News – Page 3 – PA Life Club


The harrowing tale of a Hollywood personal assistant

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There are many accounts of the shocking tasks celebrity assistants have been asked to do and now a new tell-all book shows that Hollywood’s show business executives are getting in on the act too.

Lydia Whitlock worked as an assistant in various sectors of the entertainment industry for five years. While none of her bosses were famous, she says she still received her fair share of outrageous requests, which she has compiled into a book, To My Future Assistant. Here are just a few of Lydia’s weirdest encounters.

An executive once screamed at her because the butter she provided with his lunch was “too warm” and told her she had to feel each packet of the spread to ensure it was the right temperature. Another used to indicate that she should follow him by clicking his tongue at her as if she were a dog.

Lydia appears to have had her fair share of impossible requests, as her-then manager phoned up one day and asked her to help him find out where he was, based on the names of roads he passed as he was driving – and she had never been to the town he was in. She says she also once spent an entire day researching party supply shops and sending interns to each in order to track down an exact shade of napkins that her manager couldn’t accurately describe without seeing.

She sacrificed much of her free time and even put her health at risk for some of her bosses, spending one Thanksgiving taking notes for a conference call that was being recorded anyway. When she had a severe case of bronchitis, her boss “strongly suggested” that she needed to be at work and only made the concession that she could go home after lunch if she answered emails from her sick bed.

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Commuicate with confidence at the PA Life training day

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Being able to communicate effectively is the cornerstone of any good working relationship, but it’s not always as straightforward as you might think. Luckily, highly experienced former PA Heather Baker is on hand to offer the benefit of her advice at the next PA Life Training Day.

Heather’s session on The Art of Communication will give delegates the techniques they need to build successful workplace relationships at all levels. She will discuss methods to exceed managers’ expectations, neuro-linguistic programming practices and help you create effective and persuasive written communications too.

The three-hour presentation will cover a number of important elements of the communication process, including “Barriers to confidence”, “Influencing people”, “Emotional intelligence skills” and “Leading the partnership with your manager”.

The training day features 12 compelling courses, each individually tailored for the PA community. Delegates can choose to come for the full day for £249, or for just a half day at £125. The full-day option includes a networking lunch where attendees can get the chance to mingle and chat with administrative professionals from a whole range of different backgrounds.

There are discounted rates available for those who have previously attended a PA Life Training Day and also for those who are members of the PA Life Club.

To book your place, or for further information, email, call Jack Risley or Aimee Sontag on 01992 374100, or visit

Learn how to put together a perfect presentation

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Facing a room full of people who are ready to hang on your every word is a nightmarish scenario for some, but good public speaking skills come with practice and preparation. Whether you’re presenting a report to your company’s board of directors, or sitting in an interview, here are a few helpful hints for success.

If you’re new to speaking, or if you simply need help building confidence, find a mentor who can lend you a hand. Before you start creating your presentation, edit your ideas so you can develop a clear message. Be sure to rehearse without committing your speech to memory, as this will come across in your delivery and won’t sound sincere to your audience.

Your presentation should begin with an eye-opening insight that naturally leads into our message. Build it around carefully crafted stories, but use quantifiable facts to support your argument. Don’t rely on your projector slides – include more pictures and less text so your audience is paying attention to you and use blank screens if you don’t have an image or graphic to illustrate certain points. Keep it short and informative – your peers will think you like the sound of your own voice if you go on too long.

The key to public speaking is maintaining a confident composure, so match your eye contact with everyone in the room. Use gestures to convey your energy, but avoid distractions such as touching your hair, tie, or jewellery. Adding a bit of humour for entertainment makes others pay attention to you, while speaking with conviction shows that you’re passionate and knowledgeable about your presentation.

Pace your speech and pause from time to time in order to give yourself and your audience time to reflect on something you’ve said. Lastly, think about the questions that might be asked after your presentation and prepare brief answers for each.

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Paper puts private information at risk

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A survey conducted by information management company Iron Mountain and professional services provider PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has found that 66% of firms regard the handling of paper as a serious security risk, yet only 31% monitor the policies in place to guide employees in the storage and disposal of confidential documents. A mere 39% adhere to access restrictions to filing areas.

Further to this, more than three quarters (85%) of firms rely on one person or a small team to manage both paper and digital information risk, while top performers have distinct groups in charge. Most organisations (73%) believe the IT department should be responsible for security and only 3% think there should be a dedicated records manager.

Perhaps more shocking is the result of a study conducted by paper shredder manufacturer Fellowes, which has found that 27% of employees admit to leaving confidential documents on office printers. Another 15% have forgotten information on scanners, while 12% have left them in plain view of colleagues in the staff canteen.

Away from the workplace, almost a quarter (23%) of those surveyed have misplaced confidential documents on a train or bus, while 15% recall leaving papers in a pub and 12% in a café or restaurant for a random stranger to see.

To combat security threats, Iron Mountain recommends educating employees on how to handle information, thinking about which documents can be scanned and destroyed and conducting an annual clean-up day to properly dispose of out-dated records.

Pick up some handy pointers at the PA Life Training Day

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Would you like to discover all the tricks of the trade that will enable you to work effectively for more than one boss at a time? Then you need to book on to Angela Garry’s session at the next PA Life training day in June.

With more than 17 years’ experience as an assistant, Angela will look at handling multiple requests for your time and working for several managers; juggling large numbers of tasks whilst keeping a clear head; and methods for ensuring that you can maintain a level of sanity, keep a healthy work/life balance and demonstrate whole-hearted professionalism throughout.

Prioritising and scheduling will also be covered, so you’ll learn how to cope when dealing with multiple demands on your time. There will also be a wide range of tips, hints and practical techniques to enable you to best manage your time when working with multiple tasks.

The training day features 12 compelling courses, each individually tailored for the PA community. Delegates can choose to come for the full day for £249, or for just a half day at £125. The full-day option includes a networking lunch where attendees can get the chance to mingle and chat with administrative professionals from a whole range of different backgrounds.

There are discounted rates available for those who have previously attended a PA Life training day and also for those who are members of the PA Life Club.

To book your place, or for further information, email, or call Jack Risley or Aimee Sontag on 01992 374100.

Employers introduce flexible hours to support ageing workforce

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Over a quarter of employers (27%) have introduced flexible working initiatives to meet the needs of their ageing workforce, new research from Group Risk Development (GRiD), the trade body for the group risk industry, has found.

Since the abolishment of the Default Retirement Age, most employers are looking at ways to accommodate older members of staff and keep their business running smoothly, with 19% modifying roles and 16% changing procedures to ensure the needs of older workers are met.

A further 14% have introduced different working patterns, such as more frequent breaks, and 10% have bought in training for older workers to ensure they feel as up to speed as younger staff.

Of the employers questioned, 59% have not yet seen any change in absence rates whatsoever, even though the average age of their workforce has increased. Some 11% have seen an increase in absenteeism due to an older workforce, while 20% have seen a rise in age-related conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, though 15% have refocused their health, wellbeing and absence initiatives in order to better manage these members of staff.

When asked what their priorities around health and wellbeing were, 22% of employers said dealing with an ageing workforce was among their top three.

PAs in the news

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PAs in the US are lawyering up and taking their former employers to court over their unacceptable behaviour. First up is US songstress Mariah Carey who is being sued by 49-year-old Ylser Oliver, who was with Mariah for seven years and is accusing the singer of having forced her staff to work “on average approximately sixteen hours per day… for six to seven days per week.”

According to Ylser, she didn’t even have a chance to take a lunch break during such long days and, worse still, she wasn’t paid any overtime. The amount that Ysler is suing Mariah for is not disclosed, but given the US diva’s reported $520 million fortune, it’s likely to be a tidy sum.

Another celeb who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons is action movie hero Stephen Seagal. The star of films such as Under Seige has been taken to court by his former personal assistant, 23-year-old Kayden Nguyen, who has filed charges of sexual trafficking and harassment. In addition to Kayden, two former female employees are claiming they also experienced sexual harassment when they worked with the actor.

Seagal’s lawyer describes the case as “absurd”, stating that his client has no knowledge of the women and denies they were ever in his employ. However, Seagal has form when it comes to cosying up to members of his staff: his ex-wife Kelly Le Brock divorced him back in 1994 after he had an affair with the couple’s nanny.

Meanwhile in Ireland, a PA has been compensated for “false claims” made about the handling of her former boss’s financial affairs. Carolyn Murphy had sued Charlie Fitzsimons, the nephew of legendary Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara, with whom she worked for 30 years.

The Irish Independent reports that Carolyn’s barrister told the court the defamation proceedings had been settled on the basis that Mr Fitzsimons had retracted a number statements he’d made questioning the former assistant’s integrity and honesty and accepted that such allegations were totally without foundation.

Bosses bother assistants with personal errands

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If you’ve ever found yourself carrying out personal errands for your boss – picking up his or her dry cleaning, paying bills, or running out of the office to buy their partner’s birthday present – take heart in knowing you’re not alone. A US study shows that 23% of PAs across the pond are regularly asked to take care of non-work-related tasks.

Requests highlighted in the survey range from fetching lunches and hot drinks to lending the boss money and grooming his or her dog. Others claim to have been asked to move their manager’s car to avoid parking fines, clip coupons from the local newspaper and clean up after their colleagues.

According to employment market analyst at HR specialist Randstad, Steve Shepherd, there are multiple reasons for managers taking advantage of employees. “Some bosses use their position of power to get those supporting them to run errands that fall outside their responsibilities,” he says.

Steve points out that determining whether a request crosses the line isn’t always easy and the fact that it may not be part of their job description doesn’t mean employees shouldn’t do it. The appropriateness of a task may also depend on the individual’s role. “PAs and EAs are asked to run personal errands for their managers on a regular basis,” he comments.

When it comes to dealing with this situation, Steve advises those who are uncomfortable to voice their concerns, especially if it impacts their ability to perform at work. If the requests keep happening, it’s time to raise the issue with a superior in order to give the company another chance at fixing the problem.

As a last resort, Steve admits that sometimes finding a new job is the only solution. “If it’s having a negative impact on your day-to-day mentality, you’re better off moving on.”

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Discover why executive assistants are in an enviable position

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The title of EA used to carry a much different connotation from its current incarnation back when management assistants were “just secretaries” and the salary reflected this attitude. Today, EAs are seen as the gatekeeper to their company and have the chance to earn a decent salary.

In California’s Silicon Valley, for instance, base pay for support roles starts at $60,000 (approximately £40,000) and goes as high as $200,000, (£133,000) plus bonuses for those supporting executives at board level. The job has shifted to become a career goal for highly educated young people – most of them women.

Recruitment manager at camera manufacturer GoPro Nicole Budovec says she has noticed a shift in educational qualifications – the next generation of EAs will hold degrees, which is a big change from the days when secretaries usually only had vocational certificates.

2014 saw a 25% increase in EA recruitment in the UK and studies show that one in three management assistants are ready to move roles this year. Despite the boost in available jobs, the wider perception is slow to follow, which may be keeping some from considering these positions.

“There’s definitely a stigma about the title,” comments Shana Larson, EA at visual discovery company Pinterest. “The initial transition was scary, but I’m glad I took the leap.” She holds a master’s degree in broadcast journalism and says she plans to continue in her role as it allows her to get access to all aspects of the business and she regards herself as being “fairly compensated”.

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Internal meetings need to bolster business objectives

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Planners of internal meetings are not being sufficiently encouraged by their bosses to focus on business objectives. This is the conclusion of research conducted by event content specialist KDM Events, which set out to discover how organisers evaluate their internal conferences. The company surveyed planners from 49 companies, many of whom were PAs, last December to reveal what event success looks like.

KDM’s research shows that the success of any event is still largely being attributed to logistical effectiveness and delegate experience on the day. The satisfactory outcome of everyone enjoying themselves garnered the greatest number of responses with an 88% tick rate, while logistical (64%), budgetary (69%) and scheduling (43%) targets were all way ahead of business priorities.

Respondents were asked to select from a menu of 14 event objectives that included logistical, budgetary and business priorities. At the bottom end of the scale, 14.3% of organisers claimed not to be setting objectives at all. From the business goals selected, education (employee training and raising staff knowledge) was the top scorer, cited by 73.8% of respondents.

Communicating business strategies was mentioned by 59.5% of respondents and raising staff morale came in at 57.1%. But quantifiable business performance improvement came way down the pecking order, with collecting new business initiatives cited by just 19%, the improvement of staff retention by only 21.4%, and helping to achieve sales targets by 26.2%.

KDM’s research revealed that few organisations approach event evaluation with the intention of measuring and monitoring behavioural change. The survey analysed methods used to measure and evaluate results. Although 88% of respondents said they undertook post-event surveys, less than a quarter (23.8%) said they surveyed delegates before the event as well.
Delegate feedback was revealed to be by far the primary method of event evaluation.

According to KDM, organisers collect delegate feedback in three ways: 41.6% of respondents asked attendees verbally; 39.6% circulated a questionnaire during the event and 60.4% conducted post-event surveys. Other event evaluation metrics included post-event budget reconciliation, cited by 47.6% of respondents and measurement of business performance, such as sales uplift or number of new clients, mentioned by 45.24%.

Responses revealed that organisers’ approach to evaluation largely revolves around event content and delivery. When asked to specify the event elements that appeared on their delegate feedback questionnaires, activity and entertainment were cited by 87.5% of respondents; venue 79.2% and format/itinerary 70.8%. However much less data was collected on the achievement of business goals such as the effect on motivational levels (cited by 35.4%), new skills learned (33.3%) and specifics relating to the event’s business content (37.5%).

In spite of their content and delivery focus, organisers said that they would like to be able to demonstrate the business case for their events. As many as 75% of respondents stated that they believed it would be an advantage if they were able to easily quantify the success of the events they organise.