Blog What is an Executive Assistant (EA) and why you absolutely need one

What is an Executive Assistant (EA) and why you absolutely need one

Feb 12, 2023

10 min read

Even though it’s common, and sometimes expected, for executives and upper management to wear multiple hats in their day-to-day responsibilities, it’s evident that today’s leaders are overworked. Managers have been facing more stress than ever before while trying to lead teams under the extraordinary circumstances of the past two years. Companies are currently facing the effects of the massive Great Resignation or Turn-over Tsunami, a phenomenon that has left leaders and entire teams understaffed and unprepared for a post-pandemic era. These effects have led senior executives to take on too many roles, which unfortunately have resulted in lack of direction and focus. 

The truth is that the stress and fatigue of trying to juggle it all can eventually catch up to you, leading to poor performance and eventually, burn-out. In fact, a recent study found that CEOs and executives averaged a 55% burnout rate, and mentioned a lack of time for focused work and lack of work-life balance as the main factors behind burn-out. That same study revealed that 71% of executives and managers mentioned “more time to focus”, as the most important solution to alleviate this issue. Thrive Global’s CEO, Arianna Huffington recently admitted to struggling with burn-out, “after my collapse, I made a lot of changes in my life. It’s not about working longer or working harder. It’s about working smarter, and that’s what I’m doing now.” Executives that are trying to operate while being exhausted can often become a bottleneck for their own team, providing no clear meaningful direction nor valuable feedback. This is especially true for start-ups/scale-ups that are trying to grow but are struggling to keep-up with day-to-day operations and meeting deadlines. They’re sacrificing hundreds of hours in productivity while trying to manage tasks that could be easily accomplished in a matter of minutes. 

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As a leader, acknowledging that you must take actions to re-prioritize your time and energy is your first step in solving this gap in productivity. If you find yourself in this situation, you have to start delegating tasks and responsibilities to increase your time to focus on strategic goals. But, if your team is at full capacity, you’ll need to start looking for other solutions. This is when hiring an executive assistant that deals with all the tasks that keep you distracted could be a game-changer for you and the rest of your team. While some companies stand by the reasoning that senior executives must perform all administrative tasks on their own, the reality is that the more strained with tasks upper management is, the less productive the company will be. This has trickledown effects on their ability to lead their team well and achieve the desired OKRs each department has in mind. Ultimately, slowing down the progress of the entire organization. We believe that an organization is only as strong as its lowest common denominator, which in this instance would be the function that advances a little more slowly than the others. In order to maintain the momentum of the well-oiled machine it’s necessary to ensure that all areas are running smoothly and this starts with entire management teams who operate more efficiently. 

Below, we’ll dive right into what is an executive assistant and why you should consider having one in your team:

What is an Executive Assistant

An Executive Assistant (EA) is essentially an employee who supports a senior executive. Although EAs used to be solely associated with administrative operations, the position has evolved to the point were today’s executive assistants sometimes handle company-wide operations, such as project management organization, oversee specific daily operations, and even guide customer lead success. They’re known as the jack of all trades in organizations and can often be mirrors to their leaders, being a liaison between their senior executive and the rest of the team. An executive assistant’s main goal is to increase an executive’s productivity by solving problems and optimizing processes along the way. 

Some executives end up developing an “i’ll do it myself mentality”, or believe their company isn’t big enough to hire an EA. This false narrative ends up revealing gaps in valuable working hours, leaving you unable to look at the bigger picture. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with tasks or you’re simply curious to see how an EA can improve your work-life balance, it’s time you pay attention to the following indicators that suggest it’s time to hire an executive assistant. 

The 5 signs it’s time to hire an Executive Assistant

what is an EA and why you should hire one

Always busy, but never done

As an executive you’re expected to juggle competing priorities all the time. And while you might be highly skilled in multi-tasking, constantly dividing your attention can lead you to procrastinate simple responsibilities. Dealing with unanswered meeting requests, dozens of unread emails, and a full voice-mail are just a few indications that you’re struggling with effective time management. Rest assured you’re probably not alone in this struggle, according to Harvard Business Review, only 10% of leaders are spending their time purposely and effectively. While some businesses see no issues with this gap in performance, most funded A to C startups don’t have the luxury of losing valuable hours of productivity. 

Being unable to manage your time correctly means you won’t have enough energy to manage critical assignments. Sooner or later deadlines start getting pushed further and further until they get put into the back-burner. These are countless lost hours of projects and ideas that could’ve been seen through with enough time. The loss of these valuable hours result in a negative outcome on an executive’s performance. When replacing this time with overwhelming tasks, it changes executives from being proactive leaders to reactive managers, removing their needed cognitive space to think strategically about what’s next. 

By handling duties that don’t require your immediate attention, including scheduling appointments or organizing meetings, an executive assistant can help manage your time more effectively; leaving you to concentrate on jobs that call for your skills and abilities, thus increasing your productivity and efficiency. 

There’s always pending minutiae on your plate

You wish you had more time to complete the list of projects you’ve been delaying, but keep pushing them off. The longer you go without assessing these tasks head-on, the more you increase the chances of developing a poor work-life balance. An Executive Assistant takes things off your plate of course, but they also provide you with enough time to focus on your deliverables. For instance, many executives might struggle with finding enough time to fullfill some of these tasks:

  1. Gather information and conducting industry research
  2. Coordinate important travel plans
  3. Work on unique initiatives or projects
  4. Provide team with constructive feedback and listen to their ideas and concerns

An EA can help clear up not only your schedule, but also your mind. A more structured and efficient work-life can greatly improve your mental health. Many executives struggle with thinking about pending tasks even during their wind-down period before heading to bed. This has lead many to develop insomnia due to stress, affecting 66% of the US population. Not sleeping well can lead to deficient critical thinking, difficulty making decisions, and overall poor health, deeply impacting your performance as an executive but also your personal life. 

You’ve been struggling with staying organized 

When scaling, startups can struggle with finding the right balance to operate smoothly, leading executives to take on too many responsibilities. With overwhelming tasks, it’s no surprise that this can lead to a disorganized working environment and a chaotic calendar. 

In the hopes of staying more organized, many executives resort to digital planners and management tools, but setting these up correctly can take a lot of time. Tools like Notion and Calendly are boosters for productivity, but building a workflow that works for you and your team requires the right knowledge in project management and enough time to set up the right operational process. Messy digital workspaces can put off your team from using these tools to their full potential. According to Trafft, despite over 70% of people doing daily to-do lists, they’re also spending around 1 and a half hours of work time trying to find misplaced items. These statistics suggests that while the majority is doing their best to ensure they’re staying organized, they’re also wasting valuable hours while doing so. 

EAs are known as masters of organizational skills and can suggest and implement new tools (and processes) for management and efficiency. In order to help you stay organized, an EA can assist you with prioritizing tasks and removing unnecessary meetings that are cluttering your agenda. Hiring the right EA will ensure that you’re getting back those hours in productivity back. 

The case of the absent leader

All the tasks you’ve been piling up are not only reducing your productivity hours by half, but it’s also creating distance between you and your team. Being overly busy can lead to detrimental effects on your leadership, causing you to be absent and disengaged. This unavailability will not go unnoticed by your team, who might be feeling unmotivated and without a sense of purpose in their work-life. To evaluate whether you’re not being as present as you could be, here are some signs that your team is being affected by your absence:

  • You’re physically present, but your mind is elsewhere 

As a leader, ensuring your team is being heard is a top priority. However, if you’re finding it difficult to focus during team meetings due to other pending tasks, your team might not be feeling valued or heard. This type of dissociation in management results in team members being hesitant to ask for advice or guidance, thus widening the gap of trust between you and your team. 

  • Can’t seem to make time for your team

You’ve been rescheduling group meetings and 1-1s, hoping to squeeze in a short synchs next time you’re free. Suddenly, it’s the end of the week and you haven’t been able to attend important conversations with your team. In due time, this will turn you into an unavailable leader, someone your team can’t rely on. 

  • No feedback given

Although trusting your team without the need to constantly supervise them is key for their success, being too busy to provide your team with feedback and guidance can result in poor direction and lack of focus. If your team has no clear path for success, it’ll make it more difficult for them to achieve their goals. 

  • Missed connections

Having a strong network can not only help you discover new opportunities that can lead you to the right direction, but it can also provide you with valuable advice and guidance throughout your career. As a leader, it’s crucial to incorporate networking into your weekly schedule, whether it’s by attending events, joining peer groups, or keeping in touch with your contacts. A busy schedule can deter you from investing your time in these type of activities. Planning your agenda to fit in these type of events is highly beneficial, however, these type of events can often happen spontaneously. Knowing that you can easily modify your agenda without much concern can be a huge relief.   

Just last week one of our executives attended a business conference where they were invited to an after-work event with other leaders. The problem was, their flight ticket home was for that same night. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to meet fellow leaders, a flight change and last minute hotel was a necessity. Thankfully with one text to their Viva EA, they were able to reschedule the flight for the next morning and find a nearby accommodation immediately. This is something that only an EA can handle, to ensure their executive is focused on creating connections and relationships in the business world. 

These are just a few of the pain points you could be experiencing as an executive. However, overworked leaders can sometimes have blind spots when it comes to improving their performance. Curious to see how your team can improve? Check out our guide on effective leadership and delegation.

Why you need an Executive Assistant

Executives who hire EAs have more time to look at their organization’s bigger picture and making key business decisions. An executive assistant frees up crucial hours from lengthy and tedious administrative responsibilities, allowing executives to focus on more pending matters, like growing their company and achieving success. 

For instance, an EA can assist in managing your schedule, prioritizing important duties, and aiding in any business objective you require. Great executive assistants can even anticipate needs you might have. This might be as simple as preventing distractions to help you reach a deadline, or reminding you of pending calls with your team. It’s like having a staff member who is an extension of you and who other team members can rely on whenever they might need minor feedback on certain tasks. EAs can become valued team members as they are often known as the reason why CEOs or senior executives become easier to approach to the rest of the team. 

increase productivity by hiring an executive assistant exec viva

Here are some other advantages that come with hiring an executive assistant: 

  1. Increases your productivity: By hiring an EA, you will be able to stay on top of important projects as you’ll have more time and mental energy to focus on the crucial sides of managing your company. Having an executive assistant that handles monotonous tasks can help stimulate the flow of new ideas and boost productivity. Executives can waste valuable time attending inefficient meetings, going over unread emails, and overall lack of organization or planning. Knowing that your EA can take off all these tasks and more off your plate is highly reassuring. This new
  2. Lets you focus on strategic work: Don’t let the pressure of managing an entire team and growing your company make you underperform well as a leader. Efficiently adjusting your agenda can give you enough time to schedule needed conversations with you and your team. Being a present leader can be the deciding factor when it comes to a team’s overall success. Giving your team freedom, but also the required support and guidance is the necessary reinforcement your team will value in their day to day. Keep in mind that your team is a reflection of your management style. An approachable and supportive leader will transmit that energy within their team.
  3. Relieves stress: Having an executive assistant on your team can also be good for your mental health as they can take away a load that’s been pushing down on your strategic thinking. This will not only shift your attention to other creative or vital tasks that can reignite your passion for work, but also provide you with much needed rest. As leaders, it’s important to take a step back and analyze whether or not you’re burning out. Having an EA by your side that can handle tasks preventing you from disconnecting fully after a long day will improve your work-life balance and overall well-being. 

Now that you’re aware of the value of hiring an executive assistant, learn how you can further improve your productivity as a leader and get started with Viva


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