Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Denise Delmain of London, England.
Denise Delamain is a Personal Assistant in London, England. Here’s a look at her world.
A running start
I usually rise at 6:00, pull on my running kit and wake myself up with an early morning jog. When I return, it’s straight into the kitchen to feed my cat and prepare my breakfast. An absolute rule of mine is to never go to work on an empty stomach – besides, I love to eat! Then it’s time to shower and get ready for work.
I live a short walk away from my local train station and the journey to central London is only 20 minutes so I’m very lucky to be able to complete my commute in under an hour, finishing with a brisk walk across London Bridge to our offices near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: As well as several specialism Directors and our Global Head of Life Sciences, I look after our Regional Managing Director who is responsible for Ireland, the Midlands and London City areas of Hays Specialist Recruitment. He travels extensively, so I spend quite a bit of time looking at his diary and planning meetings around his location for a given week. I prepare a lot of reports and help with HR queries and paperwork. I’m also responsible for the facilities in our office of over 400 people.
How long is your work day? My working hours are 9:00 to 4:30, with an hour for lunch. I generally do stick to that, but obviously some flexibility is needed from time to time. I have access on my phone to my work emails, but I try not to look at these during the evening unless I’m working on a special project.
I have worked at Hays for 31 years
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? I’m very fortunate in that Hays really supports us with respect to occupational health and safety (OHS). They are more than happy to undertake desk assessments and provide us with equipment such as adjustable desks or orthopedic chairs, etc. We have access to external Occupational Health Consultants if our staff need them. We also have gyms on site at a few of our offices, or a reduced gym membership through our benefits scheme.
What might be a typical lunch? I’m not particularly good with the lunch hour but it’s something that I’m working on. Even if I take only 10 minutes for a walk, I know it helps with my productivity in the afternoon. I usually eat at my desk whilst browsing the news for 20 minutes or so, then it’s straight back to work.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I really love my job! I like looking after people and making their days easier. I’m becoming more interested in the strategic part of my role, which is becoming more important. Planning ahead and looking at what works and what doesn’t hasn’t always come easily for me as I’ve been quite resistant to change in the past – but stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking opportunities to step forward and have the confidence to impart my knowledge has been very rewarding.
I had to have a digital detox
On saying “no”
I think the ability to say “no” comes with age, experience and confidence. I remember that, when I first started work, I thought that everything was my responsibility. I said “yes” constantly and sometimes struggled to complete the tasks that were set for me.
Now I feel more able to explain other time constraints I’m working with, and I don’t think I’ve had one negative experience when I tell someone that their work will be done but with the timescales I set. There will always be something that needs to be done immediately but, if you inform anyone else that this affects, it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
It’s not immodest to speak about yourself or be proud of your achievements and how far you have come in your career
I live about 20 minutes away from where I was born – I’ve not come very far at all. Born and bred Londoner! At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? The city is the place where I feel more at home. I do like a trip away from it all sometimes, but you can’t beat the hustle and bustle of city life. There’s always something to do and it’s so easy to navigate your way around. The down side is the money it costs to live here, but it is possible to enjoy yourself on a budget, too.
What was your first role as an assistant? I have worked at Hays for 31 years. I was first employed on a youth training scheme as an office junior in one of our smaller offices in Kent. I loved it so much that I hated it when the weekend came around! I worked in an office with only one computer, which we all had to take turns in using – loading up floppy disks and merging data used to take hours.
The tools we have now are something we could not have imagined back in the 1980s. Blessed with being in the right place at the right time, I was able to work my way through the ranks at Hays to my current position as PA to the Regional Managing Director. I’ve held many different administrative roles and met many people who have inspired me on the way.
When I first started work, I thought that everything was my responsibility. I said “yes” constantly …
Have you received any awards or recognition as an assitant? I have been nominated for a few awards – Working Mum of the Year 2014 with Pitmans Training and I’ve been nominated again this year for a London PA award.
I’ve also been nominated for internal awards at Hays but my proudest moment was winning the Above & Beyond Award at the London PA Awards in 2017. I still don’t know who nominated me, but I’m so glad they did as it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had to prepare information on my role and why I thought I should win. We all know how hard it is to sing your own praises, but I did it! I had to canvass for votes, too, which was great fun. I won the first award of the night and spent the rest of the evening in a daze as I couldn’t believe that my work was being recognized by my peers.
The digital age
What are your preferred forms of social media? Professionally I do enjoy browsing through LinkedIn. Gaining insights from others in the same role as you is so easy by joining groups or following companies and influencers. For personal use, it’s Facebook or Instagram and if you’ve got a problem or query, you can’t beat Twitter to get in contact with companies quickly.
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? As mentioned earlier, the tools we have today were unimaginable a few years ago. At Hays, we have a timesheet app available which has made the approval of timesheets so easy; employers can approve from anywhere at any time. When you see processes digitized like this, it makes you wonder why some people are resistant to such tools.
Much of the tech we have in recruitment is relatively new and the younger members of staff seem to embrace it and accept it as readily as they do with an update on Snapchat! For some of the more established members of staff, they have their own processes that have been proven over the years and some find it harder to make changes even though they could have a positive effect on the time spent doing their roles. I think that those of us who are not digital natives find the constant changes more arduous to accept. The transformation comes when they see success and want to emulate it – it just takes longer!
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Hays has provided me with a smartphone so I can check my emails at any time – both a blessing and a curse in equal measure, I feel! Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability may have had on your quality of life. When I first had a company BlackBerry (Oh, how I miss my BlackBerry!), I was on it constantly. I would leave the office and check it on the way to the station, again on the train, when I got home, before I went to bed, first thing in the morning, on the way to work – total fear of missing out!
Gradually, I started to resent the fact that I was unable to ever get away from work and so I had to have a digital detox. I started with checking it less, then I would go out of the house without it and now I set myself a limit of 10 minutes a day when I’m on holiday to browse through and address anything of importance. Make sure you put an out of office message on so everyone knows not to expect an immediate answer from you!
The ability to say “no” comes with age, experience and confidence
Let’s talk about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources? Hays is always at the forefront where new systems and processes are concerned with respect to recruitment tools but, in my role, it’s less frenetic.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? Having viewed Google Duplex on the internet, I find it most exciting that an app can call and make bookings on our behalf and have an actual conversation with a human, although it can be a bit disconcerting if you feel that part of your role is being taken.
You need to see it (AI) as your own assistant and as something that can free up your time so that you can focus on more strategic responsibilities. I can imagine that, by 2025, talking to an app whilst you’re walking down the street will be commonplace. Your app will probably call you to make you aware of situations/problems in advance of you becoming conscious of them. You can see the role of the administrator is very different today to what it was 10 years ago; I think it is more respected now and not seen as “just an admin job”.
No matter what AI comes onto the market, it won’t be able to replace the soft skills that humans have, in the ability to think on your feet and turn ideas on their head rather than following strict algorithms.
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? I’ve always found the best way to build new business relationships is to dive right in. When you see the new person in the office, go up and introduce yourself. When you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, talk to those around you.
You never know who you’re going to meet and how you can help them, or vice versa. Your first approach doesn’t have to be business related but you should always be authentic, respectful and open. Above all, don’t gossip!
Your most effective time management strategy? In terms of time management planning, your day has to be key. I find if you write your to do list the night before, you can leave the office with a clear mind and be ready to start the day immediately when you arrive.
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? I’ve been in this position and I would say don’t be too hard on yourself. Your family should always come first, and most employers recognize this fact now – if they don’t, you’re in the wrong job! Because you cannot give so much time and attention to your role, I think it actually makes you focus and work harder because tasks need to be done during the working day and not during late nights at your desk.
Hays really supports us with respect to occupational health and safety (OHS)
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? When you start a new role or have a new executive start with you, I’d really recommend booking some time with them as soon as possible.
Ask them what they are looking for in an assistant and how you can help them. Tell them about projects you’ve undertaken in the past so they get to know your strengths and competencies. Don’t sit back and wait until you’re asked – yes, you or they could be finding their feet in an new organisation, but the only way to move forward in the relationship is to show them what you’re capable of. It’s not immodest to speak about yourself or to be proud of your achievements and how far you have come in your career.
Don’t sit back and wait until you’re asked
For those interested in promotion: Get out and network; talk to your peers. Learn about your role from others who do it. It’s easy to think you know everything, but speaking to others can actually make you realize you don’t know as much as you think you do.
New ways of working, new programs and apps that you can utilize broaden your experience and show your employer that you are interested in your own personal development and that you are an important asset to them.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Denise mentioned may be interested in checking the following link.
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