Okay, it’s been a while, but as promised, this post will be my thoughts of boundaries.
While Jordan covered it very well, I thought I would give my own experience and my advice on how to help create some boundaries.
First, know that the boundaries HAVE to come from you. They will not come from your employer. Also know, that is what separates a career EPA / PA and the personal assistant wannabe. Basically all employers want boundaries, but are probably not going be the first to step over them. Plus boundaries can be very, very vague.I feel boundaries are made of two elements. Literal and emotional.
A literal boundary is pretty much as it sounds. Examples would be an employer telling you “never look at my personal email” or “I don’t want to be contacted after 10pm.” These are easy to follow. If they are broken, they it will most likely be initiated by the employer who after they are comfortable with your performance and have gained your trust. These boundaries will start to be crossed when your employer calls YOU after 10pm or asks you to go on their computer and check an email. When this happens, you have really only one option. To do what you’re asked to do. BUT it may be wise to remind them that this was a ‘off limits’ element in the beginning, and if they are sure they’d like you to check their personal email you are more than happy to do so. Basically it’s a no brainer. You have to do what you’re asked.
When your employer calls you after 10pm even though they said they do not want you to, that is still in effect. THEY have crossed their own boundary. If they ask you to look on their personal computer that does not mean you have license to do so at your own choice. There is nothing wrong with asking your employer if they are now comfortable being contacted by YOU after 10pm (if you want to open that window) or if they are comfortable with you on their personal computer (that is a really, really slippery rope) by asking them you are allowing them to either ‘reset’ the boundary or not.
An emotional boundary is going to be different for each individual. Basically, it’s when you experience something on the job that brings up an emotional response from your past. Two examples could be seeing your employer fighting with their spouse and yelling at their kids, or to seemingly be lavishing everyone, except you, with gifts.
Watching an employer has ‘family’ issues can bring up every emotional issue you have with your own family. THIS IS NATURAL! The difference here is that it’s THEIR issue and THEIR FAMILY. Not yours. True they may tell you ‘you’re one of the family’ but you’re not. This is a very dangerous element to get in between, even more difficult if you work out of their home or home office.
This just gave me the thought that my next blog will be on ‘the spouse.’
If your employer comes to you frustrated with their family let them talk about it and vent do not give advice. Keep your boundary! You are a first rate employee if you are a first rate listener. If you start to give advice you are emotionally entering a situation. Remember this is a JOB. IF they ask what to do basically let them know you”ve heard them and understand how difficult it must be but put it back on them or ask them if they want you to get referrals from the ACPA for a discreet marriage counselor.
When your boss seems to lavish others around you with gifts be it friends family or even “new people in their life” and you feel as though you”re being overlooked and you want some candy too the emotions you”re feeling are that you want to be recognized. This is totally understandable but if you are getting a weekly paycheck health benefits and salary reviews you are doing your job they do not “owe” you anything.
If you are not receiving some of the “perks” others seem to get when it”s time for your review or bonus that’s when you remind your employer how well you do your job and how important you are to their life and career. Yes it’s ridiculous and almost degrading to have to remind them but a great personal assistant gets the job done like a stealth fighter plane which explaining without the analogy is saying we get the job done without being noticed.
So realize that if you”re receiving your pay raise or bonuses you are not being ignored when others are getting nice blue boxes tied with lovely red or white ribbon. This is an emotional boundary that you need to accept. You may be told you are “family” but you are an employee.
I hope this all makes some sense because it is a vague area but one that we career EPA/PA’s have had to learn. Every job situation is going to be different but keeping yourself in “check” allows you to get the job done. And remember it is a job.