Recent economic challenges have forced organisations to restructure, downsize or reassess their priorities. This can be stressful and unsettling. However, with the right attitude, knowledge and determination, a proactive PA can grasp these opportunities and turn them into successes. Let’s have a look at how this can happen.

First of all, let’s consider why organisations have to implement change. There are various reasons:
•Social – such as attitudes to marriage and relationships or women’s rights.
•Economic – a credit crunch, rates of exchange, budgets.
•Technology – the big one! I started work with an electric typewriter (and I was way ahead of many who still worked with manual typewriters), then computers became commonplace in the office and the last 5-6 years have seen phenomenal technological advances in the workplace – and an increase in working from home – or anywhere.
•Globalisation – all high streets in the UK have similar shops nowadays; I even see many of these same shops on my travels overseas. You may have heard the quote that “no two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s”. Hhmm…
•Competition – when I started to work with Granada Television in 1990 there were just four terrestrial channels in the UK. During my time there we saw the development of satellite and digital channels, which meant increased competition – Granada had to change to keep ahead.

At the end of 2012 we saw the high street shops Comet, HMV and Jessops go into liquidation; apparently because they lost out to their competitors who had embraced online sales.
•Innovation – this is not just technology, but also new ways of working.
•Legislation – tobacco companies have had to implement changes following the ban of smoking in public places in many countries. Skype, Twitter and even the internet are illegal in some countries.
•Population – in general, people are living longer, this is having a huge impact on the NHS and pensions. The film industry is even reviewing its output and making more films for people over 50.

So, there are good reasons for companies to reorganise, downsize, expand or rebrand and yet most people’s reactions are of fear, worry, insecurity, anger – all negatives.

We worry about having to work with different people, use new systems, work in different ways and, of course, about actually losing our job and income.

The work environment then becomes tense; there can be communications issues. These lead to stress and health issues, and ultimately absences, reduced productivity and personal relationships can suffer too.

The senior PA in an organisation may feel all these emotions, but, also has to interact professionally with colleagues who have similar concerns. Often the PA has more knowledge about what is going to happen, but is not able to discuss this with anyone.

As a PA you have to support your manager who may be coordinating the change; this can be extremely stressful for both parties. Managers may be unused to facilitating a programme of change, they may feel very uncomfortable, and even distressed, having to tell people their role is redundant. They may be worried about their own roles.

The best way to reduce negative stress in times of change is to ensure excellent communications. Managers, with their PAs’ support, should encourage collaboration and consultation ensuring as much communication with staff as possible.

With regards to your own situation, remember changes in role or loss of a job are not personal. Keep busy outside of work to keep your mind off the situation and don’t become a bore – you’ll bore yourself too! Always try and find some positives to outweigh the negatives.

On an even more positive note, you could see the impending change as an opportunity. People either resist, follow or lead. If the change is going to happen then “resistance is futile”. So, you could decide to follow, wait and see what happens, go with the flow. However, how much better would it be to lead…?

It is vital to your success in the throes of a change situation, that you know how to adapt, develop and be flexible. Flexible people are excited by new ventures, they enjoy hearing and trying new ideas, they enjoy a personal challenge, they are tenacious and keep going through setbacks.

A flexible person takes the long-term view and, most importantly, doesn’t rely on luck; they make and take opportunities. They ask confidently about changes and opportunities and volunteer to be involved in projects.

The PA who wants to benefit from change in the organisation will keep themselves informed and updated – they are proactive and don’t wait to be told. They have a positive attitude and mix with positive people – negativity is very unattractive – employers also want people with positive attitudes. Even if you feel negative try not to show it. Complain in a positive way: rather than saying “we’re fed up of all these changes to the system”, why not say “the frequent changes to the system are causing some concern, I’d be happy to help find ways to make it work well for everyone”?

We can’t guarantee the future, but we can make every effort to affect it. If you don’t emerge from the change in your organisation in the way you had hoped, perhaps there is an even more exciting alternative out there for you.”

After over 20 years as an Assistant, Heather Baker established Baker Thompson Associates in January 2000 to fulfil the need for specialised PA/EA/administrative training. She now travels the world working with Assistants to inspire them to find ways to ... (Read More)

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