Written by Nanette Hebdige
The private service industry sounds uber glam but when you really sink your teeth into it, it’s an atypical, lackluster, nerve-wracking and at times harrowing environment.
There are countless, untold horror stories in this industry that supports the UHNW clientele. You’re working for some neurotic celebrity, narcissistic sports figure, Devil Wears Prada boss. These come with crazed spouses, nasty children and their condescending guests, with equally outrageous requests. Not to mention bellicose staff – from the stalwart bodyguard to the egocentric chef and nannies that are glued to their iPhones all day ignoring their spoiled, horrid charges.
Your demeanor has to remain dogmatic, stoic and unerringly poised, because you can’t show displeasure and you can’t even remember the last time you said “NO”. In an industry where the demarcation line is basically “no task too big or too small” and “roll up your sleeves mentality”, those terms basically spell out that you’ll be a slave around the clock.
I got a call from a recruiter discussing a PA opening where the 24/7 expectations of this celebrity were never more apparent and gave new definition to the word “slave”. After putting in an 18-hour day, you were expected to be on call during all night, without a day off at all (truth), no vacation, no OT and considering who the job was going to be assisting, the pay was insulting. I was told the position was a revolving door because no matter how energetic or competent the person, the stress and exhaustion level won over.
True story. Positions like that are a complete setup for failure, unless you’re a cyborg and no rest is needed.
How many of you have achieved tenure in a position and you’ve arrived at a crossroads? After much deliberation and angst should you remain there with the unsurmountable odds or have a modicum of a life with regular working hours? The grass may always seem greener across the fence, but as the old adage says, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the end you’re the only one that can choose your path.
One reassuring factor is that many of the toughest positions and assignments become the most rewarding in the long run. When you’re in a demanding environment, you operate at your very best because you’re learning and adapting quickly. And if you decide to leave there’s much knowledge that has been gained.
Additionally, having said all that, not all positions come with that amount of stress or responsibility and there are numerous principals who demonstrate kindness and consideration.
Here are some suggestions to assess any situation and help deal with your stress.
GET AS MUCH ZZZ’S AS POSSIBLE – That’s a no brainer. Sleep revitalizes and re-energizes. Remember that it’s just a job, so don’t take things to bed with you. If you’re organized and have allowed for priorities, allow yourself to switch off. By being truly rested, you’re at your peak performance. Try to find your Zen and look for ways to relax, meditate and seriously cut off the umbilical cord attached to your phone and notebook. You’re not doing yourself any favors.
YES, BREATHE – Deep breathing is formulated to slow down our mind and deal with work pressure, in yoga it’s called pranayama – breath control. Take 5/10 minutes alone during your work day, close your eyes and office door, step into your car or even look yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes and breathe deeply, concentrating on your breathing. There are many calm apps that provide short, guiding exercises for calming and relaxation. Aromatherapy works wonders too and also don’t forget those breathing exercises before you go to sleep.
ME TIME – Draw the proverbial line in the sand and allow for exercise and some fresh air; wake up earlier so you have time to unwind with your tea or coffee before going about your day. When you get time off, try not to think of that email that got away and the budget that has to be reworked and truly enjoy your hike, kickboxing class or parachuting lesson.
ORGANIZATION: THE MOTHER OR ALL MOTHERS – Don’t even think of tackling any positions in private service unless you’ve got Jedi organization skills. You may think you’re organized but remember, you’re the glue that holds everyone together, your principals, family members, their guests and if you’re management that includes staff. That alone is overwhelming, not to mention a lot of responsibility, with a wide margin for error. Find apps that keep you organized, make you be on time and kick in reminders, Post Its alone aren’t gonna to cut it. You’re not going to be effective or respected if you’re running around like a chicken, as you lead by example. If something’s slipped through the cracks, you’re human – but don’t let that happen twice. The last thing you want is to freak at 9pm because you’ve forgotten to get that traveling visa – so prioritize.
DON’T ALLOW RESENTMENTS TO FESTER – If there’re issues that have to be dealt with at your job, don’t shove them under the rug. Be assertive and open and ensure you pick the right time and place to address them in a courteous and confident manner. You’ll earn kudos and respect by dealing with any conflict of interest, even with a staff member. Just make sure they’re handled privately, respectfully and with decorum. Same applies if you have to speak to your boss – your principal wants a conflict-free environment and will appreciate your candor. You may be harder to replace you than you think, so keep the lines of communication open and trust your gut.
WAIT TO PULL THE TRIGGER – Don’t walk out in a huff and quit if that’s your intention. Take a day off and mull things over. Sometimes, situations have a way of working themselves out and in a few months the obstacle or situation may have been resolved. One thing to realize though – in these positions you have to develop thick skin and make yourself indispensable. However, if you’ve reached the end of your tether, don’t burn your bridges as you need a recommendation and consider this: it’s always easier to get a job while you’re employed.
In closing, stress is manmade. If you’ve realized that there’s no speck of light at the end of the tunnel, no position is worth losing your health or sanity over. With the experience you’re garnered, you’ll be a very marketable and in demand private service machine and you’ll be fully aware of what red flags to look for in your new upcoming assignment.