Emily Bain tackles the issue of loneliness within the profession

The role of the Assistant is, by its very nature, a lonely one; sandwiched between staff and management and not quite belonging in either camp. Entrusted with board secrets and seen as the eyes and ears of the management team, you often have nobody else in the same position within an organisation with whom you can develop a close affinity. It’s no wonder the position can engender isolation, which has been exacerbated over the past few years by the proliferation of remote working, and the challenge of rarely having the whole team in the office at the same time.

Yet the adage that a problem shared is a problem halved is as relevant today as it was a century ago. It is vital that we all have an outlet for our day-to-day concerns, no matter how inconsequential they may seem. Communication, connection, and nurturing links with our colleagues are vital to maintaining our wellbeing at work.

The problem of workplace isolation is not unique to the administrative profession. In the UK, it is estimated that the cost of loneliness to employers is a whopping £2.5 billion every year (source: gov.uk). It is no surprise that companies that support social connections as part of workplace wellbeing have healthier, happier employees and a more effective organisation.

Social Interaction

Everyone has a different tolerance for social interaction at work, but for the sake of our mental health, it is vital that we interact with each other and are not left feeling like we must manage issues alone. Connection is key whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert, and one of the best ways of joining in is through shared activities such as cross-organisational planning groups, workshops, buddy programmes, and social events.

Some companies with a larger network of Assistants recognise the potential for isolation that the role can bring and have set up initiatives and forums (usually managed by the Assistants themselves) to offer support and social interaction. These work well, as there is already a natural network of people in the same role who can share inner workings and identify common issues, which helps them to address problems or nip them in the bud before they arise.

It is more difficult to establish such a support system when working as an Assistant in smaller companies or for private individuals, where no such natural network exists. Many Assistants thrive in smaller, nimbler work environments and find emotional support and connections outside of work. Perhaps you are someone who relies on personal friends for socialising and, through them, or perhaps one of them, find leverage with issues you are facing in the office. This is fine up to a point but may not provide a steady enough hand or indeed the latest insight into how to deal with contemporary problems.

If you are someone who thrives in an environment of closely engaged peers, choosing a position within a larger organisation with an existing network of Assistants may be the best choice. Our research – both through statistical surveys and more anecdotally through meetings – shows a clear demand for networks as well as buddy programmes, especially for more junior support roles. Ask at the interview stage what support systems exist in a company and try and ascertain in advance if this works for you.

Finding Your Tribe

A survey by Mental Health UK of loneliness at work in Britain revealed that one in five (20%) of us feel lonely at work on a typical working day. Age is often key to the experience of loneliness at work: 18- to 24-year-olds are twice as likely to feel lonely at work as others. And while 60% of UK workers had had face-to-face meetings with their colleagues over a period of three months, it is a worrying reality that 40% had not.

This data underlines more than ever that everyone needs to find their tribe, both in and outside of the workplace. Although it’s vital to have human connection on a regular basis, professional networks can help if you are feeling isolated, particularly when you are working remotely or feeling out on a limb through the very nature of a job. Networks can be a great source of creativity, innovation, and problem-solving and have been known to increase employee wellbeing.

Many networks exist to help share the burden of Assistant responsibilities, and this spring, Bain and Gray is launching its own social network, called LINKS, with the idea of forging new connections between professionals in similar roles throughout the UK. Our network has been set up by a steering committee of experienced support staff, some of whom we have worked with for over 15 years. At its heart is our belief that the executive support community thrives on connection and is one of the most generous industry sectors for sharing insight, experience, and advice within its ranks.


The LINKS hub will be readily accessible to all online and is intended to provide curated information and advice to all executive support staff. The intention is to generate lively, informed debate on topics which matter most within the industry and deliver these in an easily accessible format. We aim to connect, support, and address issues as well as provide feedback and uncover current best practices within our sector.

There will be an ‘agony aunt’ column to address the thorny topics that Assistants have always wanted to ask but have been scared to do so. These questions will be addressed to a relevant expert in the field, on the steering committee. Other services will include virtual events, speakers, brand collaborations, a dynamic directory, and podcasts. Further down the line, we also plan to launch a mentoring programme within the community which will provide tailored advice and support.


At the end of the day, we all have an individual responsibility to stamp out loneliness. So next time you are in the office and spot a colleague taking lunch apart from the others, instead of judging them as being aloof, why not seek them out and ask if you can join them, talk to them, and find some common ground? It’s the small things that make a difference, and you never know – reaching out could help you to feel less lonely too.

Emily Bain is the MD of Bain and Gray, a thought leader in executive support recruitment based in London, UK. Bain and Gray sources the very best candidates in support roles, ranging from Receptionists, Team Assistants, and Office Managers to PAs, ... (Read More)

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