No job description? Time to get going, says Bonnie Low-Kramen…

It is crystal clear to me that many of the problems between employers and Assistants in our workplace could be prevented by a clear set of written expectations. It always surprises me to learn that many Assistants begin Day 1 of their jobs without anything in writing regarding a job description or compensation package. I coach Assistants who are not given a job description to create one themselves based on the interview discussions. At least that is a place to start when the inevitable questions arise about job responsibilities.

To begin a job without clear expectations is a set-up for miscommunications, resentments and ultimately, failure as conversations disintegrate into, “I never said that.” Assistants need their employment agreement in writing as an important place to begin their work. To not have this is irresponsible on the part of both the employer and Assistant.

Job descriptions do not have to be carved in stone but they do need to be written. The document is subject to change by mutual agreement. Inevitably, Assistants report “scope creep”, a term which means the scope of work starts growing… and growing and growing… unless it is controlled and anticipated. Documentation enables the Assistant to factually and calmly negotiate an adjusted compensation package based on the revised job requirements.

What can women expect to earn compared to men? The Wharton School of Business issued an interesting report regarding the reasons why women earn 78% of what men earn. It said that only 7% of women will negotiate their compensation offers compared with 57% of men who decide to negotiate a better deal. The report explained that 93% of women accepted what they were offered without questioning it, mainly because of their fear of not being liked if they asked for more money. Women view negotiation as an uncomfortable confrontation to be avoided. Men, on the other hand, (at least 57% of them) view negotiation as “fun” and “a game” and resulted in increased compensation.

Given that the profession of being an Assistant is 95% women in the United States and 98% women in the United Kingdom, we need to look at realistic solutions to the issues facing us regarding not only successfully negotiating compensation but also job expectations.

There is too much suffering in silence and fear in today’s workplace. This is the case with both Assistants and principals, and the consequences are often bullying and destructive behaviors which lower morale and productivity. Given this reality, we need to develop positive and reasonable ways to speak to one another to handle the inevitable problematic situations.

As one tool, I created the following Code of Ethics and Conduct and Speak Up Pledges for Employers and Assistants. These documents serve as a platform to begin what I hope will be a long and mutually satisfying term of work with your employer and company.

Assistants and employers alike have challenging and demanding jobs. Let us support one another by clearly discussing our expectations up front and in writing. Doing this at the beginning will pay off in the long run and fewer staffers will feel the need to quit when their expectations are not being met.




This is a mutually agreed upon list of fundamental givens for our work relationship designed to enable each of us to do superior work as a team and in collaboration in a positive, productive and supportive atmosphere.

I, the employer, commit to the following:

  • Every employee will be treated with respect, dignity and kindness.
  • Job descriptions will be agreed upon and signed by both employer and employee.
  • Every employee will have a mutually agreed upon compensation and benefits package to be reviewed at designated times.
  • Expectations will be made clear either verbally or in writing.
  • Verbal and written feedback and acknowledgement will be given to staff.
  • Frequent and clear two-way communications will be the norm in order to make best use of time and energy.
  • Staff are encouraged and expected to speak their mind regarding any issues that are deemed important to achieving our goals.
  • Verbal, sexual or physical abuse is not permitted by anyone working for or doing business in my company. There is zero tolerance for workplace bullying.
  • No employee will be asked or expected to engage in illegal activity.



Signature                                                           Date


I, the employee, commit to the following:

  • Commitment to excellent work in accordance with expectations that will be in constant flow and subject to change.
  • Diligence in communications in concert with the customized structures designed for our particular workplace and style.
  • Exhibit professional and respectful behavior at all times and expect to be held accountable for my actions.
  • Exhibit good judgment and discretion regarding sensitive matters.
  • Assist employer in every way possible to achieve his/her goals.
  • Act as eyes and ears for my employer and am encouraged to bring matters to his/her attention.
  • Work towards a positive, cooperative workplace and will not engage in negative, counter-productive encounters with anyone without employer’s knowledge and consent.
  • Will not participate in verbal or physical abuse, nor be involved in any illegal activity on behalf of the company.



Signature                                                              Date




I, _________________, pledge to speak up in my workplace in order to build more productive, positive and respectful communication between me, my manager and my colleagues. Finding my voice and speaking my mind is important because:

1 I will be an empowered and more self-confident person.
2 I will be a more productive and proactive business partner to my manager(s).
3 I will be improving our workplace through more open communication.
Assistant Signature                                            Date



I, ________________, pledge to actively encourage and support my Assistant to speak up in order to build more productive, positive, and respectful communication in our workplace. Committing to an ongoing dialogue that actively seeks and rewards feedback is important because:

  • Open communication motivates the highest engagement, the most effective teams and the most profitable companies.
  • I support my Assistant to thrive, learn, and grow as a leader.
  • Issues can only be resolved through open and honest conversations.




Manager Signature                                                Date

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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