Should assistants get overtime pay? Learn how one Official took matters into her own hands and convinced her employer to pay their assistants’ overtime

Should assistants get overtime pay?

Unpaid overtime for Administrative Professionals seems almost expected these days, but Official HQ Member Damaris Willstead told us how she broke that ceiling and got the pay she deserves.

Dee, as she prefers to be called, made an unexpected splash when she convinced her company to pay her fellow administrative staff their much-deserved overtime. Lauren Bradley, our founder, caught up with Dee to ask her how she made it happen and her advice for others who want to impact their companies in the same way.

When Dee realized that she and her refrigeration company’s hard-working assistants were working the same hours as the equally diligent engineers – but weren’t getting the same overtime pay, she saw an opportunity to speak up. Most administrative professionals know the pain of unpaid overtime, and Dee’s refrigeration company had the extra challenge of already time-sensitive customer SLAs ramping up during summertime – meaning extra pressure on the busy team. 

In her interview, Dee talked about how she showed her directors that the company’s administrative staff were working the same overtime hours as the engineers, and deserved the same credit.

1. Raise your voice

Lauren Bradley: Okay, so let me start by asking what happened, and how you did this?

Dee Willstead: It was a group effort. We have a lovely, lovely team that I work with, but we have been stacked. Usually, there’s five of us, but we were down to four. We actually worked out one guy was staying three hours every night – going home about eight o’clock. You’re like, that’s 15 hours extra a week. I was logging in on the weekends and going, I’ll just do an hour, and then five hours later, I’m still sat at my computer.

LB: And sometimes we all have to pitch in, but it’s an eye-opener when you see if you’re working five hours extra a week over a year, how much money you’re giving away. [See my Calculator to figure out how much money you are giving away by working overtime.]

DW: It was a busy time, obviously with everything opening up following the lifting of lockdown restrictions. As we are a service-based industry, as soon as everything started opening up our workload almost doubled overnight. Due to the rush of work, they were now paying the engineers overtime to get to these jobs, to meet the SLAs, but also expecting us to still meet the SLAs without going into overtime. To be honest, the first thing I would say to anybody is to make your directors aware, because half of the time it’s not that they’re necessarily being dismissive and saying, “Oh, you know, you’re not worth it”. They just don’t know, because you just get on with it. We’re like okay, we’ve got to get this much done. We’ll find a way to do it. We’ll work through our lunchtime and we’ll get it (done).

The first thing I would say to anybody is to make your directors aware, because half of the time it’s not that they’re being dismissive, they just don’t know.

2. Know their drivers

Dee wanted to present her case in the best light possible, with the best chance of getting it approved. Being the clever clogs that she is, she thought about what she knew about the directors and what motivated them.

DW: … So I started the question by asking one of the directors, “What do you want me to prioritize?” I’m in a lucky position in that; I work with the directors on a daily basis. One of them particularly likes data. So the team presented him with the data showing how much extra work we were doing. One of the other directors likes the bottom line and worries about things like the SLAs. So, you turn around and go, “I have these many things still left on my plate – and these ones we’re not going to meet.”

LB: Sometimes asking questions is how you implement change. Rather than saying “you’re paying them overtime and not us, it’s not fair”, you built trust, you built consistency, and you had enough confidence and self-regard to have that conversation. 

So I started the question by asking one of the directors “What do you want me to prioritize?

LB: Did anyone else in your team have these same conversations? Or were you the primary person who brought this to the table?

DW: Everybody was making little noises, and it was just after a group conversation. Rather than every individual person going, and going, and getting snowed under – let’s actually get the data for what we’re all doing. And say to them, “Yes we can get this done, however, it’s going to take us longer.” 

DW: I’m the oldest in the team, I know it’s not the end of the world to say, “You know what, I need you to tell me what you  want prioritizing.” You have to show other staff that it’s possible to ask those kinds of questions of your Director. Advocating for your team as well as yourself, it makes you feel comfortable standing in the spotlight or standing at the forefront. There’s something about it that makes you feel bolder.

Confidence comes, I think, with knowledge. It comes with speaking with each other and saying, “Actually you’re not alone.

Dee knew that if she could make the directors aware of the amount of unpaid overtime as well as the risk of not meeting SLAs, that they would likely connect the dots. That if they didn’t start paying overtime their team would surely burnout and they risked losing staff. By understanding their drivers, she was able to present the information in a way that helped them see the imbalance and potential risks they needed to avoid.

3. Choose your employers wisely

One of the reasons this was such a success story is because Dee works for an incredible, family-owned company that respects its employees. When faced with the reality of the situation, they not only agreed to pay the overtime but provided back pay to the start of the summer! 

LB: Okay so, how did it get from the conversations to the agreement?

DW: They were pretty quick to actually agree, to be honest. They said,  “We were not aware, so, make us aware. Can you give us what you roughly think your hours were? We’ll make sure you’re compensated.”

Dee said that she’s grateful to have an experienced management team, who helped empower her to ask for overtime pay; Dee told Lauren Bradley, “I’m lucky I work with a team where we are honest with each other, and we do our best to support, and back each other”. 

4. Harness Your Influence

In their chat, Dee explained how her confidence built her influence. A big aspect of it was Executive Assistant training – by getting extra training in a previous role, taking learning opportunities, and developing confidence, she saw the potential of her influence.

DW: When I was in my previous role I had no training. So I went off and trained myself. I got a qualification as a PA so I could understand how everything works. I am invested in trying to train myself. Confidence comes, I think, with knowledge. It comes with speaking to each other and saying, “actually you’re not alone. Other people have this problem as well and this is how somebody else has done it”.

LB: Sometimes asking questions is how you implement change. Rather than saying “you’re paying them overtime and not us, it’s not fair”, you built trust, you built consistency, and you had enough confidence and self-regard to have that conversation. 

DW: It encourages some people to speak to their directors and realize that actually, they’re not these big scary people that say yes no whatever. It’s not always about the bottom line.

5. Be an advocate for the role

For Dee, a big aspect of being treated right involved being vocal about what administrative professionals do. Dee and Lauren noted they both found they’d struggled to harness their influence at times because their directors and colleagues didn’t know how much work they were doing.

LB: It is very common for assistants. We know this by looking at job descriptions and job adverts. You’re like, “You don’t know what we do if you’re just putting in calendar and inbox management.” 

DW: I’ve had times where I started on a task in a new role and asked, w “Where are the passwords for everything?” They say, “Passwords, what passwords? There’s probably a notebook with something written down for you in it.” They have no idea. 

A big part of asking for overtime pay involved showing the directors all of the tasks the team were doing. Once the company became aware and understood the business sense in correcting the issue they were more than happy to oblige. 

If you want to follow in Dee’s footsteps and learn more about talking to leadership and developing your influence, you can join The Influential Assistant course!

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