KEYS TO BEING AN EFFECTIVE WORKPLACE PERSONAL ASSISTANT

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1 5 KEYS TO BEING AN EFFECTIVE WORKPLACE PERSONAL ASSISTANT by: John Barrett Personal assistants (PAs) and their ability to effectively provide essential spports at the workplace are extremely important to the employment sccess for employees with a disability who tilize personal assistant services (PAS). Employees with disabilities who se PAS to live sccessflly in the commnity need similar spports at work. The expansion of the se of PAS at the workplace has created a niqe set of challenges for PAs becase there are tremendos differences between providing this type of spport in a bsiness environment as compared to a home environment. These potential differences between the home and the workplace involve both the wide variety of potential work-related personal assistance services that the PA may provide, as well as and also changes in the relationship between the PA and the employee with a disability receiving PAS. For example, there is sally less formality in the home environment than may be reqired in a bsiness setting. A good workplace PA mst recognize and nderstand the role differences across settings and adapt accordingly. Almost always in the workplace setting, the PA will be directed by the employee with a disability and employer instead of a professional home health care agency. This shift in spervision will be a big difference for PAs who have only provided PAS throgh an agency and have been accontable primarily to that agency. This chapter will describe some do s and don ts that a workplace PA shold adhere to when providing spport in the workplace. It will address some of the particlar reqirements and expectations for the PA to work effectively within the workplace cltre, inclding how to assist the employee with a disability receiving PA spport meet job performance demands. It will review attribtes and competencies of an effective workplace PA. Finally, the chapter will offer sggestions on how the PA can remain nobtrsive while providing the level of spport needed by the employee, perhaps the most important attribte of a good PA in the workplace. Providing PA services in the workplace can be a new and exciting career opportnity. Workplace PAs can have the satisfaction of assisting a person with a significant disability be sccessfl on the job while also learning valable new skills that will enhance their own employability. These skills can range from simple tasks, sch as arranging the work site to facili- 51

2 tate the prodctivity of an entry level employee, to more complex tasks involved in assisting a college researcher. Having the opportnity to learn different skills will make being a workplace PA an exciting and rewarding career in the new millennim. There are both obvios and sbtle differences between providing PAS in a bsiness environment and providing it in the home. In the workplace, the relationship between the PA and the employee mst be more formal in natre than in the home setting. Here are some best practice examples that workplace PAs shold follow when providing onthe-job spport. Ask the employee abot workplace dress codes and other pertinent rles or reglations. The Personal Assistant shold dress and act in a manner fitting to the work environment. There are both obvios and some sbtle differences between providing PAS in a bsiness environment and providing it in the home. In the workplace, the relationship between the PA and the employee mst be more formal in natre than in the home setting. Do not exhibit any inappropriate behavior that will reflect negatively on the employee receiving yor spport. Do not get involved in conflicts that may be occrring between the employee and co-workers or among the co-workers. Do not participate in any conversations that may involve gossip abot the employee yo are spporting. Do not discss services personal in natre with other co-workers or the employee s spervisor. This wold be a breech of confidentiality, which is the qickest way for the Personal Assistant to lose credibility with the employee. Once the Personal Assistant has lost the employee s trst it will be difficlt to regain, and cold lead to the PAs employment being terminated. DEALING WITH DISTRACTIONS AT THE WORKPLACE There are many distractions in a workplace environment that do not exist in the home setting. Unlike the home environment, the workplace is filled with different personalities that may case a PA to lose focs on workplace dties. These distracting personalities may inclde the employee s co-workers and spervisors. For example, a very lod and talkative co-worker trying to drm p a conversation with a person near to where the PA is working can be very distracting. A spervisor who tries to give the PA other dties not directly involved in providing PAS can also be very distracting. Other distractions at the work place might inclde mlti-cbicle work stations, sharing an office with another employee, noisy environments, or stressfl sitations. 52

3 Examples of stressfl sitations inclde jobs that have short deadlines, fast-paced jobs, constantly changing priorities, and/or short-notice bsiness trips where travel arrangements and needed accommodations mst be planned qickly. These distractions can reslt in a loss of privacy in the provision of PAS, a breakdown in effective PAS rotines, a temporary change in PA spport needs, and a need to adjst the provision of PAS to nfamiliar locations and sitations. A resorcefl workplace PA will constantly strive to assre that these and other distractions do not interfere with providing effective PAS. chapter five MAINTAINING PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS Personal assistants mst recognize the importance of maintaining a professional relationship with the employee and employee s spervisor while in the workplace. In most sitations with the employee/pa relationship, the employee with a disability is the PA s primary spervisor. The PA has a primary responsibility to spport and report directly to the employee with a disability. The PA shold avoid becoming a go-for person for other employees and/or the employee s spervisor. Althogh the compliant go-for role might make the PA poplar arond the office, it will interfere with the PA effectively performing his/her primary dties, ths casing a loss of the prodctivity by the employee with a disability. In sitations where the PA feels that the dties being assigned or reqests being made by co-workers and/or a spervisor distract from the effective provision of PAS, the PA shold let the person she/he spports know of the problem. The final responsibility for resolving this type of job interference lies with the employee with a disability. ESTABLISHING AN EFFECTIVE WORK ROUTINE Workplace PAs shold follow common sense approaches to providing PAS in the workplace. For example, when the employee pases to chat with colleages, it is alright for the PA to interact and be friendly with other co-workers. However, when the employee is ready to resme the job tasks of the day, the PA mst get back to spporting that person. It is really important for the PA to negotiate with the employee abot times when spport is not needed and then schedle personal breaks accordingly. For example, perhaps the employee makes telephone calls dring certain times of the day and may not need PAS at those times, ths providing an excellent opportnity for the PA to take a personal break. Knowing the best times to take breaks will come as the relationship develops and the PA learns the employee s work rotine. 53

4 An effective workplace PA nderstands flly the spport needs of the employee being assisted, can adapt to rotines and varios personalities in the work environment, and can keep focs on whatever task the employee is involved in despite mltiple distractions. To be effective, the workplace PA shold be familiar with the employee s job tasks and prodction reqirements in terms of qantity, qality, and timeliness of otpts. There are a nmber of personal attribtes that are key to being an effective workplace PA. These attribtes are highlighted in the next Section. ATTRIBUTES & COMPETENCIES OF AN EFFECTIVE WORKPLACE PERSONAL ASSISTANT ATTRIBUTES Five core attribtes of an effective workplace PA are reliability, pnctality, loyalty, honesty, and a commitment to effective commnication with the employee receiving spport. All are the bilding blocks of a sccessfl long-term employee/pa relationship. Five core attribtes of an effective workplace PA are reliability, pnctality, loyalty, honesty, and a commitment to effective commnication with the employee receiving spport. All are the bilding blocks of a sccessfl long-term employee/pa relationship. It is very important for the employee with a disability to know that the PA s spport will be readily available at the time it is needed. A good workplace PA nderstands that the employee relies on the PA to get the job done in a timely and reliable manner. Being on the job at the appointed time is a mst for the workplace PA. Loyalty to the employee is another key attribte of a good workplace PA. Showing loyalty may inclde the PA s willingness to stay late on occasion to assist the employee complete a job that may have an immediate de date. Maintaining loyalty by avoiding doing anything that might case the employee to qestion the PA s faithflness is key to bilding a long-term working relationship. Also, PA being honest with the employee will make the relationship stronger. Demonstrating a commitment to reliability, pnctality, loyalty, and honesty will increase the PA s vale to both the employee and the employer. These attribtes will not only assre a long-term sccessfl working relationship for the PA with the employee, bt also will increase the Personal Assistant s overall vale to the entire organization. It is important to remember that the longer the relationship, the more the PA s salary is likely to increase over time. Clear commnication is another essential attribte for a good working relationship between the employee and the workplace PA. Effective commnication reqires a commitment to a two-way exchange of 54

5 information. For example, even thogh it is the responsibility of the employee to provide gidance to the PA abot how tasks shold be done, the PA shold make certain that the employee s instrctions are nderstood. The PA shold never assme that he/she knows the best way to provide spport or nderstands the employee s wishes. Making assmptions can lead to problems for both the PA and the employee. The PA mst remember that the employee is responsible for the otcome of tasks to be performed on-the-job and shold clarify any nclear instrctions before proceeding with a spport task. In more long-term relationships, the PA learns to nderstand what needs to be done withot always being told. An experienced PA can work independently sometimes (sch as setting-p the work area for a pcoming task, for example) while the employee is elsewhere or involved in another activity. Commitment to reliability, pnctality, loyalty, honesty, and clear commnication are the qalities of an effective workplace PA. These attribtes will facilitate the development of a good working relationship between the PA and the employee. chapter five PERFORMANCE AREAS The workplace Personal Assistant mst have skills necessary to assist the employee receiving spport to complete job tasks. For example, if the employee has a job involving the development of correspondence, training materials, and/or other docments, the PA shold possess some knowledge of basic letter writing and word processing. If the PA is spporting a person with a visal impairment, the PA s ability to read competently is extremely important. When spporting a person with a hearing impairment, the PA shold know sign langage in order to commnicate with the employee and to assist him/her in commnicating with the spervisor and other co-workers. If the PA is spporting an employee with a cognitive disability, good jdgement and decisionmaking skills are needed in helping the employee make good decisions. A good example of a PA prompt for an employee with a cognitive disability to accommodate possible memory challenges is a sggestion five mintes before the close of the work day that it is time to clean p the work space and set it p for the first task of the next work day. However, no matter what the disability of the employee receiving spport, the PA shold treat that individal as his/her spervisor. It is very important that a PA be honest with the employee abot the skills and knowledge he/she has or does not have. In most cases, the employee is looking for good attribtes sch as reliability and de- 55

6 pendability from a PA and will make sre the PA receives the necessary training for job specific tasks. However, the workplace PA shold have a basic set of skills in key performance areas that spport the employee in completing core job tasks. PAs who are not trthfl abot their skills and abilities will not only potentially lose their job, they may also case the employee s job loss as well and can case employers to take a dim view of ftre reqests for PAS as a workplace accommodation. A smmary presentation of core attribtes and performance areas of an effective workplace PA are listed in the Table below. TABLE 1 -- WORKPLACE PERSONAL ASSISTANT COMPETENCIES & ATTRIBUTES Performance Areas Description Attribtes HAS NECESSARY SKILLS Has skills to perform necessary Pnctal -- will always be job tasks on time KNOWS HOW TO BE UNOB- Provides necessary spport withot Dependable & Reliable -- TRUSIVE ON THE JOB drawing attention to his/her self will always show p for work IS PROFESSIONAL AT ALL Exhibits professional behavior at all Right Personality & TIMES times and remains focsed on the Temperament -- is content tasks of the employee to provide spport in backgrond withot sharing spotlight KEEPS CONFIDENTIALITY Never discsses personal isses of Loyalty -- is loyal to the the employee with others employee and respects him/her KNOWS WHAT TO DO WITH- Can follow throgh on certain tasks Team Player -- will do OUT SUPERVISION while employee is in meetings whatever is necessary to help the employee get the job done WILLING TO BE TRAINED TO Is eager to learn new things as em- Highly Focsed -- does DO NEW TASKS ployee s responsibilities change not let other things distract him/her HAS A GENERAL KNOWLEDGE Knows what employee might Patience -- has the OF DIFFERENT DISABILITIES expect ability to take time to listen and take direction from the employee WILLING TO BE FLEXIBLE Can change from one task to another Honest -- Will let emas the employee s priorities change; ployee know problems can adapt to employee s working with doing particlar jobs schedle 56

7 THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PERSONAL ASSISTANT BEING UNOBTRUSIVE IN THE WORKPLACE Providing PAS as a workplace spport places the Personal Assistant in a relatively new pblic sitation as compared to the more familiar home environment. Therefore, it is important to focs on the PA remaining nobtrsive while providing spports as a key attribte of an effective workplace PA. An nobtrsive PA almost fades into the backgrond, leaving the employee as the focal point and leaving no confsion abot who is getting the job done. Maintaining focs on the employee, not the PA, sends a positive message to co-workers and spervisors and redces the chances that possible conflicts will develop between the employee and the PA. The ability to achieve this level of nobtrsiveness takes real skill and attention on the part of the workplace PA. In a workplace PAS sitation, some co-workers and spervisors may have the misconception that two people are doing the same job. The workplace PA mst help prevent this misconception, which can become problem for the PA and the employee. For example, the PA shold avoid becoming involved when the employee is having a discssion with the spervisor abot how a particlar job task needs to be done, nless the employee reqests inpt. After the discssion is over and the spervisor has left, it is very appropriate for the PA to offer sggestions to the employee in private. This approach also keeps the PA from being pt in the middle of awkward sitations and encorages the spervisor to deal directly with the employee who has a disability. If the spervisor tries to solicit the PA s inpt directly, the PA shold politely remind the spervisor that she/he is there to spport the preferences of the person with the disability and shold defer to the jdgement of that individal. These tips will facilitate the workplace PA remaining nobtrsive while earning the respect of the employee, coworkers, and spervisors. chapter five SUMMARY In time, the se of PAS at the workplace will increase sbstantially employment opportnities for private PAS providers. However, it is critically important that Personal Assistants adjst to the niqe reqirements of different bsiness environments. Workplace PAs mst have a high self-esteem and know their vale to the employee withot needing the gratification of sharing the spotlight. This willingness to remain in the backgrond takes a niqe and nselfish person who is 57

8 very comfortable in a spporting role and is gratified by the sccess of the employee. It comes in-part from the PA establishing a very good working relationship with the employee with a disability. As the new economy seeks to fill critical labor shortages, it is becoming qite apparent that the role of a PA in the workplace will become jst as vital to a person with a significant disability as providing PA spport in the home. Over the next decade, the refinement and recognition of the critical spports provided by the workplace PA will add a new dimension to addressing the employment spport needs and expanding the employment opportnities of many individals with a disability. It will also expand the work experiences, skills, and potential job satisfaction of PAs. My own experience as a workplace PA is both rewarding and very flfilling. I have had the opportnity to travel and participate in national conferences, and I have received training and gained valable experience in how to better spport my employer on his job. The opportnity to provide PAS at the workplace is a mtally beneficial experience for both my employer and myself. 58

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