4 min read

Where confidentiality and discretion are at the core of the profession, how can we overcome the solitary nature of the EA role?

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As Executive Assistants, we are often the invisible force driving the efficiency and success of our organisations. Behind the scenes, we manage schedules, handle communication, and tackle a myriad of tasks to ensure smooth operations. Yet, despite our integral role, the loneliness which may be experienced can be overwhelming at times, making it crucial to find a delicate balance between maintaining confidentiality and fostering connections for our personal and professional well-being.

Loneliness in the EA role is a multifaceted issue stemming from various avenues: the nature of our responsibilities; the organisational hierarchy we operate within; and the lack of understanding about the challenges we face, to name a few. Unlike some other positions, we frequently find ourselves working independently, supporting others without always having direct communication channels or colleagues to collaborate with. This isolation can lead to a sense of disconnect from the broader team and a feeling of being overlooked or undervalued.

The unique demands of the EA role can make it challenging to find others who truly understand our experiences. Our work requires adaptability, discretion, and the ability to anticipate needs - how often have you found yourself living by your executive’s calendar? - each of these can be difficult for outsiders to comprehend fully. As a result, EAs may struggle to find peers who can empathise with their daily challenges and provide meaningful support.

The hierarchical structure of many workplaces can exacerbate feelings of loneliness among EAs. We often straddle a fine line between being part of the team and being perceived as separate due to our close relationships with executives. While we forge strong bonds with those we support, we may not always have peers who we can relate to. This unique dynamic is often highlighted when we’re excluded from team social activities or events.

So, how can we combat the feeling of loneliness as Executive Assistants?

We can take proactive steps to combat loneliness by prioritising self-care and seeking out opportunities for personal growth. This may involve setting boundaries, cultivating hobbies outside of work, or pursuing interests that bring fulfilment and connection outside the office.

One way to potentially avoid the feeling of isolation is considering a role within a company that has a larger EA team rather than being the sole EA within the business. Working alongside a team of executive assistants provides a built-in support network within the organisation. Collaborating with fellow EAs allows for shared experiences and insights, reducing the feelings of isolation commonly associated with being the lone EA.

Establishing rapport with other EAs, even if they are in different locations, forms a support system where experiences and insights can be shared, offering a valuable outlet for the challenges unique to the role. It’s also likely that the group will complement each other's skills and share the workload, creating a more dynamic and supportive work environment. This not only helps in handling the demands of supporting high-level executives but also fosters a sense of community within the team.

Unfortunately this isn’t a guaranteed result, especially when supporting C-suite executives or business functions such as HR. The responsibilities associated with these roles often involve handling highly sensitive information, intensifying the need for discretion and limiting the ability to discuss certain matters - even within an EA team.

EA’s who find themselves as sole EA within a company or geographical location, which is often the case for start-ups and scaleups, look for your allies organisation-wide. These might be team members who you can regularly meet with in order to get business updates from, whilst fostering working relationships. For example, whilst working within Manufacturing I would regularly speak with Engineers to enable me to grasp a wider understanding of the business landscape. Having these catch-ups over a coffee, or weaving in conversations around life outside of work enabled me to narrow the feeling of isolation in some aspects.

Active participation in company events and cross-functional meetings can be an excellent channel to break down the walls of isolation. Collaborating with colleagues from different departments not only enhances the understanding of the organisational dynamics but also creates a sense of camaraderie.

It’s not just EA’s who can seek to remove the element of isolation within the role. Organisations must recognise the importance of supporting EAs in their professional development as well as their well-being. Providing opportunities for us to attend conferences, workshops, and training sessions not only enhances their skills but also allows them to connect with peers outside their immediate workplace. Offering access to employee assistance programs can support navigating the emotional challenges inherent in our roles, by removing the confidentiality blocker.

Networking beyond the organisation introduces fresh perspectives, potential mentors, and a sense of solidarity with peers facing similar challenges. Social media platforms, especially professional networks such as LinkedIn, offer virtual spaces for connection without compromising sensitive information. There are some prominent groups where EAs can share experiences and seek advice.

However, striking balance requires a nuanced approach. Trust is paramount, and discretion must be maintained when discussing work-related matters outside the organisation. Selecting networking opportunities wisely and participating in closed forums where confidentiality is respected are essential steps. It's about finding a middle ground that allows EAs to build connections without jeopardising the trust placed in them to handle sensitive business information.

Ultimately, combating the inherent loneliness in EA roles involves intentional efforts to build connections. It is a delicate dance between networking and maintaining confidentiality, an underestimated skill that experienced and successful EAs come to master. The ability to navigate this balance not only enhances the personal and professional well-being of executive assistants but also contributes to a more connected and collaborative work environment.

As Executive Assistants, we must recognise the value of forging meaningful connections enabling isolation to be replaced with a network of support and understanding.