Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Social Etiquette for EAs

"Just wanted to start off by saying that you have a very captivating writing style.

My question is regarding social etiquette: I recently started working in a very small company that is very successful; I attribute this to the fact that we hire only the best (we have people from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.). The interesting thing is that our company is comprised mostly of single people in their mid-20's (such as myself) and we all go out after work together. There is so much camaraderie that even one of the SVPs I support will carouse with us on a regular basis. Because of how small we are and because the executive staff fraternizes with subordinates regularly, our leadership caste system is never felt. I was astounded today, however, when someone (a married, mid-30's woman who does not go out) said that I should really not be fraternizing with the other employees on a regular basis. She emphasized that Executive Assistants do not have the same luxuries as other employees and that I should distance myself from others within the company. She remarked that EAs are way too close to the executives and that my fraternization with someone could be misconstrued if they were to ever receive a promotion.

While the comments she made had some validity, I feel that I should go by each company's specific culture... Should I really have to deviate from what is a normal social etiquette within my
company culture just because of my position? Thank you."

Dear Anonymous,

I'm glad that you like my writing style and enjoy my blog. I hope my perspective can help you. There are a lot of factors to consider and perhaps after some thought you can figure out what is best for you.

1. Your boss and their boss are your most important allies.

Your success at work depends on a lot of people - you, your boss, their boss, and your colleagues. You mentioned you support an SVP who also hangs out after work. I couldn't tell if the SVP was your only boss. I'm also unsure of what role/rank that lady is. What's important to think about is to mirror or conduct yourself at work that follows your boss and their boss' values. These two people people are the ones who have the most say in your career and reputation right now at the company. They will fight for you or not based on various factors. If that lady is equally powerful and important at the company, her input might hold a lot of weight. She might know something you don't know and she can't tell you outright. It's hard to say, so consider the source.

In past roles, I have been told when my boss didn't like someone. That became a clear indication to me that I shouldn't be friends with them either. And it could be such a tame comment as, "I'm glad you no longer work for them. They are slow to respond/follow up," with their face in a scrunched up expression. There have been comments such as pointing out who they really like and why. "She's really nice. I like her." Again, very tame, but the most minute expression of negative or positive commenting speaks volumes.

2. It's not unusual that some people have hidden agendas and personal motives.

The woman may have spoken up because she really does like you and care about your career either as a person or just that you are another female at the company. She could also be envious she can't go out with the group for whatever reason based on her personal life. A lot of people will give you advice about your life, only you know what's best for you. You are the only person that has to live with the consequences or rewards for your actions so never feel pressure to act a certain way. And don't be surprised why people have hidden agendas and personal motives. It could be anything from wanting a promotion to boredom, needing an enemy/scapegoat at work, to being so insecure they are just not emotionally healthy individuals.

3. An EA never has a say on who gets promoted, only the executive does.

I've heard of other people (the receptionist or EA) getting to weigh in if someone should get hired, this is not new. When people are brought in for interviews receptionists and EAs have been consulted if the applicant was nice to everyone regardless if that person was a VIP or not. However, I've never heard of an EA getting to advise who gets promoted. The EA's only direct reports are interns or other assistants. Even then or in a 360 degree review process, everyone's feedback is considered and the EA's will not trump the boss or CEOs. The logic the lady use didn't really make a lot of sense to me. If you were openly dating someone at work and using that to your advantage to get dinner business meetings with your boss for your significant other that might raise some eyebrows. However, everyone hanging out in a group won't get someone a promotion the last time I checked.

4. Read your company manual.

Since you're a small, young company I almost bet you don't have a company manual. But if you do, some companies do state if fraternization is not allowed or if you date others at work you must tell HR at the start of the relationship, etc. Never hurts to research just to be safe.

5. Benefits of hanging out.

The benefits of hanging out with work friends are numerous. You have better working relationships. People are happier. Teams work better together. You can better understand how people work and where they are coming from if you know them as individuals. Most often, the benefits outweigh the cons. It really does pay to follow company culture to be a team player and be social.

6. Fraternization at work is tricky because you're close with everyone so drawing boundaries becomes difficult.

The most difficult thing about being really great friends with everyone is that at some point, you will know stuff only your boss knows. And if you talk about everything with your friends, acting like you know nothing about top secret stuff at work becomes hard. Even saying you can't comment implies you know something. You can't talk openly about what is stressing you out or a problem at work because even if you confide in someone at work, it's not surprising when they tell someone else with the disclaimer of, "You can't tell anyone!" In some cases, business at work is just business and people will not be invited to certain meetings, the company retreat, the executive dinner, yet some won't understand that. Not everything is fair or equal at work or in life. Excluding people at work when you like everyone equally becomes a hard job for you since you work for an executive.

7. Alternatives and suggestions.

If you feel as though you need to compromise, here are some suggestions. Try one or a combo of these: Only go out as a group, during lunch, to non-drinking events (since people behave differently when drunk, secrets come out, judgement is impaired, etc.), or whenever your boss or the SVP goes. You can also spearhead coordinating events and personally invite this woman so she feels included. If you feel up to it, invite this woman to lunch alone just try to gauge what she's about, maybe it's a generational thing, maybe she has a really corporate background, maybe she wishes she could join, but can't. She doesn't have to know why you're doing this either. If you can do it without it being obvious, maybe check around if anyone else was told the same thing or what other people's interactions are with her. Or you could always just ignore what she said. :)

Good luck and keep me posted!

(As always, anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 2-3 days to answer.)


  1. Hi, I apologize for the delay in commenting. I really appreciate the advise you've given (your blog in general is such a tremendous asset for fresh EAs).

    Not much have changed since I've last sought your counsel on the matter. At some point, I just have to accept that I will be unable to please everyone and do the best I can,

    Please keep writing. I've missed reading your insight.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantNovember 29, 2012 at 1:01 AM

      Glad you saw my post to you! If you have more questions, let me know. :)

  2. Hi!

    I've been checking your site regularly, but I noticed that you haven't updated in awhile. I just wanted to say that I hope to read more of your blog posts in the coming year!

    Happy Holidays!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantDecember 20, 2012 at 8:13 PM

      S, So nice to get fan mail! :) I have a few posts in the works. I haven't forgotten about my audience! Happy Holidays!

  3. Thank you for sharing this article about social etiquette for virtual assistants. The points you have shared are truly informative. Cheers!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstDecember 12, 2013 at 11:10 AM

      Amie - So glad you found the post helpful! There is a part 2 to the post as well. Look for it under Answering Reader Mail: Being Terminated (Social Etiquette Part 2). I also write at under Hollywood Executive Assistant. Thank you for being a reader and for your comment!