Employee Engagement

February 23, 2021


Why do you stay with your employer?

We’ve long since left the era when employees were likely to be “lifers” working their entire careers with a single employer. The new norm is that many people will change their employers almost as frequently as some change their hair colour.  Even so, many assistants sit tight in the interest of financial stability, or nurturing an attractive pension plan.

Do you have positive things to say about your organisation?

Others may consider themselves fortunate to hold the jobs they do, as some employers are shedding human capital and brick and mortar investments as they shift to flexible work assignments and invest in artificial intelligence (AI).

If you’re working in a vibrant labour market, though, and your sector hasn’t been adversely impacted by digitization, you may have more options. So, why do you stay put in a specific role or with a particular employer?

It’s often about employee engagement

It’s a bonus if your work is interesting and fulfilling. The business relationships you’ve nurtured are also important; collegiality and a positive work environment go a long way. Employee engagement, though, is more than employee happiness – and it’s important to employers as well as employees, since it’s acknowledged as contributing to increased profitability.

So what does it boil down to? Well, HR solution provider Aon Hewitt defined employee engagement in its 2018 Global Engagement Report as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization”.

This can be assessed through three simple questions that reflect the say, stay and strive principles.

  1. Do you have positive things to say about your organisation and advocate for it?
  2. Do you intend to stay there for the long term?
  3. Are you motivated to strive to give your best efforts?

If you’re able to say yes to all three questions about your job, you’re most likely an engaged employee. You’re invested in the organisation, which should be music to your HR colleagues’ ears.

How do employers engage their employees?

Again turning to Aon Hewitt’s 2018 Global Engagement Report, there are five dominant drivers. Here they are, in descending order of importance.

  • Rewards and Recognition
  • Senior Leadership
  • Career and Development
  • Employee Value Proposition
  • Enabling Infrastructure

The report indicates that employers should also acknowledge and act on employees’ future focus. It stated, “Employees want more exposure to senior leadership and strategy. Strengthening of skills and gaining relevant knowledge that can be applied later in their tenure are also in high demand among employees.”

Do you see attention to these drivers in your workplace?

What about your principal (aka boss)?

Your principal, and the working relationship between the two of you (or, for those with multiple bosses, the bunch of you) is relevant not only to the health and productivity of the organisation, but also to the health of your career.

Do you intend to stay in your current workplace for the long term?

Consider this: Your principal has the highest level of authority of anyone in your immediate working environment. It doesn’t matter whether your principal is a supervisor, a manager, or a member of the C-Suite. Whatever his or her job title, that person has capacity to influence your career prospects. This is, after all, the person who conducts your performance evaluations.­­

Then there are functional considerations. Your principal can endorse or reject your requests for professional development (PD or CPD) undertakings. This individual also has influence over whether projects and other opportunities are afforded to you in your current role. These are all factors in your professional growth, visibility and career prospects. Depending on the sector in which you work, this person may wield power over whether or not you receive a raise, or the size of your bonus.

Are you and your principal aligned?

I’ve cited organisational expert Linda A. Hill, a Harvard Business School professor and author, on leadership before. She expressed what assistants have long known when she wrote that a strong, positive relationship with one’s manager helps you to “stay aligned with the priorities of the organization, understand its constraints, and get access to the resources you need to get things done”. That’s common sense. When you and your principal are aligned and you have access to information and resources, you’re well positioned to succeed – not only individually, but as an organisation.


Conversely, you know you’re on shaky ground with your principal if you find your exposure to information, projects, resources, development opportunities and even meetings or certain people curtailed. Imagine trying to meet your performance goals without support for the requisite training, or the green light to participate in conferences or networks. If you’re out of the loop when it comes to information, you’ll be working from a position of disadvantage and there’s a good likelihood that your performance and performance evaluations will also suffer.

Assistants join organisations, but leave managers

I’m paraphrasing authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman here. If you’re in a working relationship that’s a constant source of stress, you have some tough decisions to make – that is, if someone else doesn’t make them for you. Only a naif would consider oneself irreplaceable in the workplace. While many executives will say they couldn’t manage without their assistant, it’s likely that – from a financial perspective – you are more dependent on your principal than s/he is on you.

Even so, you need to take care of yourself. Some time ago, Forbes published a leadership article citing a dozen or so signs that it’s time to leave one’s job. Harassment and bullying are on the list, as is – natch – illegal behaviour. So are job stagnation, finding your skills untapped, and a compensation package that’s below the level of your contributions.

Other indicators: constant stress, feeling unhappy about the job, lack of work-life balance, and a feeling that you don’t fit in. You have a sense that your ideas are no longer valued, or even heard. Or perhaps you and your principal are simply not aligned in terms of values, work style or more.

What do you do?

Often, people will keep plugging away, trying to work through difficult situations. If competencies aren’t the issue, some assistants may seek employer-provided counselling. Even when matters don’t improve – or if they deteriorate further – many assistants can be reluctant to act on the knowledge that it’s time to move on, either to another department or another employer.

One problem with staying put is that stressful relations with your principal can also impact your emotional and physical wellbeing. For, while assistants are financially compensated for their work, most employees also want to be liked. Consider, then, the words of Jean-François Manzoni, the President and Nestlé Professor at Switzerland’s IMD Business School. Manzoni is quoted as saying, “We are wired to please authority figures” and, unsurprisingly, “When your boss doesn’t like you, it’s painful.”

 About the Author: Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013, and is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant.   

This article first appeared in Exceptional EA, a globally respected professional development resource for administrative professionals. Visit to find out more and tell her we sent you

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