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PA burnout - when the perks don't work

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Just after the Christmas break I returned to work and had scheduled meetings with 2 high performing PAs. The meetings started off as normal. Small talk about turkey leftovers and the ethics of regifting.

As we chatted the conversation turned to the reasons for leaving their current positions. It became clear that they had classic symptoms of burnout – constant fatigue, anxiety and inexplicable sadness.

They both cried in the interview, literally shed tears because the idea of going back to their jobs was so overwhelming.

Most companies we work with understand that wellness in the workplace is no longer a buzzword it’s a bottom line, a basic. Many workplaces now facilitate yoga classes, healthy eating, flexible working times and some companies even have nap rooms.

These initiatives are great but if an employer has unrealistic work expectations none of the above will help. If an employee has an unmanageable workload or if the department is understaffed, which was the case with these two professionals. A free yoga class can only do so much.

The impact of understaffing

One of the PA’s work hours on her contract was 9 am until 17.15pm. When she started in the position in 2016, there were 4 administrators in her department. In September 2017 that went down to 2, and from February last year she has been alone.

For the last 11 months, she has started work between around 7.30/8am every morning and is still online at 9 pm. There is no way that she can do the job of 4 people and yet she tried. Valiantly and to the detriment of her health.

As each day and week passed, her mood worsened. She felt absolute dread at the idea of going into work and lost confidence in her abilities.

When to be wary of too good to be true perks

Companies have a duty of care to their employees. You are hired to do a job and to do it to the best of your ability.

Your employers need to facilitate a safe place for you to do that. When thinking of making a move remember all that glitters is not gold. Before you get dazzled by the free breakfasts and unlimited annual leave look a little closer.

  • Is the workload manageable?
  • Are you part of a team/how many will you support?
  • How does the company recognise achievements?
  • How are you measured and how will this be communicated with you?
  • Is there an overtime policy?

Most importantly, do they value YOU as a person as well as your contribution to the success of the company?

Stress in the workplace is normal, it can give you a burst of energy, it can motivate you and that can be beneficial. Prolonged bouts of stress are the issue. The stress that no matter how hard you work or what you do to “up your game” the situation is out of your control.

There is no need to stay in a role that is making you sick. If you’ve spoken to HR, asked for support and the situation hasn’t changed then move.

Both PAs I mentioned here are now in new positions. The silver lining of their experiences is that they asked the right questions to their new employers and will reap the benefits.

In today’s’ candidate market there is no need to stay in a role that affects your physical and mental health adversely.

Looking for a new PA or Office Support opportunity?

For a confidential chat or just some advice on career options reach out to me or one of my colleagues on the Cpl Office Support team. If you’re suffering from burnout it can feel isolating, but we see it a lot and can promise you’re not alone.