [Currently, my job is 20% "assistant" and 80% "other duties".]

Before giving up and trying to find another job, try finding a way to make your current job better. If that fails, you can always look elsewhere!


I commend you on your desire to fulfill your not so busy days. It takes a special group of people to do what we do, we are professional, fast-paced, highly-motivated, hard-working assistants across the country who feel the same way. My boss (President & CEO) once told me, "You can make this job whatever you want it to be." I took her advice, nowadays, I utilize my "down time" to take advantage of college courses, on-line classes, managerial training, various seminars, and read books relevant to my job, duties and responsibilities. Even when that is complete, I create systems to keep the office running smoothly, set procedures in place. Don't see it as wasting time, be creative, use your skills, expand your horizons. This may not be the only job you'll have for the rest of your life. This is much needed experience, good or bad, fast or slow, use it to your advantage. Present your boss with a list of what you have accomplished, he or she may not know what you really do other than the ususal duties. Be prepared, if you decide to move to another job, you may regret not having down time. It could be worse, they could pay you less. You are the "Master of Your Universe".
Best Regards! Jessica, Senior Executive Assistant and proud of it! The money isn't bad either!

You can learn more advance skills on MS Word/Excel at below website. There are demos, webcasts, and step-by-step instructions. If you learn the functions of Pivot Tables, it can be used for Sales reporting. Because of the skills learned in this area, I have moved from Admin to Sales Reporting (for all Sales Management and sales group) and now moving into I.S. group to learn writing reports.

Having access to company sales information will allow you to play with real data and make the learning process easier.

Hope this helps.

Thank you, everyone, for your kind thoughts and it really helps just to know that there are folks out there who understand my position! I will take all of your suggestions to heart.

As for Roz - I'm not writing a business letter or writing any manner of business document. I thought I was writing my heart to my fellow administrative peers and did not focus strongly on creating a perfect business document. Thank you for your criticism, however, you might acknowledge a person should not necessarily be required to accomplish 100 % business toned messages when speaking with friends. Forgive me for somehow offending you by not coming across impeccably enough for your tastes.

Thank you, my friends, for your the thoughfulness of your time to encourage a young administrative professional. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

I was in the same boat about a year ago and as an executive assistant in this healthcare organization and I made a lot of money. I was currently working on my master degree when I realized that it was time to move on and find something that I enjoyed and was satisfied with. I left the company, graduated and now I work for the state.

In short, no matter what we tell you, you have search from within and pinpoint the priorities you have and what satisfies you. Sometimes its not always about the money; happiness is priceless. Ask yourself questions about the position, things that you dislike or things that you can work around. Ask yourself "Is there room for advancement?" This and similar questions will give you a more help in making your decisions and then you can determine whether or not you want to stay or move on. From what I read and could analyze, you already made up your mind. Good luck to you. I really do hope all works out for you.

After reading your reply to Roz, I'm thankful that you don't work for me. Her comments regarding investigating proper punctuation, comma splices, introductory clauses and several other things, were meant for you to improve your writing skills, not your business letter writing style.

We learn more from those who help us see ways to better ourselves (constructive criticism).

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Barb. August 6, 2010 at 1:57 pm


I feel your frustration, I’ve been on that road many times. I agree that this forum is designed to seek advice of administrative peers and applaud your tenacity at sticking to your job for your bosses sake. Not all bosses are willing to look at letting someone expand their skills, I had one that wasn’t comfortable with me moving in directions other than the one she had in mind for me. She had hired me with the thought that I would take over a position of a co-worker who would be retiring in a few years. We had a combination of the co-worker was not the type of teacher I needed to learn that job, it was a VERY slow position to begin with, and my boss finally now had control of my area with me on board. I declined the position change because I also like a fast paced work environment and my co-worker admitted that her job was like being a firefighter – no fires, nothing to do. She played online solitaire a LOT during work hours and nothing was said. I can’t handle that much down time, so I declined the position, which included a significant raise. My boss understood, hired someone else who was much more skilled in the technical areas that job required and ended up taking on aspects that I never would’ve been fit for, but didn’t want me to take on any other responsibilities, so I also spent several hours bored and fidgety.

My advice would be to bite the bullet and be thankful that you have a job right now. With the economy being what it is, there aren’t a lot of them out there. I’d stand firm with what you’ve got and polish every skill (or as my former boss would put it “add more arrows to my quiver”) as you can possibly manage to accomplish. Any polishing or new skills will be adding to your ability to move up or to land a new position. Learn accounting, desktop publishing, web design, etc. A lot of those classes are available online through a local community college or small business center near you. They run 6-8 weeks and are fairly inexpensive.

My boss ended up leaving our company and her replacement and his boss recognized my initiative and willingness to take on more duties and acted on it. I’m now the only person remotely located from our main office, have tons of interaction with people whom I highly respect and who respect me in return and have garnered the respect of many co-workers and local dignitaries. My job will end in a couple of years and I’m already checking out possibilities.

Hang in there and keep your chin up. It is nice to have a boss who appreciates your dedication and recognizes your skills, even if they aren’t willing to help you fill your time in the office. Maybe you should ask for that adjusted time schedule, especially when he is out of the office. Ask for half days those days, since you are reachable by phone to put out fires should they arise.


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