Bonnie Low-Kramen shares her workplace wish list for 2021

We will all remember 2020 as the year that got put on hold. Assistants the world over had what felt like five minutes notice that their world was turning upside down. As we tried to catch our breath, by May we settled into working from home in the new “abnormal,” aka WFH.

I have spent the better part of 2020 in front of a camera in my home TV studio speaking with the Assistants in the world. In prepping my new book, I have also been talking with leaders, recruiters and HR professionals. I have heard their stories of the good and bad, the uncertainty and the loneliness, and many silver linings as they discovered themselves in a new way.

It is with these stories firmly in my mind that I share my wish list for 2021, the year when we hopefully will come off hold and get to live more fully again. This wish list is universal and applies to all the humans who work with other humans.

1. I wish for us to have courage

It takes real courage to speak truth to power and to stand up for the issues that matter to us. Courage requires digging deep to get clear on what is worth fighting for. Have the courage to show up, stand up, and speak up.

2. I wish that we use our words

Words have always mattered, but they are especially important in times of high stress, anxiety, and remote work. The most powerful words I know are;

  • Your name spoken out loud. There is nothing more personal.
  • I believe in you.
  • What do you think? (Then listen to the answer.)
  • I’m proud of you. We are very lucky to have you on our team.
  • I see what you are doing. Thank you for going above and beyond every day.
  • I see who you are. Thank you for having my back. I have yours.
  • I admire you. I respect you. You matter.

3. I wish that we get to know someone who does not look like us

This is an effective strategy in breaking the cycles of racism and discrimination. Do your homework. Read books like “Caste” and watch films like “I Am Not Your Negro.”

4. I wish that we break the silence

Silence is the enemy of fixing what is broken in our workplace. This includes workplace bullying and discrimination and career progression, to name just three. Speaking up does not have to be loud or nasty or aggressive. In fact, the most effective assertiveness happens calmly, factually, and directly. In a world with so much at stake, if not now, when?

5. I wish that we close the wage gap

Stand for Pay Equity and Pay Transparency. Prepare to have a serious conversation with your Executive and with Human Resources about your career path and the options for movement and growth from a financial point of view. You are the CEO of You, Inc. You are a business and deserving of a conversation about where your company is headed.

6. I wish that we become the change

In perception, that is. Assistants have a PR problem, and it will take all of us to change the perception of the administrative role. We have come a long way from the film “9 to 5”, or have we? Lucy Brazier recently shared the history of the film and the message, “Raises Not Roses”. To that I say, “Respect, Recognition, Raises, and Roses” is a plan for 2021.

7. I wish that we publicly validate and celebrate others

And do it as often as possible. In meetings, bring attention to colleagues and leaders who are making a difference. Thank them verbally and in writing. Send a note to a manager about their direct report. We are very used to negative feedback. Let’s give positive feedback a solid try.

8. I wish that you get to be you

No-one can do that better than you. The pandemic has been such a time of great change. This climate has enabled us to rediscover who we really are. This may be the perfect time to start playing that instrument, take up a new hobby, learn another language, or write that poem.

9. I wish that you feel free

To be openly supported to be who you really are is essentially to be told, you are enough. True freedom feels awesome. A new Chief of Staff recently received feedback from her team of ten EAs. In a team meeting, they were asked about what they learned about leadership from the COS. One EA said, “J supports us to bring our authentic selves to work. She is OK with who each of us really are. That is freedom that we have not felt before.” In response, the team is committed to excellence every day.

10. I wish that we see double

Let’s see what is really going on. We can reduce and eliminate the double standards that exist between women and men. Let’s call it out respectfully and clearly when we see it in play.

11. I wish that we choose respect, transparency, and accountability

Not just on some days, but every day. And that our leaders make it really cool to do. I love that the leaders of Microsoft are tying bonuses to ethical behaviors. What a wonderful idea to be rewarded for elevating others and for working for racial justice, etc.

12. I wish that you find a mentor

The best way to do that is to be one. Find the people who have no other agenda besides your success. Let the haters go. Unfriend them. Seek your allies who root for you and don’t abandon you, even when you mess up.

13. I wish that we cut each other a break

With stress and anxiety running rampant for the foreseeable future, let’s assume that everyone is fighting a battle we cannot see. People are struggling with all kinds of things – money issues, kids at home, sick relatives and on and on. Give the judgements a rest and we will get through this much easier.

14. I wish for reasonable expectations

I wish that you get the rest you need as you work extremely hard during your work time. The big given is 24. As in, 24 hours in the day. Can we all be mindful of not expecting answers to emails and texts in the middle of the night? I wish for more conversations about expectations and workflow.

15. I wish that anyone who needs a new job gets support to find one

Unemployment, layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks and downsizing are happening every day. We are living in volatile economic times and none of us knows if tomorrow is our turn. Jobs are out there, and it is important that we help one another find a new job. Contact me. I want to help you do that.

16. I wish for your excellent mental and physical health

Let’s be alert to those around us who may be at risk and/or who are exhibiting unusual and out-of-character behaviors. 2020 has tested most everyone I know, me included. We need to watch each other’s backs. Don’t you want others to watch yours? Find a way to say, “I’m worried about you. Can I help?”

17. I wish that we listen closely to one another

As the actor Alan Alda says, “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.”

What will make my wishes come true is an intentional determination on the part of the humans of our workplace to make them real. Complacency and a belief that someone else will solve the problem are ideas that are our enemies. The time has come for collaboration and open communication between all the constituencies of our workplace. In this time of extreme volatility and change, each of us has a responsibility and an obligation to be a part of the solution.

2021 has the potential to be one of the most exciting years in our modern history. We all have an opportunity to fix what is broken and to create something new. I wish for that.

Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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