email expectations

Email Expectations: Getting Executives and Assistants to See Eye-to-Eye

In the modern business world, email is a constant force pressing upon us. For many Executives, it’s a primary mode of communication. You send and receive it all day and night, weekends included. Email isn’t restricted to typical working hours.

While this is completely normal at the Executive level, it’s less standard in the Administrative world. Email is a common area where Executives and Assistants often have different ideas regarding expectations, and this can result in a lot of frustration on both sides.

In our recently published Guide, Executives and Assistants: Working In Partnership, we explore a variety of issues that pertain to managing email, including that of setting expectations.

As an Executive, you may assume your Assistant is closely monitoring email at all times, even outside the office, just as you are. However, if you haven’t made this expectation explicitly clear to your Assistant, you may be disappointed. You may wonder why messages sent during off-hours are seemingly ignored, and you may ultimately feel as if you’re not receiving the kind of support you want or need.

In our experience, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for dealing with email and all of its complexities. However, in our Guide, we offer many best practices successfully employed by Executives and Assistants within top organizations. One specific tactic that does work for everyone is this: Executives must clearly articulate what they want, especially in terms of round-the-clock email support.

Here at Office Dynamics, we encourage all staff members to enjoy a balanced lifestyle, which includes spending time outside of work relaxing and re-energizing, not checking email. However, as an Executive herself, Joan has also established specific protocols with her Assistant for how they will handle communication of off-hours emergencies.

Of course, many organizations have different priorities and many Executives indeed want to know they have full support at all hours of the day and night, especially when traveling. Such requests are not unreasonable, but they must be formally discussed.

If you’re looking for around-the-clock access to your Assistant, be clear about this expectation. If it’s not a requirement, but you’d like to have email correspondence in off-hours while traveling or for handling specific emergencies, create clear procedures around what that means.

In this video, Joan Burge shares some of the details around the email procedures she has established with her Assistant, as well as a few different options that have worked for other teams she has coached.

If you could use some help developing your own procedures in this area, pick up a copy of Executives and Assistants: Working In Partnership. We’ll walk you through the key considerations and conversation points to help you establish your own off-hours email protocol.

Executives – Email Around The Clock from Office Dynamics on Vimeo.


This post is part of our blog-a-thon in honor of administrative professionals.


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8 thoughts on “Email Expectations: Getting Executives and Assistants to See Eye-to-Eye”

  1. Gloria von Gesslein

    This is a topic I make sure to always address at the get go. When I’m out of the office, my work phone is off, unless there is something going on, ex: international travel, event, special visitor, etc. I’m with family and need to unplug. I will check it once in the morning and at night for emergencies. However, I always tell them if they have an emergency, to call me on my personal cell. This way, they understand my reasons for doing this and don’t feel ignored. These standards have worked out perfectly.

  2. Communication *IS* key, that is why I let my Exec know if he needs to reach me off hours it is best to call or text since I do not check work email away from the office (unless I get a call or text requesting that I check my email). Good points, all! It is too easy to make an assumption.

  3. I would definitely think there would be additional compensation for this. It is a double-edge sword at times being available off hours. A clear process and a good understanding of what constitute emergencies is key.

  4. I’m lucky in this subject since my executive has never asked for me to check my e-mails during the evening or weekends. My e-mails used to be forwarded to my cell phone but nothing is that major in my office that it can’t wait till the next day or Monday. If an emergency does appear she knows to call me on my cell.

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